Getting your spouse involved in family money matters

By Sarah Damon

You may want to take the burden of money management yourself, but both partners need to have a grasp on the family income, savings, and other money matters.

Marriage, it has been said, is a delicate balance of give and take. Sometimes that works out great, especially when your weaknesses are your spouse's strengths and vice versa. He likes to cook; you like to clean. You remember to pay the electric bill; he remembers that Thursday is trash day.

But when it comes to money matters, it's important that you're both on the same page. Often one spouse takes over the family finances -- whether it's because of a need for control, because the other spouse has no interest, or simply because one spouse is better at handling money and enjoys it.

The problem with the financial dark

In many situations, it's fine to divvy up responsibilities. Personal finance, however, is an important exception. Even if one partner is uninterested in learning about savings accounts, retirement plans and the latest bank rates, not knowing the state of the family finances can be detrimental in cases of illness, divorce, death and other life-changing situations.

If you are the one handling the money matters, and something happens to you, will your spouse know and understand your insurance policies? Will he or she know where to look to find the information? A stressful situation is made worse when one partner is in the financial dark.

Getting up to speed

If your spouse doesn't have a clue about the state of the family finances, it's time to have a money meeting. Prepare a few things in advance of the sit-down, such as the following:

  • A simple family budget
  • Income and expenses summary from the last six months
  • A spreadsheet of all accounts, balances, and access information

Start by reviewing the family budget. If you don't have one, now is the perfect time to talk about goals and future plans. If you're a saver, for example, and your spouse is a spendthrift, consider brainstorming your long-term goals together and decide on where and how to cut spending to achieve them. Approaching savings as a team and listening to your partner's point of view will help you get him or her on board the savings train.

Next, review the income and spending summary together. It doesn't need to be extremely detailed, just stick to broad categories such as rent or mortgage, utilities, groceries, dining out, savings, etc. By looking at income and past spending on paper, your spouse will have an idea of how much money is coming in and going out, as well as where it's going.

Finally, make sure your partner knows how to locate and access all account information, including savings accounts, investments, insurance, credit cards, checking accounts and so on. In the event of an emergency it's important that he or she knows exactly where to go to find critical information.

Make a date

Once your partner is up to speed, make your money meetings a monthly occurrence...perhaps with a couple of nice glasses of wine. At the very least, review the budget, income, expenses and any changes to account information.