If you’ve been handing over the financial reins to your spouse, it’s time to wake up and get involved in the family finances. If you don’t you could end up like Eilene Zimmerman — in this article she wrote for Salon.com she tells how her divorce left her completely in the dark about her finances and a virtual non-entity on paper when it came to big assets like her house (she wasn’t even authorized to make a mortgage payment without her ex’s permission).
Aside from being completely humiliating, the situation highlights how dangerous it can be for one spouse to find themselves suddenly alone and forced to navigate a maze of bank accounts and bills without a clue where to start. It’s especially easy for women to fall into that position.
Zimmerman explains how easy it was for her to “opt out” of financial decision-making — like so many women, she made much less than her husband and never felt entitled to ask questions or make choices about what to do with their money.
I understand how this dynamic can harm a relationship. It happened to my husband and I some time ago. I had always managed the finances, including bill payments, cash flow etc. If you’d asked him who our mortgage provider was, he’d have had to look it up or ask me.
Then he got a wake-up call — he was buying groceries and found that our chequing account was overdrawn (a cheque had not cleared in time). He had no access or passwords to any other accounts. His name wasn’t even on our savings account. In the end he had to put the groceries on a credit card. He was understandably very upset and it prompted us to talk about money and power dynamics in our relationship.
He now pays the monthly bills and updates the spreadsheet for our household budget so we can track expenses — he’s really good at it too. He knows how much we have and where it is at all times. I still see all the bills and manage the larger savings goals (RRSPs, the mortgage) but we’re now on equal footing in our own household finances. It’s been a huge relief for both of us.
Financial decisions are among the biggest you will make as a family, so sharing the decision-making burden is simply common sense. How you share the load is up to — but if you’re in the dark when it comes to your family finances, it’s time to turn on the lights!