Joint Accounts

Don’t Let Your Partner Take Charge of the Finances

Why money management is something couples should do together

Dear Joint Accounts,

My husband and I have combined finances, but as he works in finance and is generally much better at money than I am, he does the vast majority of our money management. Objectively, it makes sense, but I still constantly feel paranoid about becoming that 1950s-style stereotypical wife who’s clueless about the finances. We have regular check-ins about how we’re doing, but I struggle to understand much of what he says, and I’m uncomfortable with him being in charge of everything. How do I get over this?

Sincerely,

Clueless About Money

InIn any relationship, each partner tends to take the lead on certain responsibilities: The more talented chef makes dinner, the one who likes to stress-vacuum takes on more of the cleaning, for example. But there’s a difference between taking the lead and taking over entirely, and when it comes to money, your husband shouldn’t be the only one in charge. While one spouse might do the budgeting and organizing, both parties should know and understand what’s going on with the family finances.

Before we talk about solutions, we should review why it’s important for you to be more involved. No one likes to think about worst-case scenarios, but if something were to happen to your husband or your marriage, you need to be able to access your money on your own. Even if your marriage is perfect right now, money is the leading cause of stress in relationships. To minimize that stress and get ahead of any problems that may arise, it’s wise for you both to stay on top of how you’re doing financially, even if your husband is the more active money manager.

When one person is taking complete control of the finances, I’m usually inclined to wonder if they’re doing it on purpose — to hide accounts or purchases, perhaps — but I hope that’s not the case here. If your husband is suggesting regular money check-ins, that’s a good sign. It sounds like he wants you to understand what’s going on. But you two need to figure out a workable system for getting on the same page. You should understand how your budget works and where you have money invested. That might mean hiring a financial planner or advisor who can walk you through everything.

Whether or not you involve a professional, it sounds like you can be using your regular check-ins more productively. It might help to write down your specific money questions and ask your husband to go over them the next time you two sit down together. If you’re not sure where to start, at the very least, you should know about every account you both have open, how to access those accounts, how much income you both earn, how much you’re saving for various goals, what your general budget looks like, and what your spending and your husband’s spending look like every month.

Consider pulling your credit reports and going through them together, too. (You can get a copy of your report at annualcreditreport.com, and you’re entitled to a free copy each year from each of the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.) Your credit report will show you all the accounts you have open, accounts you’ve opened in the past seven to 10 years, and any “negative items,” which are accounts that might be outstanding or in collections.

You might also want to look into taking a basic financial literacy class. There are a handful of classes available online through places like Udemy or Coursera, and your library might offer free financial classes, too. It’s on you to take the initiative to pursue this knowledge. And that means asking questions, taking the time to learn some basic money skills, and at the very least, knowing how to access your own financial accounts. Considering your husband’s financial background, it’s easy to default him to taking care of this, but money management is something that couples should do together.

Kristin Wong is a journalist and freelance writer. She’s written for the New York Times, ELLE, The Cut, and Glamour.

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