Every Couple Has a Financial Leader

Carrie Schwab Pomerantz
Posted: Nov 28, 2012 12:01 AM

Dear Carrie,

My husband and I will soon celebrate our 30th anniversary. He's a great guy, responsible and hard working, but he's never had any interest in investing or even day-to-day financial things, such as paying bills or buying insurance. I've always worked in banking, so it was natural for me to take it all on. Now, as we get older, I'm worried about how he'll manage if something happens to me. Any thoughts on how to get him involved? --A Reader

Dear Reader,

This is an important issue for every couple -- and one I can relate to personally. My husband is a talented writer but doesn't have a keen interest in our finances, especially the day-to-day details. So like you, most of the time, I take the lead. The difference is that he's 100 percent aware of every account and is part of every important decision.

To me, that's a crucial distinction -- and one that you're wise to address now. That's not to say it will be easy to get your husband's attention. It may be especially difficult because it's harder to change behaviors once they've been in place for a long time. But it's something that's better to tackle sooner rather than later.

Be honest about your concerns

Start with an honest conversation. Tell your husband that you're concerned about what would happen should you no longer be able to handle the family finances. Be clear that you're not asking him to take charge completely. You're simply asking him to be involved -- both for his well-being and your peace of mind.

Talk about life goals

As a couple that has been together for a long time, you've probably talked a lot about your hopes and dreams. Money plays a part in realizing those dreams. So first, take a look at what you still want to do. What are your retirement plans? Do you want to travel? Do you have a special interest that you want to pursue?

Fundamentally, these are life questions, but they likely require trade-offs and planning. At this point, talking about money may be less about financial obligations and more about what you want out of life. That can be exciting.

 Give him the big picture

Before you get into the nuts and bolts of managing day-to-day finances, you might pique your husband's interest by talking about the bigger picture -- what you have, what you owe and how you're protecting yourselves. Here are some important points:

--Net worth: This is a snapshot of what you own (home, investment accounts, retirement savings) and what you owe (mortgage, credit lines, car loans, credit card balances). Are you in the plus? Are you building your net worth every year?

--Cash flow: How much money comes in each month and how much goes out. Is there a deficit or surplus? Could you save more?

--Insurance: Review your health, life, homeowners, automobile and other insurance policies. Are you adequately covered? Or paying for a policy you don't really need?

--Estate plan: Do your wills, trusts and beneficiary designations reflect your current wishes? Do you have the appropriate powers of attorney in place for both health and financial matters? Do you both have a health care directive?

As you look at these items together, you'll be able to spot trends. If you need to make adjustments to meet your goals, use this as an opportunity for more thoughtful discussion on what's important to each of you and what changes you might want to make.

Simplify the details

This is where people's eyes usually glaze over, so it will be up to you to make the details appear straightforward and simple.

I'd start with a concise list of:

--Advisors: Include contact information for your financial advisor, tax accountant, attorney, insurance agent -- anyone your husband could turn to for advice. If he hasn't yet met these advisors, perhaps you could set up a meeting to introduce him.

--Accounts: List all your investment and bank accounts, with account numbers, location and how much is in each. This could be an opportunity to consolidate accounts to make things even simpler. Also, make sure your husband knows all of the passwords for online accounts.

--Documents: Make sure your husband knows where to find all important documents, in other words, loan papers, wills, trusts, insurance policies.

--Everyday bill paying: If you aren't already, pay your bills online and set up automatic bill pay for some of your monthlies. This will make it easier for your husband to manage, should the need arise.

Keep the conversation going

Once you have your husband's ear, always include him in major financial decisions. He may never get down to picking stocks, but he may find that, rather than being a burden, having a say in family finances gives him a sense of accomplishment and control. And I wouldn't be surprised if your money discussions ultimately bring the two of you even closer together.

Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER(tm), is president of Charles Schwab Foundation and author of "It Pays to Talk." You can e-mail Carrie at askcarrie@schwab.com. This column is no substitute for an individualized recommendation, tax, legal or personalized investment advice. To find out more about Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.