If the amount of attention given to the issue on television talk shows is any indication, division of labour is a leading cause of dissention in marriages. Who does the majority of the chores? Which chores are the responsibilities of which spouse? Tradition says that he ought to take out the trash and she should cook dinner.
And what about money? Who earns it? Or who earns more? Who controls where the money goes? Historically, men were the breadwinners and as such, they were in charge of the household budget. My Grandma was so used to her husband telling her how much money she was allowed for groceries that his death overwhelmed her with responsibility. Her eldest son is now her financial manager.
Today’s couples, though, are bucking tradition. More and more, men are cooking dinner and women are controlling the family’s finances. Australian budgets and households, according to research from Westpac, are now more influenced by women.
Why the Shift?
The person who spends the most money on a regular basis is usually the one who knows the minutia of the family budget. Largely, the regular spender in most families is the female head of house. She buys the groceries, she schedules the vehicle for maintenance, she buys birthday and Christmas gifts. And somewhere along the road she got tired of always asking, “Is there enough money for me to do this?”
Men, while still largely responsible for purchasing big ticket items, are more than happy to release the stress and responsibility of tracking every penny into their wives’ capable hands.
The stereotypical image of reckless spending tends to be one of a woman cruising the boutiques, 20 shopping bags in hand. However, according to recent studies, now four in ten women believe their husband is the one wasting cash. This is in stark contrast to male studies, which have shown that they believe only three in ten women waste money.
Perhaps because of their concerns about their husbands overspending, or maybe in addition, one in five women expresses some level of mistrust regarding the use of a shared bank account. On the other hand, only one in ten men voice the same mistrust.
When there is a shift in who holds the purse strings, there’s bound to be a few difficulties. Add to that shift differing perceptions from each party, and marital disagreements are bound to arise. Common problems in households where the woman is in charge of the budget are:
- Frustrations and feelings of being controlled.
- Mistrust of whether the other person is spending wisely.
- Major purchases made by one party leading to anger and mistrust.
- Frustrations about overspending.
- Suspicions that the spouse has a ‘secret stash’ of cash.
Making it Work
Regardless of which partner is “in charge” of the family’s finances, communication is key. Being the household financial manger does not qualify one to be the family boss. Here are a few tips to keep the household finances in order, without ordering each other around:
- Once the budget has been drawn up, show it to your spouse and ask for feedback.
- Don’t assume that you both know how much money is in the account – share with one another all outstanding payments.
- Plan for big expenses together, deciding your spending limit in advance.
- Never make large purchases without the agreement of your spouse. (Some couples set a limit, such as $50 or $100, where neither partner will spend more than that amount without first consulting the other.)
- Determine early on if finances are to be separate or joint. If they’re joint, regardless of who earns more, you must agree that all the money belongs to both of you equally.
Been There, Done That
The survey from Westpac also showed that people were more likely to be apprehensive and cynical about money if they had had a bad relationship in the past involving money. If you are in the market for a new relationship, Christine Christian, the CEO of credit reporting firm Dun & Bradstreet, suggests checking on your potential partner’s credit history before jumping into a relationship. People are within their rights to do so and it may open a discussion about money that is sorely needed.
Get it Right
Want to avoid divorce court due to “irreconcilable differences” when it comes to money? Be open, be honest, communicate frequently, and keep no secrets. Couples can successfully navigate household finances, no matter who manages the budget, as long as they’re in it together.