Personal Finance Advice For Couples: When One Partner Isn’t Interested In Finances At All

Divorce Rate Declining

Source: StateOfOurUnions.org

The following is a guest post from reader, Erin Opalek. Erin is a married 30-something saver who engages in synchronized saving and other questionable leisure sports. If you’d like to try your hand at personal finance blogging, feel free to shoot me an e-mail and send me your proposal! My goal is to have every single one of you give it a go before 2020. 

Over the years, I’ve had a bunch of married friends express a desire to get their personal finances in order. Pretty much everyone agrees that financial uncertainty is stressful, and following a plan is a great remedy for that stress. So what’s the biggest obstacle I’ve heard about getting started? Surprisingly, it’s not that one person is a buy-like-you’re-dying-tomorrow wastrel. Instead, it’s usually been the fact that one partner hates the thought of even talking about money. So how does a couple tackle their finances when only one half is interested?

It’s a question that I’ve pondered a lot lately. Because, here’s the deal: while I think personal finance is neat-o, it’s not really my husband’s cup o’ tea. But we’ve been able to stick to a financial plan, save a ton of money, and never worry about how to pay for expensive surprises like that furnace that crapped out on us a few years ago. How have we made it work? How did we get here?

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

I met my husband. Little did I know that fateful night of renting Underworld together would lead to a decade of awesome. And also to a nostalgic obligation to watch the many terrible Underworld sequels to come. (Will the franchise ever end? I don’t know. What could be better than a movie about vampires and werewolves that is filmed solely with blue filters? Oh wait, everything.)

Love is great and all. But figuring out how to share your life with some one is another thing entirely. Like any collaborative effort, long-term relationships depend on the strengths of each contributor.

The contributions of my husband are quite apparent to me at the moment. He’s working out of town and though he’s only been gone a handful of days, a number of issues have come up in his absence that raise questions as to whether I am competent to live independently:

• I want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We are out of peanut butter. But I find cream cheese. I think, “peanut butter’s kind of creamy, this could work.” But the cream cheese is moldy. That’s cool, right? I cut off the moldy bits and make myself a cream cheese and jelly sandwich. That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Well, it tasted terrible too. Like rotted spinach (and jelly) sandwich. It is a very very bad thing.

• I try instead for some corn with mayo and cayenne pepper, like they serve at the refresqueria down the street. It’s all fun and games ‘til I realize the cayenne is MOVING.

• Basically, after that I’ve just been eating dried-out, 6-month old Cadbury eggs until he gets home.

Why am I not dead yet? I don’t know. I’d definitely vote myself off the island. What I do know is that my husband makes a sweet sweet grilled cheese sandwich, and I’d really like one right now.

What does all of this have to do this personal finance, you say? Here’s the thing: making killer grilled cheese sandwiches is one of my husband’s secret powers. I can’t do that. It’s not a way I contribute to our little family. But I have my own way on contributing: I can make a mean financial plan.

That’s my secret power. He’s got his hand on the pan, and I’ve got my head in the clouds of budgeting, long-term planning, vacation logistics, investment allocations, home renovations, all that stuff. I happen to enjoy it immensely and he’s cool with that.

And that’s how we make it work.

Sharing your life does not mean doing everything together.

You love each other, you want to be together, huggie-kissy-wah-wah whatever. If you’re interested in personal finance (which you clearly are, because you are reading this) and your partner isn’t: fine. Spearhead this project. Don’t wait for your partner to get interested. It’s not likely to happen. Some people don’t like puppies. It’s weird. I know. But we love them anyway. Let your partner do what your partner does best. And you, braveheart, go off and plan.

Kick-off

First, let your partner know that you’re going to analyze your finances and come up with a plan. If you don’t already know your family’s big picture goals, now is a good time to talk about them. Do you want to buy a new house or have (more) children someday?

If your partner has concerns, listen to them. This isn’t about bulldozing. It’s about buy-in. Take those concerns into consideration when you begin crafting your plan.

Detail Orientation

Cut your partner loose and dive into the details on your own. Go read a bunch of personal finance blogs and forums. If you want to get real crazy, read some books. Design your plan. Track your spending. Create a budget that allows you to meet the goals in your plan.

Remember that it’s not about deprivation, it’s about understanding what both you and your partner realistically want and then working towards that through a planned approach. If it’s important for your partner to have things you find unnecessary – like that new Grand Theft Auto or an iTunes Season Pass to Real Housewives – try to work that into the plan. But if you don’t have enough money to make it work, be sure you can demonstrate why. Show your partner what you are able to accomplish instead (like, paying your July electric bill on time). You’re doing the leg-work, but your partner needs to sign on.

When you’re done with all the fun detail work, summarize in a sentence or two what you’ve just done. I have—ahem—a friend who even came up with this catchy mission statement: “To live below our means without sacrificing quality of life in the present or future.”

The Big Reveal

Now, settle in together on the sofa one night with some beers or a lovely hot cocoa, and present the high level plan to your partner. If your partner wants more details, you’ve got them. (In my own experience, my husband generally isn’t much concerned with the details unless it pertains to the amount of money saved up for his guitar budget.) If your partner has questions, answer them. If tweaks need to be made, make them.

Go Live

And then go for it. Execute the plan. Update your partner as needed, if things get out of check or if you’ve accomplished something particularly awesome like paying off a loan. Otherwise, just let it roll along.

The beauty of this approach is that the partner who doesn’t want to think about personal finances doesn’t have to. And, preferably, in exchange he will make you his awesome grilled cheese sandwiches and generally ensure that you haven’t poisoned yourself to death. Because those are your partner’s strengths. And making sure your family’s financially sound is yours.

These strengths are gifts to one another. Appreciate them. Every last butter-soaked crumb.

Related post: The Average Net Worth For The Above Average Married Couple

Recommendation: An easy way for couples to manage their finances together is by opening up a free account with Personal Capital. They are a great online wealth management tool which helps you keep track of your net worth, manage your budget, and analyze your retirement portfolios for unnecessary fees and risks. I’ve used them for a couple years now and find the tool very helpful in keeping me on track towards my financial goals. 

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. says

    Although it must be hard if one person isn’t interested in personal finance, it’s worse when neither one is interested! That’s the way it was with my parents. Both of them hated money stuff and never really worked on their finances together. Couples who want to stay together long term really should make a solid effort to make financial goals together and work as a team.

  2. Chris says

    I’m fascinated when I read about these non-standard role reversals between genders. Most financial geeks seem to be of the male persuasion. My wife and I have this same dynamic, I’m pretty much obsessed with finance and FI and she’s just, meh, about the topic. Don’t get me wrong, she’s basically frugal and appreciates my efforts, but doesn’t generally like to discuss it at frequent intervals. At times I’ve wondered if these differences might cause a rift, down the road, however, I think you’ve accurately illustrated that difference interests are good too. My wife is extremely nurturing, a great cook, a great Mother and generally looks out for my best interests. I’m very objective, stuck in my own head, always thinking about Finance and would likely eats chips and drink good beer for all meals if my wife didn’t look out for me! It’s a pretty good mix.

    • Erin Opalek says

      Chris, I love hearing about your experience. It’s wonderful to have a complementary partner who indulges in your financial planning obsessions, isn’t it ;)

    • says

      My boyfriend and I are definitely a “role reversal” couple. Some of that it out of necessity though: He has a high earning job, and a great pension (which, being 20 years older than me, he can take anytime after next year), so he doesn’t see any need to worry about finances. As long as he can afford his monthly bills, he feels everything is fine. I don’t have that type of security, so I’m driven to pay everything off and become financially independent. Even if/when we combine finances, I think we’ll always be coming at things from different perspectives.

      • Erin Opalek says

        That makes sense – a twenty year age difference really changes perspective. I wonder how you’ll feel it twenty years!

  3. says

    This is all well and good (aside: I actually REALLY love the take charge attitude/go get’em mentality), but what happens if or when the proverbial bus comes along, and you as the financially savvy depart in an untimely fashion? Is the partner who has blissfully ignored the actual financials of the relationship while focusing primarily on the size of the guitar budget prepared for that possibility?

    Ultimately, planning is important, and if so inclined, someone should absolutely get the ball rolling in the right direction. However, to have a 90/10 or 95/5 split in the level of involvement only sets up the potential for the other to fail. So my added point of emphasis is this, that “regular communication” with the spouse shouldn’t be cursory, but instead an in depth review so that both have an understanding and actual level of knowledge.

    • Erin Opalek says

      This is a great point. I totally agree IF you can get your partner to spend that time with you on the matter. Communication should be used to support and grow towards your financial goals, not become an obstacle.

    • getagrip says

      I have a “What the hell do I do if he croaks?” file I update annually with where the money is, what to expect for life insurance, pension info and contacts for work, etc. and some general guidance. So at least with a little effort she can pull it all together and should be reasonably okay.

  4. says

    Through the wealth of information online in personal finance blogs that are equally interesting and informative, I have started to get my fiancée more interested in personal finance.

    It seems that she just wasn’t interested because she didn’t understand it fully. I think that this is the case for millions of people.

  5. Catie says

    Many moons ago, when my husband and I started our lives together and before I would get married I announced I wanted to be 100% involved in all the financial… he informed me I could have it all, he preferred to have nothing to do with it. I did. Over the next 30 years, I maintained the events to keep our heads above water and with enough extra funds to maintain the house, kids, and extras. Today we continue to put off retirement becuz we enjoy our work, but it is not becuz we have to. Annually (sometimes more often) I require him to meet with our broker with me.

    Most of my planning began with company sponsored stock plans… but I can honestly say that the decision to buy Sara Lee many years ago (he was a truck driver for one of their subsidiaries) developed into a great nest egg of Sara Lee, Coach, and Hanes which led us to our first Financial Advisor. This advisor then helped me learn more about investing and the options out there. Hench where we are today.

    Now if one of us could just learn to cook….

    • Erin Opalek says

      Awesome! I love this story. It’s great to hear that this has been working for you all these years. What made you decide to make that announcement that you wanted to be “100% involved” at the very beginning?

  6. says

    I love this. It’s all about letting each partner sort of take the reins in the areas of their strengths. My husband and I are actually both interested in personal finance, but we each focus on different aspects: I am better at managing the checkbook and keeping track of our expenses and savings, and he is better at monitoring our investments, studying stocks and mutual funds and other investments, etc.

    • Erin Opalek says

      Dee, thanks for pointing out that subtlety. These two aspects of personal finance use really different skills and I find it really interesting that you’ve divvied them up. Do you guys have an overarching “big picture” plan that guides you? How often do you update each other on what’s going on in your PF world?

    • Anna says

      My husband and I split up PF tasks this way as well, however we reverse the roles. I’m all about the long term vision, goal setting, and portfolio management. My husband is all about the details. How much did we spend at the grocery store last Friday and what credit card did we put it on? He can tell you that.
      Sometimes it can feel like he’s disinterested in our future because he doesn’t ever set goals and hardly looks at the summary tab of our budget, but he’s contributing in his own way and I’m thankful that I can just hand him the receipt when I get back from the store :)

      • Erin Opalek says

        Sounds like you’ve found a good balance. I wonder if the apparent “disinterest” is really a supreme trust in your abilities to make sure it’s all going to work out in the end ;)

  7. Sylvia Chavez says

    Great article to get motivated! This is a great way to get tension out of the way and start looking at financial planning positively.

  8. says

    My wife and I have this type of relationship. I am obsessed with money and investment while she can’t stand it. I take care of the money, she takes care of pretty much everything else. I would be very rich but also clueless, hungry, dirty, and lonely without her.

  9. says

    Great post. I’ve been married 21 years and I was responsible for our finances the first ten and then turned them over. He’s actually quite good at it…and that’s a good thing because he can’t cook or clean, isn’t handy around the house and hates yard work (unless it involves driving the tractor). It can be hard to talk about money for couples, especially if you don’t make a habit of it.

    • Erin Opalek says

      Congrats on 21 years of marriage! I like the idea that “job responsibility” can be fluid over time as we change and grow together. Although, I know I would have a hard time giving up PF – I like it too much!

  10. H.P. Vandergelder says

    Very well said. Too often we define “sharing” as simply equality in suffering. (If I have to carry in groceries, by God, so should you.) Even if you enjoy it, financial planning can be a taxing and thankless endeavor–especially if the commitment to it’s execution becomes one-sided. That’s why it’s so important to emphasize communication (getting them to understand and buy-in, as you put it) and to remember to recognize and appreciate the other person’s non-financial-planning contributions. You’ve articulated that splendidly and made it humorous to boot. Thank you.

    • Erin Opalek says

      Thanks H.P.! I love that: “equality in suffering.” Marriage can be hard enough as it is, no need to manufacture challenges!

  11. Mike says

    I can definitely see how this would be hard to do if married. I find it hard enough to manage my own finances much less that of multiple people (although I do admit that I am trying to make an effort towards setting up a good financial plan for myself that involves a job and multiple incomes to pay for everything). It’s probably a lot easier now that I live in a country where the cost of living is significantly cheaper than in the USA at the moment, thus freeing up more of my money towards investing in my alternative incomes.

  12. says

    My Fiancé and I have an interesting way to look at this stuff. She’s a lawyer with a mortgage worth of student loans and some credit card debt, while I don’t really like to spend my money at all. Once we realized that, hey, a wedding is going to cost us money and we don’t want to go further into debt, it kind of put our combined spending habits under the microscope.

    Now we’ve established a bit of a better balance than we previously had, keeping each other much more in the loop of things like credit card debt, big bills and the like. Here’s to hoping it continues after the wedding! :)

    • Erin Opalek says

      Best of luck on your new life together! It sounds like you are already seeing your life together as a family unit, and that’s a beautiful thing. Congrats!

  13. Amanda Schaffer says

    Love this! As a newlywed, (been blissfully married for a year and 8 months) I appreciate hearing how married couples make the finances work. I am the financial planner in our relationship but with regular communication we have been able to handle all the financial issues that have come up in our short marriage with relative ease. I think the most important thing I read in this piece and one that I believe my husband and I do well too, is the ability to appreciate our partner for what they bring to the family! We just welcomed our first baby to our family so our financial planning has taken quite a ride on a very wild roller coaster. Thank you Adina for the great tips!!!

  14. says

    Funny, my wife is the one who is concerned about us saving, but she doesn’t care so much about the details as long as I tell her that the accounts are going up every paycheck and by more as time goes on.
    Of course she’s busy with our brood of 4 kids, cooking and cleaning while I’m at work too.

    FWIW Erin, I think you might want to consider emptying your refrigerator and replacing everything in it after reading the stories about moldy cream cheese (which I’d hate even if it wasn’t moldy), or the moving cayenne pepper. But our kids like the way I make grilled cheese too! :-)

    Nice article!

  15. says

    While I believe it’s natural for one partner to be better at the finance situation than the other, I definitely believe the non-finance interested partner should still be kept abreast of the finances to some degree but that’s just me. I mostly do the financial planning in our marriage but my husband is keeping up! And I always keep him updated on our budget planning.

    • Erin Opalek says

      Absolutely! While one person may be doing the legwork, it’s always important that both partners feel like they are in it together.

  16. says

    A couple is very much like a partnership. Each have their strengths and weaknesses, but together they are more than just 2 people. My wife and I each do our part of what is important in a relationship and support each other (for more than 45 years)! As a former CFO, I am the financial expert and have the vision for our partnership. It has worked well since I achieved financial independence in my late thirties. She makes my life worthwhile which is priceless.

    • Erin Opalek says

      45 years – wow! There are absolutely parallels between business and home management. Maybe something worth exploring more! You clearly made it work. Way to go on the early FI – that’s impressive!

  17. says

    Mrs Warrior is not as big a fan of following along with personal finances nor any financial matter. Thankfully, she is willing to follow a budget.

    I handle all of the aspects of our finances. I love the control and staying on top of things and it is one less worry for her as she has Little Warrior to “manage” most of our days.

    The biggest thing is communicating goals and actions and then following up regularly. We don’t talk about finances daily, but do a couple times per week. We are on the same page with the same focus. I just happened to be the one punching the numbers.

    If a couple can communicate and follow up on their desired path, likelihood for success increases.

    The Warrior
    NetWorthWarrior.com

  18. says

    This is a post that is valuable, but fortunately for me my wife and I are both personal finance junkies. Our problem isn’t trying to convince our spouse to get on board, but trying to get others on board. We do however have some friends who are in this situation and I’ll definitely be sharing this post with them. I’ll admit it would be difficult if we both didn’t feel the same about our finances, we would drive each other crazy.

  19. says

    Erin,

    We pretty much did what you are saying in my household. I was the guy that conceived the notion of retiring early, set up the investment plan, watched the expenses, figured out how to invest and save on taxes, and monitored our progress.

    The first few years I was pretty excited about this plan to retire early and probably blabbed on and on about it to my lovely wife. She probably felt like I do when she talks about which celebrity did what and who they married/divorced this year. Personal finance interested me, not so much her. She didn’t even know what her salary was.

    After a few years of watching our net worth grow, my wife decided she would listen to me when I gave quarterly updates on our investment performance and net worth results. Then after another few years as our investments headed toward seven figure territory, she realized we really could retire early and it wasn’t some stupid pipe dream I came up with in my early 20′s after we were just married.

    Boom – I retired at 33 and she isn’t far behind me!

    I just look at one spouse handling the finances/investments/cost cutting as dividing household tasks and letting one spouse specialize in a given task. I don’t fold laundry or put it away. I don’t do artsy craftsy stuff. I suck at organizing things. But I’m good at finances so I focus my efforts on that (and mowing the yard, fixing broken things, cooking, etc).

  20. K says

    You know it’s funny, this arrangement is actually far more common than people think. I work in finance, and I deal with lots of small and medium sized businesses. Most of them are husband and wife and/or family owned, of course. The husband is almost always the President, and the wife is almost always the CFO. Or even if the wife doesn’t have a title, the husband almost always says the wife handles all of the finances.

    I’ll never forget the time a business owner told me that I needed to talk to his wife because she’s the one who really handles this, and that without her he was “just a caveman”. And I love it when the wife comes into the picture to announce that she is the true decision maker. That just makes me so happy–literally I love it–and it happens all the time.

    Gone are the boiler room days of “don’t pitch the b****” LOL

  21. Squid4Life says

    I think it is very important to have some financial aspirations especially if you are tangled with someone else or if you have children. I am a single mother by choice. My child’s father is all about spending and having fun and after being “engaged’ for a year I saw that his habits and mine were not compatible. I had a plan to retire at 50 with millions in my pockets and he was just about having fun and living in the moment. After his family kept him broke because they never seemed to pay their own way, I had to split and go my way with a 3 month old child. Thankfully, I was always frugal and had plenty of money saved and being a single parent didn’t do any financial harm to my plan. Fast forward 5 years later and I am in the millions :) target, with a lot going on. He is married with another child and his wife stopped working the moment they got married. Now he is broke with a family and stay at home spouse making minimal money in the military. I am thankful and grateful to have seen the signs long before he could do any financial damage or ruin my plans. If I believed in luck I would say I am lucky but this was all pure hard work.

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