Talking Money With Your Spouse

These should be important conversations that will be helpful in the long run.

(Image credit: Thinkstock)

It seems that my column titled “Honey, We Need to Talk About Money” struck a chord. A typical response: “You certainly could have been talking about my wife and me,” writes reader Del Richter.

As I wrote in January, when it comes to finances, women often suffer from an eyes-glaze-over syndrome that can be attributed to a number of reasons—lack of time, interest or confidence, to cite a few. Fortunately, Richter and others have come up with successful strategies to overcome a spouse’s resistance.

As he approached retirement, Richter launched what he calls “a multi-pronged underground campaign” to pique his wife’s interest. First he said, “Honey, you know when I retire there won’t be a paycheck coming in anymore, so we really need a forward-looking budget to see if we can continue this lifestyle.”

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Next, he convinced his wife, Dena, that they needed to tackle updating their wills. “She realized our assets had grown substantially, and we had to address how we wanted them to be disbursed to children, grandchildren and charitable causes.” (My observation: By taking things one step at a time, the Richters made the process manageable rather than overwhelming.)

The time factor is critical, says reader Coco Yackley. “Many of my women friends resist getting involved in finances not because they lack interest but because they lack the time and mental space to do so.” Yackley’s suggestion: “Have their husbands take over some household chores so they can prepare the paperwork for taxes or attend a class on financial planning.”

Dan Williamson says hiring a financial adviser helped ease his wife’s concerns about the future. But he worries that his three 40-something daughters, two of whom are single mothers, don’t have time to focus on finance. (My advice: Dad could take them to see his financial adviser or, as Yackley suggests, offer to babysit the grandchildren while his daughters take a financial class or seminar.)

The Power of Sharing

Amy Breiting found that a simple step like sharing passwords made a big difference. “My husband is recovering from heart surgery, and we hadn’t shared passwords,” writes Breiting. “Now I promote sharing them with someone you trust.”

Breiting has always made it a point to accompany her husband to appointments with their financial adviser, and she felt comfortable calling on him when her husband fell ill.

Outside help that they seek as a couple has been a boon to other couples as well. Richter’s “third prong of attack” was to have his wife participate in the year-end review with their financial adviser. “The adviser would ask my wife pointed questions like ‘What are your concerns about the plan we are discussing?’ and ‘Are there items you don’t understand or want to change?’ ”

After managing the family finances for the first half of their almost 40-year marriage, Sandy V. encouraged his wife, Ellie, to hire a financial adviser so she would feel comfortable taking the reins in case of his death. She interviewed two women advisers, chose both of them to manage different pools of assets, and now meets with them at least once a year.

Some women just need a little encouragement to go it alone. “I couldn’t get my wife, Mary Beth, interested in our investment accounts, which she perceived as mine,” writes Randy Johnson. “So I set up an account for her and guided her through the buying and selling process. Now, four years later, she has a portfolio of 28 stocks. She usually outperforms my accounts.”

Janet Bodnar

Janet Bodnar is editor-at-large of Kiplinger's Personal Finance, a position she assumed after retiring as editor of the magazine after eight years at the helm. She is a nationally recognized expert on the subjects of women and money, children's and family finances, and financial literacy. She is the author of two books, Money Smart Women and Raising Money Smart Kids. As editor-at-large, she writes two popular columns for Kiplinger, "Money Smart Women" and "Living in Retirement." Bodnar is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University and is a member of its Board of Trustees. She received her master's degree from Columbia University, where she was also a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Business and Economics Journalism.