Photo courtesy of the Braun family
Managing family finances can be tricky. This is the story of how one couple makes it work, and the questions you can ask your family members in order to come to a solution that works for you.
For Nick Braun, taking charge of his family’s finances made sense. He was a finance major and had always been comfortable with budgeting and money in general.
“My wife is creative and wants nothing to do with finance or paying bills,” says Braun, 36, who lives in Columbus, Ohio, and is the founder of PetInsuranceQuotes.com. “It worked out perfectly.”
Braun and his wife have a joint checking account they use for household bills, and they each have a personal monthly budget for their own expenses.
“This makes her happy because she doesn’t have to worry about mortgage payments, and I am more than happy to manage it,” Braun says.
This system works well for the Brauns, but every family is different. For some, it might make sense to split the financial responsibilities – for example, one person manages the investments, and the other handles the day-to-day budgeting. For others, having one person completely in charge might be easier.
How do you know what system will work out the best for your household? Take this handy couples' assessment:
Is one of you not interested in managing the books?
As with the Brauns, sometimes one person in a couple genuinely doesn’t care to be involved in the household money management. If that’s the case, having the other person handle the finances probably makes sense. Consider holding weekly or monthly check-in meetings to make sure everyone knows what’s going on with the money.
Is one of you extremely disorganized?
If one partner routinely loses credit card statements, bounces checks or incurs late fees, they’re likely not the best choice for full management of the household money. Paying bills late can affect your credit, and late fees not only ding your bank balance, they can also hike up the interest rates on your credit cards.
Does someone have a favorite financial task?
For example, if one partner is passionate about managing retirement investments, let him or her deal with it, if you feel you can trust their decisions. You should probably have check-in meetings on this as well.
Does one of you have more time?
Often, money management is an issue of practicality. A stay-at-home partner may have more time to manage the bills and investments than someone working long hours outside the home.
Do you agree on how it should work?
If you don’t see eye-to-eye on how much debt you should have as a family or how much money you should be putting toward savings goals, it would be wise to involve an objective third party, such as a financial advisor, who can help you craft a household plan that makes sense…including thoughts on who might handle what.
Do you both want to be involved?
While it may be easier to put one person in charge of paying the bills, you can certainly discuss and agree on items such as your household budget, retirement strategy and college savings, among other things. Schedule time at regular intervals to discuss the family finances so both of you feel heard, understood and included.
You might have to experiment to find the arrangement that works. The Brauns tried splitting the bills at first, but found it to be too chaotic.
“I was paying the cell phone bill and she was paying the mortgage and I was paying the cars and it was a mess,” Braun says. “Two people and 15 different bills to pay and two to three checking accounts, it got confusing.”
Their current system of joint and separate accounting a la carte works much better for them. “It’s saved us a ton of time, a ton of headaches. She’s more comfortable because she sees exactly what we have,” Braun says. “It’s great.”
Kate Ashford is a freelance journalist who writes about personal finance, work and consumer trends. She has written for BBC, Forbes, LearnVest, Money, Real Simple and Parents, among others.