Why couples should share the mental load of money management and how to do it

  • Family
  • Thursday, 16 May 2024

When it comes to the mental load of managing financial responsibilities, couples can fall into unproductive patterns that can lead to conflict, resentment and even willful ignorance. — MUHAMAD SHAHRIL ROSLI/The Star

A lot of work goes into making a household run smoothly, and the thread that runs through all the labour is money. It’s money that makes it possible to fix a broken appliance, enroll the kids in summer camp and save up to replace the ageing car. The mental load of money can be heavy. It’s made up of those endless invisible tasks we engage in, and the future tasks we lie awake at night thinking about.

"I think it is important to mention the emotional weight that comes with worrying about money. Do we have enough for rent next month? Are we saving enough for college?” Kate Mangino, author of Equal Partners: Improving Gender Equality at Home, said in an email. "Those kinds of worries tend to chip away at our emotional health, especially if we think our partner doesn’t share this worry, and we’re alone in carrying that weight.”

When it comes to the mental load of managing financial responsibilities, couples can fall into unproductive patterns that can lead to conflict, resentment and even willful ignorance. If money management feels unbalanced in your relationship, here are some ways to rethink your routine.

Approach money as equals

If one person takes on most or all money tasks, there can be a tendency to fall into a manager/follower dynamic, which can create a power imbalance in your relationship.

Additionally, when one person is in charge and the other does tasks as assigned without understanding the full picture, it can leave that second person in the dark. "The person who is ‘spared’ having to think about this stuff will become less financially literate over time,” Scott Rick, author of Tightwads and Spendthrifts: Navigating the Money Minefield in Real Relationships, said in an email. "This will leave them especially vulnerable if the relationship ends, either through divorce or the death of their partner.”

Equality doesn’t mean each person must be 50% responsible for every task, or even that you each take on 50% of tasks, but rather that you acknowledge that you have an equal stake in your shared success.

List and assign money tasks

Schedule a money date or two to make a comprehensive financial to-do list. Who is responsible for which task currently, and how did it become their responsibility? Should any of these tasks be switched to the other person? Is anything not getting done?

Break down each task into a list of subtasks. Let’s say you both want to work with a financial planner, and one of you takes responsibility for finding one. Those subtasks can be:

1. Get three names of financial planners that meet your shared requirements (such as a fee-only planner, or someone with specific professional credentials).

2. Contact those planners to inquire whether they’re taking on new clients.

3. Schedule consultations at a time that’s also convenient for your spouse or partner, and prepare any needed financial documents in advance of those meetings.

"It is important to recognise that managing money is only one of many tasks required to run a household, so these types of conversations should not happen in isolation,” Brian Page, founder of Modern Husbands, a community that shares ideas to manage money and the home as a team, said in an email. "Be considerate of the other household burdens you each tackle.”

Own your tasks for start to finish

As you list your tasks, discuss what "done” looks like for each. Set parameters, a budget and other expectations. Then, you each select tasks to accomplish on your own, with periodic check-ins.

Some tasks are complicated, but take them one step at a time. This is not the time for weaponised incompetence (though, in a partnership, it’s never a good move to feign incompetence to get out of a responsibility). If you’re stuck on a subtask, you can talk about it when you check in with each other.

"Remember - everything money related is a skill, and skills can be learned. There’s no ‘I’m just bad with money’ excuse,” Mangino said. "You just need to prioritise learning that skill, and practise. And practise. And in time, you get better.” - AP

This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Sara Rathner is a writer at NerdWallet.

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