You Control the Family Purse Strings, Are You Doing Your Job?


In nearly all the couples I’ve worked with or just know, there is one spouse that takes the lead on managing the household financial activity.  Of course, there is a spectrum to the amount of control one spouse exerts.  This can range from deciding on portfolio allocation to balancing the checkbook (or at least looking at checking account activity on a regular basis).  I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.  Everyone should play to their strengths. 

However, each spouse needs to have a baseline knowledge of their household finances.  If you are the main decisionmaker, you also have a responsibility to ensure your spouse is educated.   

Have you done what is necessary should something happen to you?  Envision the scenario where you are no longer capable of handling your family’s finances.  Have you prepared your spouse to pick up the reins?  If the answer is “no” or “not completely”, here are some steps you should take:

Have an Adviser:  If your spouse is ill-equipped to take this on, you need to have an adviser you can trust.  This is someone that will have your family’s interest at heart.  A Registered Investment Advisor operating in a fiduciary capacity is required to act in the best interests of their clients.  If you are a DIY investor, you may want to consider holding some assets with an adviser that could take on the rest of the portfolio when needed.

Have a Plan:  No, I don’t mean a financial plan, although you should have one of those too.  I mean, does your spouse know what to do, who to call, how to access your accounts? Have you documented these steps and does your spouse have access to that document?

Have the Documents:  If you have gone through a financial plan with a professional, you should have received recommendations on the documents you needed to have executed.  These include wills, durable power of attorneys, Living Wills and others.  The full list of documents are easily found online.  Does your spouse know where these documents are located?  Are they in a fire rated safe? Can your spouse access the safe?

Have a Discussion: Talk about your finances with your spouse.  They may nod off at the mere mention of equities, it doesn’t matter.  Have the discussion.  Help to educate them.  Or have an adviser that can do that for you.  It’s your responsibility to make sure your family is prepared to carry on in the event you no longer can.

The financial decision maker in a family has enormous responsibility.  “With great power, comes great responsibility” –Quote from The Amazing Spider-Man (bar none, the best superhero ever.  Don’t even talk to me about Superman.)

I hope this was helpful.  Feel free to comment or suggest other topics:  Remember, it all starts with a plan.