And it was hurting our marriage.
“Ohhh, I have to hide these shopping bags, my husband is going to kill me!” my friend said, her arms laden with her latest haul.
I smiled, but couldn’t bring myself to laugh along. The truth is, I just can’t relate to that tired joke about men handling the money while women spend it all on mindless shopping. In our house, I handle the money.
From the day we got married, (and even before that, like when we went on our first cell phone plan together in college to save money), the financial part of our lives has always defaulted to me. Looking back, it actually seems a little strange, because we didn’t sit down and formally discuss who would handle the bills, manage the accounts, or balance the checkbook. Instead, I just starting doing it because I had always done it. Plus, I liked knowing exactly what was going on with my money. And that was that.
I became the person who monitored and paid the credit card bill while keeping an eye on our cell phone plan, comparing it to other carriers’ costs. When we moved, I transferred all our accounts over. I set up our retirement accounts and met with our financial advisor to discuss things like padding our savings and figuring out the best repayment plans for our student loans.
As we got older and added kids to the mix, our lives got busier and more complicated – especially financially. Suddenly, it wasn’t just about us. I had to think about school tuition and whether to pay for college, healthcare costs and babysitters, life insurance and home repairs.
Managing all of our finances also meant trying to keep my husband in the loop. Aside from the fact that his paycheck was deposited every two weeks, he mostly stayed out of everything. The man didn’t even know how to log into our bank account. So in addition to figuring out how to pay the bills each month, I was also responsible for updating him on our lack of funds or sharing with him how I was making it all work.
For a long time, I tried to keep up, telling myself that dividing up responsibility was good, that teamwork was necessary, and that it was fine that only one of us was on top of our finances. But one day, that task I had once enjoyed quickly because a responsibility that was drowning me. In the midst of working from home with four young kids, managing the housework, dealing with things like school paperwork, and an overwhelming feeling that I was carrying an enormous burden completely alone, I cracked.
I went to my husband and confessed that I was tired of managing our finances on my own. I expected resistance or at least an unwillingness on his part to learn everything. But as it turns out, he was 100 percent on board with sharing the responsibility. I had simply never asked for help before, so he assumed I was fine. Funny how that works, right?
But it was a learning curve: I had to walk him through how I was managing our finances, while we both had to begin the process of setting up a budget and delegating tasks.
Honestly? We’re not there yet. There’s still a lot to be done to figure out a financial system that works best for both of us. But we’re making progress – and that’s what matters. Before, I was feeling like I was alone on a sinking ship, bailing water out as fast as I could, throwing money at bills we couldn’t afford and wishing someone would rescue me. Now I know that we’re in this together.
I no longer have to face the stress of an unexpected bill by myself or figure out how to make the mortgage that month, and I don’t have to be the bad guy saying no to going out to dinner when we’ve maxed out our budget.
It took bringing my husband into our finances for me to realize how deeply it had been affecting me. I was harboring some serious resentment toward him for “making me” figure it out on my own, while he truly had no idea how hard it was to manage, let alone how much stress it was placing on me.
We should have decided early in our relationship how we would handle our finances. I see that now. But sometimes, life happens. For us, a surprise pregnancy, a whirlwind marriage, and an early entrance into adulthood put things on overdrive and that conversation just didn’t happen.
But sharing the responsibility has empowered us both. Today, we look at the future with greater confidence in our abilities and financial situation. We’re considering buying our dream home, something we may not have been able to do before.
And I know one thing for certain: I won’t be the only one figuring out how to pay that first month’s mortgage. And that’s a beautiful thing.