MONEY

When She Makes More: How to Level the Financial Playing Field

Scott M. Lacey

No matter who earns more, these five rules will help ensure that you and your spouse play fair when it comes to money.

A sense of equity between two committed people is important, even if there’s an income disparity. The challenge: How can men and women help each other not just feel accountable but be accountable for their finances? What steps can a couple take to reach financial fairness? Here are my essential tips to navigating this tough terrain:

  • Do a financial audit as well as an emotional audit. The financial ­inventory calculates how much each of you earns, what expenses you share, debt levels, etc., so you know what you have to work with and can establish long-term priorities. The emotional side of the equation helps you figure out who is best capable of taking the reins and managing the bills, as well as what kind of payment arrangement suits your needs and your egos. It makes sense to delegate money management to the person who is more interested, better organized, or more frugal. Both research and anecdotal evidence shows that couples should not make a decision about which one controls the ­finances based on income or gender, and that whoever makes the financial decisions should consult with their spouse.
  • Stay transparent. Online accounts, such as banking and bill paying, should be accessible to both you and your partner. This is useful in case of an emergency and to have a clear picture of your finances. Free websites like Mint.com can provide each member safe and easy access to financial accounts, allowing you to visually track your spending and debt. It also helps to check in together once or twice a month so that you’re in agreement with what’s going on with your money.
  • Make decisions by committee. That means asking for help when you need it, agreeing to compromise, and admitting when you’re in over your head. It’s enough to just sometimes call or text and say, “Hey, can we afford this? Is it worth it? What do you think?” It’s critical to admit when you don’t know something. It allows your better half to be heard—and, quite possibly, save your financial behind.
  • Lose your possessiveness of your money, but don’t apologize for your mani/pedis. Be prepared to give up total control of all the financial decisions and a little bit of the lifestyle you feel you can afford (or deserve). Understand you are in a partnership.

You want to create a system where each person maintains some financial autonomy while there is also joint accountability. Aim for managing three buckets of money: yours, mine, and ours. For the “ours” accounts, decide on a “price threshold”—the amount at which purchases that you or he want to make are discussed beforehand. Individual accounts can help minimize money fights; if you want to make a purchase, you can use this account without having to ask permission. Practically speaking, this money can also provide a financial safety net in case
of an emergency.

  • Say thank you—and really mean it. In leveling the emotional playing field, it helps to acknowledge and appreciate what each of you brings to the table, financial or otherwise. Never equate income power with having the ultimate authority in the relationship. Include your partner in financial ­decision-making. The overall power must be shared.

From When She Makes More: 10 Rules For Breadwinning Women by Farnoosh Torabi. Reprinted by arrangement with Hudson Street Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC. Copyright © 2014 by Farnoosh Torabi.

 

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