The Money Talk: The One With the Helpful Husband

By Ellevest Team

Not-so-fun fact: 61% of women say they’d rather talk about their own death than have a conversation about money. That’s some societal money taboo BS, and we’re ready to change that. So this is The Money Talk, a series in which we’ll be answering example* questions about how to kick-start important money convos.

Dear Ellevest,

My husband and I are … busy. Between my job, his job, my side hustle, school drop-off, house and yard work, and getting the kids to whatever random thing they’re scheduled to do next, we do what we need to do to keep our heads above water.

So we divide and conquer, and one of the things he takes care of is managing our family’s finances. We didn’t design it that way on purpose, but his career skyrocketed in his 20s, so he’s been managing a significant inflow of cash and a fully fledged investment portfolio since before we even met. This setup does work pretty well for us — I’m not really interested in taking over that job, and the fact that he likes it is helpful. But still, I know how important it is for me to have a handle on how much we have and where. What if (let’s be realistic) something happened to him?

The problem is that my husband has a good friend who just went through financial infidelity that led to a financially messy divorce, so I feel a little weird bringing this up seemingly out of nowhere. I definitely don’t want him to think I’m getting ready to leave him or something. I just want to pick up my own slack and insert myself back into our financial picture. Any conversation starters to recommend?

Busy Bystander

The Money Talk: The One With the Helpful Husband

Dear Busy,

Great question! We talked to our team of financial advisors at Ellevest, and this is a conundrum they see a lot. There’s only so much everyone can do, so some division of labor is normal. But your instinct is on point — you 100% need to know what’s going on with your family’s money.

Because you’re right: Something could happen to him. The fact is that women tend to live six to eight years longer than men — a big reason why 90% of women end up managing their own money at some point in their lives. If there were some sort of crisis with your partner, the last thing you’re going to want to think about is where your money lives and how much of it is liquid. Add in the fact that 78% of couples who talk about money every week say they’re happy, and we'd say you’re solidly on the right track here.

But point taken: With the context of his friend’s divorce, you don’t just want to bust through the door tonight saying, “Let’s suddenly change the way we’ve done things for years. Give me control of the money.” That would make plenty of people nervous. So here’s our advice.

Two ways to frame the “let’s talk finances” conversation

1. I’ve been thinking, and I want to make sure you know about all my accounts.

Chances are good that even if he manages most of the family’s finances, you’ve got an account or two — a flexible spending account through work, an old savings account, you name it — that isn’t part of the regular rotation.

So frame it this way: “I don’t want you to have any headaches if something happens to me. Here’s a list of my accounts — places to look and people to call. I have an account at this bank, that bank, and that investment advisor. Here are my account numbers. I listed you as the beneficiary, and there’s a transfer-on-death designation on each account. Can we build a list for you, too?”

This can kick-start the conversation and help it come across as you looking out for the family’s best interests — which is legitimately what you’re doing, after all. It might even open the door for the two of you to meet with a financial planner or advisor together — that can take a lot of the planning logistics off both your shoulders.

2. It’s important to me that our kids see us talking about money.

Research out there shows that a person’s natural tendencies when it comes to money are ingrained early in life. Like … seven years old early. So the way our kids see us talking about money really matters. If / when they decide to combine their finances with another person someday, they can build the same kind of mutual respect and openness with their partners.

It's also good to let your kids see some of the conversations in which you don’t quite agree, because that’s OK, and you can talk through it to find a good solution for your family. In fact, research has shown that kids’ social skills, self-esteem, emotional security, grades, and relationships with their parents benefit when they see us work through conflict using mutual support and compromise.

So that’s another way into the conversation that shows you’re not about to hit the road, but that actually, you want what’s best for the whole family. Because that’s exactly what’s going on.

Five steps to a productive money talk

Once you’re aligned on regular check-ins, we recommend touching base on the day-to-day money stuff about once a week or so. That means seeing how you’re tracking against your monthly budget, discussing any large purchases, and giving each other a heads up about anything last minute or out of the ordinary that you’ll have to pay for in the near future.

And you can do more of a deep dive into your goals, investment accounts, and overall financial picture a couple times a year. Here’s a framework for doing that:

  1. Gather important documents. That includes statements for bank accounts, investment accounts, and outstanding debts.

  2. Figure out how much is coming in and how much is going out. If your husband already has a budget written out for your family, have him walk you through it. Otherwise, now’s the time to get it down on paper (or, more likely, in a spreadsheet or budgeting app).

  3. Talk about your goals and your plans to get there. This is where the real alignment comes in: If you both know where you’re heading, you’re more likely to stick to the route you’ve mapped out.

  4. Get specific about what retirement looks like. I’m talking super specific — what town you’ll live in, its cost of living, how you’ll spend your days, etc. Then figure out how much you’ll need to save to make it happen. (And then make it happen.)

  5. Check in on all your accounts. Before you end your deep dive, take a peek at all the balances in all your accounts (both joint and individual) so that you both know where you currently stand. And while you’re at it, it can’t hurt to peek at your will and insurance policies, too.

Hope this helps!

The team at Ellevest

Click here to contact an Ellevest financial advisor in your area.


Note: The person asking the question in this article isn't real. We made her up so we can show you the kind of tough money talks people sometimes struggle with. In other words, this is a hypothetical scenario that doesn’t represent any Ellevest client, and it’s by no means individually tailored advice.

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Ellevest Team

Ellevest helps women build and manage their wealth through goal-based investing, financial planning, and wealth management. Our mission is to get more money in the hands of women.