Taking charge of my family’s finances has changed my outlook on money

Taking charge of my family’s finances has changed my outlook on money

Taking charge of my family’s finances has changed my outlook on money

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  • My husband always managed our finances, while I paid the bills.
  • After an unexpected expense, we decided that I would take turns taking care of the family money.
  • Now that I do, I’ve found that I think differently about spending money now and in the future.

Payday is in four days. Until then, I’m determined to spend less than $100.

It’s not because we only have $100 left. There are no dire consequences on the other side of that $100. I’m determined not to spend more than $100, because that would be dipping into money I’ve set aside for emergencies, vacations, my husband’s birthday dinner, etc. It is a complex and carefully researched system of automatic deposits, payments and financial goals.

A year ago, this system did not exist.

As I tried to be thoughtful with our household expenses, when it came to money, I built my ideas on vague knowledge rather than granular details. I took care of our expenses: groceries, medical expenses, donations to my children’s school, etc. I did not blame my husband for this configuration. His salary eclipses mine by far. He works hard to make the money, so I’m comfortable carrying the mental load of spending it. But because I took on this charge, he took on the management of our finances.

He preferred it that way. Since my husband suffers from anxiety, as far as he is concerned, giving control of our money to the spender was not an option. And for more than a decade, we were both comfortable with this arrangement.

But over the past year, my husband’s anxiety about money began to affect his health, and I began to feel the implication of our roles. Yes, I was the lowest earner and the “spendthrift,” but I’m also a personal finance writer and by temperament I’m better suited to handle the stress of money management. I couldn’t help but think that subconsciously we had set things up the way we did based on sex more than anything else.

Unexpected debt prompted us to change our strategy

Things took a turn for the worse a few months after a new garden was laid out. We had saved for the pool and budgeted for the landscaping, but hadn’t factored in the lounge chairs, picnic table, twinkling lights, and insanely expensive poles holding them up. I could go on, but you get the picture. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the picture until it was too late, and we had a credit card bill that we couldn’t pay in full at the end of the month.

A revolving credit card balance is a major trigger for my husband. As an optimist between the two of us, I reminded him that in the grand scheme of our incomes, $5,000 in debt isn’t going to break us. But those assurances didn’t mean much coming from someone who…didn’t really know what she was talking about. After all, how could I? I checked our accounts regularly, but understanding the ins and outs of our financial structure was his job.

For his part, my husband was disconcerted. Since he didn’t spend much, he didn’t understand where all our money was going. As I tried to explain to him, I could see that he didn’t understand. I decided it was my turn to take charge of our finances.

When I told him what I had decided, he said to me, “But you’re the one spending all the money. I don’t know if it’s up to you to manage that.”

I replied, “That’s exactly why I should be managing it. You make our financial decisions without understanding how much money we need, and I make our spending decisions without understanding how much money we have.” And so, we made the change.

I think about money very differently now

Our finances have never been bad and they have neither improved nor deteriorated under my watch. My husband still struggles with financial anxiety, but he finds it less stressful not to be solely responsible for our finances, even though it has given him a stronger sense of control.

As for me, my attitude towards our household expenses has changed dramatically. I found that much of my past spending reflected important assumptions. Assumptions like, “I just sold a big item. I can afford to take my friend to lunch. Or: “We’ve reached an income milestone; we’re reaching the upper middle class. Upper-middle-class people don’t need to be frugal with their kids’ back-to-school purchases. ”

These days, I’m actively working with and toward our financial goals, so my spending reflects the reality of our finances, not the idea I have in my head. For example, Target completely lost its appeal to me. I don’t need a $40 beach tote bag if we can’t afford to take a beach vacation this year. And we can’t afford a beach vacation if I don’t save money every month. And if I go over my allotted household expenses by buying nonsense like baskets, I won’t have enough money to invest in those monthly vacation savings.

I learned something else when I also took charge of our family’s finances, and that’s how emotionally draining it can be. It’s a bit like driving a car. Of course, being a passenger who doesn’t have the power to steer the car around tight turns or hit the brakes when traffic suddenly gets stuck is stressful. But when you’re stuck in traffic, passengers don’t have to pay attention to the taillights of the car in front of them or gauge the lanes to see which is moving fastest. Passengers can play on their phones and complain about the need to use the bathroom. It is the driver who must remain vigilant and resist the siren song of his SMS notifications. Because ultimately, a passenger’s breath doesn’t stop an accident. The driver does this.

I’m the driver now, and while I don’t like stress, I have a new appreciation for the partner who carried it on for over a decade. And it’s an honor to lift that weight off his shoulders and take my turn.

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