In a recent heart-to-heart schmooze, my girlfriend (let’s call her Anne) told me that she was brought up thinking that it’s the husband’s responsibility to pay the family bills. Anne, who runs a successful online business from home, is pretty savvy in all things techy and financial, like websites, webinars, and trans-Atlantic PayPal payments. But when it comes to the electricity bill and mortgage payment, the papers sit on her desk until Anne reminds (nags?) her husband to pay them.
As a money coach, I was struck by how the family we grew up in and our cultural conditioning can sometimes lead to conflicting money messages:
On the one hand, a woman today can “have it all”, becoming the powerful leader of her own global company. On the other hand, she is supposed to be the damsel in distress “empowering” her husband to feel macho and in-charge by managing the bills.
And I’m wondering if it’s (still) because we’re living in times of transition, when the traditional family roles played by the husband and wife, the papa and the mama, are shifting and being challenged and redefined.
Leaving that conundrum to the sociologists and historians, here are four money tips I shared with Anne that you can use to create a bill paying system that makes sense for you and your partner:
1. It doesn’t matter who pays the bills. Just put someone in charge so you don’t incur late fees. This can happen by choice or by default and like anything else in your marriage, can shift over time. The important thing is that one partner is in charge and knows s/he’s in charge so payments don’t fall through the cracks. In the early years of our marriage, my husband took responsibility for tracking our expenses. So for us it was natural that he monitored the bills and made sure they got paid. As technology progressed, we automated our expenses and he continued overseeing the process. With my transition to a home-office financial business several years ago, the day-to-day financial management has transitioned to me.
If the responsibility seems overwhelming for one person, consider dividing up the bills so that one partner is in charge of, say, water, gas and electricity and the other one takes care of all the phone services.
There is no right way to do this. Find something that works for you and your spouse. And make sure each partner knows clearly what s/he’s supposed to do to get the job done.
2. Monitor your statements regularly to catch mistakes and notice if something is out of whack. If your bill paying is haphazard, you’re unlikely to know what is “normal” and what is not. And you could end up paying for things you don’t need and don’t want on top of late fees and fines. For example, one summer month a few years ago, we received an extremely high water bill, completely out of line with previous summer statements. After reviewing “shower policy” with our teens, we traced the problem to a leaky garden pipe which we quickly repaired (btw, it never hurts to remind kids to conserve water, especially in Israel). More recently, I renewed one of our cell phone plans. Surprisingly (to me at least), the lower-cost option included a “free” tablet, which the company delivered to my door. The following month, the phone bill spiked higher. With some investigation, I traced the spike to a delivery charge for the tablet. I immediately called the phone company and they issued a credit.
The moral of the story is: if you’re not regularly monitoring your bills, you’re unlikely to notice when things get out of line. You won’t be able to correct over payments and you’ll be letting money (and water) leak through your hands.
3. Women MUST know how to pay the bills. Ladies, let’s get real. Statistics say that at some point in your life, you’re likely to be going it alone. And if that happens, you will need the skills to pay your bills and manage your money all. by. yourself. It will probably be a scary and anxious time. Take the time now to develop the skills you may need later. You don’t have to manage bill payments forever if that doesn’t work for you and your partner. But if this is new territory, take on the job for 6 or 12 months, until you reach proficiency.
For additional financial skills that I think all women need, check out my article Six Money Muscles Every Woman Over 40 Must Develop, part one and part two.
4. Don’t nag your husband. He doesn’t want to be married to his mother. He doesn’t want to be reminded to tie his shoes (like I reminded my 10 year old this morning), to pick up his toys tools, or pay the bills. Set up a system that works well for both of you in a loving and respectful way, leaving you more time and energy to connect on the things that enhance and nourish your relationship.
How do you do things in your family? I’d love to hear how you and your partner divvy up the financial responsibilities and make things work. Please share a comment below.
And if you need some help setting up a system that works for your partnership, I’m here to help you.
P.S. I’m opening up 4 new coaching slots for people who are ready to “Untangle Your Money Chaos and Live with Less Stress”. Are you ready to join me in a 35-day Challenge to get connected with your money, lift the anxiety and create a money plan for 2016 that honors your values and works for you? And tell your friends. I’m sure you know someone whose money story could use a little boost. Contact me here for more details.