Today I found out something mildly disturbing: When it comes to finances, I’m a total dumbass.
This discovery occurred accidentally, during a chat with one of my closest friends. She was telling me about Denise Albert, Marv Albert’s daughter, who in the process of divorcing has come to realize that she doesn’t know a thing about her family’s finances. Until recently, she had no idea how much money was in the bank account, how much her family pays for rent, or the cost of her kids’ soccer league.
Over the years, hubby and I have rotated bill-paying responsibilities. At least I was under the impression we did. Thinking about it now, though, I can’t remember the last time I paid a bill. Even when it comes to my expenses, hubby takes care of everything. Heck, he handed me his credit card at dinner recently, even though I have my own card that’s tied to our joint account. My friend, who has known me for 20 years, was dumbfounded when I told her this.
To make my financial ignorance even worse, I actually know what could happen if a family apocalypse were to occur. My dad cleaned out our bank accounts when I was 12, and we would have been out on the street were it not for my grandparents. Given that I know the risks, why do I now keep myself in the dark about my finances? And should this change?
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why I don’t participate more in paying the bills: I feel bad that it’s not my money. Although I’ve semi-accepted that hubby’s the breadwinner, I feel bad every time a bill comes in and its mostly his earnings, and not mine, that are used to cover it. Fine, it sounds stupid. But I so dislike being financially dependent on him that ignorance is…. well, it’s not bliss, but it’s better than guilt or shame.
My other somewhat lame excuse for not being more involved is – and I so hate to admit this – I like not having to deal with the bills. From the moment I graduated from high school, I was on my own. Rent, tuition, insurance, food, car payments, books, toothpaste – it was all me. At any point, I knew that a fender bender, health emergency, or extra tuition payment could send me over the edge. Today, although I know we’re financially secure, I still feel anxiety about what could be (although rationally I know it's not likely) my impending financial doom. I’m sure I’m breaking just about every feminist rule here by admitting: I like that hubby takes this burden off my shoulders.
So I’m stuck. I’m embarrassed that I’m not contributing more financially, and I like that I’m not the family bookkeeper. But I know I should rouse myself out of my financial coma and get more involved. What does my dear friend, the one who brought this up in first place, think about my situation? To put it nicely, she thinks I’m frickin’ nuts. Here’s her advice, which I take somewhat seriously because she’s super smart and happens to be a fancy lawyer who’s seen what could happen…
1- Bank account
Open up a bank account in your own name only. Throw a couple thousand dollars in there. That way, if something were to happen, you have a little bit of money stashed away that no one else can get to.
2- Credit Card
Have a credit card in your name only. Same reason. If something happens, you will have credit. This one sounds good to me, if only because I recently met a divorced mom of a four-year-old whose now ex-husband had a secret gambling problem and racked up over $100,000 in debt. Ouch.
Make sure you have access to all of the joint checking accounts and investments and know how to log in to everything. You never know when you may need to get to your money quickly.
Know what and where your investments are. Mutual funds, annuities, 401K’s, bonds, these are all things you should be aware of regardless of whether you think your spouse is leading a secret life or not. These are your finances, too, regardless of who brings home the paycheck.
So what do you think, is my friend right? Should I be paying more attention to the bills and participating more in our family’s finances? Should we all be following her advice, no matter what?
~By Wendy Widom, Families in the Loop
Got the pic from Mommyish.
Filed under: family