A few years ago I helped introduce a newly widowed lady (non-Jewish) to her finances. With the exception of the checking account, she had no idea what assets she owned, where they were, or how to access them. Dealing with the death of a spouse was difficult enough. Having to deal with her own insecurities regarding this unknown territory only compounded the loss. The issues she faced were not particularly surprising, as she was in her 80's. The fact that there are (frum spouses among us) who haven't a clue, however, is unacceptable in my opinion.
This is an issue I've been aware of for a long time and have been planning to write about (I've even had requests by email). But, there is too little time and too much to say. However, when I spotted these two threads on the Imamother Chat board, I had to move this topic to the head of the class. In one thread, a poster asks the women "Do You Get An Allowance?" I opened it up, thinking it was a discussion about giving allowances [to children], only to find out that there was no grammatical error and the thread was, in fact, about receiving an allowance from one's husband. Ugh! One poster writes that her husband provides her with $200 a week for household needs. Lovely. Another poster asks "Who Pays the Bills?" Personally, I don't care which spouse actually pays the bills, so long as it gets done properly. But, this thread revealed further disfunction as posters revealed that they they are sticking their heads in the sand, not wanting to know too much about their own finances. One poster describes herself as "happily oblivious." She does not know what the monthly expenses are, where important documents are, etc. G-d willing everything is healthy, because it would be terrible if she husband has built a house of cards, chas v'shalom and she hadsn't a clue.
And speaking of disfunction, try this on for size. A poster writes: "For a while I did have my own separate bank account . . . . I was advised by another woman to have my own account as opposed to having my paycheck going into the joint account, because there might be extras that you want for the kids that your [husband] doesn't need to know about." Excuse me for giving unsolicited advice, but hiding expenses from one's spouse is a fast way to undermine trust and end up in Beit Din.Anyone (male or female) that doesn't want to end up "up a creek," today, tomorrow, or after 120 should take my advice: if you are not involved in your family's finances, today is the day to get involved. Now this does not mean that you need to start taking over the spending, bill paying, coupon cutting, bargain hunting, savings, investing, planning, or bookeeping and tax functions. The person who is best suited for each function should be the person dealing with that function. It probably comes as no surprise that I deal with about 99% of our financial affairs. But, just because I have been designated Family CEO and CFO, doesn't mean that my husband shouldn't receive the prospectus.
At a minimum, each spouse should know the following, (even if you have to give your spouse the State of the Union address over breakfast, in between shows, or while he/she is on the treadmill):
*Household expenses, by category.
*What assets you have and where they are (a well organized file system and spreadsheets are essential).
*What debts you have, where, how much, and what plan is in place to pay them off.
To be continued. I'm just getting started (iy'h).