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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Our Finances: Now is the Time to Get Involved

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 income.
*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).


the apple said...

I think halakhically (but don't quote me on this) that when a couple gets married the man owns everything, including whatever money the wife brings into the marriage and subsequent income that she generates ... maybe that's why women have this attitude that they don't need to be involved in the finances?

Tamiri said...

SL, in... Sfardi households, no less (meaning those of non European descent) this allowance business is actually quite common. I had a Syrian friend in the States (real Syrian, straight off the plane) who kept money for herself as a given. When I worked with Moroccan, Tunesian, Yemenite woman, ditto. They are either given a stipend which they sock away or they save the change from shopping. Well, things may have changed, my last experience is from many years ago but this may be a patriarchial (sp) way of household management.
Advice that I would give a women, particularly the one with his/hers/theirs accounts is to get credit established in her own name for the "just in case" - simply apply for credit under her own name only and start using that credit card.

Ariella said...

It sounds like a time warp to women granted "pin money" by their husbands. Sometimes the amount of money would be contracted (similar to a ketubah, I suppose) though a generous husband could bestow extra gifts if he wished.
But we are supposed to now be in the 21st century beyond Victorian constraints on married women's money and the 50's version of wife as consumer/spender in opposition to husband as earner/saver in the mode of "I Love Lucy."
Unless these women on allowance really are compulsive spenders with no ability to hold back so long as there is cash to spend, their husbands who seem to be complete control freaks. And such attempts at control do encourage subversive attempts to circumvent them like the hidden accounts you mentioned.

ProfK said...

The spouse should also know where the husband's will is and what the contents are. She herself should also have a will.

Apple, I'm sure a man could quote the chapter and verse, but the Gemora talks about the case of a woman who owns property that she brings into the marriage with her and which generates income. The property and income are hers to keep, but the man is allowed to deduct from the money he is obligated to spend on her upkeep the amount that she has in her own name.

SephardiLady said...

Apple-I was waiting for someone to bring up the halachic issues. Wait for my next post and you will see why I view this as somewhat of a non-discussion item.

Also, you didn't get the halacha quite right. What the wife brings into the marriage is hers (not his). What she earns during the marriage is his.

Nonetheless, both spouses must know what is going on in their home and ProfK is correct about knowing where the wills are.

Yoni said...

well, actualy what she earns in the marriage is not necessarily his.

and if he takes it from her he is usualy under strict obligations of support.

but seriously, personaly I'd rather give over the responsibility for the finances to my besheret when I marry (being a math person I have no problems tabulating and organizing accounts if she wants me to, but I'm an organizational mess and lose and missplace things so...)

and plus I tend to be a book/chocolate fiend, so i'd rather be given an allowance. I'd much rather know where said documents are, but she can deal with the particulars.

(it might be nice to write andfile a yearly accounting of obligations for the year and things payed off, so that in an emergancy they can be found quickly and you don't have a mess tranfering the work. I, however, would have great trouble keeping things in that much order.

RaggedyMom said...

Growing up, I became aware that my mother knew very little about the household finances, and while it has worked out fine in her case, that wasn't an arrangement that I'm comfortable with. We have a habit of consulting with each other about very close to everything, and it works for us.

For us, since I'm more detail-oriented (control freak), I handle the majority of the day-to-day nitty gritty (paying bills, balancing accounts).

RaggedyDad is better at figuring out the big picture side of things - decisions, self-evaluation, pros and cons of different financial decisions, and he can do most of the calculations in his head fairly quickly. I call him The Consultant. Or maybe he's CFO and I'm Payroll.

This is a great, and important topic! And to respond to your comment on RM, we had a great time with you guys too!

Esther said...

Household income - that is a big one. I'm sure we've all heard of sad cases where a spouse hid their unemployment and/or credit card spending from the other spouse until it was too late. I even heard of a situation where the wife didn't find out until the house was foreclosed. (This specific situation was not someone in the frum community.)

Also, in the unfortunate case when paychecks are not being issued on time (or at all), the spouse should be made aware. We have come a long way in handling our finances, but during the first year we were married we had this situation come up. By the time I noticed the missing money, several months had gone by during which DH could have left the position and taken other work.

Ariella said...

Yoni's comment made me think of how my husband sometimes asks me for cash. But he is not on an allowance. He just rarely goes to the bank. His pay (and mine, when I get) go right in with direct deposit. So I have to make a planned visit to the bank to obtain cash.