I’ve been lucky to have great girl(friends) in my life, many of whom have been in relationships now for a decade or more, or several relationships across several decades. They’re married, single, divorced, single mothers, married with children, married never wanting children, living with their partners, doing long distance relationships, or just doing their thing.
Each relationship is incredibly different, just like each woman is incredibly different. Talking to them through the years, however, and through my own experience, it’s become clearer to me that there are some things all women in any relationship could be doing to nourish their independence in parallel while still being committed to the relationship.
You can love wholeheartedly and also be responsible about your future. Loving and trusting someone is not mutually exclusive with investing in yourself and and enriching your independence.
And most importantly, a relationship doesn’t have to have even a hint of discord or dissatisfaction for a woman to take an active role in the financial side of things. You can bring back additional knowledge and perspective into the couple, enriching both of you in the process.
Prudential’s study Financial Experience & Behaviors Among Women highlights that while “A full 95% indicate that they are directly involved in their households’ financial decision-making; 25% are the primary decision-makers. Eighty-four percent of married women say they are involved in financial and retirement planning and, of these, 15% have sole responsibility,” yet still “Fewer than two in 10 women feel ‘very prepared’ to make wise financial decisions. Half indicate that they ‘need some help,’ and one-third feel that they ‘need a lot of help.'” [source]
Increasing your independence is good for the couple, and it’s good for you, too. Giving space and attention to your own independence is not only important for the relationship you’re in, but also in the case of the potential end of a relationship, or as a result of an unfortunate accident or health problems which can leave you scrambling to make arrangements and important decisions while you should be grieving.
The focus of this article is uncomfortable. Talking about female independence, finances, love, privacy, trust, and longevity of relationships as they all relate to each other is uncomfortable. We can make things more comfortable by talking about them. By acknowledging them. You don’t have to agree with me completely, but you should be able to acknowledge that there’s a spectrum of solutions for everyone, and taking a more active and independent role will benefit both you and your partner.
If you’re a man reading this, don’t you want your partner to feel confident and prepared to make wise financial decisions together with you, or without you if you’re unable? Go through this list with your partner, and make sure you’re both taking steps for financial and emotional health.
Here’s advice to my girlfriends.
Have financial talks early and often.
The most important thing to talk with your partner about (after perhaps, sex, and how great it is and how often to do it) is how to approach your finances. You should revisit these talks often, like annually or semi-annually, and again with major purchases, job changes, general risk taking, and other financial situations.
Financial talks shouldn’t be a bummer. Make these talks enjoyable, like planning a mini-financial retreat (complete with a great dinner and perhaps a staycation or hotel stay) so that you can see these as power boosts for the couple (taking charge of money, yay!) rather than a nagging thing you have to do and subsequently want to avoid.
Here are some articles on approaches to finances for couples:
- How to talk with your partner about money – CNBC.
- The Single Most Important Money Talk for Couples – Time Money.
- Seven Money Conversations Every Couple Should Have – Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.
- Money Talks – Money under 30.
- The First Money Talk with your Partner – The Simple Dollar.
- 5 Financial Conversations to Have – HuffPo.
- The Money Talk Every Couple Should Have – Daily Worth.
- Smart Couples Finish Rich – the Simple Dollar.
- Here’s a good podcast about why it’s important for women to have a seat at the table, with LearnVest founder Alexa Von Tobel (iTunes link) her interview starts at 11:25 mark.
Have your own money.
It’s not really important who is the breadwinner and who isn’t. If you’ve already had your financial conversations, you know how much each of you can bring to the table with regards to your shared common goals and lifestyle aims. Depending on how much money you need to sustain your shared lifestyle, you should bake into that formula setting money aside for your own discretion.
If you aren’t able to contribute half of expenses for your shared lifestyle and have money left over, having discretionary money still needs to be taken into account. If you’re not making any money, you still need money for yourself. It shouldn’t be assumed you’ll have any leftover money from household expenses, and force you to make the decision between buying something the house needs, and something you need.
Talking about these things isn’t comfortable but it’s very important. This money for yourself is yours. Maybe it’s not a lot, but it’s yours. It doesn’t have to justified or accounted for, or examined.
Have your own bank account.
For your own money, you should keep it in your own bank account. Having your own bank account allows you to be accountable only to yourself, to allow parents to give you birthday or holiday cash gifts, and for you to plan surprises for your significant other.
My friend’s husband took out a large amount from their shared account. Seeing the substantial amount missing from their account, she naturally inquired about the sum, and discovered he had bought her a gift, which simultaneously ruined the surprise and the gift itself, as it was something she didn’t want anyway, and now she knew how much it had cost them.
Opt into Your Privacy.
One of my friends has a particularly sly ex. He came over to her apartment to take care of their children via a pre-arranged agreement while she was on one of her very few vacations. While she was away, her ex accessed her computer and downloaded all her private communication (including conversations between me and her which is infuriating and a crazy violation of privacy) and subsequently used those conversations as “evidence” against her in a lawsuit. Obviously this is an extreme example, but it could have easily been eradicated by having a password, and a strong one, on her computer from Day 1.
She didn’t have a password because her children also use her computer. Or perhaps you share a computer with your partner. But there’s an easy way to fix that. Most operating systems permit you to have guests or multiple accounts and have active sessions (applications open, like mail and browsers) on both, permitting you to switch users when you’re not at your computer, allow your children or your partner to access with no or a very easy password, and password protect your sensitive information via the other user.
Here’s information on how to set up users in Mac and set up users with Windows. And really, you should have 2-factor authentication and a password keeper set up for all your accounts. Don’t make your passwords easy to guess or break, and enable complex passwords on your phone, too.
You have the right to a private space and multiple places like social networks, email, and more to interact with friends and family without the risk of sharing your entire conversations, emails, or chats. Space to gossip, to brag, to congratulate, or even to vent. A space that’s protected from any friend, family, or other visitor using that computer in the future. Setting up better security for yourself doesn’t make you a bad partner (it actually could help you from getting hacked) and there’s no reason why your default setting should be set to privacy: off.
Plan for your health.
There are studies which show that married women have the lowest health and happiness when compared with single women, single men, and married men. Whether or not that’s an absolute, if you are in a relationship you may find it tempting to put the happiness of your partner or your children ahead of your own, or you may not even realize you are doing it until you step back and examine your behavior.
Make space and time for your health, starting with regular exercise and preventative health appointments. Try to plan out which things you’ll be doing for your health in the next year, 3 years, 5 years. Take a look at some of the preventative things you might want to schedule in addition to regular physicals. There’s even a whole government site dedicated to women’s health.
Keep in constant contact with your (girl)friends.
When a relationship is going well, it’s really easy to fall into the other person and spend a lot of time with them, therefore spending less time with your friends, whether they are singled or married. This is natural, you’re in love! And love feels amazing. But don’t fall off the face of the earth, only to re-emerge when you things aren’t going well or you need emotional support outside of your partner.
Keep regular dates and catch-ups with your girlfriends on your calendar. You don’t need to do a crazy girls’ night out (unless you want to) but lunches, coffee dates, and dinners are great to catch up with what’s going on with them. And listen, too. Keep your girlfriends, or male friends if that’s who you’re close to, in the loop through thick or thin. If for some reason all your friends are shared with your partner, think about making a few friends just for you.
As a couple, avoid debt from overspending at all costs.
I’ve been debt-free for 11 years, and have studiously tried to avoid getting back into debt. In your financial discussions with your partner, make sure this is one of your goals, to stay away from debt as much as possible by examining your spending habits and lifestyle goals, and get into strategic debt for assets without overextending yourselves.
You may not even realize you could be liable for debt your spouse accrues while you’re married, even if you didn’t approve the spending! A friend of mine asked for a divorce and subsequently learned she was the proud owner of half of a $50,000 debt her spouse had racked up without her involvement. It took her eight years to pay off.
A great article from Yahoo! Finance about secrets of joint credit.
Get your name on all your assets.
Large purchases are hopefully something you and your partner are discussing during your financial conversations on a regular basis, and are things you want to accomplish together. If you’re buying a house or a car, your name should be on it. If you’re responsible for paying into the asset, your name should be on the asset.
Even if you’re not paying into the asset, you might be responsible for any capital gains or debt incurred by the asset, so get informed, and make sure you’re present in decisions regarding the asset.
The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau gives some great information about finances with a spouse (and lots of useful information in general).
Build your own credit rating.
In places like the United States, a credit rating is a score from which creditors measure how risky or reliable you are when it comes to buying things on credit. It could make the difference whether you can purchase a new appliance, car, or even a house. You can start to build credit in your name with your own credit card by acquiring small things on loan, paying down your assets and simply paying your balance on time, every time.
Prioritize time for yourself.
Make time for yourself across a variety of activities – getting active and healthy in the gym (if you can do it with your partner, this is really great, but make sure you aren’t dependent on them deciding if they want to join you or not to actually make this happen), setting aside private time for relaxing or meditation, indulging in your hobbies, or learning a new skill.
You shouldn’t have a bucket list you’re ignoring while you’re in a relationship, as it could lead to resentment. Try to chip away at the things you desire to do, and enlist your partner to do them with you, or at least support you in accomplishing them! Ideally you’ll have a big overlap of things you can do together, but 100% support from your partner on the things you won’t do together.
I’m a pretty big fan of Life Lists. Here’s how and why to create a Life List.
Plan for your retirement.
Are you taking advantage of your employer’s retirement planning and (hopefully) matching? Matching contributions from employers for your retirement is like free money. Make sure you take it. Even if you don’t have a job which contributes to your retirement, or if you don’t have a job (earned income) at all, you can still contribute to your retirement.
Here is some information about IRAs (including a Spousal IRA for married couples) from Schwab and how to make IRA contributions without a job from Forbes. Prudential has a whole site dedicated to Women and Money, including some Life-stage Checklists for single women, married women, widows, and divorcees, and Fidelity has joined as well with a site dedicated to women.
Establish your personal board of directors.
I really really love this idea from the Cinderella’s Guide to Financial Independence (ignore the name, love this list), to have a personal board of directors in your corner.
In your personal board of directors, you’ll want to establish and cultivate direct relationships with some or all of the following. Having these influences and experts in your life can only help you as a couple, and if you can have direct relationships with each of these, you’ll learn a lot more in the process and be able to contribute back to the couple’s financial goals and planning much better.
She suggests, and I recommend seeking some or all of these out yourself:
- Certified Financial Planner
- A lawyer, such as family law attorney and estate planner
- Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
- Mental-health expert, such as a marriage and family counselor or psychiatrist
- Health and fitness consultant
- Friends and family
- Spiritual guide
Would you add anything to my advice, or suggest helpful resources? Is there anything you disagree with?
Sound off in the comments.
Image by Death to the Stock Photo, modified by Sara Rosso.
Categories: Productivity, Self & Finance