Often, only one person in the household is responsible for maintaining the family budget and managing the household's finances - and if you're reading this, that person is probably you. But what if you died or became incapacitated and could no longer manage the budget? Or what if you're just tired of managing everything yourself, or your partner wants to become more involved in your household's finances? How do you teach your partner everything you know?
Make A List
You may think your filing system couldn't be any more organized and that your financial records are in a pretty obvious location, but your partner might not. While you probably have printed documents related to some of your financial affairs, there's a good chance some of your information is stored solely in your memory bank, as you probably manage some of your finances online. Without access to your email to receive monthly statement reminders, your partner probably doesn't know how to find all of your online accounts, and may not even know which banks and brokerage companies you use, not to mention all the bills you pay. A list of all of your accounts makes it easy for your partner to see everything that needs to be addressed.
Just knowing that these accounts exist won't be enough. Get your partner a set of keys to any safety deposit boxes, divulge the code to your safe and point out which tree in the backyard is beside where you buried the money. Make sure your partner is a named account holder or the primary beneficiary on all major accounts, life insurance policies and any property you own. Also make sure that he or she knows how to access any important computer files and online accounts.
Just telling your partner that "this account is where we put our savings," isn't as good as explaining why you choose to put your savings there ("We get the best interest rate at this bank."). Likewise, saying "we have to pay x dollars a month for y," isn't as helpful as explaining why you make the payment. For example, if your partner doesn't know what long-term care insurance is and why you're paying for a policy on your mother's behalf, he or she might cancel the policy.
Make A Budget
Maybe you're not the type who needs to write everything down to successfully manage your money, but a budget is an excellent way to give your partner a big-picture idea of all the money in play - the income, the debts, the recurring expenses, the investments and so on. It can also help your partner pick up where you left off in managing the household's finances if you die or become incapacitated. (For more insight, see our special feature: Budgeting 101.)
Show And Tell
Explaining things is helpful, and written instructions/checklists/spreadsheets are even better, but nothing beats sitting down with your partner and talking through actually managing the finances. Let your partner observe the process while you explain it, and then have him or her practice it with your help and guidance. For example, accessing safe deposit boxes might be daunting if you have never done it before. Bring your partner with you and make sure that he or she has a key and is listed with the bank as being allowed to access the box.
If your partner currently doesn't handle the money at all, start off with a small, manageable task - preferably one with low stakes. For example, make your partner responsible for paying one small bill each month - something with a generous grace period on the payment due date, like the electric bill. As he or she become more adept, give additional tasks to manage. Eventually, have your partner handle all the finances for one month (with your supervision, of course). Then, try switching off months, with your partner handling the finances every other month until you both feel completely comfortable.
Create Contingency Plans
Make sure your partner knows what you would do in an emergency or unplanned financial event. Don't just be conceptual - discuss actual, concrete strategies to handle unplanned events. If you received a windfall, which debts would you want to pay off? What are your savings priorities? Is there any charity to which you would donate a significant sum? On the other end of the spectrum, if there was a sudden loss of income, which bills would need to be prioritized, and which expenses could be reduced or dropped altogether?
Your partner may be loathe to pick up a personal finance book on a Saturday afternoon, but reading the occasional article will get him or her learning about money at a manageable pace. If you find an interesting article make sure to pass it along. As your partner gains a deeper understanding, you can suggest more advanced pieces to read. Ongoing education could also include courses on bookkeeping, Microsoft Excel or budgeting.
These steps you will provide your partner with a complete picture of your household's financial situation and provide access to all important accounts. Then, gradually teach your partner enough to pass on some of the financial management burden or get by in an emergency. These may not be the most entertaining activities, but they are key to taking the best possible care of one of the most important people in your life.
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