Who should be doing what when it comes to your household finances? At a time when the world of work is changing fast, holding on to “traditional” roles can increase financial stress.
There is an old joke in which a husband tells a friend that his wife makes all the small decisions in their household, such as where they live, how much they spend on groceries and where the children go to school. “What do you do?” asks the friend. “I make the big decisions, like the country’s foreign policy and how to achieve world peace,” says the husband.
As is the case with jokes, this one too has a kernel of truth to it. It hints at an unfair distribution of household responsibilities, and a view that women’s roles are confined to the home.
What is the situation in your household? Especially in an era when women climb the corporate or entrepreneurial ladder with growing success and increasingly bring home as much, or more, bacon money than the men in their lives.
In many households, the burden to balance the household books still rests on the woman’s shoulders. Grocery shopping, for example, is considered women’s work, as is kitting children out for school and buying household goods such as linen, cutlery and crockery. Women also deal with paying helpers, such as cleaners, gardeners and childcare providers, as well as the many other matters that ensure a functioning household.
Men, in contrast, are traditionally entrusted with the bigger picture. Not world peace, obviously, but certainly household investments and matters such as retirement provision and dealing with taxes.
Much of this can probably be traced back to times gone by when men went out to work and women stayed home to raise a family. Out of necessity, women received an allowance with which to manage the household expenses. Over generations, this pattern was cemented, and generations of men and women assumed that women are good with the small stuff and men with the big stuff.
Surely a change is long overdue!
Expecting of a woman who works a full day to also do the grocery shopping is simply unfair. Men can learn to make shopping lists and navigate their way around a shop.
Similarly, men can learn the discipline of tracking expenses and updating the household budget accordingly, and women can learn to do the taxes and participate in investment decisions.
None of the aspects of a family’s financial management is a dark art. It all comes down to a willingness to learn, a willingness to participate and a willingness to share responsibility.
A study done in America a few years ago found that women would be more effective as household investors, while men are better suited to day-to-day budgeting and spending. Some of the reasons for this is that women tend to make more conservative financial decisions (which means they are less likely to lose money trying to play the market) and men are less likely to get distracted at the grocery store and more likely to stick to the list (which limits impulse buying).
If nothing else, this research suggests that we should not divide household tasks, including financial responsibilities, based on assumptions.
Try this route instead:
- Understand each other’s mindsets about money, and each other’s money skills.
- Before assigning financial roles, agree to swop them around for a few months and see how it goes. And even when you have decided what each of you will do, chop and change duties once in a while to make sure that you both develop the broadest possible set of financial management skills.
- Once you have settled into your roles, make a point of having regular financial discussions that include all your financial matters, from the day-to-day budget, to debt solutions and the state of your retirement investments. It is important that you both understand your household’s full financial picture.
- If you have children, include them in your discussions and allow them to share in financial responsibilities as they grow and mature. You will be teaching them invaluable financial skills, imparting financial literacy, as well as modelling behaviour that they will need in their own future relationships.
Nobody is born with financial management skills; we all have to learn them. A healthy and fair approach to financial responsibilities is not only good for your family’s long-term financial health – it is also a powerful way to prevent financial stress and the kind of conflict that destroys relationships.