Playing to your own financial strengths

Who manages the finances at your house? You? Your spouse? Both? Neither? I remember when it dawned on me that – even in houses run by people who are more than financially astute, Wall Street types and business owners – the answer might actually be the latter. I was a junior analyst in an equity research department at a major investment bank. My boss was a highly-regarded senior analyst, the kind who made lists of the best in the business. One day – I don’t remember why – he offered up the fact that while he made his living in the world of money, he had a financial advisor to manage his assets at home. “Why?” I asked astonished. “Because someone has to do the work,” he told me. “And after putting in full days here, chances are it isn’t going to be me.”

He was right then. And he’s right now. Whether you’re naturally a saver or a spender, someone who enjoys the process of researching stocks and mutual funds in a quest to pick the best, or someone who does not, getting a grip on your financial life is part playing to your strengths – and part covering your weaknesses. This week, a few suggestions for how to get the job done.

  • Look at the current division of labor. Recently, the website MoneyRates.com conducted a poll to look at who make the decisions – you, your spouse, or you both – in relationships. The verdict? Some 50% of those surveyed say when it comes to what to do this weekend, whether to buy this couch or that one, even whether to tune into Dancing With The Stars or the baseball game, those decisions are made jointly. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about making financial decisions; only one-third of survey respondents said financial decisions are made together. And where they’re not? Husbands are primarily taking charge – even though more than 80% of the women surveyed said they felt equally or better qualified to take on the job.
  • Ask yourself: How do I feel about this? Perhaps you’re not satisfied. (If you are, that’s a different story, and we’ll get to it in a moment.) If you’re in a relationship where your husband is taking charge and you want more of a role – or in one where no one is stepping up, but you believe you’re able – clearly something has to change. It’s not easy to articulate that you want this, but it’s important. If you need a hook, use the life expectancy argument. The fact that women live an average seven years longer than mean means more of us will – at some point – be faced with running our financial lives on our own. It’s better that we are practiced at this before it’s an emergency, so how about giving us a shot?
  • And if you’re okay with the status quo? Well, you shouldn’t be, at least I don’t think so. Not only do women live longer than men, sometimes we get divorced (even when we don’t want to), sometimes we remain single for a longer period of time than we thought we would. All in all, 95% of us will be in charge of our own financial destiny at some point. Taking an interest in your financial life isn’t a money skill as much as it is a life skill. It’s fine to decide you want to do it with a financial advisor or a spouse as your partner. Complete abdication? Not so much.
Jean Chatzky

About Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky, the financial editor for NBC’s TODAY show, is an award-winning personal finance journalist, AARP’s personal finance ambassador, and a contributing editor for Fortune magazine. Jean is a best-selling author; her eighth and most recent book is Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security. She believes knowing how to manage our money is one of the most important life skills for people at every age and has made it her mission to help simplify money matters, increasing financial literacy both now and for the future. In April 2013 Jean launched Jean Chatzky's Money School , a series of college-style, interactive online personal finance courses that give men and women across the country the opportunity to learn from and interact directly with her. Jean lives with her family in Westchester County, New York.
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