Breaking the Breadwinner's Back: Why the Breadwinner Shouldn't Manage the Money

Estimated read time: 4 minutes

Managing the family finances is a big job, too big for one person. And that's just one reason why the breadwinner shouldn't manage the money.

A Big Burden

We don't mean to imply that managing finances is a horrible, arduous task. With the right planning and the right tools, it's something that should never take a ton of time, although managing money is something that should be done on a regular basis.

It's a burden in the sense that it's a lot of responsibility. When we don't manage our money correctly, all manner of bad thing can happen. Bills can go unpaid, racking up late fees and interest. Utilities can be shut off. We could even lose our home.

It's unfair to put the burden of making sure all those bad things don't happen and all the good things like saving for a home, for our children's education, and our retirement do happen, on one person. You and your spouse have to work together to manage the family finances.

He Who Makes the Gold Makes the Rules

No matter how progressive you and your spouse are, if one of you decides not to work in order to stay at home with a child, to go back to school, to start a business, or for whatever reason, the person bringing home the sole paycheck is going to feel a little resentful and entitled to dictate how the money is spent.

It's just human nature. When I lived with a roommate in college and she never bought toilet paper, I was a little angry every time she went to the bathroom. If the two of you don't discuss how to handle the situation before making the decision that one of you is going to stop contributing to the household income, it's going to cause fights.

You are going to need a whole new budget, so sit down together and make one that fits the new circumstances.

Financial Infidelity

If you have no hand in dealing with financial affairs, your spouse could be hiding a lot from you. When we see the word "infidelity" our first thought is an affair. And your partner could be having an affair. If you had been looking over the credit card statements, you might have caught it earlier.

But romantic infidelity is not the only kind of infidelity a relationship can face.

He or she could have thousands of dollars in credit card debt you're unaware of, they could have taken out a second mortgage on your home without your knowledge, they could have taken out a loan against their 401(k) and spent it in Vegas. Partners hide things from each other.

Of the U.S. adults involved in a live-in romantic relationship, 15 million people currently have a credit card, checking account, or savings account that their partner or spouse doesn't know about. In addition, another nine million admit they used to have such an account, but say they have gotten rid of it.

The point is, if you are uninvolved in managing the money, you have no idea what's going on. Dealing with the finances together doesn't guarantee you'll know everything. People get very clever when they're trying to get away with something, but sneaking around is harder to pull off when someone is looking over your shoulder.

You're Not Going Together

It's really romantic (or maybe it's really morbid!) to think the two of you will die within minutes of each other, too broken hearted to go on alone. But it's not very likely. One of you is going to go first, maybe decades before the other, and if the person who handled all of the money were the first to go, where does that leave the surviving spouse?

Now, maybe if your partner dies at a ripe old age or after a long illness, you know what you need to know: where the money is, what the account numbers and passwords are, etc.

But what if he or she dies suddenly and unexpectedly? It happens. Someone I knew literally dropped dead of a heart attack last year at 64 years old. He was a doctor, proving it can happen to anyone.

If something were to happen to you, your spouse should at the very least know where all the money is and how to access it.

You'll Fight Less

Fights over money are one of the biggest stressors in a relationship, responsible for many breakups and divorces. When you and your spouse manage the finances together, there is less to fight about.

You've made a budget together, you make decisions together, and you work towards your financial goals together. That doesn't mean you will never fight about money, but you will definitely fight about it less when you work together.

Don't Become a Statistic

What percentage of marriages end in divorce? 50% right? We've all heard that statistic for decades. Well, it turns out not to be true. It's closer to 30%. So even if you do fight about money, your odds are a solid 70/30.

But no one (without ulterior motives) gets married to get divorced. Divorce is painful and expensive. If you have children it's a million times worse. There are going to be issues in any marriage that cause stress and fighting, and money is going to be one of them.

But when a couple works together on their finances, they've achieved something big. Money is one of the most contentious issues in a marriage, but the two of you figured it out. You handled it together.

Imagine how much easier that makes it to deal with the smaller issues in a marriage like who last bought toilet paper. (I never did resolve that. I just moved into my own place.) You work together on money issues and other issues too. Because you don't want to become a statistic.