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Taking Over My Family’s Finances Changed My Perspective on Money

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  • My husband always managed our finances, while I paid the bills.
  • After an unexpected expense, we decided I would take a turn handling the family’s money.
  • Now that I do, I’ve found I think differently about spending money, today and in the future.

Payday is in four days. Between now and then, I’m determined to spend less than $100.

This isn’t because we have only $100 left. There are no dire consequences on the other side of that $100. I’m determined not to spend over $100 because it would mean dipping into the money I’ve set aside for emergencies, vacations, my husband’s birthday dinner, and so on. It’s all a carefully considered, complex system of automatic deposits, payments, and financial goals.

A year ago, this system didn’t exist. 

While I tried to be thoughtful with our household spending, when it came to money, I built my ideas on vague knowledge rather than granular details. I took care of our outgoings: the grocery shopping, the medical bills, donations to my children’s school, etc. I didn’t resent my husband for this setup. His paycheck eclipses mine by a lot. He works hard to earn money, so I’m comfortable bearing the mental load of spending it. But because I took on that load, he carried the load of managing our finances.

He preferred it this way. Since my husband struggles with anxiety, as far as he was concerned, giving control of our money to the person who spends all of it wasn’t an option. And for over a decade, we were both comfortable with this arrangement. 

But over the last year, my husband’s anxiety around money began affecting his health, and I began resenting the implication of our roles. Yes, I was the lower earner and the “spender,” but I’m also a personal finance writer and temperamentally better suited to handle the stress that comes with money management. I couldn’t help but feel that unconsciously, we’d set things up the way we had based on gender more than anything else. 

Unexpected debt inspired us to change our strategy

Things came to a head a few months after we put in a new backyard. We’d saved for the pool and budgeted for the landscaping, but we’d failed to consider the deck chairs, the picnic table, the twinkle lights, and the bewilderingly expensive poles that hold them up. I could go on, but you get the picture. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the picture until it was too late, and we had a credit card bill we couldn’t pay in full at the end of the month. 

A revolving credit card balance is a major trigger for my husband. As the optimist between the two of us, I reminded him that in the grand scheme of our income, $5,000 of debt isn’t going to break us. But these reassurances didn’t mean much coming from someone who … didn’t really know what she was talking about. After all, how could I? I regularly checked our accounts, but understanding the ins and outs of our financial structure was his job.

For his part, my husband was baffled. Since he didn’t do much spending, he didn’t understand where all our money was going. While I tried to explain it to him, I could see he didn’t understand. I decided it was my turn to take over our finances. 

When I told him what I’d decided, he said, “But you’re the one who spends all the money. I don’t know that you should be in charge of managing it.” 

I responded,…

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