A reader of this column asked me to address an issue that concerns a friend of hers.
The friend is married to a gentleman who keeps the family’s finances private — meaning, he’s not sharing information with his wife of 40 years. When asked, he simply changes the subject. When pushed, he says: “No need to get involved. I’ve taken care of everything.”
We’ve come a long way since the 1950s, when Donald Rogers wrote “Teach Your Wife To Be a Widow” — or have we?
Statistically, more women live longer than their husbands. Statistically, more widows find themselves financially insecure.
Wives are not unaware of these statistics. They realize that there is a likelihood that their husbands may predecease them or become ill or incapacitated. These are real possibilities, raising real concerns, and if not handled properly, they can cause unnecessary stress.
How does the husband benefit from ignoring this reality? I can’t think of a single benefit.
I can think of an obstacle, however. It also is a reality that not all wives have an interest in the family finances.
In my 20-plus years of working with clients in these positions, I can tell you that there is a way to ignite interest and inspire confidence, and, more importantly, to secure the financial future of a wife who may someday become a widow.
The secret sauce has three ingredients: (1) a change in attitude, (2) open communication and (3) a plan for the future.
Attitude • As I described in my book, “The AARP Retirement Survival Guide: How to Make Smart Financial Decisions in Good Times and Bad,” it helps the couple if they see themselves as participating in a “joint venture” between equals.
Open Communication • Husband and wife need to agree to speak to each other as if they are starting a fresh, new venture with each other as equal partners.
Plan for the Future • The outcome is a plan that both husband and wife direct over time, with a contingency plan that the wife can execute on her own should the husband become incapable of partnering with her.
Partnering on financial decisions takes two forms. Some couples partner on day-to-day decisions, such as creating budgets and paying bills (43 percent of couples, according to the 2007 Fidelity Married Couples Research Study).
Fewer couples (38 percent) partner on longer-term financial decisions, such as selecting service providers and investment options.
Only 23 percent can work together well enough so that each can take full responsibility for financial decisions. These couples are more confident, optimistic and better prepared for life’s unexpected twists and turns.
That’s a good place to be.
Next week, I’ll take you through a six-step program that will get you started on achieving that extra level of financial security. In the meantime, write to me with questions, comments and stories if you or someone you know is in this position.
Julie Jason, a personal money manager (Jackson, Grant of Stamford, Conn.) and award-winning author, welcomes your questions/comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.