Why One Person Should Never Handle the Entire Household Budget

This is a guest post from Jennifer.

When my husband and I got married in 2011, we were combining two adult lives. We both already had children, jobs and debt. In my case, I’d never shared a bank account with another adult. In my husband’s case, he and his ex-wife had decided to maintain separate finances when married. We opened a joint checking account and start depositing our earnings there and spending from it too.

One of the first purchases my husband made was a $150+ trip to Target. I saw the debit on the account and nearly fell over. With just one small child before I got married, I had never spent that much on a single visit. I didn’t know if I should yell or ask “why.” But then when he arrived home, bags of groceries and household items in hand, I knew he hadn’t been irresponsible. He was just buying what he thought we needed and I wasn’t used to having so many people to feed, clothe and otherwise handle from a caring perspective. We did start talking about our finances more after that day but somehow, without an actual decision being made, I became the “money” person who was in charge of creating and maintaining our family budget.

I watched the accounts for deposits, made mobile deposits of checks, set up automatic withdrawals for bills and handled just about everything else. During the months when money was tight, I stressed. I bounced a check once at the grocery store and was too embarrassed to tell my husband. He later figured it out when he tried to write a check at the grocery store but we were unable to for six months because of the NSF. Even though earning and spending fell equally on both of us, I felt the burden of the budget. When my husband would ask why I was added more freelance work to my plate, I’d say because I liked the project. When we planned family vacations, I’d sock away cash for months and use coupons to make it happen. There was no reason to lie to him, or hide anything. But since the purse string management had landed in my lap, I felt that it was my responsibility to bear it.

That all changed a few years later when I finally asked my husband to handle grocery shopping. I hate doing it and wanted to pawn off at least one financial responsibility. There was a caveat: he had to stay within budget. So he started making meticulous lists and checking sales ads. He put “nice to have” items at the bottom that he’s buy only if he was within budget. He started meal planning. We stopped spending so much on going out to eat and random mid-week trips to the grocery store. We started to actually see more money in our account as a result, and it was such a relief for me.

It was then that I told him all of my financial angst. I explained that having to handle all the money made me anxious. It also made me feel guilty if we didn’t have enough money for something, even though it really wasn’t my fault. I told him I was tired of that responsibility. He apologized and told me he wished I’d spoken up sooner.

I still handle a decent amount of our family finances, from paying pills to savings, but he is an active participant in the process. He knows, for example, how much we spend on utilities in a month now. He knows what we are spending on gas and tolls. He knows to check our bank account and the monthly spreadsheet I’ve made before making any unusual purchases.

It’s made my life a lot easier since he started participating in and giving feedback on our budget. I feel less isolated and less at fault when it comes to saying no to non-essentials. I went to Vegas twice last year for separate girls-only occasions and we talked about how much I could spend gambling or carousing (I skipped gambling and went to see Elton John and Britney Spears instead). I realize now that  I should have never tried to handle the budget alone and that just like everything in marriage, family finances are a partnership.

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