Max and I were ruefully noting the other day that we’ve had a joint household for 20 years now, alongside noticing that how we arrange our finances and day to day money is in need of a fine tune as we move into a new phase of how we run our affairs. It’s astonishing how often you can carry on muddling along with an imperfect arrangement just because taking the time to sit down and reorganise takes more time in any one particular month than temporarily rejigging everything. We’ve ended up, by dint of a number of life oddities, with a very separated set of financial responsibilities that are all about to have to change.
I remember growing up and knowing that my grandfather took full control of the money in their house; they belonged to generation where the man took financial responsibility and the woman had housekeeping, or pin money. So far as I know, they lived that model fairly fully, with my nana using her wages (as a medical secretary) for extras more than living. Those were the days of middle class one wage lifestyles though; I know I won’t ever be able to aspire to a house or life like they had. I know when my grandfather died, my nana was unfamiliar with writing a cheque and had to learn to do a side of living she knew nothing about. (And learn it she did.)
I think of myself as very different to that, because I do have access to my own money and when Max and I first set up home, I was in control of it. I worked in a bank and so it made sense for me to do so. I know there was a time in our past when wages day meant money was neatly carved up into portions across 3 bank accounts and the available cash – back then a paltry £40 left for the month – sat in my personal account for needs and luxuries. There was a joint, equally contributed to, account for rent, shopping and bills and each of us retained personal account for our own private spending. Some of this was practical because we lived partially separate lives as a student and a worker and some was because the way my parents organised their money with everything in one joint account never appealed to me. I like a measure of financial independence and autonomy and I’m not well suited to a bank account full of money on pay day; I just spend the rent!
When we got married and had Fran things changed a bit as Max became the main wage earner for a while, though it wasn’t long before I had a self employed income of sorts. The finances stayed in my control because that was how it had always been, which was a mistake because I truly lack discipline at such things. And so, following a disastrous debt run, the money moved into Max’s control. A combination of me having to manage a business alone, a large number of children, several family traumas and Max receiving an inheritance that sheer laziness means got left in his bank account, has slid the the model almost back in the direction of the ‘house keeping’ budget my nana used.
For my part there are some practical reasons for keeping financial responsibilities separate.
- Max does the shopping and has (had) the spare money available to make sure the mortgage gets paid each month.
- I know how much the children cost each month and receive the child benefit and tax credits so it makes sense for me to control that side.
- I’m the one who tends to shop for the kids’ clothes, uniforms and extras, book holidays etc
- I like to know – paranoid as it is – that if I ever needed to begin hoarding money to plan an escape, I could do so without raising suspicion. A private account suits me. It is of course possible Max is doing the same 😉
- Some bills need to be paid each month and stay fixed. Having those in a central point means they never fail to be paid.
It’s got a bit muddled over the years (and is on my FIX list) but we ended up with 2 joint accounts, one for bills and one for family incidentals I need to budget for, plus an account each. I have a private account so Max doesn’t know how much I spend on yarn, he has one so I don’t know how much my birthday present cost 😉 He shops and does fuel from his, though we need to change that fairly soon so we are both more accountable for it.
It was an interesting exercise a couple of years ago when Max decided to analyse all the accounts to see where the money went. With my past history of useless budgeting, he reasonably assumed the frivolous use of money would be from my side of the deal – it turned out though that it was Max who withdrew chunks of cash and didn’t know what he did with it!
One thing we have failed to do (also on my FIX) list, is to ensure we both have 3rd party mandates on each others’ account, which will save the other enormous pain if one is ever killed or incapacitated. There is such a thing as too separate when you are a couple with responsibilities. Most of our investments and savings are still in Max’s name and tucked away in places I know about but don’t actually know how to access. It occurs to me that for all I see myself as very different to my nana, in actual fact I would have at least some of the same problems if I was suddenly a widow. I need to do better.
If you really think about it, could you fully take over the financial arrangements of your household tomorrow if you needed to? Are you in full possession of all the facts, figures and passwords you need? Do all the accounts allow you to access the money as a signatory?
Scottish Widows, set up to care for widows of the Napoleonic War, has released a white paper on “200 years of Women and Finance”. 1 in 5 women are now the main breadwinner of the family with half saying they are fully responsible for the finances of their household, compared to a third of their mothers.
Financial independence now starts earlier; the proportion of women in relationships who claim to be the main wage earner in their household rising from 17% overall to 25% among 25-34 year olds. More than half in this age group (52%) admit they do not share any bank accounts with their partner, compared to 39% of women overall. On average UK women first feel financially independent at just 22 years old. (I was obviously ahead of my time then, having a wage and independent life, albeit fairly briefly, at 19.)
This post is in association with Scottish Widows. Find out more on their website.