More wives taking charge of expenses

Pandemic has prompted many to tackle fiscal matters when husbands lose jobs or fall sick

Beyond health concerns, there is the very real fact that more women than men have lost jobs during the pandemic.
Beyond health concerns, there is the very real fact that more women than men have lost jobs during the pandemic.PHOTO: ST FILE

The pandemic has driven more women to take charge of their families' expenses, proving that they are just as capable in financial planning, if not better.

Take Ms Tara Beier and her husband Dennis. They kept separate bank accounts and divided their household responsibilities.

Her husband, 42, covered the mortgage on the two properties they own, while Ms Beier, 38, managed and took care of a rental home.

When the pandemic hit, her husband lost his job as a producer in the film industry.

A singer-songwriter, Ms Beier is now responsible for covering mortgage, food, everyday expenses and rent. She does not mind. "I felt like he's relying on me more as a woman," said Ms Beier, who lives in California.

Once the coronavirus pandemic hit, she wanted to know specifics - because what if her husband got sick? Where were their important documents, or passwords for bank accounts?

Did he have any debt? Together in isolation for three months, the couple had lots of time to talk. And talk they did, about their dreams, their goals and their finances.

Many women, who have often let their husbands deal with fiscal matters, recognise that they can no longer bury their heads in the sand. In an era when everything feels uncertain, they crave transparency, especially when it comes to money.

Ms Erika Wasserman, a financial therapist in Miami, said: "Women are planners by nature, so for us this is an opportunity to ask the husband, what's our plan? Not just what's our budget or mortgage, but what's our plan for life insurance? Where do you want to be buried? That might be the first time they're asking the questions in a long time."

Beyond health concerns, there is the very real fact that more women than men have lost jobs during the pandemic. Between February and May alone, women lost 11.5 million jobs, compared with nine million for men, according to the Pew Research Centre.

A recent survey also found that women are generally less savvy in investment than men, with 47 per cent associating negative words like "fear", "anxiety", "inadequacy" and "dread" with financial planning, compared with 31 per cent of men.

Ms Michelle Smith, chief executive of Source Financial Advisors in New York, says it is time women take a more active role in the household finances. "In my experience, it's still male-dominated within a marriage," she said.

"I hate to paint that, but it's true. A lot of women are scared to sit down and say - 'What's in my name? What do we have? Do we have any trusts? What's this thing I signed?' So many women don't know what to do."

As for Ms Beier, the uncomfortable conversations with her husband brought "a really good clarity to our relationship", she said.

Granted, she wasn't thrilled with all of the news - like discovering that he had a few credit cards and was about $30,000 in debt. This was especially alarming; she uses only a debit card.

But all of their talks, she said, "brought us to a new level. We didn't realise how much pressure money has put on us. Covid-19 gave us the ability to say, what do we really need and not need? It has been a blessing for us in disguise".

Ms Smith, the financial planner, takes it a step further. "This conversation isn't a luxury," she said. "It's a necessity."

FIVE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS

She says that women should know the answers to these financial questions.

•How are assets titled and what is, and is not, in joint accounts? This is especially important for access in case of prolonged illness or death.

•Where are all the important documents? Do I have access and log-in information for all accounts, such as savings, investments, retirement, marital assets and trusts?

•Do I have enough funds in my own name to get through six months of my family's total overhead expenses, like housing, taxes and personal expenses?

•Am I the owner or beneficiary of my husband's life insurance policy? If the policy is owned by a trust, do I know who the trustees are or if I am a beneficiary of the trust?

•What is my legal or emotional recourse if my husband refuses to share information? (The quick answer: no recourse, unless you file for divorce, which compels financial discovery.)

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 04, 2020, with the headline 'More wives taking charge of expenses'. Print Edition | Subscribe