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Taking the Lead

In a relationship, usually one person takes the lead. It could be on the dance floor, in the kitchen, or in social situations. Taking the lead is particularly common when it comes to financial matters.

Many times, one person in the relationship has a greater interest in money management. They enjoy reading about the topic and learning more through magazine, newspaper, and blog articles. Other times, neither party in the relationship particularly enjoys finances but one hates it a little less, perhaps, and that individual gets stuck managing the household finances. It is rare to find two people in a relationship that share the task in roughly equal parts.

So, if you handle the finances in your relationship – whether by choice or choosing the shorter straw – this article is for you.

Managing family finances is an important undertaking. And it’s wide-ranging. From paying the electric bill to selecting investments to refinancing your mortgage, the decisions around finances can move you meaningfully closer to your life goals or further away. It’s important to get it right.

It is equally important to keep your significant other in the loop. Trust me, I know what you’re thinking. “They don’t care. I’ve tried to explain these things to him/her a thousand times. They have no interest.”

I am sympathetic. Truly, I am. But this topic is too important to simply chalk up to a lack of interest.

When one person carries the bulk of the financial load, the other person in the relationship is left in the dark. Ask yourself the following three questions: If I died tomorrow, would my significant other know what investment accounts and insurance coverages we have? Would he/she know where to find the passwords to our online accounts? Would he/she know the bills we have to pay and the debts we owe?

If you cannot answer those questions affirmatively, it is time to get your better half up to speed.

But what does that mean? What steps can you take?

First thing’s first, you cannot make your significant other form a deep and abiding interest in financial matters. Either they have the desire – or reluctant willingness – or they don’t. But that is beside the point. The key is to make it easy for him/her. Take the time to document every investment or bank account you have, every insurance policy you own, every bill that comes each month, every debt that you still need to repay. Keep an updated list of online usernames and passwords in a digital vault or on a piece of paper that is kept in a secure place.

Let them know where to find this information and review it with them once a year. Sure, that is tedious work. But it is also important work.

Think about it. If you are no longer able to make financial decisions, your partner will be forced into a new and demanding role – a role they intentionally outsourced to you, in most cases. The fact that they will now have to call the shots is scary enough, but it makes the task even more daunting if their very first step is trying to track down everything you have and where you have it.

So make it easy for them. Just having an inventory of your financial life will relieve an immense burden.

From there, it is up to your partner. If they feel comfortable stepping up and making financial decisions without assistance, great. But if he or she will be unwilling or unable to make good financial decisions, be sure to map out a game plan now.

That could mean relying on the help of a friend or relative to keep your financial house in order in the event you are no longer able to take the lead. Perhaps it means identifying a trusted professional whom your partner could contact for guidance. Whatever the arrangement, talk about it in advance. Now is the time – not after the unexpected happens.

I know how simple, yet cumbersome this can sound. And, to be honest, while I wholeheartedly believe in this advice, I haven’t implemented all of these steps either. I’m just as guilty as anyone in keeping my spouse in the dark – or at least a dimmer than desired light.

So, tell you what, let’s make a mid-year’s resolution together. Let’s do one of the most loving and underrated things we can for our partner.

Let’s help them, if need be, take the lead.

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