Stay in the Loop
For a lot of couples, the setup goes something like this: The wife pays the day-to-day bills, but she lets her husband oversee the "big picture" stuff, like managing investments and planning for retirement. If that division of labor seems to be working for you, fine. But no matter how you split the responsibility, it's critical that each partner is fully informed about how the family's money is being invested, and is keeping close tabs on retirement accounts, college funds, and any debt the family has accumulated, says financial advisor June Mays, author of Women's Guide to Financial Self-Defense.
If you've been out of the loop, the first step is to start communicating regularly with your spouse about finances. A couple of times a year, sit down and review all investments together: stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate, and so on. When tax season approaches, go over the forms together and don't sign anything until you've looked it over carefully. Be sure you know where all important documents are stored, including tax records; statements for all retirement, checking, savings, and brokerage accounts; insurance policies; wills; deeds; mortgages; and auto titles.
A good way to ensure that both the husband and wife are equally informed, says Mays, is to switch the bill-paying and investment-management duties every year, so that each partner develops a good working knowledge in both realms.
Staying involved has other benefits too. "Handling finances keeps your mind active and keeps you learning new things," says Karin Maloney Stifler, a certified financial planner in Hudson, Ohio. "It can be empowering for women, and it can be an equalizer in a relationship."