Don’t leave them hanging. Specifically don’t leave your spouse hanging financially. Recently my girlfriend introduced me to someone who recently widowed. She is in her late 60’s and is now trying to figure out life without her partner. I’m sure it is a scary time as I have lost aunts and grandparents and I know their spouses go through a lot trying to cope with their new life, which I am sure can feel lonely. What makes this situation even harder is being thrown into something you have never had to worry about in your entire life, money.
From what I have seen it is pretty common in a relationship where one spouse may fulfill a certain role and the other spouse may fulfill a different role. Maybe one spouse cooks and the other does the dishes and laundry. Maybe one spouse earns an income and the other stays home to raise a family. Maybe one spouse takes care of the home, while the other handles the money. Now this is where a big problem may lie.
Say your spouse has done the laundry for the last 35 years and you don’t know how to wash your dirty underwear. I am sure your kids or relatives or YouTube could teach you how to run a washing machine and clothes dryer in about five minutes. Don’t know how to cook? I’m sure those same friends and relatives could teach you how to bake some chicken or use a slow cooker one weekend so that you don’t starve. All the years of not washing your own clothes or cooking your own food can be remedied, quite easily I might add. The issue lies if your spouse has “taken care of” the household finances your entire life and never involved you in that process. This can leave scars that are very hard to remedy.
Back to the woman I met. Her husband took care of the money throughout their marriage. Now she is left alone trying to learn how to pay her bills, where the money is, where the debt is, and what to do with their little nest egg they have left. Why? “Because he always handled the money and I maintained the house.” People who do this might think they are helping their spouse by not letting them worry about the household’s finances, but what they are really doing is hurting them. When the person who handles the finances passes away, suddenly loans against life insurance policies make their appearance, credit card collectors start calling asking for their payment, and you are stuck mourning your loss while wondering if you need to sell the house to be able to meet your living expenses.
This is a wake up call to those who think they are helping their spouses or even children by saying “don’t worry about the money, I’ve got it.” What you are really doing is making their time without you that much harder. It might be easy to learn how to mow the lawn or vacuum, but leaving a spouse to scrape together an income in their 60’s to survive is not how it should be done. Invite them to a monthly money talk and make it fun with booze, snacks, and maybe some Frank Sinatra. Make it a team effort. Involve them from the beginning of the relationship, even if it isn’t “their thing.” This will be something that stays with them long after you are gone.
Do you and your spouse handle money as a team? If not, why not?