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Who controls the money in your relationship?

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Indian culture is patriarchal in most ways. Yet interestingly, women control the money. Men come home from work and hand their paychecks to the mother of the house. And since multiple generations usually live in one house, the mother has impressive power and collects multiple paychecks, doling out money where appropriate.

That’s why I love this email I received from IWT reader Maria B.:

Hi Ramit,

As I was reading the Money Diaries, I noticed that in those authored by men in relationships, the women seemed to be in charge of the budget (even when money seemed to be a point of tension).

I know that this is the case in my family (my mother, my sister and I are all in charge of our respective family budgets), as well as with several of my friends (not supposition – I’ve seen the spreadsheets).

I admit that my sample is limited (and biased), but I am curious how this affects the highly-gendered anxiety/confidence levels that you reported in your email earlier this week. How much anxiety is a result of  knowing the actual numbers (i.e. creating the budget and tracking spending) vs. trusting that everything is being taken care of. I am also quite curious about finances in relationships – how is money handled, how perceptions shift, how to keep everyone on the same page, etc. I am doubt that there is a simple answer, but it would be interesting to study.

What do you think?

If you’re MARRIED, who handles the money — day-to-day finances and large purchases/investments?

If you’re UNMARRIED, how did your parents handle it? What worked and didn’t work?

Leave your comments below. As usual, I read every one.

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173 Comments

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  1. I’m married, I control the money, and I definitely worry more about it. Part of this is cultural, though – I’m American, my husband’s Brazilian, and he has a “don’t worry, things will always work out” attitude about life in general. I think part of it is also because my income fluctuates from month to month (I freelance) while my husband’s stays the same.

  2. In my marriage i manage the finances. I cover just about all aspects of it. From setting the budget to spending to planning for the future. I try and try and try to make it a more joint venture. We track our budgeting and spending through Mint so either of us can look at it at any time. My wife will, instead of looking, wait for me to get home to ask if we can afford to spend money on something. Even on smaller purchases. We plan some personal spending money every month and she will still wait to ask before using it.

    In her family growing up and now her Mother controlled the finances. In my growing up years my dad managed budgets and finances. He has worked for banks for most of his working career.

  3. I handle the vast majority of our finances. My wife always complained that we didn’t eat out enough so I’ve made her start tracking her expenses and cover the eating out. I cover everything else and handle the investing and planning as well. I work in the financial industry though and our incomes are very skewed (140k/yr to 30k/yr).

    Each of our parents are split. Her Dad manages their money. My mom handles most of the budgeting.

  4. Married. I handle all the money. I recently discovered that my husband, while he knows his annual salary, has no idea what the bimonthly take-home is. He just hands me a pay stub in a closed envelope. It’s my “job” to manage the house, which includes figuring out what to spend in food, clothing, etc. He asks me if we have money to, say, go out to dinner and accepts my answer. We discuss general ideas like, “Right now we are trying to finish our 2012 Roth IRA contribution,” but execution is entirely up to me.

    The in-laws marriage works the same way. My FIL earns all the income, my MIL manages all the money. This seems normal for Asian cultures. (Chinese in-laws.) In my parents’ marriage, my father handles all the money, both the accounting for their businesses and the household expenditures, but he and my mother fight a lot about money.

    • Wow Meg, you really inspired me. I am not married yet, but when I first read this article I got this sense of fear because the thought of trusting finances to my wife makes me very scared. Mostly I think because my mom is addicted to shopping and is always in debt so a part of me worries any girl I marry would be the same. But at the same time, while working full time it will be very difficult to plan the minutia of such things. It would be wonderful to have a wife with whom I can trust such work. Feminists might be furious to hear that “house things are your job” But if you were the one working and your husband stayed at home I’m sure that would be different, and its not that way. Regardless of what they say, I think that you have and are accomplishing something incredible and rare and very often overlooked in the modern age, namely, being a good housewife. Congratulations!

  5. I’m married and I handle the day to day finances. We review all of our accounts each month and track our progress for our yearly goals, which we created together.

  6. I’m married and I control the finances in our marriage. Growing up, my dad was in charge of all the finances. In my husband’s family, his mom is in charge of it. When we married, my husband expected that I would control the finances since he grew up with a woman controlling the finances. I had no issue with this because I like to know where everything goes and wouldn’t be comfortable with someone else handling it.

  7. Married. Live in Australia. I handle the money 100% (I’m the male BTW).

    My father also always handled the money and so I think I naturally just expected that I too would handle it all. All our friends I’m 98% sure the males also handle the expenses.

    That said I’d be 100% happy to share the money handling with my wife :-) She has just as many Engineering degree’s as me (better in fact as she scored “first class honours” on hers) and I’m sure she’d do just as good a job. The thing is, she doesn’t care really and I enjoy doing it all so she rarely touches it. I always keep her informed and answer any questions and make changes if she feels something is wrong/missing. So in that regard I guess you could say we’re BOTH in control, I just do all the heavy lifting 😉

  8. I’m married and I handle the finances. My wife handled them for several years, then passed them back to me (long story). I do all the day to day, planning, and major decisions.

  9. I’m married. We basically both handle the finances.

    We do a yours/mine/ours system for bills. We each have our own accounts plus a joint account for joint expenses. We make just about the same amount so all the joint expenses are split down the middle.

    As to who physically pays the bills, it’s mostly done by my husband- because he’s likes to track all the minutiae of the credit card bill and such. I am happy to track expenses automatically in Mint, but he for some reason lives in fear that Kohl’s will overcharge him for the pants he just bought, so he checks every bill. Drives me batty, so I let him do it.

    We sit down and do a budget review together every month.

  10. I (wife) handle the day to day money in our house. For larger expenses (home improvements, cars, etc) we make decisions together. Also, we each have some monthly discretionary money of our own that we spend on whatever we want without consulting each other, which gives us flexibility without compromising our budget.

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