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Why Your Bills Should be a ‘Family Affair’

Do you take care of the family’s bills with your spouse? If you don’t, you may want to start. According to the NY Times, many spouses are being kept out of the family’s financial loop and this can often lead to marital problems down the road. It can also be problematic if the person handling the bills dies, becomes disabled or divorces. The remaining excluded spouse could be left managing the family’s money with no idea what kind of financial situation they are in, during an already difficult time.

Even if one spouse is writing a check for a bill, the other should certainly know how much that bill is costing the family each month. This is really the only way to make (and keep) a household budget. If one spouse is spending money that they don’t have, because they are not aware of what they have, this will cause unnecessary debt that can build up month after month.

While one spouse may be trying to protect the other from additional stress, they are not helping in the long term. If you find yourself in this situation, there are a few ways to fix it:
1. Talk to each other. It can be as simple as just sitting down and going over the family’s assets and expenses like automobile bills and mortgage payments. Once both spouses talk about it, they can find ways to save more money together.
2. Attend all meetings with the family’s financial planner or Advisor with your spouse.
3. Use online banking. Each spouse can have a login so they can keep up with their accounts from anywhere.
4. Switch regular monthly bills (like phone and cable television) over to a low-interest credit card with reward points, so that your spouse can check something else besides what is owed. While doing this, you are gaining rewards like gift cards and even vacations, just for paying bills you would have to pay anyway.
5. Go through the Life Planner process (a Wells Fargo financial planning exercise), or similar process with your financial planner. These programs catalog everything a surviving spouse needs to know about the finances, from banking account numbers and passwords to insurance policies and funeral arrangements.

Getting caught up on your family’s finances won’t be a quick process. You shouldn’t get discouraged if you find yourself not catching on right away. A realistic timeline is around two years, and couples are often relieved when the process is completed.