It’s been said that the three issues couples argue about most are religion, sex and money. A recent study by BMO Private Bank might explain why finances make the conflict list. The problem arises when deciding who makes the big financial decisions, and even more, who owns the money.
“Sixty-nine percent of married men declare themselves as making decisions primarily by themselves when it comes to investment decisions, yet only 13 percent of married women claim that their spouse is the primary decision maker,” said Mary Jo Herseth, national head of banking for BMO Private Bank. “The numbers just don’t add up.”
The study found that the disconnect doesn’t end there. A total of 69 percent of married men see themselves as the primary decision maker when it comes to the family’s choice in financial institutions, a claim that was supported by only 9 percent of married women. In addition, 62 percent of married men said they were the primary decision makers when it came to major purchases — such as new automobiles and home renovations. Only 9 percent of married women agreed.
From a local perspective, Nate Wasson, 36, managing director of operations for BMO Private Bank in Naperville, said the study was conducted “to gauge public perception and create better awareness about how people view their financial decisions.”
“Hopefully this study leads to a change in behavior about how we serve couples and the way they look at their circumstances,” Wasson said. “We are aware that folks view things differently, and we hope it will foster better communication within the groups of bankers and clients.”
Jim and Laurel Gilbert, of Aurora, found that their financial disconnect led to taking a class from the Financial Peace University. They now teach it. The course teaches couples how to get their financial affairs in order. Laurel said that her husband “hid” a lot of financial information to protect her.
“We were going through some pretty difficult financial issues at the time, and my husband was trying to protect me from the truth,” she said. “It was one of those typical manhood things where the husband feels he has to provide for the family, and he didn’t want me to know how bad things were and felt he needed to cover it up. Our communication is far better today, and the marriage is better, too.”
Naperville resident Martha Young said she and her husband, Bill, are both in their second marriage and that, while none of the money issues revealed in the study apply to them, she knows things don’t always work out as well for other couples.
“When we got married, there was child support money that was received from the first marriage and that all went into the same account,” Young said. “My name and my husband’s name are on every account, and we’ve combined everything. The only thing I ever did on my own was buy some savings bonds without telling my husband — and when they matured, I gave them to him so he could buy a car.”
Wasson said that he and many of his colleagues discover the financial disconnect when they talk to couples. He confirmed that, in many cases, each person claims to be “driving the decisions.”
“We’ve found that dividing finances is not that uncommon, and it happens also with blended families and the grandmother is in town,” he said. “Sometimes, an elderly person dies, and it makes a world of difference in how things are handled in such a way that there are no surprises afterward.”
Paul Eggert’s financial story is sort of a hybrid. He and his wife did not marry until both were in their mid-30s. Eggert, of Aurora, said he grew up on a farm in Iowa where he learned some old-school financial lessons from his parents.
“Every Saturday night, my parents would sit down at the kitchen table with their checkbook and write out all the bills,” he said. “Every penny had to be accounted for.
“Later on when I went to work, there was an office with a Northwest Mutual agent next door, and he sort of became my financial mentor,” Eggert said. “When my wife and I got married, we started a joint account and each had his own separate account for discretionary spending. But when it comes to things for the house or a car, those are joint decisions.”
Like the Gilberts, Eggert believes couples lead diverse financial paths because of a lack of communication, financial stress and embarrassment.
“People today have built up a lot of debt, and yet I know of some who have refinanced their house a number of times and used the money to buy more toys,” he said. “People often argue, become treacherous, and some are embarrassed if they feel they have reached a certain age and don’t have a lot to show for it. Those things lead to a lack of financial cooperation and good management.”
From a banking perspective, Wasson’s advice is to open up communication and begin a dialogue that includes short- and long-range goals.
“You want to figure out how to fuel those goals and keep it as simple as possible,” he said. “Meet with an adviser together, not as a part of a couple. Begin making a financial plan and stay involved.”