My wife and I are in our 60's, retired, and financially pretty secure. I'm a self-directed investor. My spouse takes virtually no part in our financial life. Beside feeling that her math skills are weak, money problems were the cause of a lot of family stress when she was young.
So, I do everything from paying bills to investing. I don't resent this. She has tried to get more involved, but loses interest. This is probably less about financial illiteracy, and more about anxiety and avoidance. I would like to hear your thoughts.
As it happens, I’m currently helping an elderly family member sort out her finances after her husband passed. It’s been difficult. She wasn’t even sure which banks held her accounts. Her husband had taken care of everything money-related. Fortunately, he had decent paper records.
In my case, my wife used to handle paying all monthly bills, and I handled investing. To a first approximation, I handled anything that involved 5-digit amounts or more. She’s never liked making decisions about big dollar amounts. Over time, I’ve simplified my investment approach, and she has learned what I’m doing a bit at a time. At the same time, paying monthly bills keeps getting easier, and I’ve learned the various passwords necessary to pay the bills.
Ideally, D.L.’s wife should learn enough to take over if D.L. dies. However, it won’t do any good to show her this article and say “See. SEE!” She knows she should learn more about handling family finances, but it’s easy to procrastinate. And losing her husband is probably too difficult to even contemplate.
As a bare minimum, D.L. could write a letter to his wife or whoever helps his wife pick up the pieces after he’s gone. The letter would include account names and numbers and anything else that D.L. thinks might be helpful, such as his investment approach. Then he has to make sure he keeps it up-to-date and that his wife knows where it is.
Even better would be to slowly bring his wife into both the financial decision-making and the execution of decisions with online accounts. This would include paying bills and making trades. But, I do mean slowly. It’s tempting to go on and on explaining every little thing. It’s better to have a new 5-minute lesson every week or so. Maybe start with just logging into a chequing account and paying one bill. Keep it short and let her control the keyboard and mouse.
Over time, she will hopefully build confidence in both her ability to decide what needs to be done and how to do each step. But it has to be done slowly and calmly. I think D.L. should approach this process as collaborating with short lessons instead of anything remotely confrontational.