I Am a Professional Woman, but I Know Nothing About My Money

“I am an educated, professional women, how do I know nothing about our finances?”  I hear this all the time from clients and prospects who are suddenly forced to start managing their own finances when they find themselves single again.  Women have made so many strides in the workforce in the past few decades, with more women now graduating college then men and many more women holding the status of breadwinner in their relationships.  So how is it that so many women still don’t act as the primary financial manager in their marriages?

What I Know as a Business Owner, Wife and Mother

I have a theory, based on my own life experience and absolutely zero scientific research.  And the theory is this.  Balancing a career and kids and your home and your marriage is HARD.  My kids are in their elementary/middle school years, and I have worked full time for their entire lives.  It’s a lot.  I have a supportive husband, who does a lot to help in the home, but he also works full-time. It’s a lot. 

There must be some sort of division of labor.  And many men feel comfortable with the finances (whether they have any qualifications to do so or no) so they take it.  It’s not that women can’t manage finances it’s that they need help keeping all the balls in the air and if finances are something their husband will sign up to manage, then so be it.

Growing up a child of divorce, I have my own money issues.  I watched my mom struggle for years to go from being a stay-at-home mom to having a career that provided enough to support herself and her kids.  I have always wanted to earn my own money and for a long time I kept my money separate from my husband’s. 

Life Gets in the Way

But then things got complicated.  I had a demanding job that required me to be in the office late into the night, every night.  My career was thriving, but I didn’t have time to deal with things in my personal life.  My husband had a more flexible job and more time to deal with things outside work.  So, he took over our day-to-day financial management.  And it has remained that way for over 15 years. 

I have no idea when our bills are due or how to make the electronic payments.  I can tell you every birthday party my kids are invited to this month and if we have purchased gifts yet or not.  I can tell you what my family is having for dinner every night this week.  But I cannot not tell you where you would find our water bill.  Or the name of the company that provides our water. 

Now in fairness, I am not totally in the dark as we do maintain a household budget with line items for all our expenses.  We both look at it together at least every few months.  So, if something happened, I could use that to figure out what I needed to take care of.  And I do manage all our investments, because…well that is what I do all day so it’s kind of a no brainer.  But I could easily see him handling that too if I was in a different profession.

Disturbing Data to Back My Theory

There is some research that supports my theories.  In UBS’s 2023 Own Your Wealth Report (which you can find here), there are a number of data points illustrating my idea.  When women are the primary earners in their relationship:

  • 55% say they handle the majority of the childcare
  • 52% most of the laundry
  • 51% most of the cleaning
  • 48% say they handle the majority of the financial planning

Turning the tables to look at relationships where the husband is the primary earner:

  • 31% say they handle the majority of the childcare
  • 34% most of the laundry
  • 31% most of the cleaning
  • 78% say they handle the majority of the financial planning

Whether men are the primary earner or not, they still handle much of the financial planning and the minority of other household and child related tasks.  Although we have come a long way in equality, it’s still the case that women handle most of the housework and childcare, even if they are also earning most of the money.  We need help and we take it where we can get it.

This can work.  Until it doesn’t.  Like when a woman find herself suddenly single and realizes that she hasn’t been engaged in managing her finances in years, or maybe even decades.  This can feel overwhelming and create a lot of worry and stress.

Ok, So What Do I Do About It?

If this resonates with you and you are wondering how to avoid finding yourself in this position, there are things you can do now to start getting involved (without having to take over everything and add more responsibilities to your plate).  As a starting point:

  1. Schedule a monthly meeting with your spouse to go over the finances
  2. Work together on creating and managing a household budget so you are both clear on where things are (you can use tools like Mint or YNAB to make this easy)
  3. Create a document that lists all your accounts and where they are located so that in an emergency you can find everything

And if you are already in the position of having to take charge of your finances after not managing them in a while (or maybe ever), know that you are not alone.  Managing your day-to-day finances, or your investments, does not need to be overwhelming.  There are lots of resources available, including great sites like HerMoney (they also have a podcast) where you can go to learn more.  If you don’t have the time or desire to do it alone, that is where a financial planner can be an invaluable resource.  They can help you take charge, educate you or just take the whole mess right off your plate and take care of it for you.

Not knowing a whole lot about finances is a situation many women find themselves in.  It’s not that we are not capable of understanding, it’s that there are not enough hours in the day.  Hopefully we will continue to evolve as a society, finding ways to support women so they can have equal roles both at home and at work.  But until that time, hopefully the tips above are helpful as you think about how you can take more of an active role with your money.