Debbie, 34, a Los Angeles waitress, was shocked to come home one day and find, after working eight hours on her feet, that her phone had been cut off. Her boyfriend of six years was supposed to let her know when the bill came in, but he forgot. It wasn't the last time something like that would happen. About a year later, after making a down payment on a new car with their joint American Express card, he neglected to pay the bill or tell her that the creditors had called-a few times. Before she could solve the problem, the credit card was suspended. Despite it all, Debbie stuck with her fiscally challenged man. "I realized that some men don't make paying bills a priority, even if they have the money," she explains. "I tend to manage the bills, but ideally, it would be good if we could do it together."
Debbie's got lots of company. When ESSENCE.com's visitors were asked, "Who should oversee finances in a relationship?" a whopping 81 percent said both the man and the woman; 12 percent said the woman; and a small 7 percent said the man. The numbers are clear: sisters want a relationship in which both partners
accept responsibility for money management.
This thinking is a definite change from the days when either the man brought home the paycheck and gave it to his partner to pay the bills, or he handled all money matters alone. These days, with so many women in careers that take them out of the home, sisters are bringing home as much, if not more, of the bacon. We don't want to shoulder all of the burden of financial and management alone, and we certainly don't want to leave all the decisions up to him.
Checks and Balances
Taheera M., 43, an executive assistant in New Jersey, remembers when her mom would hand her paycheck over to her father. "I didn't like it because my mom should have had more of a say about her money," she says. "I decided when I got married that I would have more input than she did." But Taheera, who's been married for two decades, acknowledges the challenge of striking a balance with her husband. "Right now I'm overseeing the bills, but I wish he would be more active."
Dee, a songwriter from Brooklyn, has found a way to work it. She and her boyfriend KB, a musician, have been together for two years. They've been "officially" living together for one month and share financial responsibility. "When the bills come in he pays the cable, phone and rent (sometimes) and I pay the gas and groceries. Since our careers balance out financially it's only fair." But, she's quick to add that if his income was far more than hers, she would gladly let him work while her job would be to balance the books.
Susan Strong, a New York psychotherapist and minister, feels that the question of who should balance the checkbook really boils down to who's comfortable and good at it and what both partners find acceptable. While some women take on more than their share of the responsibility, Strong identifies another danger. "I've seen women married to stock brokers who had BMWs and nice homes one day and were broke the next because they weren't educated about how their money was being invested by their husbands," she explains.
To avoid this fate, Dr. Strong suggests that couples sit down and discuss finances, even if they need a third party, like a financial consultant, to help them sort things out. If a mate is resistant to sharing financial information, she says, be honest and tell him you feel uncomfortable not knowing specifics about the bills and investments. Then, set a date to sit down and go through financial paperwork with your mate. On the other hand, if your mate is not pitching in enough, let him know, in a non-confrontational way, that you need him to help out. You could say something like: "You have a lot on your plate, let me take over for a while," to get him to open up, or "Let's take a Sunday and go over the bills and paperwork together" to get him to share the load.
What matters most, Dr. Strong notes, is that the bills get paid -- and paid on time. Whoever is best at the job should carry the bulk of the responsibility. But both partners should be as knowledgeable as possible to avoid money disasters and stress on the relationship. "It's good to have faith and trust in a partner but still be smart and know what's going on, Dr. Strong says. "It's about common c-e-n-t-s."