How to reclaim your financial independence and build money skills
When Shona and Matt married, Shona happily wanted nothing to do with their finances.
ABC Everyday / By Shona Hendley
I've been married for 12 years and for the majority of that time my husband, Matt, has been in charge of our finances.
I didn't do this because he asked. I very willingly handed him this responsibility (in fact I told him to do it). Him managing loans, savings, superannuation, bill payments and budgeting was convenient and meant one less thing for me to worry about.
Behind this reasoning though, was the embarrassing fact that my financial literacy and capabilities weren't what I'd describe as sound. My desire to improve on them was also lacking because, in all honesty, it just seemed too hard.
When Matt tried to involve me in financial decisions I tuned out, usually replying with, "Whatever you think is best" or something similar.
Knowledge is power
However, recently I have realised there have been times where I've had to ask Matt which of our keycards I should use, or for him to transfer money to another account for me.
And then, while attempting to organise a surprise for his upcoming 40th birthday, I discovered that I was unable to actually pay the deposit because our sole credit card was in his name and therefore, he had access to the transaction records (and to the surprise).
From here I went on a bit of a downward spiral of feeling powerless, incapable and not at all like the independent woman I had thought myself to be. I also began to think of how much I wouldn't know if something were to happen to Matt.
So, I decided that I needed to reclaim the financial independence I once had when I was single and to equip myself with the capability and skills to do so.
When I shared my decision with Matt, he looked at me with an expression of disbelief, quickly followed by him bringing up his elaborate household financial spreadsheet onto his computer screen in order to get me up to speed.
For him, having me to share this responsibility with was so exciting because ultimately, as he told me later, it was a relief for him not to have to carry the burden of managing the finances alone.
A common issue for women
Although I felt embarrassed, ashamed and a tad guilty for being in this position, I soon discovered that it was definitely not a unique scenario to be in.
The National Financial Capability Strategy says that confidence with money is a major concern for women. Over 40 per cent report that dealing with money is stressful and overwhelming, compared with 24 per cent of men.
In addition to this, when tested on the understanding of basic financial concepts, fewer than 48 per cent of Australian women were considered financially literate, compared with 63 per cent of men, in an analysis by the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA).
Financial therapist Jane Monica-Jones believes the reasons for this disparity are deeply rooted in our society and culture.
"Historically, men have predominantly been in the finance domain. This is what has been modelled in many of our households growing up," she says.
"Women are exposed to less financial literacy and many weren't taught much about the area, meaning women are often behind."
Build your skills
A woman's confidence and belief that she is capable of being financially independent comes under the term "financial capability", explains Ms Monica-Jones.
"Financial capability refers to not only the knowledge [financial literacy] needed to make positive financial decisions but the "soft skills" which include financial skills, attitudes and confidence," she explains.
The good news is though that these vital soft skills can be worked on and improved, Ms Monica-Jones says.
She suggests to:
1. Focus on the specific financial issue that's concerning you
In order to target the relevant issue and avoid becoming overwhelmed, Ms Monica-Jones says it's helpful to narrow in on the financial issue or issues that are of concern.
"It might be not having much savings, or it could be access to mutual funds," she says. Identifying this can help you focus on specific actions that need to take place.
2. Get better at talking about money
In a society where money can often still be a taboo topic, talking about it can be challenging. It is, however, essential in relationships and the more that we do it the easier it becomes.
To do this Ms Monica-Jones says have those difficult conversations around money: "Whether that be talking about life insurance with your partner or opening your own individual account".
3. Don't compare yourself to others
While comparison can be the go-to response as we develop our soft skills around finances, including confidence, Ms Monica-Jones urges people to keep in mind that finances are individual and everyone's priorities and ways of doing things are different.
Fights about money
While financial capability might not be an issue for everyone, disagreements or issues around money can still arise and can cause problems within a relationship, in particular unequal financial management, says Relationships Australia NSW chief executive Elisabeth Shaw.
"Some [couples] are fine with unequal cost-sharing; others are sticklers for it. There is no right way," Ms Shaw says.
"What is important is that the plan is conscious, agreed, transparent and regularly reviewed.
"This is not generally something that couples should set and forget."
In order to solve and/or prevent financial issues, Ms Shaw suggests to:
1. Have a conversation that is broader than the specifics of bank accounts and bills.
What is our philosophy of living?
What are our goals?
What lifestyle do we want?
What do we want the future to look like?
Do we want to enjoy our money now or later?
2. Then focus on the details.
What should be our personal discretionary spending budget before we check in with each other?
Is a separate bank account good for our independence, gift buying, personal saving etc?
While I am still in the middle of improving my financial capabilities, the most helpful action I have taken so far has been initiating that first conversation with my husband about wanting to have more responsibility and then opening myself up to doing that.
From here, I am planning to share the monthly budgeting duties with my husband, including bill and mortgage payments so we are both equally across these and sharing the load.
While Shona has always had free access to money when she's needed and has felt that she could have a say about her finances, this isn't the case for everyone.
If you need support with a financially abusive relationship help is available and there's no shame in seeking assistance. Call the 1800 RESPECT national helpline on jump online for a chat 1800 737 732.