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This October TAAG will celebrate its 30th anniversary, which means our first clients who came to us for help with early retirement packages are now navigating their 70’s and 80’s, and those who were saving for their kids’ college educations are looking at Medigap plans.

Getting older brings some things into focus, and one of those came up in a recent meeting I had with one of my long-time clients.  Like many couples, he and his spouse divided up the household tasks between them, and he was the one who monitored their finances and paid the bills.  A recent health assessment made him stop and think about how his wife would handle things ‘if I’m not around.’

Regardless of our age, this is a question we should all ask ourselves.

When my husband and I were first married he wanted nothing to do with our finances.  I was a CPA and was obviously comfortable paying bills and budgeting, while he told me he only wanted to know if there was money in the ATM.  That changed after we realized his having no clue about what it took to cover our monthly expenses made it much harder for us to work as a team to meet our goals.  If I said we had to wait on a vacation or a major purchase, he just thought I was being unreasonable, because he had no idea of what it cost to raise two kids, save for college and retirement, and maintain our home.

After discussing it further, we decided to share the job, and I provided more frequent summaries of our overall picture using Quicken.  He eventually took over our bill paying, and afterwards I would hear comments like ‘Do you know how expensive our cable is?!’

I realize most couples can’t make the switch we did, but there are benefits when you both understand your household’s financial picture and how everything gets paid.  But I’m older too, and I know there can be a big gap between what we know we should do and what actually happens.  Your partner might really hate dealing with money, and you may not feel like sharing the job.

So, what should you do if you’re the person in charge and you’re worried about will happen when you’re not around?

Provide an Overview

At the very least, make sure they are familiar with the bills you’re paying on a regular basis and where your savings, checking and investment accounts are held.  If there are major expenses, like real estate taxes, that come up less frequently be sure they know when they’re due and how much they entail.

People who’ve lost a spouse suddenly due to an accident or illness always seem shell-shocked with all they have to face.  Not knowing where things are or what needs to be done is one of the biggest sources of stress.

An easy way to provide an overview is to use a system like TAAG 360.  By linking your bank, credit cards, investment and other accounts, you can see a daily picture of what you own and what you owe at the touch of a button on your phone or computer, as well as your total spending via checking account or credit cards.  Even if you’re still paying all the bills, you can provide your partner with an easy way to keep track of where everything is and what you’re spending.  It might even help your conversations about financial priorities.

Make Things Easier Now

If you simplify your bill-paying system, it will make it easier for your partner to take over the job someday, and it will make your life better in the meantime.  Automating as much as you can is the fastest way to cut back on time consuming check writing and computer entry.

Consider putting your regular bills on autopay via a credit card, preferably one with a generous cash-back plan or other card benefits so you can earn points or cash as you pay your bills.  If you set your card up to provide you with alerts for charges, you can monitor them as you go, making the month-end bill review nearly unnecessary.  Companies that charge extra for credit card payments can usually be set up to pay electronically out of your checking account as an alternative.

Having bills paid automatically ensures your spouse will not have to worry about forgetting to pay a bill and will allow you to spend less time on the task yourself.

Have a “Who to Call” List

Even if you share the financial picture and simplify your bill paying, there are still things that come up, and it makes things easier if you have a team in place to help.  Be sure to provide a list of names and contact information for anyone you feel they should reach out to if you aren’t able to provide answers.

Everyone here at TAAG is happy to help couples with conversations about money, help you get set up on TAAG 360 to share your financial picture, and provide guidance as you need it.  We’d rather do it for you sooner than later, so don’t hesitate to get in touch.