Meaningful Personal Finance Net Worth Reports

I have pretty much taken over all the money management, including investing, bill paying, and account management. However, I still think it so important that my spouse takes an active role in at least understanding what is happening on a regular basis, setting joint financial goals, etc.

We have already fumbled with this a few times. We have tried to hold family finance meetings where we basically go over a multi-page print out of (at the time hers and mine) our account balances and some basic MS Money reports. The meetings turned into heated complaint sessions - they were disasters.

Finances, investment strategies, money saving schemes, and financial goals not most energizing topics for my wife and that’s ok as long as we can communicate adequately about them. I just need to find a way to convey the information needed to my wife without overwhelming or boring her to death - at least to begin with.

I have begun to realize part of the problem is the way the information is portrayed to her. Lists of account balances and pie charts are of little significance to my wife if she can't equate them to results of her actions and decisions. I have realized we need to create a better reporting system for our family finances to help my us track our progress.

It may be something that evolves over time, but at least to start with it would be good to just start conveying a few key statistics such as monthly net worth change, monthly income and then drill down on our monthly expenses by category so she can see where all the money is going and whether she is spending a lot or a little. At least something along those lines. Any suggestions?

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Comments (26)


Hey - Went through the same with my wife when we got married --- she didn't comprehend charts and reports she just wants the bottom line: how much is she allowed to spend every week on important issues (groceries, dining, etc) - and how close is she to over-spending (she doesn't want to be bothered with keeping track either)... So we created a list of financial goals together (that we update every 3-4 months - she is invested in this because she can understand WHY we are saving instead of spending). She gets ONE credit card for emergencies and she gets ONE debit card for purchases and gets ONE savings account (discretionary - that I DON"T look at , but fill on a monthly basis w/ X amount - that way if she buys gifts for me or other people she doesn't feel like i am monitoring EVERYTHING)... The debit card is linked to a checking account that I fill up every month with our budgeted amount. I update her at the beginning of every week of how she is doing --- which means that usually by the end of the month I tell her to watch her spending closer because she may run out of cash... So far this works very well for us, we stay under budget and surprisingly she hasn't used her discretionary spending yet.

Sounds similar to my situation. My wife could care less about investments, net worth, retirement details, etc. For her it is all about cash flow. I simply do what's coming in, what's going out, what's good, what's bad. Savings goals, debt reduction, fit into that, and get their own "line item" in the cash flow so she sees it and can question it.

I think approaching it from a checkbook view instead of a financial planner view might be best, at least initially.

My wife and I have a similar problem though we've decided to keep our finances separate. I know that how I deal with my money isn't as organized as she would like it and it is a topic best left to rest for the time being. We do talk about our financial situations and keep each other in the loop - this is enough for us for now and I am sure it will evolve over time.

Have you tried to ask your wife what the easiest way to present and talk about this is?

I don't know, but it's the same w/my wife and I as well. For now, I only show her the monthly net worth change, and how much of it is in retirement and liquid assets.

I had some similar problems with my wife, although I don't think I' as organized as you. There's a "Seinfield method" where you take a calendar and every day you meet whatever goal you've set you color in the box.
Then it's a matter of playing "don't break the chain".

Sorry, I don't have a link but you should be able to find it on that.

So break out 2-3 main goals for her, tell her what her "budget" is and you deal w/ the rest. I know you don't want to be a "dictator" (nor does she want you to be) but consider her perspective that she "doesn't care".

She cares, but obviously not to the level that you do. So figure out what's above and below that "caring line" and don't bother her w/ the trivial stuff unless you really feel it's important. Part of the balance of a marriage is that you don't both have to be involved w/ everything.

Also, consider asking her what would be effective. I don't think people always know good presentation of information until they see it, so it's likely not going to yield amazing insight.
But the point is to focus on what's important, which is the communication between you two, not on the $ numbers, but on how to communicate.

Put your ample energy and creativity into that for a while and "ignore" the numbers with her for a bit.

No suggestions, as I am in a very similar boat, but I'll be monitoring your comments for suggestions to use myself.

I too had similar porblem when dealing with my annual budget. Well i think you should take help of a professional if you feel it hard to solve financial problems

For tracking day-to-day expenses, you might try a program called You Need A Budget (www.ynab.com). It's an envelope-style budgeting program that is inexpensive and very easy to use.

Next, I would listen to what large-ish items your wife talks about buying -- whether it's new furniture, vacations to interesting places, or travel back to see her family. These are the goals she is interested in. Have her set the goal -- maybe she'd like a really nice $3000 couch instead of the $500 one from Ikea. In your monthly meetings, show her the progress toward these goals, as well as toward the big goals like retirement and children's education. You may need to try and keep the meeting to about 15 minutes initially, so try to summarize and hit just the most important points.

Also, consider reading the book All Your Worth. The author has a good point that once you've met your basic needs and savings goals, you should feel free to spend the remaining 30% any way you like. It's a livable approach that balances enjoying life now with achieving financial freedom later.

Dave Ramsey.

Hi, I think it may be helpful to talk to your wife about how she wants to handle the financial information rather than trying to figure out the best way to discuss the information with her. In our family, we set the family budget at the end of the year for the following year, set up the autodeposits, etc. and pretty much live our lives. We look at the investment allocations over the summer, make adjustments and move on. We only track our net worth once-a-year (in developing the yearly budget). We have money discussions during the year (on what we want to spend, etc.) but it is in the context of the once-a-year goal setting discussion. There is no monthly sit down and all that...personally, that would grate on our nerves, so we don't do it.

I can see the same issue with my Girlfriend. I think budgets are important. If you sit down at the beginning of the month and say "I think we should spend $XX of money on clothes.", then it's important to go back the next month and talk about whether you stuck to that or went over, and the reasons why. I think the important thing is to spend your money on planned items rather than spending it with no direction on things you can't even remember buying. Just doing a quick run down of what you're getting for your money each month can help a lot.

I really like the approach mentioned here: How we talk

THis is a really interesting post. I am going to face this issue very soon. So glad I got to read your post and the comments.

I think I'l go with Zetta'a comments and ask her (my wife, I mean) exactly how should the information be presented. This should be a good start.


I second the comment from Charlene! I am getting to like the financial planning stuff more and more, but if my husband called a meeting and sat me down to pages of reports about my progress and failings, I would zone out. I am a smart well-educated woman in a non-business field of work -- and I bet your wife is too. Love C.'s points about mutual goal-setting and deciding how to handle information together.

Also, some of us like informal conversations rather than sit-down meetings... my husband got my roth IRA opened before we were married with a pretty simple "hey, you're doing so well staying under budget even with your not-so-high salary. I bet you'd never notice if a few hundred dollars each month were gone in this easy system! And you can click on this link each month and see how the money is adding up!" It might be semantics, but an encouraging spin on things was pretty motivational.

wow, lots of complaints about spouses. . .

Maybe I'm lucky that my wife is on the same page as me about money. I think I'd go crazy if I had to live with a woman who could only stop spending when the card stopped working. Wasnt it cheeky even in the 50's when Ricky gave Lucy her allowance each week?

So I'll help you. You know from my ther comments that I believe that getting married ruins your finances and that women don't care about it. Well, they want your $, but don't care to manage it. It's kinda funny that you are realizing what I experienced years back and have told you about from the beginning. Fine, I know you didn't listen, but I will help anyway. Your Solution: Apples are apples. You cannot change her. If you want success, YOU manage the money. Keep separate bank accounts and finances. You give her an allowance, it can be a direct deposit, and how she manages it is up to her. You cannot control her mistakes. She needs to make them. Don't put her on ANY accounts you have. ONE of you have the house, ONE of you have the car, etc. I have the house, and the car, my wife has many of the bills in her name. I pay it all- I am better at it. She has no interest in it. She ruins her own banking account all the time. Different strokes for diff folks. There is a reason that old men and young women get together. They want the stability and $$, we want the sex. You fell in love with your wife for her looks and your libido- not her understanding of $$. Keep it that way. If she asks about finances, consider it a gift but never an expectation. She doesn't HAVE to love finances or even be interested in them. If she trusts you with them, fine. Trust her when it comes to the paint colors.

To younger readers: Let this be a lesson. Don't get married ;)

Hi!
I think you and her need to talk about the long term goal. Does she understand your goal? Does she share the same desire for it? Does she understand what it means having X million in some years?

It´s like a company. Without understanding the long term goal and what measures each one take to to help achieve it, there is no desire, no motivation to even learn more about it.

I always discuss our net worth with my wife, but ALWAYS translate that to what it would means as a permanent income, without the "need" to work. I also compare and explain to her the equivalent salary that this monthly income would represent, so that she understands and get motivated to save and support my investing to achieve a life without the pressure of a private job, etc.

I showed her some charts, with the % of investment in stocks, bonds, cash, etc...but that really does not call her attention. Important is to show the practice result we aim in the future, for example, "when we achieve a net worth of 5 million, we will be able to receive a permanent income of 200,000, so we could travel, start a foundation, work in a non-profit organization, etc. Then she gets interested!

I believe the best way to handle finances is to automate everything. Personally, I get my checks direct deposited into an online savings account. My brokerage account automatically takes out money every month. My bills are automatically paid. And I automatically divert some money into different accounts for an emergency fund, vacation fund, and a few others. My system at the end of the month is to then print off my statements and adjust the amounts being put into each account depending on the spending.

A service like Wesabe.com is also useful because it can automatically track everything and enables you to check the status of your accounts at a glance from the Internet or even a mobile phone. It also tracks your online spending automatically.

Anyway, those are my suggestions...

Justin
http://www.debtandfinance.com

Wow David: That is not love. Sounds like you never were in love. What you are describing is legalized prostitution!

does your wife read/know about this blog?

Yes wife knows, but personal topics such as this are still a sore spot ;-).

mh - Dave Ramsey? Im not in debt, I am trying to convey our financial condition to my wife on a regular basis.

I agree with Mike. It sounds like David has a different definition of love from everyone else. If David really is married, it sounds as if his wife made the biggest mistake of her life.

For the record, I am the wife of 2million and I have done an excellent job of managing my finances on my own. I have never been a frivolous spender. 2 million and I do have the same financial goals. I have been on this journey with him since before this blog was ever started. (We have discussed our financial goals since long before.)However, what he has failed to mention in this article is that he has only tried to discuss the finances with me once in the past few months. (When I was in the middle of something.) Therefore, he took that as I was not "on the same page as he" or that he was "boring me." He has "taken over" the finances as he calls it primarily because I am now living in a foreign country(having just moved and getting adjusted) and am now unemployed. I did not ask to give up my career and my financial freedom to come over to this new country. After this overseas assignment, I am not so sure that 2 million will be "taking over" the finances.

If I provided printouts and charts to my husband his eyes would glaze over and he'd start falling asleep.

Try breaking the data down into small bits that you can discuss in 5 minute increments, and try to be self deprecating/playful when you do this.

When we met hubs was $70k in debt, no assets, and did not AT ALL understand money in any way.

Now, he reads WSJ as avidly as me, knows the difference (for the most part) between asset classes, and understands why we have the assets we have.

But you have to make it very applicable, a bit fun, and very short increments of time.

She'll get there! :-)

These anecdotal experiences are avoiding the truth: Suze Orman sells M.I.L.L.I.O.N.S. of books and tapes directed towards women and encouraging them to take control of their finances. Yes, men too- but they are a minority. My post stands - women generally have far less interest in this and the best way to deal with it is to accept that you have differences and divide and conquer.

Two years into our relationship, my wife and I started using Franklin Planners to organize our lives and track expenses. At first, it was tedious for my wife to record every expense, but now, nine years later, she can't live without her planner, and writing down daily expenses has become second nature. At the end of each month, we consolidate our expenses on one homemade powerpoint printout with columns for each spending category. We tally up the joint expenses and we know pretty accurately what we spent for the month and how much we were over or under budget. On the budget sheet, we have begun to keep a running total of annually-budgeted expenses like clothes, travel, and gifts, so we know at the end of each month how much we have left in each category. It's low-tech and takes a few minutes of pencil and paper time each month, but it's simple, visual, and more tangible for my wife than doing an Excel spreadsheet. Moreover, having it on one sheet of paper forces us to work on it together. My wife, a determined creative type, would never have dreamed that she would one day look forward to the satisfaction of tallying up monthly expenses...but she does. Now she takes the same satisfaction in maxing out IRA contributions. *Happy to share the budget sheet if there is a way to upload.

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A personal finance weblog of my journey to reach my goal of $2 million + the value of my primary residence.
Current Net Worth: $1,574,185

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