THE BLOG
12/02/2013 08:55 pm ET Updated Feb 01, 2014

The Great Debate: Who Should Handle the Money? Men vs. Women

There is no shortage of gender generalizations around money management and who should handle household finances. While one study will say that a woman's patience makes her a much better investor, another study will come in and praise men for their aggressiveness.

But, the mere fact that this is a question today is a good thing. It means that we've all hopefully dismissed the archaic belief that men should automatically manage the household finances simply because they were born male. Far too often, in an effort to uphold this image, men pretend to know what they're doing and hope for the best. The problem is the women in their lives don't realize the facade until much too late.

As many couples will share, and behavioral economists confirm, a major benefit of marriage is that it lets you focus on what you're good at, whereas your spouse can contribute from his or her own strengths. So, when it comes to the question, "Who should handle the money?" the answer is simple: You both should.

Personal finance is about personal responsibility.

If you're grown, it's not your parent's obligation anymore -- nor is it the responsibility of the partner you choose -- to take care of your finances. At each stage in life, you must take ownership of your own money. The minute you depend on anyone else to handle your finances, you hand over the control of your financial destiny, and your life goes wherever they want to take it. When you aren't in control of your money, you're forever at the mercy of others, forced to ask, "How high?" every time they say, "Jump."

Being in a relationship doesn't mean that you turn a blind eye and take a backseat to your financial future. It's your responsibility to stay involved no matter what.

Communicate, communicate and then communicate some more.

When it comes to our relationships, money is not the issue many people believe it is. Money, that little green piece of paper in your wallet, in and of itself, is powerless. It's actually what the money represents to two different individuals that can be problematic, as well as their communication or lack thereof around the topic.

Money represents different things to different people. Money and material items might equate to love and affection for some. For others, they could represent the difference between dependency and control, or between safety and instability. If a person grew up in a family that exchanged expensive presents as signs of love and affection, they might expect to get the same treatment from a partner in adulthood. But suppose that partner was raised to believe working hard, saving money and providing a stable home environment meant love and affection? These two people, both of whom mean well, are likely to bump heads.

Talk to each other about what you've heard about money and what types of behaviors you've witnessed regarding money and financial matters. Once you can understand the environment a person grew up in, or the way his parents or other influential people in his life handled money, it'll be much easier and much less frustrating to understand each other's money styles and figure out who should be working on what part of your shared financial goals.

Your future is a team effort.

Once you've talked through your money backgrounds and you know each other's financial strengths and weaknesses, don't use them as tools to condemn one another or force one person to do all the work. Household money management is a shared task with perhaps slightly more responsibility leaning toward whoever is naturally better at handling the money.

The key is to not keep each other in the dark. If anything ever happens to one partner, the other should know how much is being spent monthly, the location of savings and investments, and how to access the funds. Sit down and discuss any changes at least once a month and make time to discuss all major purchases, and come up with a game plan for making them.

They say opposites attract in most ways, and money management is likely no different. So whatever area one is weak in, the other is probably much stronger. But, if you both suck at it, you're going to have to choose the person that sucks less, ensure you communicate openly and keep a great team of financial professionals by your side.

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