Contributed by Melvin J. Esteban, FLMI, AFSI, RFP, CFC
Finance guru Efren Cruz, who happens to be a friend of mine, once said, that in the Filipino family “Ang ina ang ilaw nga ating tahanan” (The mother symbolizes the light of our home), then he goes on to say that “unfortunately, the role of the father is to pay the electricity bill”.
Funny as it may be, this stereotype of the wife taking care of the budget while the husband does all the earning is probably the reason couples have a difficult time dealing with money. With today’s changing family dynamics, including dual income households, or breadwinner wives, I believe that there is a growing concern and need for couples to work on their relationship with regards to money.
Money can directly or indirectly cause trouble between couples, most likely because of differences in perception of money. For some it may symbolize power or control; some may look at it as a form of love or sometimes, even security. Worse, some will say its evil. But I believe that handled properly, money can be beneficial for the long-term financial wellness of the family.
There are three different styles that we can often see in the Filipino family:
- The Independents. This couple prefers separate finances, with certain expenses assigned to each, e.g. one handles the household expenses while the other takes care of the investments. There may be some involvement in the other’s assignment, but this is usually minimal.
- The Partners. This couple makes financial decisions together. There are varying degrees of involvement in this partnership. On one end, they decide on just the major issues, and on the other end, they decide on everything.
- The Captain and Soldier. This set up has only one decision maker (the captain) and the other one (the soldier) has minimal to no involvement in the financial decisions.
I don’t believe that one style is better than the other. What is best is always the one that fits you. Regardless of what you choose though, I’d like to encourage you to do two things: create a family budget and build a common fund.
- Set a Family Budget. You’ve probably been doing this informally, but you need to put it in writing so you can keep track and later compare it to your actual income and expense. While there are several software programs available on the market, a simple spreadsheet should do. List down your expected income in one column and your expenses in another. If you are not certain of the amounts, use your previous figures to estimate. Adjust later as necessary, but it’s always better to be conservative at this point by estimating higher than average expense.
- Create a Common Fund. This fund serves as the family kitty or the house piggy bank. This is where you put your money budgeted for the house and from where you take out money for your expenses—be it daily, weekly or monthly. This can help you keep better track of your budget versus the actual spending. You can find out where your money is going and were you are saving. Match this with your budget set earlier. (If you’d like a copy of my budgeting and cash flow workbook, just email me at the address below).
Other tips I can offer couples are:
- Bring in a Third Party. By all means, if you can do it yourselves, do it yourselves. But if it’s too difficult to sort your financial issues, then a financial planner will be very helpful. A planner can play a critical role in coaching and facilitating the communication between you, as well as the planning. Making sure that you are on the right track helps you avoid pitfalls later in your finances later on.
- Communicate. There are two things that you need to talk about: your day-to-day household finances and your long-term financial plans. Sharing why each of you want this plan can put you both on the same level and can help you work as a team. Each of you comes from different backgrounds with different financial status and exposure. I cannot overemphasize the importance of honesty and openness with each other here. I’ve seen a lot of couples who do not share their financial backgrounds and orientation with each other, and this often leads to suspicion and distrust and eventually ends in confrontation and unpleasant situations. In your conversation, share what you to achieve, your desires, your goals, your dreams, your needs, your experiences as well as your feelings. You may also want to share your perspectives on savings, taking risk or even spending habits. If you have financial concerns, this is the best time you can share this as well. Equally, allow your partner to share the same with you. By doing this, you will also have the opportunity to learn and know each other better as a partner. In one of the financial planning session I did for a couple, the wife used her family’s style and method as a starting point of their discussion and went on to share what she likes and hates about it.
- Start Now. Procrastination will just lead you to potential problems in the future. A lot of people put off any money talk until some catastrophic event happens, like your spouse losing your child’s entire college fund to charity (unfortunately via PAGCOR) or suddenly discovering that your spouse’s idea of window shopping is buying the entire window display! Doing it now can give you the opportunity to discuss money and finances in a very objective, calm and relaxed atmosphere.
As a final note, there will be challenges ahead and what is important is you both respect each other’s perspective. Always remember, you and your spouse are team with the same goal—that is to achieve Financial Wellness. So as always, I wish you “Wealthy Living”.
Melvin J. Esteban is CEO of Motivating Minds, one of the leading consultancy groups in the country. He is the first Filipino to win the prestigious “Young ASEAN Manager Award” given by the ASEAN Insurance Council in 2007; and was the youngest to achieve vice presidency during his stint in insurance at AIG and Philamlife. Melvin has over 14 years of experience in the financial services industry, working in financial services marketing, product development, and strategic business development. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.