‘He thinks I’m too materialistic’: My husband and I are in our 40s. He takes zero interest in our finances. He doesn’t even know the name of our mortgage company. What can I do?


“When I wanted to share with him how much we have saved for retirement and our return, he said he’d rather not know.” (Photo subjects are models.)

“When I wanted to share with him how much we have saved for retirement and our return, he said he’d rather not know.” (Photo subjects are models.) – Getty Images/iStockphoto

Dear Quentin,

My husband and I are both in our 40s with two kids. He does not seem to be interested in anything financial at all. He does not know the name of our mortgage company, the cost of our monthly mortgage payment or even our property taxes. He also is not interested in his retirement investments. I take care of all things financial.

When I wanted to share with him how much we have saved for retirement and our return, he said he’d rather not know. I manage his IRA and buy and sell stocks for both of our IRAs. I am doing really well in our retirement accounts, and my return for the past five years has been 22%. I am very glad that I have the skills to take care of our money.

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I don’t like the fact that we are worlds apart in this part of our lives, and it hurts me. For example, he thinks I’m too materialistic. I look at it as being a wise steward. I am really worried that if I’m not around, he will not be able to manage the basics of everyday life for himself and our children. What should I do?

The STEM Wife

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We all bring our own qualities and, yes, neuroses to our relationships — and our relationship to money is no exception. We all bring our own qualities and, yes, neuroses to our relationships — and our relationship to money is no exception. 

We all bring our own qualities and, yes, neuroses to our relationships — and our relationship to money is no exception. – MarketWatch illustration

Dear STEM,

He’s lucky to have you. And I’m sure the opposite is true, too. Some people don’t cook. Others are lazy when it comes to housework, even though they can do a 10-mile hike at the weekend. One person’s partner won’t want to talk about their feelings, while another will drive their spouse to distraction by giving them a rundown of every moment of their day. It’s a crapshoot.

You make sure you’re getting your 401(k) matches and investing in an IRA, keeping an emergency fund for six to 12 months’ worth of expenses, setting up tax-advantaged 529 plans for your children’s college education, putting any extra cash in a high-interest savings account or CDs to take advantage of interest rates of more than 5%, and staying out of debt.

You can’t change your husband, but you can manage your household finances the way a science or math teacher might teach students — by example. Financial avoidance is not uncommon. It is obviously more dangerous when people spend money and don’t want to think about their credit-card bills, and it can also prevent a person from saving for retirement.

“Like a person who hates flying will avoid airplanes, or someone who has a fear of heights won’t visit the Empire State Building, people anxious about their money tend to ignore it,” according to Alliance Wealth Advisors. “The people whose job it is to work with people on their finances aren’t always helping people feel better. The focus is often on selling products,” they note.

“We are not retirement-focused robots,” Alliance says. “We all have different goals, needs, and wants, and the ‘right answer’ is different for everyone. Telling someone who wants to pay for their children’s education, start a business, or buy a home that they should be saving more for retirement is not helpful. It can also just create more anxiety.”

All of us bring our own qualities and, yes, neuroses to our relationships — and our relationship to money is no exception. Confronting your husband about his lack of financial acumen, or forcing him to read all about your investments, is tantamount to putting your dog’s nose in his No. 1 to prevent him from relieving himself inside the house — and would be even less effective.

If you were in a band and everyone played the drums instead of one musician playing the trumpet and someone else socking it to it on the guitar or piano, it would be a pretty noisy affair. The same is true for corporations and marriages: Not everyone can fulfill the same role. Your husband, perhaps because of how he was raised, may feel anxious about finances.

Working a little black magic

So what now? You’ve already done the most important part: You stepped in and took control because it’s not something your husband is willing or able to do. No doubt he pulls his weight in other areas of the relationship. Your focus is ensuring that you spend less than you earn, save for retirement, keep track of your bills and enjoy your life. Put that down on paper.

You can work a little black magic — magic to keep you in the black and help your husband stay afloat if something were to happen to you. Frame information about your finances in a positive way. “Good news, Larry! We’ve got 20 years left on our mortgage. Even better, we now pay $2,000 per month instead of $2,500 because we refinanced in 2021 at 3%. Let’s celebrate!”

It’s the financial equivalent of dipping a brussels sprout in chocolate. You can keep dipping to keep him abreast of other parts of your financial life: “Guess what, Larry? You won’t believe it! When we hit 50, we’ll be able to make catch-up contributions to our 401(k)s, currently up to $7,300 a year. Every little bit helps. Here’s a big bowl of delicious ice cream!”

Or, “Not only does our initial investment in the stock market make money, so does the interest we’ve earned on that investment. It’s the power of compounding. Isn’t that amazing? We sit back and keep accumulating funds for our retirement. They call that passive income. Why don’t we earn some passive income at the cinema and go see that movie you’ve been talking about?”

Put your household accounts in colorful folders and make sure they’re accessible. He may decide to run his fingers through them while you are out. It will also give him a road map for your finances should you become incapacitated or pass away. Those files should include life-insurance and home-insurance policies, bank-account details and standing orders.

You can also enlist the help of a financial adviser who can talk to you both about your goals and dreams, what kind of lifestyle you would like in retirement and perhaps — given my macabre references to your husband outliving you or you becoming incapacitated — explore options for long-term-care insurance. Hard conversations are important to have.

After all, life — and financial planning — is not all butterflies and rosé.

Other columns from Quentin Fottrell:

‘She told my grandchildren lies about me so they would despise me’: I’m disinheriting my ungrateful daughter. Could she contest my will?

His wife is manipulative’: My father married a woman, 60, with no money, then changed his will. How can I preserve my inheritance?

‘We live on a fixed income’: My husband and I are retired. We’re invited to our niece’s destination wedding. Are we obliged to buy a gift?

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