home icon

Couples Disagree on Money and Retirement Plans

More wives are managing family finances, though still fewer than 25 percent

By Andrea Coombes | MarketWatch | October 2, 2013

Couples claim they talk about and agree on their household finances, but their responses in a new survey indicate that’s not always the case.
 
While 92 percent of couples said they communicate well about money and 80 percent describe themselves as one financial entity, 39 percent admitted they fight about money occasionally or often and 14 percent of those couples said they never resolved those arguments, according to a survey of couples conducted for Fidelity Investments.
 
Not Equal Partners for Money Matters

Fewer than half of the couples — 43 percent — said they are “equal partners” with regard to their retirement savings, and just 45 percent said they are joint decision makers in day-to-day money decisions, according to this year’s survey of 808 couples (1,616 people altogether).

(MORE: Relationship Rescue: Resolving Money Issues)
 
Respondents were at least 25 years old and had a minimum household income of $75,000 or at least $100,000 in investable assets.
 
Big Disagreements Over Retirement

Thirty-two percent of couples disagree on whether they will continue to work in retirement and 36 percent either don’t know or don’t agree on where they’ll live when they retire. Forty percent of couples disagree on the lifestyle they expect in retirement.
 
Just 28 percent of couples said they’re “completely confident” that either spouse could assume responsibility of their joint retirement finances.
 
More Wives Controlling the Finances
 
A growing percentage of wives say they’re holding the reins on their family’s finances, but a majority still say their husband or significant other is better at handling money — and their husbands agree.
 
Almost one in four women said they are the primary financial decision makers, up from 15 percent who said that in 2011, the last time Fidelity fielded the survey.
 
But another 21 percent of women said they have only some or no input on day-to-day financial decisions and just 17 percent said they have a primary role in planning for retirement, compared with 39 percent of men who said they have the primary role.
 
Men are More Confident About Money

Fifty-three percent of the men surveyed said they’re “very confident” in their own ability to take full financial responsibility for retirement decisions versus 45 percent of women who said that.

Meanwhile, 52 percent of women said they’re confident their spouse or significant other could take over the retirement-planning decisions, while just 43 percent of men said that.
 
Differences Among the Generations

What financial control women do have appears to be concentrated among older women.

Twenty-four percent of boomer women (defined by Fidelity as born from 1946 to 1966) and 19 percent of retired women (of any age) said they are the primary financial decision makers at home.

(MORE: Hey Girlfriend, Let's Talk About Money)
 
Just 12 percent of Gen Y women (born between 1979 an 1988) and 17 percent of Gen X women (born from 1967 to 1978 in Fidelity’s analysis) identified themselves as the primary financial decision maker at home.
 
And, while 51 percent of boomer women and 53 percent of retired women said they felt “completely confident” to assume financial responsibility for their household, just 38 percent of Gen Y women and 32 percent of Gen X women said that.
 
Why Husbands Work With Money Pros

Among couples who have tapped the services of a financial adviser, the top two reasons women cited for letting their husband or significant other be the primary contact with that expert was “I trust my spouse/significant other” (53 percent), followed by “my spouse/significant other is better with numbers” (32 percent).
 
“There’s this irony that women are doing terrific in the workforce, they graduate from college more than men and then they get home and think, ‘Oh, my husband’s better at math than I am,’” said Kathy Murphy, president of Fidelity Personal Investing.
 
It’s important, Murphy said, for women “to take the time to understand just the basics of financial investing and planning so they can gain confidence.”
 
Advice From Retirees
 
If you’re not yet planning for retirement, start now — whatever your age or gender.
 
Fully 44 percent of retirees said they failed to prepare “adequately” or “at all” for retirement, and 40 percent of this group said they didn’t think they’d be able to make up the shortfall now that they are retired, according to a survey of about 1,000 U.S. respondents, conducted for HSBC.

(MORE: The Retirement Talk Couples Need to Have - Now!
 
Another reason for both members of a couple to be involved in their financial planning: the possibility of divorce. One third of divorced or separated people said they would never be able to retire, compared with 18 percent of U.S. respondents overall, according to the HSBC survey.
 
When asked what was the best piece of financial advice they’d ever received, 69 percent of retirees said “start saving at an early age,” 62 percent said “don’t spend what you don’t have” and 61 percent said “start saving a small amount regularly,” according to HSBC.
 
The Fidelity survey also asked what advice couples would give to newlyweds today. The top three responses were: make all financial decisions together, make and stick to a budget, and maintain an emergency fund that will cover at least six months of expenses.
 
This article appeared originally on MarketWatch.com. Andrea Coombes is a personal-finance writer and editor in San Francisco. She's on Twitter @andreacoombes.

Newsletter
Next Avenue in your Inbox

Each week we'll send you stories, perspective and advice.