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Should a couple share financial decisions?

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Jen, 29, and Dave, 32, Kelowna, B.C.

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Should one spouse make all the major financial decisions in a marriage? That's the pickle this couple are in. With both a baby and an inheritance on the way, she's trying to figure out the best plan of action. He argues it's not his money to manage. Can they agree on a strategy before their family and their problems multiply?


For the past while, our income has been somewhat sporadic. I'm a freelance writer who teaches part-time at a local college, and Dave just started studying to become a social worker. For a few years, we both taught English and travelled around Asia, but never managed to save much. I recently got my MA in creative writing, and now that we're expecting our first child in April, I'd really like to get on stable financial footing. I'm about to receive a $100,000 inheritance. My grandfather owned some farmland in Saskatchewan and left the proceeds to his three grandkids. I'm grateful for the windfall, but a little panicked about what we're going to do with it - I don't want it all to disappear within a few years. We know we'll be putting most of it toward student loans, but I don't know what the best plan is for the rest. We're renting right now and we'd like to buy our first home. I've been doing a lot of research and talking to advisers from different banks. They've suggested things like investing in an RRSP so we can withdraw the money later and claim the tax credit for first-time home buyers, or maybe short-term GICs that expire at different times to supplement our income. Dave doesn't seem too interested in participating - I feel like he doesn't care. I'm frustrated because I have to handle all of this by myself.


Jen is the one who handles most of our finances, and I'm content to take a back seat. She's pretty Type A. I'm not as knowledgeable, and I tend to go with the flow. I came from modest means, but my parents didn't talk about money very much - I guess they tried to shield me from their struggles. With regard to Jen's inheritance, I think it's great that she's getting it, but it's not really my place to decide what to do with her family's money. I'm guessing we'd pay off our debts first, and use the rest for a down payment on a house. I'd love to buy our first home somewhere around here. We're not all that savvy, though, and the North Okanagan housing market can be challenging to get into - "crack shacks" start at $250,000. Where we are, anything decent is at least $500,000 to $600,000, and I'm not sure if we can afford it. We might have to wait a while. I think we'll be okay once we're both working full-time in a few years, but as to what we should do in the meantime, I'm not really sure we have a concrete plan.

This interview has been condensed and edited

Vital stats

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Years married: 2

Kids: One, due in April

Current annual household income: $30,000

Projected future income (with Dave's starting salary as a social worker, and if Jen gets a full-time teaching job): $100,000 (evenly split)

Debts: $40,000 for Jen's master's degree ($13,000 Canada Student Loan at prime plus 2.5 per cent; $27,000 student line of credit from a bank at 5 per cent); $40,000 estimated for Dave's four-year social work degree

Current rent: $1,200 a month

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Savings: Jen has $2,000 and Dave has $1,500 in RRSPs


Financial expert Kelley Keehn says:

Jen and Dave, this is a complex question that I can't possibly answer in a short space. So I'll give you a couple of key pointers, then focus on the core issue that you need to resolve.

First, you need to hire a fee-only financial planner. There's nothing wrong with an investment adviser, but the focus often leans toward "investing" your windfall. A fee-only certified financial planner will cost you $500 to $1,500, depending on how much depth he or she goes into, but it's worth the investment. A CFP will give you a clear plan of what to do with your inheritance now, set you on a path of home ownership and figure out how to get your debts paid down.

Second, when you receive your inheritance, I highly recommend you lock it up for six months in a term deposit at your bank and take a cooling-off period before you spend or allocate a dime. I've seen far too many recipients of a windfall blow it in record time.

Most importantly, Dave, you have to get on the same financial page as Jen.

It's often said that we choose friends that are like us and spouses that are quite the opposite - especially, I'd argue, when it comes to money. That may be why money disagreements are the No. 1 cause of divorce. Certainly, resentment over money is a recipe for a very unhappy marriage. So, Dave, you need to participate. And you need to work on this together.

Plan a financial date night immediately and start to discuss your financial roles. Dave, you can start doing research on the basics of finance and you'll need to agree to take some of the reins from Jen. And Jen, you'll have to be patient as Dave gets up to speed. Agree to meet at least every two weeks, to check in on cash-flow and debt repayment, and once a month to discuss macro issues such as goal planning, research, investing and any changes to your overall strategies. Dave, I also want you to take charge of at least one thing on Jen's financial plate as a start; compiling the bills each month or set up interview appointments with CFPs. Although these may be baby steps, they'll create a sound financial foundation. Plus, Dave, I'm sure you want to foster open dialogue for your new child and create an environment of positive financial habits that you didn't experience with your own family.

Kelley Keehn is the host of W Network's Burn My Mortgage (

Cash Clash is now on Facebook.

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