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Household Finances A reader worries about his spouse’s lack of knowledge about money

A reader in his mid-70s has asked for some advice on how to get his spouse to take more of an interest in their finances. “Being three years older than her, I’ll probably hit the dust first,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I worry about her complete lack of knowledge about personal finance, banking, investments, taxes, etc.”

By coincidence, a couple of bloggers have written on this topic recently. Mark Goodfield of The Blunt Bean Counter offers six ways to improve your spouse’s financial literacy that focus for the most part on talking about money. Review the family budget together, discuss annual investment reports and discuss daily financial events, he says. And make sure your spouse has met your financial adviser, if you have one.

Mr. Goodfield has some very good reasons to get your spouse involved in household finances: a consensus in these matters is good for your marriage, you may die first and leave your spouse with the added stress of figuring out your financial situation, and your spouse’s fresh take on things may prove useful.

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Now for some lessons on money from couples who have been married for 10 or more years. There’s a lot of sound advice here. Examples: Don’t micromanage one another’s spending habits, and don’t hide your spending from your spouse.

My own thought is to put a positive spin on discussions about money by making them about reaching goals – taking a nice trip, becoming mortgage-free, feeling confident that you’re on a good track for retirement. Be collaborative and don’t nag.

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Rob’s personal finance reading list…

RRSPs may not be right for you

Retirement savings strategies for people who work temporary contracts. One of the points made here is that registered retirement savings plans are designed for people have permanent jobs more than those in the gig economy.

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Five online banks you should try

A personal-finance blogger looks at some good deals in online banking. The appeal comes down to better rates and lower fees.

Tips for grandparents, financial and otherwise

Some insightful suggestions on how to be a better grandparent, including advice on gift buying for grandchildren.

Respect the renter

All about how a B.C. politician ignited an affordable-housing debate by characterizing renting a place to live as “kind of a wacky time of life,” and “a fact of life that’s a rite of passage.” Here’s his subsequent apology. In Vancouver and Toronto, expensive housing and soaring rents are pricing people out of the market. That includes not just young people, but also seniors and people in lower income brackets.

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Today’s financial tool

March is Fraud Prevention Month, which makes it a great time to check out the Scam Spotter tool on the Ontario Securities Commission’s GetSmarterAboutMoney.ca website. Also check out these four signs of investment fraud.

Ask Rob

Q: I have a mortgage, and my spouse has a high amount of student debt (both government and bank). We’re millennial home owners who recently bought our first home. My question is: Should I take excess cash and put it towards our mortgage, my spouse’s student debt or towards an RRSP instead? My spouse’s take-home pay is not high enough to put a dent in the debts on her own, and that demotivates her.

A: Sounds like reducing student debt is a good use of that excess cash you mention. Knocking down that debt will improve your household cash flow and possibly free up money to put in an RRSP. Interest rates are generally low right now, but student debt isn’t particularly cheap. It’s doubtful you could exceed those loan rates with your investing returns in an RRSP.

Do you have a question for me? Send it my way. Sorry I can’t answer every one personally. Questions and answers are edited for length and clarity.

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In case you missed these Globe and Mail personal finance-related stories

  • Why insurers write off your car rather than paying for the repair
  • Downsized: How a late-career job loss during prime earning years can derail retirement plans
  • Gordon Pape’s mailbag: Maximizing retirement savings, TFSA losses and what to do with cash (for Globe Unlimited subscribers)

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