More women take financial lead in household

Posted: April 26, 2011

DALLAS - Many couples run their households jointly, making financial decisions together as partners.

But more and more women are taking on the role of their family's chief financial officer.

They set the budget, pay the bills, make the grocery list and can tell you how much it truly costs to run the family.

"Over the last five years, we have seen a significant increase with the clients and potential clients we have interviewed where the female in the relationship is either taking the lead in the decision-making process or at a minimum is involved in setting the objectives and risk tolerances for the family finances," said Karen Burns, president of Capital Ideas Inc., a Dallas investment firm.

"This is a dramatic change from when my partner first entered the investment world more than 40 years ago and a significant change from when I entered the business in 1995."

In the past, her firm "rarely met the female spouses in our strategy meetings with our clients," she said. "And now, most of the couples we deal with include either both spouses and frequently just the female."

Experts say part of the reason for the change is that more women are earning their own money and becoming financially self-sufficient.

"As they become breadwinners, we're seeing them taking on more of the longer-term finances," said Lule Demmissie, managing director of investment products and retirement at TD Ameritrade. "The reality is that women have been taking care of the household finances when it comes to paying the bills, all sorts of everyday finances."

In a survey released in May 2010 by TD Ameritrade, 33 percent of married female breadwinners reported that they alone are responsible for paying bills, compared with 22 percent of married male workers.

Stephanie Stoltzfus of North Richland Hills took over her family's finances in 2005 to help her husband, David, who had started a new job as an escrow officer at a title company.

"He was pretty wiped out at the end of the day," said Stoltzfus, 46, who was working part time then as a hairdresser. "He didn't want to deal with it because he deals with numbers all day long."

The couple's stage in life - they were newly married and were beginning to consolidate things - also called for her to manage the finances.

"I felt we were going through a lot of change, and I needed to step up and help him," Stoltzfus said.

Now Stoltzfus is a full-time mom to three adopted children and family CFO, managing the household mainly on her husband's salary.

Using Stoltzfus' experience, here's some advice for women who take over the finance duties of their family:

Organize your records. "Get a system that works for you," she said. "If you pay something late, you get a late fee, especially on credit cards. You really have to stay on top of it."

Stoltzfus uses online banking, as well as an organizer in which she files her bills. She records each bill's due date, the amount and what the bill is for.

If the role of family CFO has been suddenly thrust upon you, your first task may be to find all the financial records.

"If the financial records aren't well-organized, you may have to work to just find the bills," said Lynn Lawrance, certified financial planner at Financial Network Investment Corp. in Dallas. "Then you need to sort through things to determine what is owed, why, to whom, when it's due and for how long. Check to see if anything was loaned to others or is owed to your family."

Learn to budget. Stoltzfus was comfortable with managing money because she had done so when she was single.

However, "managing a family is a whole lot different, which is something I wasn't used to," said Stoltzfus, whose three children are 9, 8 and 5.

"When you're just managing yourself, you're not having to consider as many other opportunities of spending," she said. "You're just considering just the things you would spend on."

But that changes once you become a parent, Stoltzfus said.

"Once you have your family and your family begins to grow and your kids begin to have more of an opinion of what they want to wear and what they want to eat, you have to begin to broaden your spectrum and do more budgeting," she said. "You have to start to make decisions about how to spend money. It causes you to have to be a better budgeter or really good at saying no."

Set financial limits. "What are the financial boundaries for our family?" is a key question Stoltzfus asks often.

"There are school pictures, sports, extracurricular activities. It's just never-ending," she said.

So like a corporate CFO, Stoltzfus has had to lay down the law on what to buy and not buy for her kids.

"Sometimes when you're the CFO, you feel the pressure of the kids and you have to get tough," Stoltzfus said. "You know where you are financially, and it's never-ending what they ask you for."

When she goes grocery shopping, Stoltzfus said, "I know exactly how much I have to spend." If one of her children wants to her to buy something that wasn't planned, "I say, 'Guys, that's not on our list.' "

If she gives in, she said, "that can really take your grocery bills up another level."

But Stoltzfus also compromises with her kids.

"I tell them we can get one special thing for family night, like one special dessert," she said.

Family night is each Friday, when the Stoltzfuses go out for a nice dinner or do a special activity together.

She tries to present fiscal discipline in a positive light.

For example, she will let her children order anything they want off a value menu, but will tell them they're going to "invest the majority of the money this week on family night."

Plan long term. "Being the CFO is more than just paying the bills as they come in," said Lawrance of Financial Network Investment Corp. "Do you have the appropriate insurance in place? What about proper estate documents?"

Stoltzfus said she and her husband are working on estate-planning documents and deciding who would care for their kids if something happened to them.

She's also been researching buying additional life insurance, "what we would need financially to live on if something happened to my husband," Stoltzfus said.

"I'm just wanting to really be prepared if something were to happen."


Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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