HOW SHOULD COUPLES HANDLE THEIR FINANCES?
SOFT FINANCE WITH AYO AROWOLO
Not too long ago, I stumbled on a conversation where a retired magistrate was sharing his experience with a few friends, some of whom were couples. The key highlight of the conversation was that more than 70% of divorce cases referred to his court had to do with money matters and he suggested that if those who are planning to get married can acquire adequate financial education, the rate of divorce in marriage would reduce drastically.
In one of our series, Conversation with My Billionaire Friend, my Billionaire Friend touched on the need for precedent acquisition of financial intelligence:
“Those who desire to build wealth in the way we are presenting it must do what is required to acquire the language of the trade. As wealth builders, we are guided by the simple English adage that says: do not go near water unless you have learned to swim.
Generally, good basic financial knowledge, therefore, is a very necessary prerequisite for successfully building and sustaining wealth. Interestingly, it does not require too much classroom schooling; but involves continuous commitment and dedication to acquiring the necessary financial knowledge as far as possible”.
Last week, while trying to expand the dimension of this topic, I engaged a top manager in a wealth management company and our conversation centred around how couples should handle their finances. We considered several questions and scenarios: Should couples maintain joint accounts? How should they finance joint projects? What happens when only one of the couples is working? What works and what doesn’t? What are the general suggestions for couples who desire to take control of their finances?
His responses were captured in my notes as follows:
“You cannot generally come up with a one-size-fits-all prescription on how couples should handle their finances. For instance, opening a joint account is not the issue but what is tied to the account, the purpose. We find that it works better when couples agree on the purpose of the account and each takes responsibility for making it work. There must be agreement and mutual understanding. From my experience as a wealth manager, I would like to suggest that certain things are necessary if couples must maintain joint accounts: The earning capacity of the couples; the agreement between them, and the joint projects they both agreed they are going to fund. When all three are discussed and carefully and thoroughly sorted between couples, there is likely to be less friction.
WHAT WORKS, AND WHAT DOES NOT?
We decided to engage some married couples who can be considered successful in their partnership wealth-building to share their experiences. I spoke to men and women separately. In this edition, we shall be publishing the views of men on personal finance between couples. Here we go!
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, a successful entrepreneur, happily married was the former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Neimeth International Pharmaceuticals Plc.
TRANSPARENCY AND HONESTY ARE REQUIRED
If they are so minded and are willing to be transparently honest and they truly love each other. Otherwise, to avoid predictable “money palaver” that may arise when one spouse wants to spend money on certain items, especially on family members that may be resisted by the other, couples should maintain individual accounts.
They can agree on what each spouse will contribute to each project depending on their earning ability and assigned responsibilities. There should be dialogue and agreement, nothing forced.
WHAT OF IF ONE OF THE COUPLES IS NOT WORKING
When only one spouse is working, especially if it is the man, then he naturally will carry the financial burden of the family. This is natural for men generally though but more so for older men than the younger generation. The spouse not working should show sufficient empathy and must keep encouraging the one bearing the burden. His or her demands must be minimal and if he is male, he must find a way to supplement – look for contracts (minor or major), seek business opportunities, do consulting, volunteer service and expertise. No marriage can remain stable for too long if the woman continues to bear the full weight. The one bearing the burden, especially if she is female, must not allow the burden to break her down. She must continue to give wifelyhonour to the man and give him help to secure something to keep him busy. An idle man is a danger to himself and the marriage.
WHAT HAS WORKED FOR ME?
I am the typical man who believes that the woman’s primary role should be to support the man and nurture the children.
My wife is a trained teacher and counsellor. I do not ask her to contribute to any financial burden on the family. I give regular housekeeping allowance. She runs her accounts and I run mine.
I decided to make her an alternate signatory to my accounts, just in case.
But she has never drawn any cheque on the accounts for over 25 years. I know that she spends her earnings supplementing the housekeeping allowance. I also know that she spends much of her income on supporting the children and giving to charity. Fathers will never give enough pocket money to children or meet a lot of their wants and my wife steps in to deal with the wants after I stop at their needs. She covers gaps in my support to those seeking help from the family. Both of us contribute to the family’s upkeep, mine as duty and hers out of discretion. Why has she not drawn any cheques? Because of trust. She is determined not to abuse the trust. Maybe someday she will, but that will be out of absolute necessity.
Couples who want to take control of their finances should first love each other unconditionally. They must trust each other. Second, they must see themselves as one – not two. Third, they must be transparent with each other. Fourth, they should set priorities and budget all income and expenses. Fifth, they should jointly and freely agree on the assignment of responsibilities. Sixth, they must learn to dialogue regularly. Seventh, they must pray together regularly.
Tunde Lemo, Chairman of Titan Bank, is a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
ON JOINT ACCOUNTS
There is no hard and fast rule about whether couples should have a separate or joint account. The most important things are mutual respect, transparency and openness. My wife and I operate a loose form of a joint account. We keep accounts in the company’s names and our names for convenience. The principles are simple: what is mine is hers, and what is hers is mine. We pool our incomes together and fund all projects as joint projects.
WHAT IF ONLY ONE OF THE COUPLES IS WORKING?
It doesn’t matter whether one is not earning income. Both are WORKING because work includes house chores, care of children, etc. A full-time housewife is as productive as her husband who may be a bank CEO. The CEO is concentrating on his work to earn income because the wife is keeping the home front. She is not inferior to him at all. The same applies if the lady is a high-profile professional and the man is working at home.
My general suggestion is that the couple should understand each other and adopt the home finance principle convenient for them but bearing in mind that transparency, selflessness and mutual respect are very important.
Bunmi Oni, a former CEO of Cadbury Plc, currently teaches at the University of Lagos postgraduate school.
ON JOINT ACCOUNTS
It’s up to each couple to decide what works for them and I don’t think one can prescribe what couples SHOULD do when it comes to a joint account. What is important is openness and alignment of values. One halfway model is to have a joint account (for routine home expenditure, and they decide what is covered – e.g. domestic staff salaries, food, etc., and they decide how that will be topped up. Invariably the man does, but if he suffers reverses in his earnings or loses his job, the wife steps in) and still maintain individual accounts. This allows each to exercise some discretion but which is also disclosed. There’s a potential problem where there’s secrecy about what each earns.
HOW SHOULD THEY FINANCE PROJECTS?
Again, there can’t be a formula for financing joint projects. If it’s a joint project, then participation is from both and that should be reflected in the title, e.g., if it’s a house, the joint ownership should be reflected in the title. The premise here is that each accepts they are life partners. The norm used to be that the man bears the bigger burden of finances, but that is no longer the case. Particular circumstances may warrant exemption, e.g., in a second marriage following the departure of one through divorce or death. In that case, the couple may consider a prenuptial agreement that spells out ownership of assets created in the previous marriage.
WHEN ONE OF THE COUPLE IS NOT WORKING
When only one is working, he or she accepts responsibility for the burden until the other finds a job or gets back on his or her feet. If one doesn’t work because of a family decision, then of course the working person takes on the burden. My personal experience is that my wife had been a lecturer and after 15 years we agreed that she quit regular employment. She was a senior lecturer then. My career was progressing and my salary could carry us. At this time two of our four children were in school abroad and two were still in Nigeria. We decided it was important to be available for the kids and she shuttled between Nigeria and the UK. In time, the other two left for the UK and that made it imperative for her to be on hand for their open day, half term, ball games, etc. She spent her time on a hubby-turned-business and found she made more money than a senior lecturer salary even with a fraction of the time spent on it. After 10 years, all school was done, kids flew the nest, and she could do whatever she wanted. She still does that business today, working in her time.
Where one is not working because of layoff or inability to secure a job, both should tackle their predicament together – assuming the unemployed is not because of laziness or indolence. This is especially pertinent for couples who have “Japa” and only one has a (lowly) job. They must face the new realities which are often not as rosy as they had thought.
Live within your means, save at least 10%, start sensible (low to medium risk) investment, decide on priorities and keep to it, run your race, stay focused, and keep up with tithes if you believe in that. School fees must be a priority until done. Shun Asoebi and all wasteful spending. Once you decline Asoebi a few times, you will not be offered any more. The earlier you can own your own house the better. In these times of high inflation, get creative about how to stretch the family budget.
As God blesses you and your income grows, don’t get carried away. Adjust your lifestyle to a level you will be able to sustain after retirement when income may not be as high. Bear in mind you have only spent two-thirds of your life on retirement, and you still have 30 years post-retirement. Where will you live? What will you live on? How will you keep mentally active?
As you approach retirement, decide how EACH item of expenditure will be financed into the future – insurance, maintenance, discretionary giving, etc.
ME AND MY MONEYwith Yemisi Shyllon
YOUR WEALTH IS CLOSER TO YOU THAN YOU THINK
This week’s discussion should be of interest to everyone interested in building wealth. My proposition is that the raw materials for building wealth are all around you, right where you are now. If you can identify what people need, the problems that keep them awake in the night and you can then position yourself as the solution provider to those problems, then you are on your way to creating stupendous wealth. You do not need to Japa! There are many ripe hanging fruits all around you, waiting to be harvested or go to rot, if not plucked.
Sometimes, I wish that many who sold their God-given businesses and travelled to many so-called advanced countries, only to become second-class citizens there, were only able to lay their hands on Russel Conwell’s classic, “THE ACRES OF DIAMONDS”. They would have then discovered that in the backyards they abandoned, there are/were acres of diamonds waiting to be mined. I have travelled widely and I have seen brilliant individuals from different African countries, made up of trained African medical doctors, scientists, engineers, technologists, journalists, bankers, etc., that are driving cabs, washing dead bodies and doing all manner of menial and crazy jobs abroad, in the name of looking for greener pastures outside their countries of birth. Such people cannot be truly said to be happy notwithstanding the false impressions they give to you. They have generally uprooted themselves from where God planted them to be solutions providers, stars, employers of labour and only gone to join the labour force of increasing the wealth of those other countries, at significant losses to their countries of birth”.
The building of wealth involves searching for and discovering various existing opportunity gaps in human needs and creating successful brands to exploit and satisfy such discovered opportunity gaps. Put differently, wealth is thus created through discovering very common and hidden but existing opportunity gaps of unsatisfied human needs, exploiting those opportunities around the identified unsatisfied gaps and creating successful brands of products and services, discovered unsatisfied human needs around us”.
“Indeed, there are no exceptions to wealth-building rules. It does not matter what your country of origin is, your religion or the colour of your skin. Once you comply with these rules, you are assured of becoming wealthy beyond your imagination. This is the same principle that successful people who you read about, practise and those billionaires, who yearly make Forbes lists, practically employ to build phenomenal wealth