Who’s Your Real “Head of Household”?

The following is a staff writer post from Libby Balke. She’s an amazing writer, work-at-home mother of two, and has been married almost 8 years. Please leave any questions or comments below for either Libby or Crystal.

“He’s a great husband and a great father,” I found myself saying to a few friends over drinks one night, as we discussed the relative merits (and demerits) of our spouses. Then I paused.

“So what’s there to complain about?” one of my friend’s chimed in.

“Well, he’s a lousy head of household,” I replied. My friends just looked at me, an obvious expression of confusion on their faces.

My Head-of-Household Definition

For most of us, our familiarity with that term – head of household – is limited to the IRS’s description of it. My husband’s never filed his taxes as head of household; he never earned enough income to file federal taxes until we were married, and since then, we’ve always filed jointly. What I was talking about here (and what my friends failed to understand) was my husband’s inability to manage our household, at least financially.

In our family, I am in charge of:

  • Paying all the bills. That includes everything from our mortgage payment to our daughter’s preschool tuition to the credit card statement. I can’t remember the last time my husband paid a bill, to be honest.
  • Keeping track of all our tax documents, then getting them to our tax preparer (aka, my dad).
  • Setting our monthly budget and making sure we’re living within it.
  • Managing our investments, including our stocks, retirement accounts, and kids’ college savings.

You get the idea.

It’s Not All Bad

On one hand, I’m happy to be in charge of all these financial responsibilities. I’m a money-minded person, after all, and all this comes naturally to me; my husband, on the other hand, is a recovering spendthrift whose parents never instilled the value of money on to their son (they weren’t negligent with their own money – they just didn’t see the need to teach him about handling it). But on the other hand, I fear I’m doing my husband a great disservice. If I were to die tomorrow (my overly-superstitious Catholic-self is performing the sign of the cross as we speak), my husband wouldn’t know where to find half of the accounts in my name – he’d never be able to collect my life insurance policy, because he wouldn’t know where to find it.

It’s not that he isn’t a part of our family’s financial decisions: we talk about money a lot, and make virtually all our decisions as a couple. I don’t even spend my Christmas or birthday money without checking in with him first. But when it comes to executing our financial plans, I’m the real “head of household,” while he’s simply a clued-in bystander.

I know this isn’t the way it used to be. My dad, like his dad before him, is the money-manager in his marriage. Taking control of the family’s finances used to be considered a man’s job, and for some of my friends, it still is. I once had a friend who told me she had no idea how much her husband made, how much they paid for their house or mortgage, how much they had in savings, and if they even had any type of retirement accounts. I found this proposition absolutely horrifying – I’ve never felt that ignorance was bliss, especially when it comes to money – and told her as much. “It’s what works for us,” she replied, neither thrown off by my harsh judgment nor by her own lack of information.

Sometimes, I ask my husband if it bothers him that I tend to take over all our family’s financial transactions. “Not really,” he answers. “You like that stuff; if I did it, it would only be out of obligation. Plus, you’d have to spend a lot of time showing me how to do everything, and I know you think that’s a waste of time.”

This man knows me far too well.

Who is the financial “head of household” in your family? Does your family’s situation ever bother you?

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8 thoughts on “Who’s Your Real “Head of Household”?

  1. I am the financial head of household although my wife handles the bills long ago. I trust my wife implicitly to handle the financial side of things. We usually talk over any big expenses anyway. A cross training is good for both parties. What if you were hurt, died or incapacitated?
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  2. I don’t really think of the head of household role as a financial one. But in term of managing our finances, I care a lot more about monitoring our budget and moving money around, but we do all the non-minutiae decision-making/planning stuff together.

    My parents have traded off the money manager hat at different times in their marriage depending on who has the time for it. They have different strengths – my dad is better at mathy things but my mom is better at organization.
    Emily @ evolvingPF recently posted..Money Management Systems VisualizedMy Profile

  3. I thought head of household meant you needed dependents according to the IRS? So technically there is no of our household. =)

    But as for the day to day finances, I manage them all. Mr PoP has full access and could figure most of it out if he had to, but I’m the organized one anyhow. That’s how it is for all of his family, actually. As Mr. PoP said, he and his brothers all married fabulous women like his mom (who has been doing the family’s finances since the 70’s!).
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..Can I Get Rich By Sharing My Stuff?My Profile

    • Same at our house. I shudder to imagine the carnage…

      I laughed at this last paragraph:

      Sometimes, I ask my husband if it bothers him that I tend to take over all our family’s financial transactions. “Not really,” he answers. “You like that stuff; if I did it, it would only be out of obligation. Plus, you’d have to spend a lot of time showing me how to do everything, and I know you think that’s a waste of time.”

      Pretty much sums up our relationship.
      eemusings recently posted..Funding our RTW tripMy Profile

  4. If I had to give an answer I would say I am the head of the household. But I’m fortunate enough to have a wonderful wife who takes on a load of things that I couldn’t even begin to handle. So my preferable answer would be to say we both serve as the head of households in different aspects.

  5. Wow, thanks Libby for a great post once again!

    I would have to say that I am the head of the household too. Mr. BFS likes money and our general plan, but he sees all the detail work (like paying bills and moving money around savings) as boring as heck, lol.

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