Archive for June, 2009

Don't Keep it to Yourself

June 20, 2009 Leave a comment

I recently received a call from an elderly woman. 

Me:  Hello, how can I help you?

Woman:  I have a bill from the NYC Finance Department for $22,000.  What should I do with it?  Should I send it to you?

Me:  What is the bill for?

Woman:  I don’t know.  My husband passed away earlier this year.  He handled all of the finances.  I don’t know if I have to pay this money.  What should I do?

I am not the person who sent her the bill (I do not work for NYC finance).  I can guess what the bill is for, but I was certainly not the person to ask.  This woman had no idea who she should have been speaking to and ended up being shuffled from one person to another in an attempt to understand her situation.

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon.  One spouse usually handles the finances.  He or she pays the mortgage, balances the check book and manages the investments.  The other spouse has no idea what they couples net worth is, has no idea if they are on the right track to retirement and as illustrated above, doesn’t even understand the paper work that is arriving at the house. 

It is not the worst thing for one spouse to take the wheel when it comes to finances, but the other spouse should not be left in the dark.  Here are some basic rules to follow:

  • Each spouse should understand the status quo.  If there is a mortgage, what kind of mortgage is it?  Is it a fixed rate?  Is it an adjustable rate?  How much is owed?  Are the insurance and tax payments included in the monthly payments?  I suspect that the NYC finance bill the elderly woman received was her yearly tax payment for her home.  Each spouse should have an idea of how much money is held in banks accounts, mutual funds, stocks, bonds and how much money is owed on credit cards, the mortgage and other loans. 
  • In addition to knowing how much is owed, each spouse should know where bank accounts and investments are held and what credit cards are held by each spouse.  What kind of insurance policies do you have and which insurers are they held with?  This can be easily dealt with if the spouse who is the primary financial handler keeps organized files that are easily found and understood.  If you handle the finances in your home, do not use a convoluted system to track your finances.
  • Each spouse should know where to get help.  Even if one spouse does not know all of the details of how much is going in or coming out, he or she should know who to call.  If there is a financial planner, an accountant or any other financial professional, each spouse should know who that person is and should be able to easily get in touch with that professional. 

All of these suggestions are easily implemented through proper communication.  It’s not necessary to sit down and have in depth discussions about finances on a weekly basis.  Sit down once a year and spend a bit of time reviewing basic information and any changes.  If a major change occurs during the year, briefly discuss that information and then file it away.  If a tragedy occurs, minimize the pay and suffering of your spouse by making sure everyone is in the loop.

Categories: family

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things…

June 15, 2009 Leave a comment

So it came to my attention that I created a list of websites that I have deemed “Useful Personal Finance Sites” but I haven’t explained why I find them useful.  I thought it might be helpful to explain why I picked these sites and what I like about them.   But before I do that, I want to explain why I would even list other places to find financial information on my blog which provides you with financial information. 

Often times in life you need to consult an expert to help you solve a problem.   Perhaps your car is making a noise that convinces you that it may have caught the swine flu.  Or you realize that it is foolish to plan a ten-day whirlwind trip through South Africa and Zimbabwe without the assistance of a travel agent.  But who is likely to get the best results?  The person who goes in blind or the person who has done some research and knows when she is being overcharged by the mechanic?  I’m also going to guess that the vacationer will be happier if after some reading she is  able to tell the travel agent what sites she would enjoy rather than letting a stranger make the selection for her.

 I’m a strong believer in education in all aspects of life.  I believe that part of the reason why we are in our current economic crisis is because people failed to do some research and educate themselves.    They threw their money into real estate and other risky investments without knowing what they were doing.  They trusted blindly.  Don’t be that person.  Don’t trust anyone without doing your research.  And while I hope to share some insight on financial management on this blog, these sites have a wealth of information that should not be ignored.  Take advantage of it.    These sites can help clarifying some things so that you don’t end up losing your shirt.  – The best part of this site is in its name.  It provides you with the latest rates for CDs, savings accounts, mortgages and more with a few clicks of the mouse.  There’s no reason to have a savings account where you’re only earning 0.5% interest.  Even in times like these, you can find high yield savings accounts paying 2.00%.  No, that will not make you rich but it’s not a bad place to stash that emergency fund. makes this information easy to find.   They also have great articles on a variety of financial issues and calculators for just about every financial question you have. is one of my favorites!  – Once again, the name says it all.  An encyclopedia for investing, will provide you with the definition of just about any strange, bewildering financial term that you will come across.  It’s geared towards people who work in finance and business and those who can afford to invest in some more complicated investments, but it’s a great place to get some of your harder questions answered.  They also have some very good articles covering a variety of areas, including investing basics, stocks, ETFs, economics and financial careers. and – These are the websites for Kiplinger‘s Personal Finance magazine and SmartMoney magazine, respectively.   These sites provide a wealth of information on personal finance, investing, spending, etc.  I don’t actually subscribe to either of these magazines (that wouldn’t be very frugal, would it?) but I think the websites do a good job at laying out the basics of personal finance.  – is online financial software.  I am a little crazy about knowing how much money I have in the back and this type of software lets me know where I stand.  I switched to this recently because my desktop financial software decided to charge me to upgrade.  Why should I pay to upgrade when was doing what they were doing (and more!) for free.  You can create a budget and they will alert you if you go over in a particular category.  That’s kind of handy to have a program do it for you rather than slaving over a spreadsheet and crunching the numbers.  However, the automatic budget portion works best if you use credit cards for most of your expenses and that’s something I hesitate to encourage people to do if they don’t pay off the entire balances monthly.  Also, I should note that I have only used Mint.  There are other online (and desktop) money management tools (many of which were reviewed by here:  You should determine which is best for you (there’s that pesky research again!).  And a final warning:  When you sign up for and give them your information, all of your bank and credit card information is stored with them and constantly updated.  Having this information accessible through a third-party may make you nervous and I don’t encourage people to participate in things that make them nervous.  You may be more comfortable with desktop software than an online program. – I am not including Vanguard here in an attempt to sell their services or convince you to invest through them.   I’ve included Vanguard on the list because of their “Planning and Education” section.  This is a good place to learn about investing and how it relates to estate planning, retirement, college and taxes.  Learn how to decide what kind of investment allocations work for you.


Although I have only listed a handful of sites, there are a lot of other great places to get financial information.  I have focused on websites that are specifically focused on finance and personal finance, but I regularly read the New York Times Business section (specifically the “Your Money” section), the Wall Street Journal Personal Finance Page (you need a subscription to this, but Yahoo! finance often reposts their more interesting finance articles) and  There a little bit of web surfing, you can figure out which sites are best for you!  Happy reading!

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