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Women are more likely to leave financial planning to their spouses. Here's why that's a problem

Key Points
  • New research finds that women tend to leave crucial money moves up to their spouses or significant others, which sets them back financially.
  • This tendency is especially prevalent among women ages 20 to 34.
  • Couples can take several steps to make sure both sides have a say in big financial decisions.

When it comes to managing money, women may be making a crucial financial mistake that is making them poorer.

And they probably do not realize that they're doing it.

You've heard it before: Women earn less money, take more time out of the work force and live longer lives.

George Marks | Hulton Archive | Getty Images

But regardless of those systemic financial problems, women are not doing this one thing to improve their financial picture: taking an active role in big financial decisions.

That's according to a recent study from UBS Global Wealth Management, which found that 58 percent of women leave those crucial choices up to their male partners.

Younger women — those between ages 20 and 34 — were even more likely to defer to their significant others, at 56 percent. Meanwhile, older women ages 51 and up were not far behind, with 54 percent saying they leave money decisions to their spouses.

This bad habit can put women at risk financially, particularly if they divorce or their spouse dies.

On the other hand, when couples work together on long-term money goals, the outlook improved, UBS' research found. Women reported higher confidence in their future, fewer mistakes and less stress around money.

Just starting the conversation can be easier said than done. Financial experts have some sure fire tips for how women and men can build healthy communication around money together.

Couples and money

Start small

To begin, money conversations do not have to be long. They can be as short as five or 10 minutes, said Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, wealth psychology expert at KBK Wealth Connection.

Start with discussing your thoughts and beliefs around money. Be sure to keep one ground rule in mind: No one is wrong.

"Having that same curiosity that you would have on a first date would be helpful," Kingsbury said.

Stay involved

It may be tempting for one partner to take a backseat and let the other take care of everything.

However, both sides of the couple should know what is happening at all times, according to Kingsbury.

"It's OK to divide and conquer, but you still need to be informed," Kingsbury said.

That does not necessarily mean you have to do everything together when it comes to money. But be sure to schedule a monthly check-in so that you both can assess where you are, Kingsbury said.

Be willing to compromise

Couples often reach a stalemate when they have limited resources and different goals.

One may want a new car. The other may want to redo the family room. What often happens, according to Stuart Ritter, senior financial planner at T. Rowe Price, is they say, "Let's do both."

Having that same curiosity that you would have on a first date would be helpful.
Kathleen Burns Kingsbury
wealth psychology expert at KBK Wealth Connection.

"That postpones the issue and just makes it worse," Ritter said.

Instead, try to come up with a plan for which goals to tackle in which order together.

Talk about your values

While helping one couple plan to buy a second home, Ritter recalls noticing the wife was hesitant to go ahead with the decision.

When she finally shared her doubts with her husband, the ensuing conversation kept the couple up until 2 a.m.

The reason: The wife wanted to make sure they had enough to pay for their children's education; the husband, on the other hand, expected the children to pay their own way, as he had.

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The couple had been married for about 10 years before they realized they had this conflict in values, Ritter said.

Yet it's never too early or too late to start discussing the expectations you have around money and why.

Kingsbury suggests building questions into ordinary decisions. When discussing weekend plans — such as choosing between going to a concert or going skiing — ask your partner what they prefer and how money factors into that decision.

That way, you can get to know someone's thoughts and beliefs around money along the way, she said.

Think long term

Changing how well you and your partner communicate about money likely will not happen overnight.

So if things get heated or someone starts to feel blamed, don't hesitate to take a time out, Kingsbury suggested.

"If you're going to be together until death do you part, you have a little bit of time," Kingsbury said. "It doesn't have to happen all in one conversation."