Marital Finances - Am I As Big an Idiot as I Think?
June 7, 2016 2:39 AM   Subscribe

I am more and more stressed over our household finances and I'm feeling horribly resentful and ungrateful. I would like some impartial advice/opinions. I have a therapist's session scheduled for next week but this is eating at me and I feel like I'm spending too much energy letting it roll around in my head. I make $135K per year, he *should* (key word) be making at least $300K a year, both gross figures. I pay 90% of the household bills. I have a hard time communicating with my husband. He often bends the truth or has a different version of the truth when pressed on an uncomfortable point. I like to think I am more fact-based, and when I press him, he often resorts to stonewalling or making statements that don't make logical sense. He does not have any expensive habits, he doesn't travel, drives a paid for car, and is generally a nice, well-liked guy. Where is all the money that seems to be normally expected in a practice like this? How do I explain to him that paying the majority of the bills is not working for me?

I married my husband almost 20 years ago. I have had a very secretive relationship with money most of my life, I overspend even though I have been lucky to have good jobs making high 5-figures and now low 6-figures so it's never been a horrible issue. I just never spent the time or had the courage to try to join our finances, so it's always been 'mine, his, and then a small amount of ours.'

He is an attorney in private practice. I started doing the math for the first time (yes I know, so stupid that I waited this long) and realized that in a scenarios where he was only billing 20 hours per week, and only charging $300 per hour, that he would be grossing $300K per year. What is the problem, you ask?

I make, before taxes, $135K annually. He should be making around twice that at a minimum. He pays for the household electric, the home and car insurance, and some groceries. I pay the mortgage, the cable, the cell phones for the household plus his mother, a car payment, and carry the health insurance for the family, and pay for all kid activities which run about $1200/month total. I also just paid off the HELOC and the mortgage on his office. I plan and pay for all vacations, and I have to be honest, I'm so resentful at this point that I want to tell him not to join me and the kids on either of the trips I've planned for the summer.

What on earth is he spending all that money on? Or is he not making money because he's not billing 20 hours a week or more? He had a run of legal trouble which did take quite a bit of money to resolve, but it was my understanding that the legal insurance covered $750,000 of that. And he is really bad to help friends and family and seemingly never charges them for his time. Which would be great if he was making money but I don't see any evidence that he is. I don't have any reason to believe he's got cash stacked away, because he would have used it in the past few months to make payroll, but instead I ended up having to - to the tune of $5000 each time.

Where is all the money that seems to be normally expected in a practice like this?
How do I explain to him that paying the majority of the bills is not working for me?

I am feeling like a giant idiot for never addressing this before. I've had my moments of rolling my eyes and thinking 'why did you put up with that?' with friends who married dead beat guys, but then when I look at the facts, it's feeling like I've been just as stupid and clueless.

And I know the answers are likely staring me in the face, but if you took the time to read this long-ass question, I'd appreciate your candid thoughts.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe it is your secretive relationship with money, but you need to start speaking up for what you want financially and asking questions about these matters!

If paying the majority of the bills is no longer working for you, you need to tell him! Maybe then you can have an open dialogue as to the state of your respective finances. If he balks, that is a different question, but it isn't clear at all whether you have ever asked for something different or even for just information. Do you even know why he couldn't make payroll or why you ended up paying off the mortgage on his office?

I have to be honest that I am shocked that you have literally no idea how much he makes (you just have assumptions) or how much he has, if anything. It is one thing to keep finances separate in a marriage, but to be so completely in the dark is very unusual. I am not trying to sound flippant, but talking to your husband (asking him questions, expressing your frustrations about finances and requesting more contributions from him) is the only way to go here.
posted by murrey at 3:21 AM on June 7, 2016 [33 favorites]

Do you have an accountant together? Can you ask them for both your tax records? Does the business have an accountant? If you are making payroll there and paying off the mortgage it sounds like you need to be more intimately involved in the financial side of the business (and maybe listed as co-owner if it isn't a financial risk to you, or owner of the building you just paid for). Does his office have a business manager - maybe sit down with that person to go over the books. It may be that that actually IS not enough income coming in, in which case he should shut his practise and get a salaried job.

Would he be willing to see a financial professional about both of you getting control / openness around finances? Maybe he would feel better if it was structured as "wealth management" or investment advice, but believe the certifiable numbers on paper instead of anything he just says.
posted by saucysault at 3:23 AM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Nobody here can answer this question: The only way you'll get an answer is to sit down with him and go through your finances together. It's completely unfair for you to be carrying all the financial burden of running the household whilst knowing nothing about his finances however, so your feelings there seem completely reasonable to me.

Don't be surprised if the costs of running his office are considerable & his income very irregular. His net income may be much less than your back of the envelope calculations lead you to expect.

Being bad with money is a solvable problem, if you're both willing to try and solve it.
posted by pharm at 3:23 AM on June 7, 2016 [23 favorites]

Have you ever asked him why he doesn't seem comfortable with sharing this information with you? At least if you could get an answer to this, you could bring that answer to your appointment.
posted by amtho at 4:07 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

He had a run of legal trouble which did take quite a bit of money to resolve,

Do you know the whole story there? Maybe it would be helpful to see what court documents you can get on that case, as well as any disciplinary proceedings from the State Bar association - if only to put your mind at ease that nothing there is being concealed from you.
posted by saucysault at 4:09 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think you're underestimating the overhead of a legal practice. Gross billings do not come close to representing to net income.

Is he able to bill for every billable hour he dockets? Is he able to get paid on every bill? How much are staff, office expenses, insurance, westlaw, bar fees, etc. costing him?

For most lawyers the answers are "no," "no," and "a lot." That's in part why billables targets at firms are high.

I would suspect your husband may be making even less money than you. Sounds like it is time for you to ask him.
posted by AV at 4:13 AM on June 7, 2016 [25 favorites]

Agree with all of the above posters. One thing to add that you might want to think about- maybe he is hiding money, but not for neferous reasons. Is it possible he is withholding a portion of his income as an emergency/retirement fund? If it's in retirement it would explain why he can't access it.

You start your question saying you have a history of overspending. Possibly over the years he has kept a portion of the money he makes out of sight so it isn't spent. 20 years together with wildly different approaches to money indicates you both have figured out how to not have to address this straight on. Now is obviously the time. But don't approach this so combatively- unless you have reason to think otherwise, assume he has been acting in the best interest of your marriage. Also, check out your tax returns.
posted by KMoney at 4:17 AM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

My wife and I are both fairly independent people each with our own earned incomes, and neither of us want the other to veto or even comment on the things we buy for ourselves. So we have a shared understanding of what constitutes joint household expenses and agree to split only those. Everything else comes from separate money. Joint expenses are things like mortgage, property taxes, household repairs and maintenance, household food, utilities, joint travel, jointly-chosen furniture, joint subscriptions etc. But what about clothes, toiletries and cosmetics, unilateral household purchases made without consultation, separate dining out with friends, separate travel, taxis, even special household foods or drink the other spouse rarely consumes? It's better to consider those to be separate expenses paid out of separate money. Then neither side needs to feel guilty or imposed upon. I don't comment if my wife decides to buy another pair of shoes, she shrugs her shoulders if I get a snazzy bluetooth speaker I read about on MetaFilter.

In prior years we would contribute to joint expenses roughly in line with our incomes with a minimum contribution of say 30%. If you and your husband can agree to reveal your actual incomes to each other (with proof) then you can also deviate from 50/50. But if not, just go with 50/50 and focus on agreeing what's joint and what's separate. That'll help reduce the feeling of unfairness and take away guilt about "overspending" your own money.
posted by mono blanco at 4:29 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Based on what you wrote, I think you're filling in a lot of blanks without a lot of hard info, and maybe projecting some of your own fears/issues with money onto him?

When you're used to separate finances, it's hard to relinquish control - it can feel like you're on a leash and you might not always be able to do everything you want to do. But - surprise - that's part of the trust in the relationship - sharing resources.

The good news: this represents an excellent way for you to openly communicate with each other - fairly and honestly, because you have to. It's a chance to be openly loving and supportive of each other's needs and wants, and to work out compromises.

Right now, it seems like there is a real lack of trust/fear overshadowing the issue for you. Re-frame it as setting up a better plan to support BOTH of your needs. Consider telling him that "opening the books", so to speak, will help you get your historical overspending under control by working within the confines of a shared budget, which will also allay your (possibly unfounded) fears about inequity.
posted by Thistledown at 4:29 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

You need to see the bank statements and review your taxes for the past several years. Frankly I could never deal with not knowing about my household's financial situation so I always do the taxes myself.

It seems impossible to make any judgments about how fair your current situation of bill paying is until you actually know what he's making and what he's spending. Before you get angry, find this out. I would strongly suggest going with him to a fee-based financial planner, because then a third party is responsible for asking you to assemble all the paperwork and figures, and it isn't just you asking your husband for things he doesn't want to answer. The financial planner can help him understand why open communication and financial security are so important - for example, you have no plan in case of emergency, no retirement savings plan, etc., as a couple? This can also help start the ball rolling on other things that are hard to talk about like the need for different insurance policies and estate planning.

If you find you cannot communicate with him despite those efforts, then I think you need marital counseling to address that issue before you can get to the financial piece.

I can understand completely why you are angry, but he may think your current deal is fair, and he may think you enjoy planning all the vacations. If you've never expressed your feelings about these things to him, there's no way he can know and help to make it right. Give him a chance first.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 4:31 AM on June 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

A quick search says a small law office should net about 40%. So if your husband is billing $300K per year, his net income could be in the same neighborhood as what you make, if he has some staff, etc. If he is true solo practice with no staff, his net could be more like 80%.
posted by COD at 4:50 AM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

I find it pretty baffling that you have no idea how much your husband of 20 years earns tbh.

Where is all the money that seems to be normally expected in a practice like this?

Do you know that he charges $300 an hour? Do you even know if he charges per hour? It seems like you're acting on a lot of assumptions. It sounds to me like your husband just isn't very successful. Just because he's at the office 40 hours a week doesn't mean he gets 20 or even 10 billable hours of work - and that's assuming he charges hourly (it may be the most common but not the only method of billing, he could be working for a flat fee per case for example). You're saying you had to make payroll for the last couple of months so his business hasn't even brought in 5k a month profit - what did he say to you when he asked you to do that? How come you pay the mortgage on his office? Surely there must have been a conversation there at some point.

How do I explain to him that paying the majority of the bills is not working for me?

It may be hard if you've been doing it for 20 years but you need to sit him down and have a frank conversation about money. I would personally be more bothered that you're paying the expenses for his business like the mortgage and payroll than household expenses.

It sounds like you realise he probably isn't making much money - but at the same time you want him to start paying more of the bills? I can understand why you'd want him to be paying his fair share of the bills but without knowing his financial situation, you can't know what is "fair". If his business isn't making enough money to pay his staff, its hard to see how you can expect him to contribute more financially to the marriage.

Maybe he was successful in the past and squandered the money, maybe he was never successful, maybe the "legal trouble" ate up anything he had saved, even with the insurance covering 750k. We don't know, and you're not going to know until you sit him down and talk to him very directly about it. No waffling, no being nice, don't accept stone-walling or nonsensical responses, you need to press the issue until you get answers. You're his wife, you have a right to know what his financial situation is, even more so when you're covering the running expenses of his practice. If his business is failing, he may even be relieved to get it out in the open, once you know the truth of the situation you can take it from there and make decisions together about your future. And if he wont give you answers then you need to stop bailing him out financially.

You need to tell him straight up that you're not happy with the current bill paying arrangement but you need to be prepared to find out that he can't contribute any more than he currently is. The alternative is that he's massively taking advantage of you - is that the kind of person you think he is? Is he the kind of person that's squirreled massive amounts of money and then asked his wife to pay his business expenses (I'm not even sure how he records that in his accounts?!)
posted by missmagenta at 4:58 AM on June 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

The OP describes having to pay for the mortgage on their husband's office, and to help him make payroll, so I think they are well aware that the husband's take-home earnings are less than gross. But, OP, given that you have been covering some of these office costs, it makes its even more critical IMO that you understand the financial details of your husband's business. The gross income, the office costs, the take-home earnings, all of it. It's the least he owes you.
posted by AndrewInDC at 4:59 AM on June 7, 2016 [11 favorites]

You need to see the books for his law firm. I suspect he's making less money and has more expenses than you realize.

Or maybe he's lying to you, and hiding or spending money somehow. Either way, you need to make this a financial partnership, and that starts with getting on the same page about income and expenses.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:06 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

How do I explain to him that paying the majority of the bills is not working for me?

"Hey, so FYI I worked out our monthly bills total an average of $XXXX [show spreadsheet listing all utility bills etc and total cost] and I set up a separate bank account to pay them from. Can you set up a regular automatic deposit into that account for [half $XXXX]? Thanks!"

That's how it works in our house. I also worked out our average monthly grocery bill over the course of a few months and started us both setting aside half that much each every month to pay for groceries.

I plan and pay for all vacations,

So what happens if you just say "honey, I looked into sort out vacation for summer but I just can't afford it this year" and just leave it at that. Does he volunteer money? Or is he happy to just not go?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:49 AM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Just a data point--solo attorneys barely average a six figure salary according to income surveys in various states, so your back of the envelope calculations may be causing you extra angst. In general, solo attorneys work less and make much less money than attorneys in larger firms. I wouldn't be surprised if you learned that he makes much less money than you do and always has.
posted by xyzzy at 5:52 AM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm going to bazillion-Nth the fact that $300K assumed gross for a self-employed professional is so different than making $300K gross in a W2 income or even solo contractor position that it's not comparing apples and apples.

- you're assuming business is great (or that it should be) and that it's possible to bill at $300 for 20 hours a week week in and week out. The legal profession, from all accounts, is pretty competitive these days. I don't know if he's a rock star in IP law, or just a guy who does routine business law, but if it's the latter your assumptions about rate and available work may not be correct. I have friends who are lawyers who are struggling.

- as already stated, overhead. To bill 20 hours a week without any staff would probably be a stretch.

- IANAL, but I run a services practice (web dev) and you get shafted a LOT offering services. One of the reason the hourly rates are so high. One tries to get deposits and things, but even good customers are constantly whittling on your bill, challenging things. You either just give up on a lot (charge a lot per hour, as stated, and then know you're going to lose a few), or you hire someone to be your full gonzo collections person (overhead!).

But the real issue is - transparency. You two should have open books with each other. I realize assumptions differ about how to run a dual-income household, but in my mind there's only two ways that work:

- you each have an income and contribute at some mutually agreed on rate to a joint account that pays all the joint expenses and investment/savings.

- you pool everything and manage finances completely jointly. You can each have a "mad money" account with some kind of fixed amount that neither gets to really critique, but major purchases are decided jointly.

Either way, whatever one of you does affects the other, so there has to be transparency. Or there's going to be constant, ongoing debate club about family finances, and a constant game of guilting the other about purchases and spending.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:01 AM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Agreed that his net income is nowhere near your estimate of his business's gross. You should really ask him. Or if you're not ready to talk about that, do you have copies of his tax records? How much income did he report last year?

Of course now that I've said that, I immediately start to regret suggesting it. You're married to this man, you love him, you've worked with him to uphold a household for 20 years. You shouldn't have to dig though his tax records and feel all sneaky, to be able to talk about money. In fact, coming into a conversation about his contributions to the household having no idea what he earns might be healthier than looking it up so that you can choose whether to stage that conversation like a confrontation (if he's making a lot) or not bring it up at all (if he's making very little). I'd really recommend just asking. "Hey honey? How's your business doing? (oh, fine.) It occurred to me that we never really talk about money, and I have no idea what that 'fine' even means. I thought about looking though our tax records, but I figured I'd just ask. What to you earn in a normal year? And how does that work, really, between the gross income from clients and all the expenses of the practice?"
posted by aimedwander at 6:15 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

There's a rule of thumb that self-employed attorneys work two hours for every one they bill, due to all the administrative work of running a practice and the marketing work of building it and finding clients, as well as the normal stuff that you can't bill for even when you work for someone else.

Also there are only a small handful of cities where a self-employed attorney could bill out at $300. A lot of markets top out around $300/$400 for big-firm partners, and small-firm or solo practice attorney are considerably cheaper than big-firm ones, most of the time. So the only situation where you'd say "only $300" is if he was in NYC or DC at a big law firm; otherwise, $300/hour is pretty top-of-the-market in most markets, and probably unreasonably expensive for small-practice attorneys. (Nationally firms with more than 1,000 attorneys average $700/hour billing for partners; firms with fewer than 50 attorneys average $350. As you get to small-practice and solo-practice firms, slide down the billing scale accordingly.)

Plus some of his billing is uncollectable. Plus he has office overhead expenses and staff costs. Whatever he's billing, he's not collecting or taking home 100% of it. You need to see the books!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:15 AM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

Not to be unnecessarily dramatic, but if your husband will not communicate about this and keeps lying and avoiding, there is one surefire way to get crystal clear knowledge of his accounts- threaten divorce. He will be forced to disclose at that point. I'm assuming no pre-nup or other extenuating circumstances here.

I think you're within your rights to hint at divorce if he's really being a weasel about this and has been for a long time.
posted by quincunx at 7:10 AM on June 7, 2016 [10 favorites]

Whoa. Hinting at divorce is the nuclear option. You don't do that unless you've actually tried other options. Talk to him. Tell him that you are confused and frustrated as you don't understand what is going on with your family finances and you want clarity.

We handle our family finances by having a joint account for all bills which my wife and I transfer money into on payday. How much we each transfer into it has varied depending on how much we've made over the years.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:47 AM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am a financial professional who works with lawyers. The range of what they net is all over the place, could even be as low as $40,000.00. Attorneys like to act like they make bank but it takes a bit of hustle and business sense for a solo practitioner to be successful. Also much depends on his specialty. When you say he couldn't make a payroll of $5,000.00 that tells me he either is not collecting on work done or is not marketing himself or working for free for friends and acquaintances. There could be an online gambling problem or any number of things. Do you know that he has filed taxes?

You need to have a talk about your future, and your kids' future. There is college to figure out and retirement. All should be addressed in couples therapy, your therapist should be able to find a good couples therapist with experience in financial issues. If you need any information about how to assess financials or get financial information, feel free to memail.
posted by readery at 7:58 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with the nine million people above me who've said 300,000 may not be an accurate reflection of a solo's income. That said, of course his butt should be billing at least 20 hours a week if he's spending 40 hours a week at the office. My husband has been a true solo for years now and generally bills about 6-6.5 hours for every 8 hours spent in the office. Does he collect on all of that? Hahaha no.

I think the real problem, as other posters have said, is your husband not being transparent with you. I've had to cover business costs out of my salary occasionally but I knew it was going to happen in advance because we have a monthly conversation about finances. It usually only takes a half hour and we'll do it over breakfast or a drink, but that's being a true partner. FWIW, my husband and I don't completely intermingle finances, but we know what's out there, give or take $1,000 here or there.
posted by notjustthefish at 8:24 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was going to jump in and describe how wide of a gulf there can be between the hourly billings and the actual net income, but other posters have that covered. You know they say when you hear hooves, think horses, not zebras? My hunch, based on what you've said, is that your husband's business has never been particularly profitable and he may be a little embarrassed about it. Maybe he thinks you are basically ok with carrying more of the financial burden.

I think the secrecy has done a lot of damage to your marriage. There's a lot about your post that reminds me of a cheater who accuses their SO of cheating. Get some couples' counseling in addition to individual therapy.
posted by stowaway at 8:28 AM on June 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

Nthing what everyone says about your husband's net pay being far, far less than his gross. I know a few attorneys in private practice, and all of them take home far less money than you would expect after hearing "attorney" as a job description. Overhead costs are very high, much of the work they do does not count towards billable hours, and, as independent contractors, their income is taxed at higher rate (I believe it is technically taxed twice).

Another thing is that their income is very, very variable. It's not a straightforward "$300/hr*20 hours/week = $300k/year." It's feast or famine. Sometimes there's very little work, sometimes clients drag their feet about paying or even don't pay at all. I suspect a big part of why you pay a seemingly disproportionate amount of the household bills is because, even if your husband's net income is comparable to, or higher than yours (and that's a big "if"), your income is far more predictable.

And where are you getting $300/hr from? Do you know that he bills $300/hr to every client for every service? These rates can vary.

All that said, the only way for you to resolve this problem is to have a frank discussion with your husband. This secrecy about finances is a serious problem for your relationship. Even couples that do not combine finances usually have a pretty good idea about each others' situations.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:32 AM on June 7, 2016

Have you straight up asked him how much he makes, or asked to see his bank statements? You say how he can generally be but don't say what he's actually said about finances. What does he say when you ask him how much money he makes?
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:45 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think the argument about his income level is a red herring. Bottom line is that HIS income is HIS, and YOUR income is the family income. This dynamic obviously is the cause of your resentment. You need to sit down with him and have a discussion about how both of your incomes are needed to be used to support the family. You need to be including investments, retirement accounts, IRAs, kid's college savings, too. It's possible that he is diverting his money to investment accounts to secure you both a worry-free retirement or your kid's loan free college, but you won't know that unless you sit down and lay all the cards on the table. (I'm familiar with this dynamic because it is the same in my mother and step-father's relationship. Her money supported the family, and his money was for his own personal retirement and toys.)
posted by LightMayo at 9:28 AM on June 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

Two things:
1. You each need to know how much money the other makes. Not knowing this is extremely odd. Talk to him.
2. Household bills need to be split in half, assuming he makes at least as much money as you do.

Anything else is somewhere between unfair and suspicious.

That's about as simple as I can make it.
posted by cnc at 9:38 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you are paying running expenses for his business (the mortgage on his office, payroll!), I would say that you are basically acting as a partner, and therefore should be treated as one. What's tricky is that he's a lawyer (and I assume that you are not) and lawyers can't have "partners" who are non-lawyers.

I agree that you guys need to have an accounting of where the money is coming from and going. I think he owes you this just out of respect for his spouse, and extra owes you because of the tens of thousands of dollars that you are sinking into his practice (how many $5,000 payrolls have you made for him?).

There's lots of ways of handling family finances, and while some people are very much against keeping separate finances, I'm fine with it, but not when that also goes along with intentional secrecy.

How do I explain to him that paying the majority of the bills is not working for me?
Let him know that you need to talk about your financial status and financial future. Set a meeting (get a baby sitter if needed) for the two of you to go over at least the family books. Family-wise, let him know what you are willing to contribute (half of family expenses seems fair), and when you expect him to start picking up the slack. These are reasonable things to demand of a spouse, and if he refuses, that could be a major red flag. I wouldn't use the D word in this meeting, but if he isn't willing to work with you financially, I would advise you to start taking steps to protect your interests going forward (even if you don't plan on changing your marital status).

Ask to go over the practice books too. Here, it might not be so much of a dealbreaker if he won't share with you but you'll need to put your foot down about no longer paying his firm's expenses. Regardless -- any money you put into the firm from now on should probably be in the form of a loan, with defined payments and a market rate of interest.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:15 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Where is all the money that seems to be normally expected in a practice like this?

Ask him.

How do I explain to him that paying the majority of the bills is not working for me?

Tell him that.

You are making this a lot harder than it is. You need to have one difficult conversation. If you can't have one difficult conversion with this man you need to stop being married to him.
posted by French Fry at 10:45 AM on June 7, 2016 [8 favorites]

Just to counter some of the shaming going on, the OP did basically say she's tried to talk to him previously:

"I have a hard time communicating with my husband. He often bends the truth or has a different version of the truth when pressed on an uncomfortable point. I like to think I am more fact-based, and when I press him, he often resorts to stonewalling or making statements that don't make logical sense."

Sometimes a couple's counselor can get a partner to open up more, or sometimes they just end up lying to the couple's counselor. Your call on that. But if he won't communicate with you and you've asked him directly, you'll just have to lay it all out on the table. I would probably go around him first and look up tax returns, etc. Then confront him with the paperwork in hand so he can't lie.
posted by quincunx at 11:22 AM on June 7, 2016

I think the lede is buried within your question: you yourself have had a secretive approach/relationship with money, and you have a hard time having a facts-based conversation with your husband.

In light of that, I think "ask him" and "tell him" are as unlikely as rain in the Sahara. You may want to end up with more open communication and a better financial plan, and you may get there, but a direct flight to that location is unavailable.

So: certified financial planner. Or an accountant. Whichever; just some one / vehicle to take the demanding and full-account mantle off of your shoulders. If I were you, I'd even explain the real goal ahead of time to whoever I enlist, so that they don't call you to get his W2s, for instance. That person has no emotion invested; it is simply their job to get answers so they can come up with a plan. Pay that person to do that job for you. Pay that person to ask your husband what his version of a money split would be, and then ask you the same, and then you can compromise. Pay that person to explain that you both need to be making equitable contributions towards retirement accounts. Pay that person to explain to your husband that his practice needs to be firewalled from your family's finances.

Once you have those answers, I'm confident that you are a smart and capable person, and it sounds like you'll have enough money to go around. You just need to get to the starting block.
posted by Dashy at 12:07 PM on June 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

And: you are not an idiot. Clearly, you have lived within your own means and provided very well for yourself AND your family for a long time; that is strong evidence against idiocy.

However, given the relationship you've described between yourself and your own money -- the lack of communication between you and your husband was/is not far from the tree (of your natural inclinations). I would not have expected much different, given what you told me about yourself. Though clearly your husband has his own contributions to that problem as well.
posted by Dashy at 12:28 PM on June 7, 2016

I'm wondering if your husband is overwhelmed/confused about financial stuff and that's why he gives vague, conflicting answers when you ask him for numbers. He might be one of those people who just puts their paycheck somewhere and takes money out later, and doesn't do any more financial planning than that. He might have big debts he's ashamed of, or just not know what state his finances are in, because he's never had a problem yet with his large income.

A critical thing I don't see you mention: what are your retirement accounts like? If you really don't have any (!!!!), you need to change that ASAP. Talking to your husband is absolutely required, but maybe it would be easier to approach the communication issues indirectly, by focusing on getting your financial affairs in order for your future together (i.e. talking together with a fee-based financial planner). Then you'll both be on the same page about your finances, without needing to accuse him of hiding anything from you (which he may or may not be doing deliberately).

You might want to keep your finances separate, and that's fine, but you still need to know where your partner is at for retirement - I mean, you probably wouldn't turn them out into the street if they have no retirement savings, so you need to know now if they're heading towards destitution in retirement.

Once you figure out what your financial status actually is (including current savings and regular income), then and only then you'll be able to talk about who should be covering which bills, work on improving communication, etc.
posted by randomnity at 12:41 PM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

How do you open up a conversation about other difficult topics? If it were me, I might start with:
"The way we're handling our finances isn't working for me any longer. I need you to listen to me now, and work something new out with me, because it's a huge deal and it has started affecting our marriage. Can you do that? Okay, I have no idea how much you earn. But I'm paying for 90 percent of our expenses and that's way too much. I'm getting resentful and unhappy about this. What I want is (for you to share with me how much you earn, on average, in a year etc.)
posted by Omnomnom at 12:56 PM on June 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

The following has been on my mind a lot lately: Lawyers are more likely than the vast majority of professions to suffer from mental illness and substance abuse.
posted by radicalawyer at 1:56 PM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have a hard time communicating with my husband. He often bends the truth or has a different version of the truth when pressed on an uncomfortable point. I like to think I am more fact-based, and when I press him, he often resorts to stonewalling or making statements that don't make logical sense.

Reading this ask reminded me of my parents, but especially the sentences above. My dad liked to project this image of having a good income, and therefore being able to afford treating his kids, and friends and their friends to expensive meals, taking his second wife on holidays, suport my mother lavishly after the divorce and simultaneoulsy renovating a huge house with wife Nr. 2 etc etc.

When he had a stroke that left him unable to talk/communicate und subsequently died 6 months later, we all found out that he had huge and crushing debts because he had not been truthful about his income for decades - and to maintain the rosy picture of the benefactor (he literally used almost zero on it for himself!) he took up several loans, etc etc.

He does not have any expensive habits, (...) drives a paid for car, and is generally a nice, well-liked guy. Where is all the money that seems to be normally expected in a practice like this?

this could have been said about my dad. What no one knew while he was alive was that while he was a very well-known psychotherapist, teaching etc, he was very bad at billing/handling finance. He neglected to bill, did charity stuff, a lot of it but claimed to us he was paid handsomely for it, and never chased clients who just would not or could not pay, also he failed to do income tax and social security etc, leading to major legal trouble with social security to do with the status a psychotherapist where we live, while telling us everything was just fine. He spent huge amounts on doing stuff like organsing conferences on social justice issues, etc, and claimed this was paid for by a sponsor, and in reality he paid for it with bank loans.
In reality he often literally did not have gas money in his pocket to drive to the practice or his phone bill. His second wife used to complain he never paid for the groceries - well, he just did not have the money to.

Als this anecdata to say that do ask, but gently if you can, and maybe he will tell you. And maybe he will not, but he still might not be a bad person if he does not. There are a lot of reasons why soomeone might evade questions on their finances.
My dad was not a bad person (eg trying to scam or rip off), but he was so caught up in projecting this image of being the benefactor to all and everyone he met, he could not admit the truth without fearing he would lose all the affection he was shown in return for the generousity.
I personally would have still loved him, had I known while he was alive, but he was unable to admit the total finacial failure to anyone, he thought we only accepted him if he was able to fork over money.

I feel you should investigate this angle further: And he is really bad to help friends and family and seemingly never charges them for his time.

All this said, i dont think you are a bad person for questioning the situation, beinghis wife and having paid some of his expenses, bills, etc., you are jsutified to get an answer. I only want to say there canbe many reasons and not all of them criminal.
posted by 15L06 at 2:10 PM on June 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

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