How to be productive with your family finances, even when your husband’s finding excuses for putting it off until tomorrow

How to be productive with your family finances

‘I’ll install it next weekend,’ Rob Sinclair said to his wife, Ally, as she looked at him suspiciously.  ‘You said that last weekend . . . and the weekend before that!’ she said firmly.

‘I’m tired of having to clean everything by hand when we have a brand new dishwasher just sitting there in plastic,’ Ally said, wanting to be firm with Rob but knowing he’s been working long hours.  ‘I promise I’ll do it next Saturday,’ Rob replied.  ‘But, I have to get this draft finished by tomorrow evening or all hell will break loose at work on Monday,’ he added before shifting his focus back to the architectural plans which were laid out on his desk.  ‘Okay . . .’ Ally sighed as she went back to feeding their two young children.

That was how it always was between Rob and Ally.  They had been married for twelve years and, while they loved each other very much, they operated on completely different wave lengths.  Rob had a tendency to get caught up in his work and put things off until tomorrow, whereas Ally liked to seize the moment and solve problems before they became an issue.  Rob was a thinker while Ally was a doer, and this distinction both complemented and complicated their marriage.

There was no subject where this dynamic in their relationship was more prevalent than it was with their family’s finances.

Rob was an architect, the creative one according to his friends from his university days, most of whom had gravitated toward the banking, accounting and financial services sectors following their graduation.  To Ally’s incessant frustration, Rob’s continued association with his friends from university somehow seemed to make him the default authority on financial management in their relationship, even though Rob himself had no financial background and he was happy to leave the household budgeting up to Ally, often saying with a cheeky grin – ‘It’s just like architecture.  I’m a big picture thinker.’  Such was the nature of things, and despite Ally’s regular attempts to put things in place to build for tomorrow, nothing ever seemed to change because Rob, true to form, would always find a way to put it off until tomorrow.

The situation was further complicated by Matt, who was one of Rob’s closest friends from his university days.

Matt had worked at one of the big banks ever since he graduated from university, and he’d been the one who’d organised their first mortgage, set up their insurances and he was always the one Rob turned to whenever they wanted to look at the big picture with their finances.  But, to Ally, setting up something for their kids and for their retirement wasn’t big picture stuff at all; she saw it as just another part of being organised to ensure their family had security for the future.  What frustrated Ally the most was that Matt was hardly ever available.  Ever since he’d started to climb the corporate ladder, he’d become increasingly inaccessible.  So, whenever Rob and Ally needed to get something sorted out with their finances or loans, they were generally given the run around – transferred from one department to the next where they never seemed to get anything but ‘bank answers’ to their questions.

nothing but bank answers

Although Rob often commented himself from time to time about how frustrating it was, he trusted Matt and he felt a sense of obligation which gave him a convenient excuse not to do anything about it, and instead put it off until tomorrow.  And whenever Ally raised her concerns about the direction they were taking with their finances or the seemingly lacklustre growth of their retirement savings, Rob always deflected the issue by deferring to Matt’s authority on the subject matter.  And so the cycle repeated itself.  It was an impossible loop that Ally felt was preventing her from taking action by doing something productive with their family finances and positive for their family’s future.

That all changed, however, when Ally began taking their eldest daughter to swimming lessons.

From her seat poolside, she struck up a friendship with some of the other mothers who were also accompanying their young children to their first swimming lessons.  One afternoon, Ally was airing her frustrations to Cheryl, who had a little boy the same age as Rob and Ally’s youngest daughter in the same swimming class.

‘I’m not even kidding you,’ Ally said, taking a moment to collect herself.  ‘The bank literally transferred me to four different departments this morning and all I wanted was some simple information about one of our accounts,’ she complained.  ‘Ohhh!  Don’t even get me started . . .’ Cheryl rolled her eyes.  ‘John and I used to get advice from our local guy at the bank, but then he moved to another branch and I got so sick and tired of the constant run around that I just couldn’t take it anymore.  So, we spoke to an advisor and we’re really delighted with the results,’ she said.

Ally looked at Cheryl with a sense of confusion.  ‘But, don’t they all work for the banks!?’ she asked.  Cheryl shook her head.  ‘No, not all of them.  You should think of an advisor who is not tied to one of the banks as kind of like a mortgage broker for your financial and investment needs. They’ll look outside of the bank you’re with, and you certainly wont feel like you’re being made to fit into a one-size-fits-all option. It’s all very tailored and the best part is, if you have a question, you don’t get the run around like you did this morning,’ she said.  ‘Oh, what a breath of fresh air that would be!’ Ally exclaimed.

Cheryl elaborated further, and Ally couldn’t help but feel a sense of envy.

‘It sounds like it’s exactly what we need, but, unfortunately, I could never get Rob to meet with another advisor.  Matt is one of his best mates, so Rob would never agree to go and seek out someone else,’ she said.  Cheryl cocked her head and smiled deviously.  ‘C’mon, Ally.  If I’d actually waited for my husband to get off his backside and do something about it, nothing ever would’ve gotten done.’  Chery grinned.  ‘I told him we were meeting up with friends for lunch, and then I just dropped it on him in the car.  He whinged and moaned, of course, mostly because he was missing out on lunch, but it didn’t take long for him to concede that, if it were left up to him, we’d still be talking about doing something in five years’ time,’ she said with an encouraging wink.

Ally listened on and she began to think that Cheryl’s story reminded her a lot of Rob.  She remembered how long it took Rob to propose, then to buy their first home, and not to mention the renovations.  She knew it would be an uphill battle to get him to act on doing something about their finances.  He would always find an excuse to delay things because of some new project at work, and Ally could already envisage how the conversation would go if she tried to convince him otherwise.  The thought of being in exactly the same position in five or ten years’ time frustrated her immensely, and all of a sudden, her desire to make some positive changes started to compound in urgency as she looked at their eldest daughter in the pool.  It seemed like only yesterday she was taking her first steps, thought Ally.  It wouldn’t be long before she was in high school, and then work or university, and who knows after that?  It would be nice to get a head start, be in a position to help the girls out if they need it.

And in that moment, with the future hurtling towards her at an accelerated pace, Ally decided to grab the bull by the horns and address the matter with Rob.

‘What is the name of the firm you went with?’ Ally asked, her eyes shifting away from the pool and meeting Cheryl with a resilient gaze.  ‘Here, I’ll give you the number,’ Cheryl said as she reached into her handbag and dug around for a pen and paper.  ‘Ask for Jason,’ she said.  ‘He’ll have a chat with you over the phone first to get an idea of what you want to do and also to give you an idea of what they can do for you and Rob before setting a meeting.  And if for whatever reason they can’t help you or it’s just not for you guys . . . no harm, no foul.  However, I have a feeling that you’ll be very pleased with what he has to say,’ Cheryl said with a smile which was warmly reciprocated.

The following day, Ally made the call and spoke to Jason.  It was exactly as Cheryl had explained it.  They talked for about fifteen minutes while Ally explained her frustrations with their current finances and Jason assured her that her concerns were by no means uncommon and that he deals with similar situations every day.  Even though it was just a conversation at this stage, for the first time in a while, Ally felt like she was making progress with their family’s finances, so she organised a time for her and Rob to meet with Jason later in the week.  Now I just have to convince Rob, she said to herself as she hung up the phone.

That evening when Rob came home from work, Ally made some small talk with her husband before she confronted him about the issue.

As usual, Rob met her with resistance.  ‘Don’t worry about it, Ally,‘ he said.  ‘Well, I am worried about it!’ Ally insisted.  ‘And you should be worried about it too!  It is our children’s future we’re talking about after all, and our future too . . . !’  Rob breathed out a heavy sigh.  ‘Let me talk to Matt tomorrow.  I’m sure he’ll be able to address your concerns.  ‘Rob,’ Ally replied.  ‘I want to speak with someone other than Matt.  He’s never available at work and, even when he is, all he ever wants to do is recommend another one of the bank’s products.’  Rob could see that his wife was digging her heels in, so he decided to change tact.  ‘Well, it’s not going to be possible this week, anyway,’ he said.  ‘I’ve got a lot on my plate at work at the moment and I’ll have to put in some late nights otherwise I’m not going to have the plans finished for the Mackenzie project.’ And just like he always did, Rob prevaricated and put the matter to rest for the time being.  Or at least so he thought.

To be productive with their family finances, Ally knew she would have to get creative…

This time around, however, Ally was determined to address her concerns.  She took Cheryl’s story as inspiration and resolved that her husband wasn’t going to be given the chance to put this off until tomorrow any longer.  Ally had explained to Jason that such measures might be required to counter Rob’s obstinance on the matter, so now all that was required was to follow through on the back-up plan.

On Thursday, Ally went into town to meet up with her husband for lunch, but, when Rob arrived at their usual café, she whisked him away, telling him she had another place in mind.

After a short walk, they arrived at the office building where Jason worked, and Ally led Rob into the elevator before pressing the button for the ninth floor.  Rob looked at her upset.  She didn’t have to say it.  He knew what was happening.  ‘Aww what about lunch, Ally?’ he asked.  ‘I’m starving . . . and I was really looking forward to something tasty!’  Ally brushed aside his bleating and looked at him stoically.  Thanks to Cheryl, she had already pre-empted Rob’s concerns.  ‘Your lunch is right here,’ she said as she reached into her handbag and pulled out a ham and salad roll which she’d purchased beforehand at a nearby deli.  Rob didn’t look overly impressed, so he tried a second time.  ‘Ally . . . I thought we talked about this already,’ he protested.  ‘Yes, we did, Rob.  But, I wasn’t satisfied with the outcome,’ she said with a knowing smile.  ‘Besides, you did what you always do and brushed off the issue as something you would discuss with Matt, and I’m tired of it being like that.’

Rob could suddenly see that he had not been paying attention to his wife on this matter, but, at the same time, he was worried what Matt would say.

He tried to convince Ally one more time before the elevator reached its destination.  ‘Let’s go back downstairs and talk about this for a few minutes,’ he bargained.  ‘That way we’ll both be on the same page,’ he said.  But, his wife was having none of it.  ‘Robert James Sinclair!’ Ally asserted, a portentous shiver running up Rob’s spine as the ominous sound of his full name always heralded the spectre of an imminent dressing down.  ‘The meeting is scheduled five minutes from now, and we will both be there,’ she insisted.  And that was that.

unconvinced he would be productive with their family finances

Like a disobedient school boy, Rob cast his eyes forward and took a defeated bite from his ham and salad roll.  His thoughts immediately returned to Matt.  He was worried about shunning his friend.  Well, at least Matt’s moved to head office now, Rob thought, so he’s no longer so focused on bringing business in the door.  Maybe he wouldn’t mind if we have a conversation with someone else.  It’s not like any harm could come from it anyway, Rob reassured himself.

At reception, they were greeted warmly and ushered into the boardroom where Jason was waiting for them.  Just as Cheryl had indicated, the meeting went for a little over an hour, and to Ally’s surprise, Rob really seemed to get into it.  ‘I didn’t know we could do that,’ he kept saying as Jason took them through the options available to them in their personal finances as well as in their superannuation.  ‘You mean we can purchase an investment property with our super!?’ Rob asked, his face full of enthusiasm as Jason canvassed the idea of setting up a Self-Managed Superannuation Fund.  ‘Yes, it’s an option that we can explore further if you like,’ Jason said before giving Ally a furtive grin, and then going on to outline the significant tax benefits of implementing a debt recycling strategy in conjunction with dollar-cost-averaging.

That evening, Rob commented to Ally on more than one occasion how excited he was about things.

‘Geez, Ally, we should have done this sooner,’ he said as he continued to look up the different options which Jason had covered earlier in the day on the internet.  ‘I can’t believe Matt never told us about any of these things,’ Rob muttered.  ‘Too busy at head office, I guess,’ he added with a terse yet affable chuckle.

Ever the peacekeeper, Ally smiled to herself, but she didn’t say anything to reproach him.  She was just happy that Rob had at last been snapped out of his malaise and they were finally going to make some positive changes to their finances.

Two months later, Rob and Ally completed the last of the paperwork to make Jason their advisor.  Rob had a quiet beer with Matt one Sunday afternoon beforehand to break the news, and to Rob’s relief, his friend took it very well.  ‘It’s for the best,’ Matt said as he took a sip of his pint.  ‘And to be perfectly honest, I kind of knew it was coming, anyway.  I know I’m hard to reach these days at work and I can’t really give you guys the time you deserve anymore, so I’m glad for you and Ally.’  He raised his glass to cheers Rob.  ‘And you’ve done well.  They’re a good firm.’  Matt nodded.  ‘They’ll look after you and your family,’ he added with a supportive smile.

Ally and Cheryl ended up becoming good friends too.

From their seats poolside, they struck up one conversation after another and before long they were meeting up for coffee at least once a week.  Ally really liked Cheryl and she also felt very grateful that she had met her as Cheryl had given her the little nudge she needed to make a positive change to their finances.  For Ally, the true feeling of relief came when she watched their eldest daughter making good progress up and down the pool.  Before going to meet with Jason, there had always been a niggling sensation at the back of her mind whenever she thought of the future, but now this sensation was gone, and she could breathe easy as she felt much more secure and confident about where their family was headed and how they were going to get there.

Is there a better, smarter way of building with your personal finances?

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Adrian McPhee

Adrian McPhee

Working as a Brisbane based financial adviser for several years at both corporate and boutique financial advice firms. Adrian firmly believes all Australians have the capacity to secure a more prosperous future, and seeks to help clients realise this outcome.

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