There are almost as many ways to handle joint finances as there are married couples. But when one partner decides to stay at home, the financial reality that only one person is earning money can be a recipe for conflict. Homemakers need to have ready access to family funds, and should feel that their homemaking contributes to household finances rather than feeling like they're getting an allowance or are dependent on a spouse. There are a couple of different ways to set this up, and you'll have to find the strategy that works best for your marriage.
A homemaker contributes greatly to the well-being of a household, and having a spouse at home can even help the spouse who works outside of the home earn more money. People who don't have to rush home early to clean or pick up children can work overtime and climb the corporate ladder. Consequently, both members of the couple need to acknowledge the homemaker's contributions rather than acting as if she's not contributing. Successful couples share jointly in financial decision-making and, in many marriages where one spouse is a homemaker, that spouse is responsible for paying bills and managing financial accounts.
One way to manage the finances of a homemaker is to share all financial account information. If you have joint accounts, both names should be on the accounts. This way, all money is shared and the spouse who stays home doesn't have to ask for an allowance or feel like she's borrowing money from her spouse. In this arrangement, all money goes into the same pot and each member of the couple has equal access. However, this arrangement can pose a problem if the marriage breaks up or the spouse who stays at home wants to independently save for a rainy day, so some couples opt to put most of their money in a joint account and then each have separate accounts for discretionary purposes. When one spouse doesn't earn money, the other spouse can regularly transfer an agreed-to amount of money to the separate account.
It's possible to maintain completely separate accounts even when one spouse doesn't work. Some homemakers feel more secure with this arrangement because it ensures that they have their own money over which they have complete control. However, this approach requires the spouse who earns money to regularly give money to the homemaker or to set up an auto-draft from his account. For some homemakers, this can feel like an allowance, but for others, it feels fair -- like their household contributions are being recognized and compensated.
If only one spouse earns money, the responsibility for saving for retirement, a new home or family vacations will fall to the spouse who earns money. It's particularly important to remember to save for two people, not just one, and the savings burden can mean that a significant amount of money is taken from the couple's disposable income each month. Some families plan to only have a homemaking spouse for a short period of time, but even when this occurs, the spouse who works outside of the home can choose to save for both spouses to avoid any long-term financial unfairness.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.