This article is part two of a three-part series. All names have been changed to protect the innocent— and the not-so-innocent.

In my 20 years+ working as a portfolio manager I’ve seen a lot…especially when it comes to couples and money. What goes on? It’s all over the map. Never a dull moment I tell you.

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.” – William Shakespeare

A scenario that has become more prevalent over the years in my practice is the woman being the main breadwinner in the family. As a general observation this seems to work quite well as long as each individual has a strong sense of self and his/her own interests or a vocation of some sort. Where it can get fraught is when the interests or vocation, (especially of the lower income generating spouse), are burning cash.


Vanessa & Steven

Vanessa, a design consultant and Steven, a carpenter have been a great match for 20 years. Vanessa has always been the main source of the family income and, as she told me “I make all of the financial decisions. I am only interested in investing in my home and my family. I work really hard and everything I do; I do it for us and our son.”

In the past couple of years Steven started investing in his business – upgrading materials and equipment – but unfortunately, he made many unilateral decisions without consulting her, pulling money (lots of it) out of their joint accounts, and these decisions put her/their savings at risk.


Sylvia & Allen

Sylvia, a CEO and Allen, a retired chiropractor, have lived in harmony for over 30 years. Her philosophy about money is, “I like to spend but this has never been a problem because I’ve always made my own good money. Earning my own money and feeling independent, this is core to how I manage my finances.”

Imagine her surprise when she found out that Allen had been making multiple not-small investments in his friend’s venture capital ideas – one of them was a cool half million bucks! To fund these ‘opportunities’ he had been taking the money out of their joint investment account. To make it worse, none of the investments have paid off – although the more important issue is, he never asked.


Laura & Geoff

Laura, a management consultant, and Geoff, a researcher, have been married for 15 years. Although they share many similar interests such as long walks and hanging out with their pets, Geoff has a dream of creating the next big thing in a computer programming model. He has taken a pass on many opportunities to earn a regular income and instead he supported himself (and his dream) by taking out lump sums from time-to-time from their joint investment portfolio. He never consulted Laura because he was always ‘sure’ that this time he had figured out the winning programming model.


Lesson #1:  Time for a Financial Separation

Not the usual kind of marital separation: in all three cases these continue to be ‘good couples’ from a romantic standpoint; they still reside together and share lives. But in order to take control of the family’s future all three women opted for separate finances. There are several ways to accomplish this, (including getting it done with lawyers), but one way or another “time’s up” if one of the partners is feeling betrayed financially.

Lesson #2: Check Your Financial Statements

In each case, the woman only discovered the withdrawals after many months, (sometimes even more than a year), had gone by and significant percentages of the joint account were gone forever. If the wife had been checking statements more regularly, the amounts taken without her knowledge would have been much smaller, and she could have intervened sooner to re-set the financial “house-rules”.

Barbara Stewart, CFA is one of the world’s leading researchers on women and finance, focusing on real life financial behaviours and providing global insights into how smart women think and communicate. Barbara is an advocate for women, for diversity, and for financial education. In addition to her Rich Thinking® research, Barbara uses her proprietary research skills to work as an Executive Interviewer on a project basis for global financial institutions seeking to gain a deeper understanding of their key stakeholders, both women and men. Barbara is a frequent interview guest on TV, radio and print, both financial and general interest. She is a contributor to the CFA Institute’s Enterprising Investor website. For more information about Barbara’s research, please see