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The Family CFO

Phillip and I attended the required marriage preparation classes at church before our wedding. We sat through these with fake-interested smiles on our faces, ignoring the couple who said they'd never had a fight in twenty-some years of marriage (PLEASE) and wanting to crawl beneath the tables for The Intimacy Talk. We totally tuned out the people who came to talk to us about finances because whatever, like we needed to take these stupid classes ANYWAY. But boy do I wish I had listened up for the money stuff, people. I have been in charge of the family finances for about a year now and I STILL DON'T KNOW WHAT I AM DOING.

I'm not entirely sure what my deal is, since I somehow managed to financially survive years Eighteen to Twenty-Three (those being the post-parents pre-Phillip years) on my own just fine. I paid my own bills, did not sink into credit card debt, paid my rent on time and deposited my very own paychecks. In other words, I was a Big Girl wearing Big Girl Money Pants.

Then I got married, and, as is often the case when an English major marries someone who has an actual lucrative skill, my paycheck looked awfully small. My husband was into things like stocks and retirement accounts and I STILL can't tell you what an IRA is. Phillip became the family banker by default.

However! All that changed when I became a Stay At Home Mom. Phillip was still paying the bills for quite a while, but during one particularly grueling "discussion", he admitted he was having a hard time keeping up with his various responsibilities. So I piped up all helpful and chipper: "I can pay the bills! I've done it before! I'm no dummy! I paid my bills before I had YOU to pay them FOR me!" And that's how I got stuck with the confusing, stressful and stomach-churning tasks belonging to the Chief Family Financial Officer.

People, I am crap at this job. I didn't think I was THAT bad, but the last few weeks have made it abundantly clear that I am woefully unprepared, terribly un-diligent and also kind of dumb. When he handed the accounts off to me in the Official Transition, I spent several hours making the awesomest budgeting spreadsheet you have ever seen. (Things I Am Not Crap At: Excel, Anal-Retentivity.) I signed up for Wesabe AND Mint. But I still sit here every couple of weeks staring at our list of transactions and thinking, "Now what's that again? Why did we do that? Where did that come from? Where does this go?"

Phillip gets frustrated with me because I see it all in Piles of Money: the Savings pile, the Checking pile, the Grad School pile, etc. He, naturally, sees it as one big heap - who cares what pile we take money from to feed that other pile? And while he's at it, so what if the ingenious savings plan he dreamed up makes the piles all blur together in ways I find incredibly frustrating - it's saving us money! Who cares if we have bank accounts at THREE DIFFERENT BANKS? Or stock money here and mutual fund money there? And there I am sitting around thinking, "What IS a mutual fund? And who ARE we that we have all these accounts? MONEY LAUNDERERS?"

(Let it be known that I am not an ACTUAL money launderer as I have NO FREAKING IDEA WHAT THAT IS.)

Anyway, I thought becoming the family CFO would make me feel like I have a little control. I don't have a job, I don't contribute financially, I don't even get dinner on the table most nights, but I CAN open my laptop and pay a bill. Right? Except no, it's not just bills, it's a SYSTEM, a system that has become even more important now that we are forking over giant wads of cash to Higher Education, and I am NOT feeling the control. NOT ONE BIT. How do you handle the finances in your family? More importantly: how do I not spend the equivalent of a mortgage payment at Target every month?