Women now play the financial manager role in more than half of the homes in this country. Yep, that's right: women are the household CFO in most US households.
I sought out 9 financial experts who manage their household finances to get the best tips out there for taking on the challenge of money management at home. Whether you're already the household CFO or are aspiring to that role, these money gurus are here to open up the doors to their homes and invite us in to see how they make it all work.
Household CFO: Financial AND Professional Skills Needed
It's not all spreadsheets and accounting: women are tackling this job using all of their professional strengths in communication, goal setting, psychology, and organization.
Not only are women creating systems for financial management, but they're leaning on all those soft skills we employ in our professional lives to make sure that the household is running smoothly.
I would venture to guess that the MOST important aspect of the household CFO job is actually managing the relationships between family members and creating the common vision it takes to meet financial goals together.
Trends that Lead to Success as Household CFO
Our financial experts, women who have been managing household finances for years (and sometimes even decades), revealed common trends that lead to success.
financial trends that successful household cfos use:
Settle in for a post chock full of great advice from household CFOs who are meeting amazing financial goals and enjoying it along the way!
You might even find free budget spreadsheets, tip posts, or downloads below to help you get started on your financial journey to manage your household.
The Stay Sane Mom
Liz is a blogger and self-proclaimed digital nerd. She's also the stepmom to a pre-teen, bio mom to a 3 year old, and another on the way this year! As the coordinator of the house and designated household CFO, Liz is super-organized and keeps everyone in her house on top of the finances.
Liz uses an itemized monthly budget on PocketSmith that she categorizes religiously, and a yearly expenses spreadsheet that she says has meant financial sanity for her family.
"Before I created this system we were missing our budget pretty consistently, but now we make it with money to spare most months." The budget spreadsheet is up for grabs, too! Get it at her post: One Simple Trick to Hit Your Budget Every Month. Even for the tech challenged, this sheet will help you get your family on a budget.
Liz and her husband have monthly budget meetings so everyone's in the loop, and she says that regular communication about money has actually helped their relationship. "Now, we can bring up things before they become issues, rather than after they have already gone wrong."
"Having one dedicated financial 'head honcho' has definitely helped because when everything is done by one person, fewer things slip through the cracks."
Despite the lack of time that all moms struggle with, staying organized, making financial tasks a priority, and communicating are her secret tips for making financial management work for her family!
Nicole is a busy mom of four busy kids! She is the juggler of the schedules and the keeper of the checkbook at her house. Nicole got the job of household CFO because she's naturally more organized and Type A. She says, "I started doing it many years ago and never looked back!"
Because of her efforts as CFO, her family has been able to streamline savings, which helped them increase their emergency fund and save for vacations. Her biggest struggle is being flexible with extra spending. "I have those extra dollars earmarked for something!" she says (spoken like a true CFO). She and her husband have gradually increased their savings while paying off their debts, which is a big financial triumph.
"Make a budget. If you're still not where you want to be financially, then your budget needs to be re-looked at line by line."
Nicole uses a budget, and suggests that if you're not where you need to be financially, your budget needs to be re-analyzed.
When expenses start to get out of control her favorite place to start analyzing is subscriptions. Subscriptions like Netflix and those fun delivery boxes have a small monthly fee, but their overall cost is no laughing matter! Use her subscription analysis worksheet to assess your costs and determine what can go and what should stay.
Both Darla and her husband work full time and have found their own way to divide up the financial responsibilities and stay on the same page. Each year they set financial goals to tackle big projects. Paying down college debt, budgeting for a new house, and getting completely debt free have been some of their goals in the past.
Life with two working parents and three kids requires significant financial management. As household CFO, Darla budgets out the entire year. Once she started this process, Darla was able to plan for daycare, school activities, and diapers. ("I am so ready to potty train our 1 year old," she says, "just to stop buying diapers!")
"Me not managing his money and him not managing mine works for us. We have separate bank accounts for personal funds. According to our yearly budget we can both have $200 a month to spend however we decide."
Darla and her husband have two joint accounts: one for bills and another for fun. They each also have their own separate accounts for personal use, and $200 a month goes into those accounts so each person has a spending fund of their own. This works for Darla because "I should not have to manage a grown person's money. That's why it's important we are both responsible and on the same page."
In 8 Critical Areas You Should Set Goals In Life for Success and Balance, Darla shares how to think about and eventually set money goals for yourself that work!
McKinzie has always had a love for finance. She has a degree in financial planning that helps her family (with two young kids!) meet their financial goals.
Though she took on the household CFO role early in their marriage, she and her husband work on their finances as a team. "We set goals together and it strengthens our marriage," she says.
Her system involves using a budget that she and her husband go over the first Saturday of every month. Looking at the previous month's budget keeps them accountable to their spending goals and helps them solve budget problems as a team.
The first month they did their budget together, McKinzie and her husband realized they were spending too much on groceries. By sticking to a budget they have been able to reduce their spending by $500 a month, and by setting goals they've been able to become completely debt free besides their mortgage.
"We set goals together and it strengthens our marriage."
Though there are financial wins, managing the budget isn't all fun and games. McKinzie says "I don't feel like I'm trying to control the money, but because I manage it I am the one that reminds us that we're close to maxing out a budget category that month."
To counteract the feeling of scarcity, McKinzie and her husband are allotted some "fun money" that they can use however they like. ("No questions asked," she says!) The rigidity of a budget can cause you to binge if you don't have some sense of freedom, McKinzie says.
To get her free printable budget worksheet and read up on types of budgets you could use depending on your spending personality, check out her blog post on How to Make a Budget.
Amber's best advice for managing the money in her household is to take money out of her paycheck for savings FIRST, before she uses it for anything else. That way, she knows her savings is growing no matter what.
She also uses that same philosophy to create a windfall for her family come tax time by claiming zero dependents on her W2. That means the IRS takes the maximum amount of taxes from each of her paychecks, and in April she gets a huge chunk of money for big ticket items (like the truck she purchased with cash last year!)
"My stepdaughter has been so inspired by watching me figure out my business finances, she wants to start her own business. She has a notebook and has been developing a financial plan. She's only 12!"
Being in the household CFO role is something that Amber enjoys for the freedom to plan ahead and ensure she and her family can do the things they want to do. "I remember the days where I'd have overdraft fees every single month," she says. "Now we have gotten our finances set up in the most efficient way we can, and it takes so much stress off of both of us."
To make financial planning fun, Amber creates printables and organizers that make money management fast (and, let's be honest: PRETTY). Her secret is to customize her budgeting binder with printables, motivational coloring pages, inspirational dividers, and debt and savings thermometers you can color along with your progress. You can get her free Budgeting Binder full of printables and planning sheets to swipe all of her fun ideas for making budgeting fun!
Heather LeGuilloux, mental health blogger
Therapist Heather LeGuilloux is the primary household CFO in her current relationship (and, it turns out, past ones too.) Though Heather doesn't see herself as a "numbers" person, she credits being organized to her success managing the household finances.
Her system includes two main spreadsheets: an expense sheet and a net worth tracker, both in Excel. These give her a big picture view of her finances over time, and the net worth tracker can be very encouraging to see increase over time!
Her tip? Put in the time to keep track of expenses, and consider making a budget so you have some accountability between you and your partner about spending. Finance meetings once a month with her boyfriend help them stay open with communication and on track with their goals. "Make these finance meetings fun," she says. "Have a fancy coffee at a cafe or grab a glass of wine and plan to unwind by watching a movie together afterwards."
"My boyfriend has a very different money mindset than me, and so being able to take on the role of money manager but also being able to work together toward mutual and individual goals has been a great experience and helped us grow closer as a couple."
Heather wasn't always on top of it the way she is now. "There was a time I was very much an ostrich and had my head buried in the sand," she says. Her biggest financial triumph is having had the courage to fight the discouragement of debt and messy finances. "I was able to take charge and make some massively positive changes with my relationship with money and ultimately increase my net worth."
Heather blogs about mental health and, not surprisingly, notes that mental health and money are deeply connected. Her blog post Surprising Facts About Financial Well-Being and Mental Health will help you assess how much your finances are weighing on you emotionally, and how to get yourself financially (and mentally) healthy. She's got recommendations for finance resources and tips galore!
Chhavi is a lawyer whose crazy office hours lead her to re-think her career. Now she works from home and manages her blog which helps people jumpstart their freelance career and work from home.
Chhavi has managed the household finances successfully for two years without a hiccup! Her biggest struggle is keeping everyone on track because "it's easy to slip off once in a while and no one likes budget reminders."
Like a lot of us, Chhavi feels happiest when she knows she's in control of everything. (I feel you, Chhavi!) And because of her success at leading the family financially, they have been able to save more for the travel they love.
"A big part of marriage is creating a life we both want together and achieving goals. Money is simply a tool and you should look at it that way. It should not become the center of your life."
Every month, she and her husband discuss where they might need to trim their budget to accommodate a purchase or bill. If there's a cut to be made, they mutually decide what can be trimmed and trade turns making sacrifices. However, she uses bits of "extra luxury" to help make everyone feel included and important.
Because budgeting can be boring, Chhavi suggests making budget night fun. She gets everyone's favorite snack, pours a couple drinks, plays good music, and gets down to it.
A big part of Chhavi's strategy is to keep an eye out for lots of ways to save money, get cash back, and earn extra money. She loves being creative, getting rewards, and earning free money online. Find out some of her favorite tricks on her blog post Get Free Money Right Now!
Single mom Jennifer Smith lives in Kansas, and says "I survive on chips & salsa, Jesus, and my two teenagers' laughter." Jennifer has been a single mom for 8 years and has been the household CFO since the time when she was married.
Her systems are informed by taking Dave Ramsey's Money Makeover course 20 years ago. She keeps a monthly spreadsheet of her budget that includes income and expenses for all categories. She always knows how much money she has available in all her spending categories, and hasn't carried any credit card debt since college.
Jen achieves all this by never withdrawing money from an ATM. Literally, she doesn't even know the PIN number for her debit card! She sees ATM cash withdrawals as a sign of an impulse purchase she didn't budget for.
Instead, she takes cash out when she gets paid and uses that for groceries and entertainment to last until the next pay period.
"It's my goal as their mother to make a positive impact on my children, for them to see their mom overcome obstacles, and not let money rule our lives."
She enjoys the role, though sometimes it's stressful. "There are times that it's a little scary to see if the numbers will balance out. I have more than just myself to care for and if the numbers don't fall in my favor that month I have difficult decisions to make." During those times, doing without activities or tracking the cost of every item while grocery shopping is stressful, but worth it to keep herself and her family out of debt.
For more tips for single moms (or anyone managing the family's finances) read her blog post Money Saving Tips for Single Moms where she recommends you set up multiple bank accounts. (I agree!) You can even find a copy there of the spreadsheet she uses to keep it all together in her family!
Tiffany's degree in math means she's had a strict budgeting system for herself since before she was married. She and her husband work together to make the budget work, with her leading the whole process.
Tiffany's system involves a budget that she updates regularly. Every Sunday she sits down and puts the expenses from the previous week into the budget. As household CFO, she leads the process.
She and her husband look at the budget together and discuss it each week. They have a lot of transparency in their money systems, sharing a credit card and discussing purchases that go over $10.
"Any purchase we make that is more than $10 we discuss together first. We have the same credit card number, so we always see what the other person is spending. There are no secrets."
Her tip? If one of the two partners likes to spend money, having a fun fund (with its own budget category) can go a long way to make things go smoothly and also still be able to stay within budget.
By working together, Tiffany and her husband keep each other accountable and teach their kids about managing money. Giving quarters for earning chores helps teach about saving, spending, and earning money.
Their biggest budget triumph has been paying off student loans in less than two years and paying off their car in less than three. These efforts were achieved by taking one large debt at a time. Find out how she did it here on her blog post 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom.
The Bossy House
Julie Lause-- it's me!
Now it's my turn to dispense my best advice for financial management of the household. As a single mom, I am the only available candidate for household CFO. There's some comfort in that (as in no one else spends the money so I know where it all is) but also... if "we" overspend it's actually just my fault.
While others focus on making a budget and sticking to financial amounts for each category, I do not keep a budget that way. My approach is to set parameters for cash and debit card spending for the month, and then stick to those. I find it easier to stick to keeping my spending to $300 a week (including groceries, gas, and the lawn guy) than to budget a specific amount for groceries. If I want to get expensive groceries one week, I'll forego a trip to the aquarium that week and instead head to the free park.
To keep myself on track, I automate my bill pay, have systems in place for saving for big annual expenses, and I use a Down-to-Zero budget that makes a plan for every dollar entering my world. I send money to savings, annual spending, and bill pay before I ever see my cash spending money.
"Get excited on payday because you have money to spend? You're kidding yourself. That money is already spoken for. It's got plans, and those plans do not involve going out on Friday night."
This kind of system can be complicated to set up, but once it's set, it's set for good. Read up on making a Down-to-Zero budget and getting to financial freedom, then Automate Your Finances to your heart's content.
I like the ease of never having to make big decisions month to month, and my planning is significantly reduced. Give yourself 2 hours to get yourself set up for success. My free financial planning templates will help you plan everything out!