October 4, 2016.  By John Wolfsberg:

It is a blessed feeling to have a wonderful spouse and great children.  When you are in such a household, as are many of our clients and colleagues, there is seemingly nothing that one would not do to provide for their family, whether it be planning the annual family vacation or filling refrigerator with groceries weekly.  Acting as the provider, however, can be a heavy weight to bear.  Recently I was out to dinner with a client discussing just that, and as I listened to his woes it came to me that money troubles throughout the life cycle are much like that task of stocking the refrigerator.  I’ll explain:

As a young couple just starting out in their new home, each equally contributes to the refrigerator, providing groceries weekly and consuming only what they need.  Early on both monitor, supply, and restock as needed. After a year or two, the couple decides to add complexity to their family unit with children, pets, entertaining, and vacations.  Suddenly, while one spouse may be monitoring soccer schedules, child care, and dog grooming, the other is left to monitor the refrigerator alone.  Not only has the refrigerator management responsibility doubled for the dedicated spouse, but now there are also more hands taking food out without ever putting any in.  Children, guests, and the other spouse assume there is always enough in there, simply taking a quick peek scanning for what they need, while the RM (“Refrigerator Manager”) is constantly staring at the bounty, trying to put in as much as possible in effort to keep up with family demand. Only the RM opens the door and truly knows how much food is left, with some others in the home taking for granted that somehow the refrigerator is ‘magically’ restocked every week.   This is where the stress comes in.

Just like money, there is a never ending need for food…sometimes just to cover the basic needs of the family, which seem manageable (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) but others seem like an all-out party (tuition, car repairs, vacation); these are the tough times that the refrigerator takes a hit and it’s a scramble to replenish what was taken out. The RM needs to have an overall handle throughout the spending and consumption continuum.  Part of the stress is feeling like the only family member who has a solid understanding of needs versus wants. The other part is knowing that at some point he or she will no longer be able to put anything more in the refrigerator, and will eventually have to live on what remains.  Trying to stock for the future while accommodating current needs can leave the RM just plain tired of saying “no”, and fed up with suggesting that the family should make some adjustments.

Read the above example as the refrigerator being your bank account and investment portfolio, and the food being your funds.  Do you see the similarities? Are you the Refrigerator Manager in your family?  Do not be the only one opening the door.  Involve your spouse and teen through adult children in the management process.  With a greater understanding how well the refrigerator is stocked, and what it takes to get it to a sustainable level, the family may put forth better effort to respect the many mouths it feeds. We cannot stress the importance of financial education enough, and hope that you will take this suggestion to your home to ensure that you have enough ‘food in the fridge’ upon retirement.