Living Frugally: Preparing for “Death Do Us Part”

RS Living FrugallyTaz Bright helms this series. Taz is a father, speaker, long-time business owner and graduate of the school of hard-knocks. Taz uses his past business and personal finance experience to help steer others in a positive financial direction while, hopefully, avoiding the mistakes he’s made along the way. As a former 6-year victim of Identity Theft, Taz shares unique lessons learned while trying to regain his financial footing. Taz is a member of Toastmasters International, a martial artist, former bodyguard and a CrossFit athlete. As the owner of Bright Balance Ministries, Taz’s goal is to help as many people as possible reach long-term, solid financial stability.

We generally don’t want to talk about it. We’d rather not speak about it and just concentrate on the warm and fuzzy, happy, pleasant topics. But, if we are to be wise and mature people, at some point we have to address the fact that death will come knocking at our door. We don’t get to negotiate that point. We can’t tell death, “Hey I haven’t created the best financial situation for my spouse. Could you come back in about three years?” No, death shows up without warning and without the intention of giving you an extension. He has zero negotiating skills and has no desire to develop them.

So how are we to live in preparation for this inevitable event? Well, Frugally, of course.

As we move forward in time it is essential that we prepare for the loss of the one we’ve chosen to spend our lives with. Money in savings, investments made, income from odd jobs, etc. are examples of assets that can be designated for funeral costs, eliminating debt, paying ahead on bills like rent, car payments etc. We may also want to consider staying ahead on life insurance policies if the decision has been made to invest in them.

As stated in past Savvy posts, the frugal lifestyle has many benefits and we all choose to be frugal for different reasons. Saving for higher education, paying cash for a vehicle, creating an emergency fund and memory-building family vacations are all examples of worthy goals which can be achieved by frugal habits. But, these goals, while worthy in and of themselves, must be seen in the light of preparing for that sad day in everyone’s future.

I know several couples in which only one spouse is fully familiar with the financial situation they share. Hubby may earn the money, decide how much to save/invest and also know exactly where his 401(k) stands. They live with the mindset that the husband is ‘taking care of’ the family. True, he’s providing and creating a nest egg. That cannot be disputed. But the goal is to provide the best care for the family, not just what’s ‘good enough.’ The best financial situation is one in which the following are true:

  • Both husband and wife are completely aware of the total financial picture
  • Both know important passwords
  • Both know where the Will is kept and the details within it
  • Husband and wife are on the same page as far as financial goals, giving to charity, etc.
  • Both know the details of any life insurance policies and what to do if the other passes first

This is by no means a complete list. The details to be considered in the event of a spouse’s death are far too many to list. Because there are so many details spouses need to start now with the conversation and planning needed to set things in place. Too often a widow or widower are left with not only grief to navigate but also left to make financial decisions during the most heart-wrenching time of their life. Is that fair? Not in the least. I firmly believe it is an act of love to be sure your spouse is financially set for your departure.

Handicapped Spouse.

A spouse who’s left in the dark concerning family finances is very handicapped once they’ve been left alone to deal with a financial situation they’ve not been an active part of over the years. They’re left with questions which could be costly. If a widower is unaware of how his wife’s life insurance policy works he may be ignorant of how much of a payout he’s to receive if his wife dies in the hospital under the care of medical staff vice if she died in her sleep at home. One cause of death may pay out $45,000 while another may have a benefit if $95,000. That’s a major difference to all of us but more so to the grieving. With the continual rise of funeral costs every penny is important. While we are still here we need to …

  • Decide, with our spouses, where the extra saved pennies will go
  • Sit and discuss the details of life insurance policies including benefit amounts and how the funds are to be used
  • Decide on cremation vs traditional funeral
  • Purchase burial plots
  • Determine which possessions may be sold based on who passes first
  • Create a Will, Living Will and Health Care Directive
  • Discuss which law firm (s) are to be consulted if necessary
  • Decide who will raise the children if both husband and wife pass away at the same time
  • Decide who will be the best person to help the widow or widower in raising children without their spouse

With details like these lined up years in advance the spouse left behind is not handicapped but, instead, empowered to continue on living and living comfortably.

It seems to me that Frugal Living must have a purpose to it, a worthy end goal. We choose a frugal lifestyle so we can bless others or maybe because we want to build our dream home without financing. We may decide frugality is the best way to fund higher education or pay for that third daughter’s wedding. When death parts loved ones should be added to the list of many reasons for a frugal life. Empower your spouse, have the conversation and start making preparations now!

Stay Frugal.

Blogger-in-Chief here at RetirementSavvy and author of Sin City Greed, Cream City Hustle and RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit.


  1. Nearly two years ago, my husband was killed in a snowmobile accident. As our sole financial support, this even turned my world upside down. Not only was I grieving the loss of my best friend, but I was immediately plunged into a world of total panic. Did he have insurance? I learned later that he did, but that information wasn’t easy to obtain. Our home was also still in the name of his ex-wife, so I had to hire an attorney just to secure my home. Fast forward two years, while all is well now, there were several things that could have been avoided had we been able and willing to talk about all of this and make better plans.

    I can’t count how many times I’ve heard in the last year that one spouse or the other has no idea what they would do in my position. Some don’t know how to do their own laundry or cook, and some don’t know how to pay the bills. Communication is key to allowing your spouse to truly grieve without added stress and worry!

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Michelle and I am sorry for your loss. “Communication is key to allowing your spouse to truly grieve without added stress and worry!” Absolutely. I am a firm believer that there are four parts to a solid, comprehensive financial plan: the development, the execution, the education of impacted family members and communication. Be well, my friend.

  2. My wife and I have a ways to go to get to where we need to be in this regard. I have been the main one doing our finances since we got married but we are starting to get her more involved in the big picture items as well as the day to day. If something were to happen to me, I want to be sure that she has a good idea of what to do next.

    • “My wife [husband] and I have a ways to go to get to where we need to be in this regard.” I imagine that is the case for most people. We often spend so much time on accumulating assets, we don’t give adequate time to two other critical elements of finance planning, the withdrawal (decumulation) plan, covered in Develop Your Withdrawal Plan and Sequence of Returns Risk; and family involvement/preparation.

    • Thias thanks so much for commenting. Your time is appreciated. Glad to hear you’re talking steps toward preparing for the end game. If you want help with getting a Will, Living Will, Health Care Directive and/or Power of Attorney in place please feel free to contact me. I hope to hear from you again.

  3. Well said Taz! Me and my wife hired an attorney to draw up a will, living will and powers of attorney etc. The cost to have this done was $750.00 (great tax write off) and both my children were given copies. We also have a concise list of investments, safe deposit box info, safe combinations, values of personal items (jewelry , antiques , art , etc.). I think this both a very important and not talked about topic (we hate the thought of our own morality). Thanks for bringing it up.

    • So very true, Brad. While it is not the most pleasant topic, it is quite necessary.

    • Thanks for reading Brad B. It sounds like you and your wife are making some wise decisions. Great job! Hiring an attorney is wise. The every day person just doesn’t know how to wade through the legal red tape, hoops, etc.

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