Dear Penny: I Think My Husband Is Gambling Away Our Future on Robinhood

A husband and wife have a discussion on their couch while having a class of red wine.
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Dear Penny,

My husband became obsessed with the stock market during quarantine. His company stopped its 401(k) match in March, so he stopped contributing. He also stopped making his Roth IRA contribution, which he used to max out.

Instead, he’s putting all that money into his Robinhood account and he’s always trading on the app.

I left my job in the medical field earlier this year because of worries about COVID-19 and because our kids’ school had closed. We’ve decided not to send the kids back to school at least through the end of 2020, so I’m at home getting our three kids through virtual school. Since I’m not working, I can’t contribute to a retirement account of my own.

I don’t know much about the stock market and I have zero interest. My husband has a finance degree, though that’s not his profession, so I lack his expertise in this respect. Some of his friends are equally obsessed with Robinhood. I’m alarmed because I’ve heard them joke about the risky bets they’ve made. 

He hasn’t taken money out of retirement accounts or our savings. He says I shouldn’t worry because he’s made way more than he would have with his 401(k) and also because we’re still current on all our bills even without my income.

Is it OK that he’s stopped contributing to his 401(k) so he can trade stocks? How do I ask him what he’s actually investing in? I’m worried that he’s gambling money that we need for our retirement.

-K.

Dear K.,

Maybe your husband does know more about the stock market than you do. But it sounds like you’re the smarter investor.

If your husband is using the fact that he’s gotten superior returns since March compared to what he’s averaged in his 401(k) over the years, he’s giving himself WAY too much credit. Please don’t buy in.

As of Sept. 1, the S&P 500 was up 57% since its historic crash in March. Those returns simply aren’t sustainable. Historically, stocks deliver average annual returns of about 10% before you account for inflation. Investments in 401(k) plans skew conservative, so you’d expect slightly lower returns.

You don’t build wealth through huge short-term stock market fluctuations. You build it by consistently investing and staying put over the long haul. Your concern implies that, unlike your husband, you grasp that.

But this question is about so much more than money.

You’re not earning a paycheck right now, but you’re very much working. You’ve put your career on pause and taken on the difficult work of getting your family through the pandemic.

But has your husband sacrificed? It doesn’t sound like it. Instead, he’s turning your couch into a casino.

Here’s what’s even more worrisome, though: He’s unilaterally making decisions that affect your entire family without your consent, despite knowing you’re worried. This is not a partnership.

You obviously know that it’s time for a long-overdue talk with your husband about his decisions. And while I’m being hard on him, I’d suggest taking a different approach.

Don’t lead with “I’m worried that you’re gambling away our future.” It’s a 100% legitimate concern. I just don’t think it will start a productive dialogue.

Tell him instead that you want to set aside a couple hours to go over all of your investment and savings accounts. It’s harder for him to get defensive if you’re simply seeking to understand where your family finances stand. If he resists having an open conversation, consider it a huge red flag.

Focus the discussion on your broader goals, like when you want to retire or whether you want to pay for your kids’ college. Don’t let yourself get sucked into an argument about the returns he’s gotten. Those returns are unattainable in the long run. Aim to figure out what you should contribute for retirement based on the modest 6% to 7% returns financial planners estimate you’ll average.

One thing I’d insist on here is that he prioritize your retirement as well. You’re right that you can’t contribute to a retirement account without earned income, but earning spouses can fund an IRA for a non-earning spouse. The regular IRA contribution limits of $6,000 if you’re under 50 or $7,000 if you’re 50 or older apply.

Once you’ve resumed funding your retirement accounts sufficiently and you’re saving for any other goals, you can split any extra money between the two of you for your individual wants. If he chooses to trade stocks on Robinhood, he can bet to his heart’s content.

Don’t let him sway you with his stock market “expertise.” Your future is at stake. Personally, I’d trust you to manage my money over your husband any day.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected]