Susan and Mike are married. When they got children, they decided that Susan would quit her job for a while and look after the children. Susan had gotten used to having her own money.
If she wanted to go for a coffee, do her hair, go out with her friends and even take a holiday, she could and did not have to wait for someone else to approve the finances.
The first two months were rosy. They had a family budget so Mike would give Susan the agreed amount to take care of the kids and herself.
But after those two months, Susan found herself asking for money every other day Mike stopped giving her all the money he had promised upfront. He started reducing it without discussing it with her, and claiming bills had gone up or that there were some investments he was doing.
Susan felt demoralised and very disempowered having to ask for money and having no control over financial decisions. It was hard being at Mike’s mercy and his perspective of what things should cost and when they should be bought. Her breaking point was when she found herself asking for money to buy toiletries for herself. This was not what she signed up for.
This is a common situations faced by many stay at home parents, especially women: the loss of dignity and ability to make decisions because they are not the breadwinners. The assumption that because they do not earn the money, they have less of a right to it. Their role in nurturing the children and managing the house being taken for granted and treated as a secondary position when it comes to financial decisions.
Susan came to a very important conviction. This was not right and it was not the way it was supposed to be. She did not decide to get children and stay home on her own – it was a joint decision. Because of that, money should be handled jointly.
Her new conviction started many many uncomfortable discussions with Mike, who also had to change his mindset. They went back to the beginning and restructured their financial arrangement. Mike’s salary was considered joint income because Susan’s effort was bringing up their joint children. One role is not greater than the other. This joint income was paid into a joint account. From there, it would offset joint bills; a standard amount would go into joint investments i.e., those that legally had both their names. Also, a standard amount would go into their individual accounts for their personal use. Susan did not have to run after Mike to ask him for money. They also agreed to evaluate this structure every year, see what works and doesn’t work. This is the arrangement that they agreed works for their relationships. You should have to look at what works for you and be courageous enough to fight for it.
Many people may be wondering what happens if your partner refuses to play ball. I asked Susan the same question. She said she would have immediately started looking for a job. If Mike had disagreed, she would have concluded that their initial agreement on how to raise kids had changed. If you are in a situation where your partner may not agree, start looking at what you can do to make your own money. You can even start a business from home. Too many women have found themselves facing poverty when life circumstances like death or separation happen. It is not one of those things that we can simply ignore and hope it works out at some undefined point in future. Susan is also very clear that when her children reach a certain age she will go back to work.
Women also make mistakes. There are some people who get too comfortable being taken care of and leave their partners to bear the entire financial responsibility, only to find themselves in vulnerable situations later on. Everybody has a choice and we have seen the ones Susan made. Even doing nothing is a choice. What choices are you making and where might they lead?