Read this, if you have a few minutes: In Marriage, the Unseen Bottom Line – NYTimes.com.
Now, let me acknowledge from the start that I left a lucrative job in 2005 to raise our family. I am a bit sensitive to articles in widely-read publications about whether a woman’s decisions have a societal impact on the goals of feminism.
That said, the reporter’s wonders: “How do modern couples manage their finances — and how does that affect the status of women, their long-term financial security and even their career prospects?…. Dissecting what constitutes joint spending makes for an intriguing study in gender equality.” She’s concerned about the “tricky trade-off between equality and independence that lies at the heart of family finance.”
I was not included in Bennhold’s sample (of 44 highly educated female friends in their 30s), so I wonder what she might make of my particular situation. My spouse and I (I consider us to be a “modern couple”) immediately blended our finances (meager checking accounts, loads of student debt, some stocks, and a couple of IRA accounts).
He managed the household budget for the first few years. I did not, just like 43 out of 44 of the women Bennhold surveyed.
But, when I stayed home to raise the family, I took over, largely out of a sense of fairness. By day my husband manages a corporation’s money–which contributes to a fair amount of job-related stress. We figured it made more sense for me to manage our money.
It did, except for the fact that we hadn’t really talked about money before. We hadn’t set a family budget together. Oops.
Over two years ago, the Times ran this. The upshot: “Of all these common things couples fight about, money disputes were the best harbingers of divorce. For wives, disagreements over finances and sex were good predictors of divorce, but finance disputes were much stronger predictors. For husbands, financial disagreements were the only type of common disagreement that predicted whether they would get a divorce.” The pretty picture shows you just how strong that predictor is.
Scary, huh? My husband and I have certainly had some “financial disagreements.” (I think there were a total of five, over the course of the first six years of our marriage.) So, we set a budget. A real one, based on our actual spending habits. We tracked every penny spent for months. We learned how we behaved, we studied our own patterns, as a couple and as individuals. (Also, we’re big geeks with spreadsheet software.)
I think the trick to managing family finance is to understand that there is no “tricky tradeoff” between independence and equality. They are not mutually exclusive. They’re joined together by trust and confidence, in yourself, and in each other. I wish Bennhold had asked her friends a few more questions.