Depending on someone for money is a terrible feeling. Imagine being a grown adult still living at home with your parents. Every time you go out, you’ve got to ask them for a couple bucks to buy a loaf of bread or more likely, beer money to hang out with your buddies.
Now imagine marrying someone, giving up your job to raise a family, and being entirely dependent on your working spouse for all your spending needs. A common situation, but is it ideal?
It’s one thing to depend on someone for money as a kid. It’s another thing to be dependent on someone as an adult after getting a college education and marketable work skills.
For all this talk about the desire for financial independence, it’s odd that some couples aren’t willing to establish separate financial accounts to allow each other more freedom.
My Husband Is A Rich Controlling Miser
I recently received an e-mail from a reader who highlights the point about the importance of financial independence in a marriage. I asked her to elaborate her thoughts on the subject after her initial e-mail, and this is what she wanted me to share.
It’s been a while since we last corresponded, but I wanted to drop in and say how much I agree with you regarding the importance of having separate financial accounts.
My husband and I are worth about $4 million, up from $900,000 in 2012. Last year, he made over $1 million from his business, but you would never know it.
We live in a house worth less than 40% of our annual gross income, while some people spend 3-5X their annual income on a house. We have a 10+ year old car and he prefers to bike everywhere.
I’ve been a stay at home mother for the past 10 years. I help out with our business where I can. However, between picking up our daughter from school and shuttling her between activities, I admittedly don’t do a large amount of business work as I used to. It’s his baby.
I’ve been with my husband since the business first started. For years, we hardly made any money and I was his support system. I did a lot of the grunt work in the beginning to help lift the business off the ground.
I was also a happy, independent woman who had a day job before our daughter was born. Having my own paycheck to spend as I wished was liberating.
Despite the rise in our wealth and our income, I felt trapped because we only have joint accounts with different spending habits. My husband is a miser who wants me to run all expenditures by him first. We’re talking about even a $25 toy for our daughter.
If I spent $1,000 more a month, it wouldn’t make a dent to our budget because we only spend about $4,000 a month and pull in over $100,000 a month. However, to him, spending $1,000 more a month would be a big “no no” given it would be a 25% increase. That’s right, spending more than 5% of our monthly income is way too much for him to handle.
He simply cannot let go of his excessively frugal ways, even if it was hurting our relationship. As you know, being a stay at home parent is hard work. I resent having to “ask for permission” before buying anything, even it’s for our family.
My husband spends more time on his business and on his hobbies than he does with me and his daughter. He’s always jockeying to promote his business by doing interviews and TV spots. It’s nauseating how full of himself he is.
He tells people publicly how little he cares about money to justify his parsimonious ways. But in secret, he is money obsessed. All he wants is more of it!
Given our differences, I decided to get a divorce after 15 years of marriage. It was a tough call but I’m much happier to have my freedom back.
He bought another house close by while my daughter and I stay in our original home to reduce disruption. I think you called it “bird nesting.” I call it stupidity because it was an unnecessary $300,000 expense if we would have worked things out.
He can hoard his money as he pleases. I’m now free to do as I please with half our assets.
Money Is A Big Reason For Divorce
If you haven’t figured it out by now, money is one of the top 10 reasons why couples divorce.
The other reasons include: infidelity, lack of communication, constant bickering, weight gain, unrealistic expectations, lack of intimacy, lack of equality, not being prepared for marriage, and abuse.
If you have one spouse making all the money, there will naturally be a lack of equality, no matter how much you believe there isn’t.
It’s like a couple owning a car. If one spouse only has the keys, that spouse determines their destination most of the time.
Think about the power dynamics in the workplace and how it is frowned upon for managers to date their subordinates. Think about the #MeToo Movement.
If you want to control your spouse, then feel free to make more money and throw up checkpoints before every dollar can be spent. The lack of equality between spouses is a bigger problem than society recognizes.
Ways To Make Your Spouse Financially Independent
- Get Married. Marriage brings about stability for the less wealthy spouse. Assets accumulated after the marriage will be divided equally in a divorce. Alternatively, assets will be distributed based on the conditions of the prenup. A spouse will also receive their deceased spouse’s Social Security benefits.
- Establish independent financial accounts. Independent financial accounts should be additions to a couple’s main joint accounts. The independent accounts should be seen as “pressure release valves” to give each spouse the freedom to spend as they choose.
- Create a business and give ownership. A business is a separate legal entity that can have whatever ownership structure you want. One way to create more equality is to give a greater percentage of ownership to the spouse who earns less or doesn’t earn at all. Not only does this show good faith, but a higher ownership structure might also motivate the spouse to work hard at building the business.
- Contribute extra to their retirement accounts. If one spouse has less in his or her retirement accounts, the other spouse can contribute more to create more balance. Given you can’t contribute to someone else’s IRA or 401(k), it’s best to help build your spouse’s after-tax investment accounts. You can, however, elect to contribute more to your child’s 529 plan.
- Pay down their debt. Paying down one spouse’s credit card and/or student loan debt upon first entering a marriage is a very strong gesture. Even if there continues to be an income imbalance, the spouse whose debt was paid off will feel incredibly liberated and appreciative.
- Assign an income to the SAH parent. If one spouse works and another spouse is a stay at home parent, then assign an income amount for the stay at home parent. No job is more important than taking care of a child. Therefore, the stay at home parent should be paid top dollar. Do an honest assessment of the number of hours the SAH parent works in a 24-hour period. A six-figure income for a SAH parent is completely reasonable, especially if the household lives in a high cost of living area.
Set Your Partner Free
I’ve seen too many divorces where the wife ended up in financial turmoil because she had sacrificed her career for her husband and family. Then they broke up. Being out of the workforce for years makes finding work difficult.
By helping make your spouse independently wealthy, no matter what happens to your relationship, your spouse will always be fine. This is true love.
The key is to be selfless and think about the bigger picture. Don’t be that rich, miserly, ex-husband as one reader described above. Having millions of dollars but nobody to spend it with is sad.
Financial freedom is a wonderful gift to give. When I helped my wife negotiate a severance in 2015, I couldn’t have been prouder. I felt like I had been waiting for her for three years at Heaven’s gate.
Now, whenever I do something wrong, all I have to do is remind her how awesome it that she doesn’t have to commute downtown in rush hour traffic anymore. Then all is good again!
If you seek financial independence, then you must also give financial independence. Strive for equality every day.
Readers, why do we seek financial freedom, yet are unwilling to give financial freedom to our partner or spouse with a separate financial account? How much does money have to do with power in a relationship? What type of money fights do you have and how are they resolved?