Yesterday we kicked off “For Richer, For Poorer” Week by tackling the For Richer bit. (Which is something I think women do not spend enough time talking about with each other. We use a lot of our energy competing with each other and shaming each other for doing well… destructive behavior we can’t stop fast enough.) And today, we wanted to dive into For Poorer. I know many of us are battling with, or have recently battled with, unemployment in this terrible economy. My household has certainly been there, and I’ve written about our year of unemployment, how hard it was, and what we learned. Today’s post from Amelia hits on some important truths that I feel passionately about. She talks about realizing that partnership is not about what we financially contribute, but how we share what we have and support each other (oh yeah, and she talks about married travel).
Finances are something Mark and I have always had to talk about.
In fact, I’ll go so far as to say one of the reasons I was first interested in dating him was because I discovered he was good with money—something I definitely wasn’t.
Our first year of dating saw me suffer a redundancy (for U.S. readers, that’s being laid off) and the indignity of having to move back home to my parents while I looked for new work. I then stayed at my parents for an extra five months so I could work on clearing my credit card debt, while Mark saw out the end of his existing tenancy.
When we moved in together, I started talking to Mark about my finances, and we started to look at things as “our” finances. We had a joint account that we put a set amount of money in to each week, but everything else was our own. That Easter, Mark offered to help me pay off my credit card, and in return I would pay him back at the same rate I was paying off the card with a much lower interest rate. He admitted later he was already planning for us to get married, and he never expected the money back, but rather saw it as an investment in our shared future.
That year we got engaged. And a family member suffered a financial disaster that also impacted us, as Mark had invested all his savings with them. Talk about making wedding planning stressful.
Early the next year, we were both made redundant on the same day. Ouch. Thankfully Mark had had sufficient warning to find a new job, and he eventually received a redundancy payout. We had booked things for the wedding, and busied ourselves making it happen. I temped and did contract work. We merged bank accounts when I changed jobs, and got a joint credit card. We survived, and even managed to squirrel away enough money to put down a deposit on a cute little house the day before our wedding. All this didn’t stop me having minor panic attacks during the wedding planning of how I was spending “his” money on “my” wedding ideas, and that he deserved someone who could hold up their end of the financial relationship.
We came home from honeymoon, moved into the new house and I found more work. It lasted a year before I was let go again (the joy of fixed term contracts) immediately before Christmas 2011. During that year, we set ourselves a challenge of living on just my income, or as close as we could get to it. We failed because we picked a six week period with big annual bills in the middle of it, but we proved that we could get our expenditure down to well below Mark’s income if we really thought about it. Turns out it was a good practice run.
Locally, nothing really happens in the employment market during January because everyone takes extended summer holidays. I fired off a half dozen applications and managed to get a couple of interviews. But the market is tough, and the fact we have booked a six-week holiday to Europe in May makes job-hunting exceedingly hard, especially when there is not a lot of temping going.
The hardest part for me has been letting go of the feelings of guilt. I feel guilty because I am unable to help pay for the upkeep of the house, and for the trip to Europe that I pushed for. Mark wanted to just focus on the mortgage, I wanted to go to Europe sooner rather than later and was definitely never going to consider having kids before we took that trip. I won, and we booked flights five weeks before it was confirmed that my role at work was being disestablished.
But Mark has some cute old-fashioned seeming ideas, and they have really helped with this feeling of guilt (which has also been seriously over-dramatised in my head by the fact I am busy fighting off a depression at the same time). It came as a surprise to me, how much relief I felt when Mark reminded me that none of our grandmothers had worked (except perhaps in the war effort) once they were married. That’s only two generations ago to a time when a man was expected to be able to keep his wife on his own income. He has felt this more acutely than me for a while. After my first redundancy, he worried that he wasn’t earning enough to support a family and so got motivated and started looking for ways to increase his own earning potential.
He has also reminded me that while I might not be working, we are at least not moving backwards financially, that we bought the house we did rather than a more expensive one specifically to reduce the risk in this situation. Then there is the fact that I can manage to get things done around the house during the day, which gives us substantially more freedom to do things together in the evenings and weekends rather than worry about laundry or vacuuming. And it is giving me the chance (and the kick up the pants) to work on ideas for growing my own business—something an old high school friend is very keen to get behind and help with.
Most of all though, he reminds me that so long as I am still trying, then it’s not my fault. There are hundreds of other people looking for the same work I am looking for in this city, so I have some stiff competition. I am at least getting interviews. And then he holds me when it all gets too much and I cry in frustration, or when I shake with fear at the fact my depression and unemployment are starting to make me scared of the outside world. Mark is my rock. It’s still not easy, and I still feel bad about making plans to spend money that I am not earning. Mark reminds me that it will all be worth it, the work will come as we have seen in the past, and that he will support us financially for as long as needed, so long as I promise to keep trying, take on temping when it’s available (and bake frequently when I am at home during the day).
Photo by: Julie Randall Photography