Women, Marriage, and Money—A Response to The New York Times

(Note! We’re playing around with an extra Friday feature for the first time today. It’s tentatively called BackTalk and will be quick responses from me, and sometimes the staff, to current news articles or trend stories, or short form discussion of wedding planning. Then, next up, we’ll have Ask Team Practical to close the week. Since we’re just getting our feet wet and figuring out what works, no fancy logo or anything yet.  —Meg)

It’s possible that I’ve never had a news article show up as often in my Twitter feed with a desperate plea for APW discussion than the recent New York Times article about joint finances called, “In Marriage, the Unseen Bottom Line.” The comments were mostly in the vein of, “This article makes me livid, but hey! They quoted Caitlin Moran!”

As most of you know, I’m a long time (feminist) advocate of pooling your financial resources (see: marriage as mini-socialism). But this article, the couples that were pooling their financial resources scared the shit out of me. I suddenly understood people’s reticence to pool resources. Because yes, if pooling family resources meant that I couldn’t spend money without my partner’s say-so, or that I ceded all personal responsibility for knowing the nature of our finances (this is dangerous stuff, women of the world, whether you pool your finances or not), you bet I’d think it was anti-feminist to pool finances. Here are some key quotes:

A completely unscientific snap poll of 44 girlfriends in Europe and the United States — all highly educated, in their 30s and in relationships, most with children and a job — showed that 41 pooled at least some money with their partners. Dissecting what constitutes joint spending makes for an intriguing study in gender equality: Milk and diapers rarely cause disputes. But what about postnatal yoga? Or haircuts, invariably more expensive for women than men?

I asked Paul, Rachel’s husband, why he felt that shoes (and, it turns out, makeup and clothes! What am I doing wrong?) should be paid for by the joint account. “There are so many explicit and implicit requirements on how a woman should look,” he said. You shouldn’t be punished financially for being female, he said. Caitlin Moran, author of the best-selling “How to Be a Woman,” called it a tax on being a woman.

When women have children and one parent, still usually the mother, sacrifices at least some earnings to maternity leave or part-time work or a less ambitious career, the notion of equality would seem to demand that both parents pool their (often different) incomes and decide on an identical spending allowance. But in my mini-survey, 30 of the 41 women with joint accounts preferred keeping their (often lower) salaries in a personal account and paying a pro-rated amount into the family pool in order to enjoy some unscrutinized spending. “I know that a lot of my spending is frivolous, and I couldn’t defend it if you shoved a spreadsheet in my face.” 

But if the women spend the money, the guys control it. Only one of the friends I interviewed is in charge of family finances … What it is with us liberated women? We took care of our financial affairs when we were single. Why do we give up control when a man shows up? “It’s boring,” groaned one French friend — a banker, no less — echoing many others. “I’m rubbish at math,” said another. It’s just a division of labor, suggested a third. “He is finance minister, and I am minister of culture and entertainment.” Read the Whole Article

But with all of my reservations about the Jimmy Cho shopping on the sly, out-of-control-of-the-family-finances way that women were portrayed in the article, I felt that some of the questions that the piece was asking were key. For those of us who do pool finances, how do we deal with what comes out of a joint account? How do we deal with the fact that it is, in fact, more expensive to be a woman? (My hair and clothes just cost more, and as such, hair and clothes come from our joint account. We attempt to make up for the inequality in the world here at home.) I tend to think that the way we manage our finances points to our real values and the real way that we are treating each other. Are we treating each other with respect and care, or are we mirroring the inequalities of the world in our homes? And why on earth do women not know how much the family has in the bank?

For me, the real question becomes, how can we fully support each other, while still maintaining our independence? Because I won’t lie. It deeply saddens me that women who are staying home part- or full-time caring for children are living on less, because they can’t figure out another way to let their partner give them some damn autonomy over their spending.

Let’s discuss.

Photo: Jennah betting on the Kentucky Derby in her wedding dress by Zachary Hunt Photography

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  • A-L

    I haven’t read the NY Times article, but the quotes included in this post were shocking. My husband and I pool our funds, and each get a separate allowance. But shoes, hair, and clothes definitely come out of the joint pile. I think makeup might as well (I buy so little of it….I’ve think I’ve bought 1 thing of mascara in the year and a half we’ve been married…). And as far as being the finance minister of the house, that would be me. I pay the majority of the bills, and do the investment research, and plan for our retirement. But we discuss those plans, and he actually will know how much is in each account more often than I do (I just know there’s enough…not really paying attention to the exact numbers). I just can’t believe that so many women in the 21st century are living under the conditions described in the article. Wow.

    • MDBethann

      Your situation sounds a lot like ours. We just got married and so haven’t fully migrated everything into a shared account yet, but since we’ve been living together for 2 years, we have our separate accounts that our paychecks go into and then we contribute equally to the joint account (our tax refunds go there too) from which all the bills come from. He keeps an eye on the joint balance and I pay the bills from the joint account. We’ve each been responsible for our own credit card bills, but we take turns paying for things like groceries, entertainment, etc. so we figure it all comes out even in the end, especially since we make similar amounts of money. Now that we’re married, we do have to start thinking about bringing everything together, including credit cards. We’ve agreed on going joint, we just haven’t figured out how to best do it yet. Insurance will be first though!

      • Jashshea

        We’re like you, A-L, but opposite. I’m day to day and he’s longer-term. I’m an investment WIMP, but when we merge finances fully and he wants to invest in something riskier than I do – I want to understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it.

  • The whole time I was reading this, all I could think was, ‘Who ARE these women?’ The people quoted in this article just did not reflect the women I know, or my own relationship. For a start, the article seemed to assume that all husbands out-earned their wives (nope) and that it was invariably the man who was the financially savvy one (nope again). I actually found the model of marriage represented here to be completely un-feminist. For example, the decision to keep certain pre-wedding savings separate from joint family resources, while potentially a ‘legal fiction’ as you’ve discussed previously Meg, can still be a valid one for many reasons. But to *lie* about it, purely so you could have more money to spend on frivolities than you had ostensibly agreed with your partner? I mean, WHAT? Who does that? What kind of way is that to build a life together? Bizarre.

    I admire you for being able to get past the representation of women as shoe-obsessed fritterers. I personally found it intensely, irredeemably irritating.

    • PA

      I had the same reaction! Most of my friends in long term relationships are long-distance for graduate degrees. So, on the one hand they are pretty communicative about finances because they travel to see each other whenever they can afford it. On the other hand, they deal with day-to-day things themselves. Of couples who do pool resources, it’s usually the woman who handles the finances (in our family/friends circle) (by handle, I mean, say, “this is how much we have to spend after bills” – not unilateral control). Amongst my friends, “my guy handles all the money” is cause for a, “oh, honey, no…”

      I feel like this discussion is very hetero-weighted, though. Um.

      • Jessica

        Thank you! I am at work and don’t have time to read the NYT article or all these comments (I will definitely be coming back to them when I get home!) but reading the quotes in the post threw me for a loop. I can’t think of too many couples I know where the husband/male is in charge of the finances, including my own! As for the “male breadwinner” stereotype- don’t even get me started. More than half the seriously coupled up women I know make more than their partners.

    • Anna

      Couldn’t agree more. Who ARE these people? Definitely not an accurate portrayal of the women and men in my life.

      I currently out earn my partner, but we have no sense of “his” and “mine” in our home. And while we talk openly about our debt/savings/spending habits, I’m the one who instigates those conversations. I’m sure I have a better understanding of our retirement savings, contributions to tax free savings accounts, the performance of the stocks in our portfolio, etc. Because I’m more financially oriented than him. Even with my shoe-obsessed, shopping-crazed, woman brain!

      • Lori

        Her data consists solely of “A completely unscientific snap poll of 44 girlfriends in Europe and the United States…” which is probably the most awful data set EVER. These points of data are (a) not anonymous and unbiased, (b) more accurately inflate her own values (because we associate with people of like more often then unlike) to the detriment of a truly representative slice of population and (c) have untested hidden characteristics, such as race, privilege, wealth, class, cultural background, etc. Basically, she noted a trend in her friends and when she addresses “us liberated women”, she’s only addressing HER FRIENDS, since those are the only people this data is applicable to.

        But I want to commend Meg for taking what is basically ass-backwards journalism and asking some real, substantive and thought-provoking questions about the issues at hand. Brava.

    • Anna

      Also the “It’s boring” and “I’m rubbish at math” comments killed me.

      • Caroline

        I don’t know, I can somewhat relate a bit. Not that it’s boring or I’m rubbish at math (I’m clearly better at math than my partner. I’m probably going to be getting a degree in math.), but I find finances terrifying. I don’t know how to manage them, and trying to manage the finances makes me feel like I’m ridding a horse whose never been broken. I have NO idea what I’m doing, and the finances clearly aren’t my partner in it. I also find it SO stressful. Since my partner has an accounting certificate and has done some bookkeeping work, finances come much easier to him. In our stressful lives, we generally leave them to him. We keep saying we should sit down and discuss them and try to manage them more equally, but we’re so busy and they scare me so much it never really happens. I’d like to learn more about personal finance, but I don’t even know where to start. When I asked my dad to teach me what I needed to know about finance, he said “there’s nothing to teach you. Don’t spend more than you have.” Which, clearly, there is more to it than that!
        So yeah, no one ever taught me how to manage money, my partner did get taught, so for now, he manages the money. (But the stuff about the frivolous spending not being part of the families finances, to me, that’s silly. Yes, it costs more to be a woman, but we pay my expenses jointly like we pay his. It’s part of being a family).

        • That’s why I handle the finances in our family — I’m the one comfortable doing it, mostly because my parents taught me about money, so I run the joint. But that’s more about bookkeeping than *control* — when my wife-equivalent or husband-equivalent start exceeding the amount we have set for personal allowances, they get gentle or not-so-gentle reminders to knock it off, but I’m not going to look at WHAT they are buying. Just that the budget stays happy.

          However, I know crap about investing, and one of my partners understands that, so they are in charge of almost anything involving the stock market. It’s all very “each according to his ability.”

          (And also, teach the kids about finances, and lobby the local school system to put some basic financial literacy back into the curriculum — the last couple of twenty-somethings I worked with did not know how to balance a checkbook, which was covered in my required Home Ec classes in middle school. Eek!)

        • Aims


          Check out this site: http://www.gailvazoxlade.com/

          She’s the queen of finances and budgeting. She makes it easy to understand and has systems for record keeping, etc. Hopefully that will help you a little. :)

          I was scared of finances for a while too because my parents didn’t teach me much either. Gail helped a lot.

    • Seriously! Finances can be stressful, but that article felt so off-base. I’m pretty sure they could have found a lot more financially savvy women to interview–and I don’t even mean women who are financially wizards and have PhDs in Economics. My husband and I balance each other with our financial knowledge and skills. He’s great about making sure the monthly budget is in line, while I’m good about assessing money on a daily basis. (I’m always the one who says “That’s too much money!”) We also have separate accounts for random personal stuff, but I don’t feel like I’d ever have to hide anything from him, even if we just had one shared account. So glad to come to APW where there’s a world of common sense.

    • Lizzie

      No kidding. I got worked up as soon as I read “snap poll of 44 girlfriends”. The ungenerous part of me went to my place of cattiness with the thought, “So now this columnist is going to draw conclusions based on the bad financial habits of her circle of friends, who are probably all playing a role in affirming each other’s ridiculous behavior and are most likely all married to Wall Street psychopaths (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/opinion/sunday/fables-of-wealth.html?smid=pl-share) anyway.”

      And yeah, the line about being bad at math is particularly infuriating. I’m a whiz at math, and financial management still didn’t come naturally to me. But it’s also not rocket science. Anyone who can be trusted with their own dental care should be able to figure this stuff out.

      • Huh, I just had a weird thought. I wonder if… if you’re married to somebody who works in high finance/on Wall Street (how many of those people are there? I have no idea), you’re more likely to hand those financial reins over.

        If you hear your significant other talking about all the nitty gritty bits of super-complicated finance stuff for their job, your could easily start to believe, “Oh man, I must really not know anything about this. I probably just shouldn’t touch/think about our money at all, for both our sakes.”

        Granted, that’s totally different than, “It’s boring, so I’m not going to take responsibility for it.”

        And dude yeah, basic day-to-day finances barely even involve math! Online banking is a great thing. I’ve never “balanced a checkbook” in my life.

        • Julia

          So I’m engaged to a man with a job in fancy-pants Wall Street finance while I work in education, and I would just like to report that I am definitely not handing over the financial reins to him. I spent a lot of time in my early 20’s learning about personal finance, because I think it’s very, very important for all women to manage their own money, and I am definitely not about to stop now. (Bonus: my man also finds it kind of sexy that I can debate him on the merits of indexing vs. value investing.)

          Sadly, I also know a lot of other women who don’t think this way. When we’re with my fiancé’s friends and their wives, and the conversation turns to investing, the women do tend to go, “oh, I just let him handle that” and then try to engage me in talk about something else.

          It’s definitely true that this line of thinking exists among women: “Oh he’s an expert, I don’t really not know anything about this, so I probably should just be hands-off”. In my opinion, this exists for two reasons:

          1) The financial industry is set up to convince people — especially the young and guillible — that investing is super duper complicated, so you’ll happily pay a financial advisor to take the whole mess off your hands. It’s actually not that complicated at all, and you can do a great job managing your money in less than 1 hour per month. But if everyone realized that, the financial industry would lose a ton of money, so they’re very invested in this myth.

          2) Men tend to be much more confident than women about investing, even when they don’t actually know more. Tons of research has shown that women consistently outperform men in investing, because men tend to be overconfident (Apple stock is going up! Buy! Now it’s going down! Sell!) whereas women tend to be conservative (I don’t really know, let’s put it in an index fund). And investing is definitely the kind of race where the turtle beats the hare. So even if your man acts all confident about money managing, you might actually do a better job at it.

    • Jane

      Add me to the chorus of readers who can’t imagine who these women are! Perhaps she just happens to run in a very personal finance averse crowd or something. I am very happy with the way my husband and I manage our money, and we are both involved with the decisions we make, although sometimes he takes the lead and sometimes I do. We have joint savings and checking, and each have our own accounts as well. Every time we get paid, we each keep the same amount as a personal allowance, and the rest (majority) goes into joint checking and savings. What I like about our system is that no matter what we each make, we each always get the same amount of spending money. If we decide we need to save more, we decrease our personal allotment each month. When we first started planning out our finances, we calculated the spending money as a portion of our salaries, but then we immediately realized that the unequal distribution was totally out of step with our values. Just because one of us happens to make more than the other, doesn’t mean that one of us is actually worth more in the relationship. It is all about equality for us!

    • Lana

      Agreed! Her friends annoy me. But the silver lining was, as soon as I got over the initial reaction of “who are these people?!”, I was over whelm with one of those unexpected “I love my fiance” moments. I’m so lucky that I have him. I don’t need to worry about having someone throw a spread sheet in my face and go trolling through our bank statements judging ever purchase I’ve made, simply because we’re on the same financial page. He trusts me, knows I understand our joint goals, and would never even think I would undermine them just for a pair of fancy-pants shoes.

      These women need to learn some teamwork, not just dump the finances on the dude ’cause they don’t wanna do it. Who’s to say he wants to do it either?

      • Caroline

        “I don’t need to worry about having someone throw a spreadsheet in my face and go trolling through our bank statements judging every purchase I’ve made, simply because we’re on the same financial page”
        That might have been the most worrying part of the article. You shouldn’t need to justify your spending, because it should be a matter of trust both ways that you wouldn’t spend out of line with your joint spending goals. I feel like needing to justify is a huge problem. My partner wouldn’t ask me to justify my spending or me his. We have joint goals, and discuss them and trust that we both have them in mind.

      • kim

        Yes! Thank you! This is what I came here to say! Having someone “throw a spreadsheet in [your] face” and judge every single purchase… probably doesn’t make for a healthy relationship. Just saying.

        The other day, I came home with a shopping bag. This is the conversation that ensued:
        Fiance: Did you go clothes shopping?
        Me: Yeah, I needed shorts.
        Fiance: Shorts are a good thing to have.

        There. That’s all the “questioning” I get when I go shopping, and I’m cool with that. And yeah, sometimes I’m the one that says “Wow, what did you spend $300 at Rona on?” (answer: probably something very useful but which I wouldn’t have necessarily thought of) but really, our approach to money is basically, if all our bills are paid, and our savings goals are being met, and we have food on the table… what does it matter if I buy makeup? (Sticking with the “girly” examples here b/c it’s what was in the article)

        We’re both more or less financially literate, we sit down once a week and go over our joint account, and if I do something like pay off a particularly large bill, I send him a “hey, heads up, we have $X in the chequing because I just paid off Y bill” text. It’s a trust thing, IMO… you should be able to trust that your partner isn’t going to disregard your shared and discussed financial plans/goals, and vice versa.

    • Genevieve

      Oh I know some of these people. Anecdotally, it’s not something that happens over night, and it’s made worse by the recession.

      These often are smart, educated women. Once, perhaps, they could afford and enjoyed wearing Jimmy Choo shoes (like during the dot-com boom — I’m guessing the women in this story are in their 30s). But then the recession came, about the same time they stopped paying attention to finances because the kids were born, which in turn consumed them for a few (or many) years.

      Now the kids are a little older and they’re paying attention again and wondering where the money went, when will they get a break from the kids, and damn it, why can’t they have new shoes? Meanwhile their husbands have become controlling with the money because they’ve gotten used to doing so and times have been tight.

      It’s a slow, gradual slope. No one expects to got down it. It’s a bad stereotype, but I’ve seen it happen to a number of friends.

      Instead of pointing fingers, I think it’s important to take note to how easily this can happen and make a conscious effort now to avoid it in our relationships. Saying “that will never happen to me” and ignoring the problem is an easy way to have it happen to you.

      • meg

        Hey-hey! While you make a good point, lets not go around pointing at women in their thirties. Many of us (Me! My friends!) are awesome and plenty good with money. In theory, having been around a little longer makes us a little smarter.

        • Genevieve

          Ha! I’m not — I’m in my 30s too.

          I just meant that being around a little longer means A) you’re old enough to have been working during the dot-com boom, the only time that many of my friends could ever have afforded Jimmy Choo shoes and B) you’re old enough to have the life experiences that can land you in this situation (having kids, etc).

          I was in grad school during the dot-com boom, so I’ve never been able to afford Jimmy Choo shoes. And I consider myself pretty good with money, too.


          • Genevieve

            I also don’t think anyone starts out saying they aspire to be one of the women described in this article. Cringe.

    • meg

      It was only on the second read two days later that I decided the QUESTIONS being asked were good. It was just the answers that were terrible.

      • Genevieve

        Yeah, I felt that way too. Unfortunately I know people who would give those answers.

        I had to say something because 10 years ago these were NOT the friends I thought would go that route. It just…happened. I still find it shocking.

    • Jessica

      I wish that I did not know who these women are, but unfortunately there are a lot of them in my family. These are all women with college degrees, one with a Masters, one of whom out earns her husband. They have no clue what their finances are.

  • Maybe it’s just the dynamic of my relationship, but I don’t think I spend that much more on clothes and general appearance than my husband and I definitely think we equal out when you include his “frivolous” spending on things I don’t usually buy, like soccer things and other hobby stuff. I mean, I guess he subsidizes my makeup but we also technically spend more on food that he eats because he eats more than me. It’s just not something I think about that way. We’re married, we’re a team.

    We are completely combined financially except for a small monthly allowance we each get for (literally only) lunches out during the week and gas. When I wanted to buy a new purse or a laptop, we talked about if we could afford it and then I got it. When he has things that he wants to buy, we talk about that too. I know some people would baulk at the lack of independence in it, but it means we are always on the same page about where our money is going. It probably helps that we have a really similar outlook on money and I imagine it wouldn’t work as well if you have really different expectations.

    • LBD

      We work very similarly to you. We’ve got an agreed upon number of times we eat out each week instead of an allowance, but don’t make it a big deal if someone decides to do more. Usually it’s because we wanted to spend time with a friend, so it falls in the social/mental well-being category. Small personal purchases we just do, because neither of us are very big frivolous spenders. Later he’ll be “I bought this game on sale” or I’ll be all, “Hey admire my new yarn.” We kind of rely on each other to be all whoa nelly, maybe we should be a little more thrifty here for a little bit. Somewhere in the $50-100 range is where we begin checking out a purchase with each other before buying it. Maybe it helps that we rarely buy things in any other way but online, so we’re at home chatting instead of someone calling from a store like, “SHOULD I BUY THIS?!?!” I’ve never felt a lack of independence. Partially it’s because I think of it as “our” money, but the other part of it is, growing up poor, I need someone to let me know it’s okay to spend money. I need the support not to feel guilty.

      I take care of most of the bills and things. We both have money anxiety, but I seem to be able to keep a handle on it better than he does. Due to our money anxiety, we’ve always been terrified to come up with a budget and pay super close attention to the way our money is spent. I tried Mint for awhile, and just ended up with panic attacks, even though we were fine. Anyone else have advice for dealing with money / budgeting anxiety? Here we are making good money, but unable to break out of the poor and broke mentality.

      From talking to other people, I think our ability to be so nonchalant about combining resources came from starting it when we were young and broke living together right out of college. We both spent time being marginally employed and supporting each other, as it was most important to us that we were able to stay together. We’ve never had the experience of having a career and our own money without living together. Working and struggling together to make ends meet was part of my family narrative growing up, and then I seemed to slip right into it with the boy out of college. I guess I don’t really know another way of being.

      • Jashshea


        “Anyone else have advice for dealing with money / budgeting anxiety?”

        I can only tell you what worked for me, once I started making money and paying off my SL, car & CC debts. I don’t have a budget, technically. Budgets were always too fussy and restrictive for me

        I saw something about a 60/40 personal finance ideology, so I did some reading (google it), then I modified the shit out of it. You’re supposed to save 40% and spend 60% and they break it down into sub-categories (long term vs. short term savings; housing, taxes, etc etc). It’s rough to fit into those categories, but I just use it as a general guideline. And I reference it before I take on any more bills – do I have enough in my “monthly revolving debts” section to increase my data plan/buy a car/etc?

        I just give myself a break if I have a bad month – 2 weeks ago I brought my car in for an oil change ($20 w/coupon) and they told me I needed new tires – $660. I also needed to buy paper for my save the dates and put a deposit down on a venue. My credit card bill made me very sad, but I didn’t let the over-spending derail me like I would have when I was younger. Paid what I could and sucked up the finance charge (I HATE FINANCE CHARGES).

        Oh, and monthly bills suck. Get rid of as many as possible.

        • Meredith

          I do something similar. My budget is 50/20/30. 50% of take home pay for, what I call, contractually obligated expenses + living expenses. Things that even if I were to lose my job, I’d still pay. 20% of my take home pay is ‘wants’. This is EVERYTHING else I spend money on. Eating out, entertainment, gym. The other 30% is savings.

          There are three things I like about this. 1) It’s easy to set-up. Just simple multiplication. 2) Peace of mind that even if your income decreased by 50%, you could still live. 3) no tracking (if you don’t want to) of sub-expenses/ categories. As long as I’m hitting my savings goals and my fixed monthly expenses aren’t too much, then it shouldn’t really matter where my 20% of ‘wants’ money is going. Some people even go as far as taking the ‘wants’ money out in cash at the beginning of the month, that way no tracking necessary, when you run out of cash, you’re done until next month.

          • Jashshea

            Exactly: And to take the anxiety out further, I have a plan for losing partial income or full job loss. I know exactly which bills would be immediately cancelled (cable, but not internet), which would be reduced (back to flip phone, reduced electric bill) and which are necessary (car insurance for example).

            This only works if your anxiety is around not having a plan. I have plans for everything, because that’s my big fear – something big will happen and I won’t know where to start.

          • LBD

            I like this suggestion. Part of what stresses me out so much is getting into the minute details and anxieties of IS THIS TOO MUCH TO SPEND ON NONESSENTIALS OH GOD?!?! that comes with seeing exact numbers spent on things that came with Mint. We’ve had a hard time adjusting mentally to the cost of living as a big ole grown-up, that we can afford those dollar amounts. I think the sometimes things are really hard. Like, I don’t buy shoes or clothes on a monthly basis, so it’s really hard to not feel freaked out on the month I decide I really really need some clothes because I can’t put it off any longer, then getting some sticker shock. Looking at things in more broader categories would probably help that.

            I also like the paying ourselves first idea of pulling out money for savings each month, instead of our current method of, “Hey our checking account is pretty full, let’s move some money over.”

            Neither of us have ever had credit card debt, so somehow we’ve always been able to adjust our spending by feel. We’re just getting to the point of our lives where we’re thinking things like, “Oh hey, maybe we’d like to retire comfortably someday,” and thus be better about saving.

      • youlovelucy

        “Anyone else have advice for dealing with money / budgeting anxiety? Here we are making good money, but unable to break out of the poor and broke mentality.”

        If you’re having serious panic attacks, I would recommend seeing a therapist for generalized anxiety. Therapy was the thing that helped me past the panic attack, going in circles about small purchases, over blown phobia of waking up in the poorhouse level of fear about money. Not to say that my fear is entirely gone, but having tools to manage it has helped enormously.

        I’m going to scold Past Lucy for not commenting about this on yesterday’s fear-themed post. That would have made for a good discussion.

        • LBD

          Heh. Totes in therapy. We’ve had bigger fish to fry, and supposedly when these deeper base issues are dealt with, it should start helping with some of these more higher order things we haven’t had enough time to delve into thoroughly.

        • meg

          Also, it just takes awhile, and it does get better. I enjoyed the period where we were making pretty good money but still acting like we were poor and broke. We saved WELL then :)

      • Jane

        I strongly suggest you follow a “pay yourself first” model here. Instead of a line by line budget, just decide together how much you want to save each month (or each paycheck.) One way to do this is think about how much you want to save in a year and divide it by the number of pay periods you have in a year. Then, immediately upon getting paid, deposit that chunk into your savings account or whatever. You can include multiple accounts if you want to, I like to do that sometimes (one for short term savings, one for long term.) Once you have done this, you can spend whatever you want of the remaining money and not stress each time about whether or not you should be spending or saving. YOU ALREADY SAVED IT!!! (Likewise, you don’t have to care AT ALL about how your partner spends his or her money.) That is the beauty of paying yourself first!

      • KateM

        I know that for me personally, setting up automatic savings deposits with every paycheck really relieved my anxiety. I knew that I was saving without having to think about it, or see in in the account as “available money”. Also paying all my bills at the beginning of the month, knowing that the whatever was left was fine to spend, because the big stuff was already taken care of. I tried Mint for a while too and it didn’t work for me. I have a spreadsheet (an Excel template available for free) that I did go through and basically breakdown how I “should” budget. I don’t adhere it strictly, but have found it useful to have guidelines in my head. The only thing I am strict about is my savings, that amount is definite.

    • “When I wanted to buy a new purse or a laptop, we talked about if we could afford it and then I got it.”

      This is what we’ll be doing, too. Communication!

    • This is exactly what we do too and it works for us. Right now I am the sole breadwinner for us and it hasn’t changed anything or made him feel like he can’t spend as much or do anything. We also split how we manage our finances, he manages the long term picture while I manage the present but this is what works for us, it may not work for others. If I want a purse, we discuss it first and that’s that.

      What the hell is a snap poll? That is ridiculous. I wonder if the Pew Institute has seen this!?!

  • PA

    Another my-family-is-unusual story, I think. My parents pool their money and each of them gets an equal amount of “spending money.” Things like haircuts and clothes come out of the joint money…and while clothes may be more expensive for women, my parents are fanatical about deals shopping; I still feel uncomfortable paying over $10 for a non-business shirt.

    To go back one generation, we had a single mother of five and a military wife – both of whom handled the finances. (There was an interesting CNN piece on military spouses doing most of the finances.)

    My fiancee and I pool our money, which gives us nominal access into seeing what the other person spends. On the other hand, we aren’t quite organized enough to have a proper budget spreadsheet. I guess my point is, while we do put money into a joint account, once bills are paid and savings money is set aside, we don’t keep score. We haven’t run into a problem yet! (I also remember now that I have forgotten to get my hair cut for about 8 months in a row…)

    • MDBethann

      We both earn very comfortable salaries, so like you, once the bills are paid and we set the savings and charitable donations $$ aside, we don’t really worry about it much, since we’re both pretty disciplined about spending money (or rather not spending money) from our single days when we didn’t have much to spend, and we don’t need a lot so we don’t shop much. We go when we have to, and the other person is either with us or knows about the planned shopping outting and is okay with it. My DH repeatedly said while we were dating that one of the things he loves about me is that I’m frugal about spending money (even though he rolls his eyes at my coupon-clipping ways sometimes). I definitely took that as a compliment!

      • This is where my husband and I are too. All our money goes into one joint account. We’re fortunate to make enough money to meet our needs with some extra to spend. We don’t worry about who spends what of that extra. If one of us wants something that doesn’t cost an exorbitant amount of money, then we’re free to purchase it. If one of us wants to make a big purchase, we discuss it with each other first and decide if we have the money or need to save up. If one of us is spending too much that we’re going outside our means, we talk about it.

        Like so many of the above commenters, our relationship doesn’t fit the article. I make more money, and I mostly control the money — and that’s at my husband’s wishes. He admits he’s not good at keeping a budget, and I’m very good at it.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        My parents work like MDBethAnn.

    • meg

      I don’t think this is unusual! This is what we do, and what our parents do. (Other than we do each get our own little spending allotments for whatever).

  • Amanda

    I read the NY times article and I took it with a grain of salt. It’s a very small subset of married women in the US and Europe. But, any adult who doesn’t monitor their bank and credit card accounts on at least a weekly basis is playing with fire. It’s not just irresponsible, it’s dangerous for their financial health and well being.

  • Hubs and I each have individual checking and savings accounts, and a joint checking and savings. We’re both military officers, same rank, so we make the same amount of money. We’ve decided to contribute a certain amount to the joint account each month to cover joint costs like the mortgage, utilities, groceries, and any food/entertainment that we do together. But if I go out for lunch with friends during the work day, or get my haircut or something just for me, I’ll use my own money to pay for that. The “rule” so far has been, the joint account is for things that benefit us both. We’ll save for vacations or other big expenses we’re planning together, but we each have our own savings accounts and investment accounts and we contribute to those each month. We both check the accounts throughout the month to make sure we aren’t overspending… we haven’t designated one of us the money manager.

    This has worked for us while we’ve both been working and earning literally the same paychecks, BUT that is all about to change… I’m leaving active duty in six weeks and am going to lose my salary, so we’re having to revisit how we manage our finances. I’m going to be contributing to our life in different ways now (less monetary, so I want to make up for that somehow, maybe contribute more around the house, I’m not sure yet). I’m excited about the time off and starting a new chapter in my life, but it’s going to be weird not to earn a paycheck for awhile (maybe a long while)… I’m so damn independent, to be financially dependent on someone makes me nervous. That doesn’t mean I won’t have visibility of our money, though! No way! In fact, since I’ll have more time on my hands than hubs, I probably will become the money manager by default. This is fine with me. We’ve never really fought about money, but I’m wondering if all of a sudden we will once I lose my salary and our financial contributions are no longer equal. Maybe. I’m looking at this situation as an opportunity for us to have some great conversations and ultimately grow in our marriage. That’s my hope, anyway. I’ll keep you posted :-)

    • melissa

      I hope you do keep us posted. I’m so intrigued now. Write a post a few months in. :)

    • Contessa

      Our banking setup sounds about the same as yours and so far it suits me fine. The joint account it where we each deposit our share of the joint expenses including food and entertainment and our private accounts are for personal credit card bills and personal expenses. I couldn’t even imagine taking money for my clothing out of the joint account. Why should he pay for my clothes? I agree that there’s a ‘tax’ on being a woman in that things for us cost more, but he didn’t create that problem, why should he pay for a percentage of my new shoes?

    • My husband is in the military and I’m a marginally employed (like very part-time) grad student. We didn’t really plan to live off one income for the first couple years of our marriage but after we moved together to a new city and I saw how few jobs are available in our area, we decided that the most productive career move I could make would be to pursue higher education while we could afford it. It was REALLY hard on me for the first year. First years as a married couple are hard anyway but the financial inequality and the fact that it wasn’t really in the plan made me feel a little depressed. Plus there were many months when we had to be less than comfortable and that put more stress on our relationship.

      In our second year in this situation, though, it’s become a lot easier so I have just a little piece of advice for you: Do whatever you can to feel like you’re contributing but don’t try to keep track of your equality meter. It will make you miserable to try to quantify your worth in the relationship and (hopefully) your partner could care less about it too. My husband is extremely generous and laid back by nature so even though I take care of our finances and everything at home, he never even mentions it if he comes home and it’s clear that I’ve been playing video games all day and neglecting the laundry and/or my school work. For him, my biggest contribution is cooking dinner and providing quality time for him to relax. So even though I can be hard on myself sometimes, he doesn’t base my value on anything other than how much I love him and that makes it easier for me to value myself in ways that aren’t dependent on my other contributions. Make sure you find your own way to see this in your relationship.

  • granola

    I am soooooo glad to see this tackled on APW today! I read the article yesterday and had similar thoughts to Meg. It made me mad, but the questions were important. I sent it to one of my girlfriends and my fiance and had great discussions with both.

    My fiance and i are on the precipice of combining finances and it’s scaring the hell out of me – in the normal “whoa this is a big deal” way. One reason I really want to do it is to avoid some of what’s discussed in the article, namely the judgemental horse trading of purchases. If our bills are paid and savings goals met, who cares where it goes. We can discuss the big things and not sweat the small ones.

    For me, establishing a dichotomy between “my” money and “our” money feels miserly. Like I’m only willing to contribute X percentage to our family. It also sets up disagreements along the lines of “well if you want it more you pay for it” which avoids the real issues of joint decision making and won’t help later on the other big joint decisions where you have to find a solution and it isn’t that someone just throws money at it.

    • B

      I was scared when we combined our finances, too, but it’s definitely worked out for the best! It’s made both of us a little bit more accountable about where we spend our money, which is never a bad thing. I think it you talk about if frequently and set up guidelines, you will be golden, and the stress will pass.

    • I totally agree with you. We’re lucky enough to have enough money to save well and pay the bills, and because of it, if he wants to buy something I consider lame (ie hockey cards) it doesn’t matter, because we’re okay and it makes him happy. Same as he wouldn’t dream of criticizing me about buying expensive eyeliner. It just doesn’t matter. Joint makes it all easier, as long as you’re both on the same page.

  • I’m surprised that there are so many women out there who don’t know the status of their bank accounts! That being said, my husband and I don’t pool our money. We may one day, but for now we just give each other whatever is needed to pay bills and budget jointly for whatever we need. Right now we’re in a slightly-not-normal situation where I am the one earning money, and he is out of work.

    The biggest challenge for me is not to be able to just let go – and give him what money he needs – because he is unemployed. He has been looking for work and so far hasn’t had any luck. I don’t think that he should be unable to eat or buy things because he’s not working, but part of me wishes he wouldn’t! Logically I know that he is working harder around the house and that makes up for it, but it’s difficult for me to see my hard-earned money go towards buying my husband things (tools, sunglasses, beer, etc) and paying his bills (student loans).

    Do any of you other ladies have unemployed or underemployed husbands? What do you do to keep the playing field level, so to speak? I am kind of proud that I am the sole bread earner of my family but it is also REALLY frustrating and stressful!

    • Sophi, I was in the opposite situation for a while where I was unemployed and my spouse had to support me. First I want to say that you should totally be proud of being the sole bread winner. I 100% believe it’s stressful and frustrating but I think for many women (including myself) it would (or already does) feel pretty great to be able to support yourself and your family.

      I also want to say that because I was in your husband’s situation for a while, the worse thing about it for me was feeling guilty about spending money.It sounds like its hard for you to see your money go to his expenditures but I would wager that he doesn’t feel that great about it either! I spent a lot of time feeling really guilty about spending my spouse’s money when I was unemployed and it really sucked but it was the reality of the situation. I spent less and he encouraged me to go out for lunch every now and then to get out of the house and enjoy myself. Eventually we found an OK balance but it was never ideal.

      Sorry I don’t have any suggestions about even playing field but I would encourage you to also think about how hard this situation might be on your spouse (not that I’m suggesting you haven’t thought about it or don’t talk about it regularly!)

      • NF

        For the first year I wasn’t working I NEVER spent money on myself. When I realized that and told my husband we decided for the first time to set up a spending account for me (which theoretically came from money that I had earned before getting married but really it was all basically pooled) as a step along the way of me feeling okay about spending money on myself. When that runs out if I’m still not working I think I will be at a point where I feel like it’s okay to spend money out of the joint account, but it’s been a really great transition where I feel no guilt and he can’t feel at all resentful.

      • I know – it is hard on him as well. And I know he feels awful about being a “drag” on our finances. Thanks for the reminder that this isn’t “my” problem but a challenge for both of us!

        • This is us, too; the Mr. is under employed and feels like he is a “drag” on me. Which he isn’t! And I keep telling him so, but…

          I want to pool, or at least partially pool, but so far we are separate except for one shared credit card. I pay most shared bills (daycare, insurance, groceries, restaurants) and he pays his own bills (phone, student loans) with extra from me sometimes. It works, but – I want mini-socialism in our home. Every time I bring this up, it goes nowhere.

          I am going to try this – a joint Mint.com (or alternative) account with everything, so at least we can get a snapshot of where we are as a family, even if we don’t join everything.

    • Erin

      I’m in this situation. We’re newlyweds (January), and my husband has yet to find work, although he’s currently substitute teaching when available.

      It’s been a source of stress. For one, I’m worried about what will happen in, oh, two weeks when school’s out. Fortunately, we have a decent savings, but it pains me to be hemorrhaging money out instead of putting it in – and I’d really really like a honeymoon one of these days!

      We’ve had some fights about it. Specifically, about me coming home from a day at work to find, say, the kitchen still a mess or laundry still in the drier where I put it before work, while I know he’s been doing far more relaxing things all day. Also about whether he’s actively applying for jobs – after a year, he gets discouraged and frustrated.

      At the end of the day, though, here is what’s worked for us:

      – When he’s not subbing during the day, he makes an effort to spend at least 30 minutes doing something around the house. It is amazing what can get done in 30 minutes. This stops me from coming home to discover that there’s more work still for me to either do or nag nag nag him to do when I’ve already been at work, and has GREATLY reduced my ‘all you’ve done all day is play video games’ resentment. In fact, I’d say that this is really key to my being able to come to the ‘let go’ stage I’ll talk about in a second.

      – He applies for at least one job every weekday, regardless of whether he’s subbed or not. Even if it is at Olive Garden. Even if he is frustrated. Even if he hates everything.

      – I have just– let go. It took me a long time (I was supporting him financially before we got married as well) to come to terms with this, but in the long run I have to accept that I want him here and I want to be a family and in some ways I’m just paying for that privilege. This is a little clearer for me because he moved across the country to be with me, and part of his difficulty in finding a job is probably related to this fact. But even if he hadn’t, I mean, what am I going to do? Get rid of him til he has an income? Of course not. So I just accept that my whole salary and whatever bits and pieces he makes go into our bank account, and we buy whatever either of us needs from it.

      It helps here that we are both fairly frugal, and that if I say to him, for example, ‘we can’t keep buying beer every week, it just costs too much,’ he listens. And when he says ‘let’s cut back on eating out and start doing Sunday lunches at home’, I listen. Neither of us feels the need to monitor spending because we both just don’t buy much that aren’t necessary – food. Work clothing. Gas.

      There have been some moments – in particular when he urged me to take my lunch to work and stop picking up a bite downtown – that I felt really resentful. I mean, this is MY money that I’M earning and I LIKE eating out for lunch.

      But again. At the end of the day, we can’t afford it. So I can either afford my husband, or my lunches out. I choose my husband. And every time I think about it, it gets a little easier to do.

      • melissa

        Erin, I have no comment or opinion on whether or not you should buy your lunch, but just a quick share on what I used to do. I used to love eating out too when I was downtown (where I work now does not have many options and is painfully ugly outside). When I was too poor or trying to save money, I’d take my lunch and find somewhere lovely to eat it outside. It was a nice compromise.

        • Erin

          I’ve been doing that some this spring! Unfortunately, living on Ohio means that the window for doing so comfortably is sadly short.

          Part of the lunch thing is complicated by the fact that we have no good place to eat – no ‘staff room’. So it means eating at my desk in my (shared) office, which also often means I don’t get my full break. It’s not that I liked eating out so much as that I liked /escaping/ for an hour.

          I’m working on ways to combat this. Eating outside is one! It’s definitely a benefit when the weather is great!

          • melissa

            I’m in Maryland, so we get too cold for that too. My old office was across the street from a mall, so my co-worker and I used to go eat our sack lunches in the food court. It was a pretty nice mall with skylights in the food court, so was like being outside. It worked out well for awhile. Everything loses its newness sooner or later.

          • kyley

            Maybe this is obvious, but I wonder if you could go to a coffee shop for your break? So you still eat your lunch at your desk, but you could spend 40 minutes sipping a ($2) coffee and getting a break?

            Sorry, you’re not actually soliciting advice. I just really appreciate your sharing and felt like giving back, so I apologize if this is nosey.

      • youlovelucy

        “He applies for at least one job every weekday, regardless of whether he’s subbed or not. Even if it is at Olive Garden. Even if he is frustrated. Even if he hates everything.”

        This was a rule when my fiance was unemployed too! I’m glad I’m not the only one.

      • Erin,
        This is so similar to my situation! It’s amazing when he does take the time to clean the house up, but I often feel like “what have you been doing all day, playing games!? I’ve been working!!” and it’s hard not to pick petty fights. How on /earth/ do you get your husband to apply to at least one job a day? I am lucky if mine applies to two a week. Frustrating!! I sometimes send him job ads — but shouldn’t he be doing that leg work?

        (PS: I also find myself eating lunch “out” a lot and am trying really hard to be better about it. I can walk home from my job so I try to walk down there every day to eat lunch with my husband and save on lunch money. We do go out at least two days a week though, which is better than 5 I guess?)

        • Erin

          “How on /earth/ do you get your husband to apply to at least one job a day? I am lucky if mine applies to two a week.”

          Ha, well. The answer is not one I’m proud of: I yelled at him. I mean. We had a huge fight where I pretty much broke down and he broke down and we talked about how frustrated and worthless he felt that he couldn’t even get a job waiting tables and I pointed out that he’s not going to get a job if he’s not applying. We’ve talked about it a lot.

          It’s probably a slightly different situation for us, too, because he’s straight out of college – so this would be his first ‘real’ job. So although he hates that he can’t get into a ‘career’, I feel like the bar for getting him to accept that any income is better than no income is maybe a bit lower.

          I think it was in part when the realization that we can’t take a honeymoon if he doesn’t have a job, in spite of our savings, because we might need that cushion, sank in that he started really sending out the resumes.

          But I know he doesn’t like it, and I think it probably bothers him more than it does me that he’s not bringing in money. I suspect this looks different from his point of view.

          But at the end of the day what wins is that he /wants/ a job and he /wants/ to be contributing, so he’s slowly learning to suck it up and just do it. It might also help that we’re still very newlyweds and I’m pretty sure I’m benefiting from the ‘I want to make her so happy!’ phase. ;)

          • Rebecca

            I think it’s also important to remember how incredibly depressing and sucky and hard it can be to search for a job for an extended period of time. Every time you apply for a job, you set yourself up for rejection, and rejection sucks. Especially if that rejection has been happening for a couple of months. As the employed person, I think it’s easy to see every job opening as an opportunity, but as an unemployed person, I think it gets to be pretty easy to see every job opening as another opportunity for people to tell you you aren’t good enough.

            Something that really helped me when I was looking for work was to attend professional events (continuing ed classes, lectures)- even though they cost money, at least I was getting a chance to a) get out of the house, b)learn something, and c)network. Volunteering also got my butt out of the house.

            I only spent one summer totally out of work (and I’m still in grad school, so a lost summer wasn’t the end of the world), but it still really, really sucked to be at home not making money when all I really wanted was to work!

        • youlovelucy

          “How on /earth/ do you get your husband to apply to at least one job a day? I am lucky if mine applies to two a week.”

          My answer is about the same as Erin’s. Both of us are only a few years out of college and breaking into the design and development market is a combination of making up work to continue building your portfolio, and getting your foot into as many doors as possible. Bryan has a great body of work and he’s very talented, but is not one for self-promotion and gets very frustrated/fed up when he receives no response to an application, which happens A LOT nowadays. I have the opposite problem – I can self promote and proud the pavement all day long, but I often rest on my laurels rather than consciously putting time into improving my portfolio. So we pushed each other, sometimes very hard.

          It caused some fights and some bickering and quite a few talks, but here in the after where Bryan and I are both gainfully employed in our fields, neither of us resent the other for it. It’s part of the commitment we’re making to one another – to push the other person when they need it.

        • Marina

          “I sometimes send him job ads — but shouldn’t he be doing that leg work?”

          Why? For his health? ;)

          I found it changed things for me when I started looking at both of our jobs as part of our relationship, rather than part of our individual separate lives. (Similar to looking at all our money as OUR money.) His job search affects my life, so why shouldn’t I participate?

      • Lynn

        I am sorta right here. Money and the contributions to our relationship have been a sore spot for me. I thought it was better, but this week it has come crashing in again…and I’m not better.

        We both work full-time jobs, but mine is more full-time than his in that he’s off between 2-4 every day and I’m lucky to make it home by 7 every night. Because of bills that he brings to the relationship and how small his salary is, he contributes literally $150 to our monthly budget. He has finally agreed that he wants to get a better job and is taking steps to do that. Yay Husband!

        Unfortunately, that means that the next two months in particular are going to be incredibly, uncomfortably tight. Thank god we got a nice chunk of change from the wedding and that I totalled my car two weeks before the wedding and we decided not to replace it because that money goes towards the tuition that must be paid…NEXT WEEK.

        Even with that cushion, I’m worried about whether we’re going to have enough money to make it to July. There aren’t many extras right now. I cut my Sunday paper delivery; my coffee is gone. But when I asked him to cancel the HBO (not all of the cable…just the HBO), the answer was no. When I reminded him that he was supposed to be looking for a part-time job on the weekends, he brushed it off.

        I don’t want to feel like I’m policing him and his spending and making him feel like his contributions are less, but I put my foot down when he told friends that we would go with them to the beach Memorial Day weekend. There just is not the money for it. It can’t happen, and I’m sorry…I don’t care if it’s the last weekend before you have to start working part-time (but being paid full-time) and going to school 2 nights a week from 3:00-7:30. We can’t *afford* it.

        There are days that I want to scream at him, “Would you please just work with me here? Could I get some sign that you’re in this with me?” Eventually he comes around, but dear lord it would make my life so much easier if it felt like he was in this with me.

        • Erin

          Yeah, if my husband told me ‘no’ about cancelling HBO when I’d already cut out a newspaper and coffee, I’d be seriously unhappy.

          Does he maybe not have a full understanding of the exact nature of the money issues? Does he realize the things you’ve cut out in order to be able to pay bills?

          It sounds like something just isn’t clicking there.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        My fiance is unemployed and while our finances (and living arrangements) are still separate, I get frustrated, too, that I will soon be “taking care of” a “lay-about.”

        However, he’s super-good about staying on top of the job search and helping around my apartment. When I get frustrated, I remember this, take several deep breaths, and remind myself I’m only 1/10 as frustrated as he is.

        Still, we can’t manage long-term with just my present work arrangements. When I think about that, I get frustrated again, but I remind myself I trust him. He knows the student loan situation. He has some idea how much babies cost. He gets that our long-term goals require switching the breadwinner to the one who doesn’t carry the pregnancies, and/or significantly increasing household income. And I trust him to take the steps necessary to reach those goals – steps like maybe redirecting his job search, or helping me find a better job.

      • Remy

        Erin, I recognized a number of points in your comment from my life with my sweetie right now. Sometimes I snap at her about being at home instead of working during the day (at a job or on housework or on GETTING a job or on planning for school), and I know that she finds this hurtful. I am working on it. I hope she will, too.

        But mostly the Exactly button isn’t working for me (Chrome? I dunno.) so I wanted to post something to say thanks.

    • youlovelucy

      Being the sole bread winner can be really stressful (having been there), but I think it’s important to identify what your stress points are and try to resolve those feelings with your partner. In my case, I knew that the days where I would get frustrated and argue with Bryan about money were the days where it looked like he hadn’t accomplished anything while I was at work (which may or may not have been the case). So for us, communicating what we did during the day kept both of us honest and on the same level, even though his contributions weren’t monetary.

      I think Meg’s post on marriage as mini-socialism (linked above) is really key here, because of this one passage:

      “I worry that on a fundamental level we’re coming at relationships and money from the wrong angle. We’re thinking that we need to be equal contributors to our partnerships, but we’re overvaluing financial contributions.”

      What worked for us was establishing a very general routine of things that he could do around the house in addition to his job search, though the job search (which takes time, and should be looked at as a job in itself) always took precedent over chores. That’s not to say that he suddenly became a home maker, but on the days where he didn’t get as many resumes sent in, he would counter by cleaning up the kitchen a bit (which is his usual territory anyway, so no big change to make) or playing with the cats so they wouldn’t dance on my head at 2am (yes, we devote chore time to this).

      • Jen

        I am so grateful for my partner. I made a big sacrifice — moving across the country and leaving all my work — for him to take a great job on the East Coast. But never once has he made me feel less of a partner for not yet making money in this new city. He also doesn’t expect that I “earn my keep” by doing housekeeping — he wants to hear that I’m still practicing my skills. (I’m a musician and a writer, so I’m lucky to be able to “work,” regardless of getting paid.) We’re both invested in the long-term story of us, and I really don’t want that story to have detours that are mired in who-owes-who finances. Our story is about finding valuable work, supporting each other, and creating a rich community around us.

        • youlovelucy

          Exactly! I totally didn’t want it to sound as if I made my partner work for their dinner, so to speak.

          Bry is a programmer, and spends almost all his free time working on that skill – which for him is a big game of ‘break the computer, fix the computer, repeat.’ However, I didn’t really understand the importance of it until he put it into terms I could understand – it’s practice, just like any art I might make for the sole purpose of testing some new technique or material.

          Without that understanding, all I saw was him sitting at the computer for hours, which for me is time wasted because much of my more meaningful work is done in a different way. For us, communicating that was key.

        • NF

          In a semi-related note I think it’s REALLY important that we don’t view chores as the only way the non-working partner can contribute. Practicing skills (yay musicians!) is part of that, but even completely non-work/chore related things are contributions to household happiness! For example, every day I spend a long time reading news so that in the evenings I can tell my husband about things that he thinks are interesting but doesn’t have time to read about on his own.

          • Exactly. This is also huge for those of us with mental or physical illnesses to remember – our spouses need us happy and healthy far more than they “need” a clean kitchen or dinner on the table every night.

          • YES! Now that I’m home with the baby, we get the newspaper and I try to read at least the first section. It helps me feel like a member of the world and gives us more to talk about than ‘did the baby poop today’ talk.

    • Paranoid Libra

      Oh Sophi I know how you feel. I am the breadwinner. We are not yet married…but that’s only a 3 weeks and a day away change (holy crap its coming to faaaasst now, too much to do!)

      My guy is underemployed working hospitality jobs for slightly more than min. wage, but not getting office experience he needs to get to a job that might actually appreaciate the fact he has a college degree and offer him benefits. I deal with the bills, he only handles his credit card debts he has and I think now is about to default on his student loans because he forgot to put in for deferment. Sadly when we get married things won’t be immediately combined because I know his credit is in the toilet and well it would probably cost us more if he was added onto my insurance, although we probably will look into it.

      Any advice to not feeling like a nagging wife or going total dictator on his finances? It’s something he is so self conscious about and I know feels a tad immasculated about it because he feels pressure of being a breadwinner. He hates when his friends joke to him that he’s got it made from having a sugar momma, but he absolutely hates putting all the financial pressure on me.

      I am proud to know I can handle our household finanaces solely, but i’d much rather be a team and its frustrating because he avoids trying to come together financially not wanting to drag me down.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        I’m an oldest child, over-achiever, analytical type. My work as a lawyer, my wedding planning, and just life in general are slowly teaching me that I need to trust that the adults in my life will be adults, and let them fail if they can’t/won’t be adults. I make sure people have all the information they need to do the responsible thing, are thoroughly aware of the consequences if they don’t, and then I step back. Sometimes I want to step back in, and with people I’m super-close to, sometimes I can tell when they’ve plain forgot about something, but mostly I just remind myself to let adults be adults.

        Note that being thoroughly aware of the consequences includes being aware of emotional consequences. It’s OK to say, “If you forget to do X, I’ll be angry and resentful. I don’t think X is a big task, but it’s important (or super-annoying) to me, and if you don’t do it…”

    • meg

      You know, I was the sole breadwinner too, and I didn’t think of it as “giving him money” at all. We pooled everything, because we’re a team, so he got to spend exactly what I got to spend on fun stuff, and we paid into his student loans because they’re our responsibility. We all contribute in different ways to the team, and life comes in cycles. While he was unemployed he was doing professional development, cooking and cleaning, being my emotional support, and looking for work. That was just as important as the part I was doing: earning money. I mean, in theory, one day I’ll be on maternity leave, and I don’t want to him to think he’s “giving me money” or that I should feel bad about buying shoes. In that case I grew a DAMN CHILD FOR US. Talk about important contributions to the team! So it comes and goes, and for me the point of being married is knowing I’m not in it alone anymore.

      So I guess, my suggestion is to re-frame the way you think about it. You’re both contributing to your team in the best ways you can right now (and give yourself a huge huge pat on the back for sole breadwinning. That shit is HARD).

      • In order for me to reframe the way I thought about our joint finances we needed to get a joint account. As long as I was depositing money into his account I felt like I was giving him an allowance. I’d get mad when I felt like he needed money more frequently than he should. Once we put all of our dollars in one place I was able to know exactly how much we had TOTAL which would make me feel better about how much he spent.

        • Denzi

          I second this from the opposite side of things–while my husband is getting his paycheck deposited into his solo checking account and occasionally paying into the joint account, it makes me feel like he’s controlling our money and I have to go ask him for more every time I pay bills or take out my monthly “allowance.” Need to ask him nicely to hurry up and fix that (there’s no reluctance, but HR at his university is SUPER SLOOOOOOOOW about everything).

      • And over time, it’s entirely possible for who is the sole/primary breadwinner to change; we’ve all been in that place one time or another, which makes it easier to be comfortable no matter who is bringing in the most bread. It took us a little less than a decade to cycle through, and things are more mellow than they were in the beginning. The joint bank account helped a lot, too, even when it was an account we all contributed to for bills while keeping “personal money” in separate accounts.

    • I was also in this situation for a while, and it was really hard for me as well — not because I didn’t want to buy him the things that he needed, but because it was hard for me (a saver by nature) to justify buying the things that he wanted. I eventually had to let go a bit because I could see how miserable he was getting. That’s not to say we went hog wild or anything, but I kind of felt that I was treating him like a child with an allowance (not that that’s what you’re doing, that’s just how I felt) and that wasn’t very healthy for either of us.

      I loosened up *a little* and he understood where I was coming from, however begrudgingly. I think sometimes we get caught up in being perfectly egalitarian, that we get thrown off so effing hard when life says “nuh-uh” and and turns shit upside down. But the playing field wasn’t level, and there’s no way that it could be in that situation, financially speaking. And it’s not always going to be level. I was also in this situation for a while, and it was really hard for me as well — not because I didn’t want to buy him the things that he needed, but because it was hard for me (a saver by nature) to justify buying the things that he wanted. I eventually had to let go a bit because I could see how miserable he was getting. That’s not to say we went hog wild or anything, but I kind of felt that I was treating him like a child with an allowance (not that that’s what you’re doing, that’s just how I felt) and that wasn’t very healthy for either of us.

      I loosened up *a little* and he understood where I was coming from, however begrudgingly. I think sometimes we get caught up in being perfectly egalitarian, that we get thrown off so effing hard when life says “nuh-uh” and and turns shit upside down. But the playing field wasn’t level, and there’s no way that it could be in that situation, financially speaking. And it’s not always going to be level. Riding the ups and downs and non-level playing fields at various stages in life are the tricksy parts.

      • Wow, not sure what happened to that post. My bad.

    • Jane

      I strongly suggest you open a joint account that he has equal access to. Now that online banking exists, it is absolutely no problem at all to have a bunch of accounts, especially if you open them at the same bank you already have your own accounts in. This way you literally are funding your family, of which he is an equal part, even if he doesn’t currently contribute financially.

  • Beqi

    The very non-scientific sample used in the article certainly doesn’t reflect my experience. In my family growing up, my mom was the money manager, so that’s what seems normal to me. When I get married, we will be pooling our resources, and I will be the one primarily in charge of paying bills, saving, and figuring out what spending money we’ll have available. That’s partly because I’ll be following my mom’s example, but mostly because I’ve got a better head for numbers and budgeting than my guy does. But we’ve still got plenty of details to work out, I know.

    • Your comment got me thinking, “How did my parents manage their money?” I honestly don’t know! It was never clear who was in charge of the cash and they both appeared to buy whatever they wanted. When they got divorced, my dad took a lot of money out of their joint account and moved it into an account just for him, majorly screwing my mom over. I guess that’s sort of shaped my view on finances. Between my husband and me, I manage our money. I always assumed that I did it because I’m super stingy.*

  • This is really interesting, it is a conversation I keep bringing up with my fiancee and friends because I find it fascinating and scary. We are currently working to find the best way for us. We started out with a joint account for house bills that come directly from the account. Groceries we would still split. As we have been doing up our house we have been putting more in so that renovations come out of the joint, (but still splitting groceries, meals out etc). Now we put a bit more in so that we can sometimes buy groceries, meals out, but it’s really difficult to keep track and know how much is in there.

    So I am suggesting the other way, everything is pooled so there is enough in the joint account for everything and then we give ourselves an allowance to retain the independence according to how much there is leftover. I think that would be a good stepping point to sharing everything. I also think it would be simpler, spreadsheets, budgets etc are just a pain. My fiancee earns less than me and has some debts and is uncomfortable doing this until he is on a more even keel.

    I have to admit, I don’t mind that I earn more, but I am struggling to get on board with paying off his debt (from before I met him) when I have always been so careful with money. But I know actually it would be for the good of out mini family.

    Any thoughts?

    • “I have to admit, I don’t mind that I earn more, but I am struggling to get on board with paying off his debt (from before I met him) when I have always been so careful with money. But I know actually it would be for the good of out mini family.”

      That is exactly my struggle! But I have student loans too, just not as much as he has. It does make sense to pay off his loans so that we both can get ahead (the whole “team” thing) but it sucks to have to use up all the money on loans and not have any money left over!

      • I just paid off my fiance’s student loans from undergrad so that we could be debt free when he goes back for his master’s in the fall (accross the country. 2 days after our wedding… talk about foolish financial decisions). We’re very much of the “team” mentality, but sometimes, I literally cannot control my anger (more like blinding, inescapable fury, actually), about the fact that I’m emptying my savings to pay for his education, leaving my excellent job and moving to fly-over country so that we can spend MORE money on his education.
        The shocking part is that when I’m all cried out, he sits down on the bed with me and tells me how normal he thinks it is that I’m frustrated, but that he would absolutely do the same for me, and that he’s so happy that we have the means to take on this challenge together. And he’s right! It’s totally normally to be frustrated, and now I tell him when I’m feeling upset about leaving my work and friends for his education. He affirms my emotions and we move forward.

        • Thanks this is useful, good luck with the move!! xox

      • NF

        The way I thought about paying off my husband’s loans with my savings is that especially in this economy if he didn’t have the loans he probably wouldn’t have any job at all (all his loans were for a master’s degree not undergrad), and that his loans were essentially part of our joint income. And we had things we wanted to do like buying a house that we couldn’t even think about doing until the loans were paid off! And given current interest rates we would have been losing money by making monthly student loan payments and accumulating interest and earning interest on my savings).

        When I got the mentality that the loans were just part of our income it made it a lot easier to not be at all bothered–maybe that would help you?

        • I think you are exactly right, and I have a feeling I’ll feel this way after he actually finishes his master’s. But when you are just getting used to combining finances in the first place, dropping multiple thousands of dollars (on top of wedding costs) can feel like a kick in the pants.
          Once we get into the swing of marriage and teamwork, I expect not to be bothered at all. But for right now, I think it’s important to admit that it can feel frustrating to spend your money on “someone else”. It’s just part of the transition from single life!

          • NF

            It is definitely part of the transition! Sorry if I came off as at all critical, looking at my (well our, but it was all “mine” a few weeks before) savings account right after we paid off his loans was not a pleasant moment for me.

          • NF – for some reason I can’t repy directly to you – You didn’t come off as critical at all! You just sound so zen, I can’t wait to mentally be where you are!

        • ElisabethJoanne

          NF is right, but she expresses a rather high level of personal finance knowledge. If you’re not used to thinking about interest rates and earnings rates and human capital, it’s hard to develop healthy attitudes dependent on those concepts.

    • MDBethann

      My DH had some non-student loan debt from before he met me that he wanted to pay off before we got married. We lived together for 2 years before the wedding, so I guess I helped out by sharing the cost of food, mortgage, and other household expenses, but he set a budget for himself and a goal for paying it off – we got married at the beginning of May and he had the debt gone by March/April. But I know the feeling – it isn’t *your* debt so it doesn’t seem fair to take it on, but sometimes the debt isn’t because of anything they did, and simply by sharing the rest of the living expenses you’re letting them pay the debt down faster. Good luck!

      • “I know the feeling – it isn’t *your* debt so it doesn’t seem fair to take it on, but sometimes the debt isn’t because of anything they did”

        This is my husband’s perspective, for which I will forever be grateful. He comes from a wealthy background and his parents paid for his Ivy League education. I worked part or full-time starting at 15 and went to college on a mix of savings, scholarships, and loans. From his perspective, his ability to pay off the remaining balance on my loans when we got married was part of “paying forward” the privilege he’s known all his life. He didn’t see it as “his money” taking on “my debt” but rather an investment in our future together as well as good financial sense. I can’t even begin to express how much it’s meant to me that he’s never held his contribution over my head.

        • A-L

          I also understand this. I didn’t have student loans because of the happy accident of being born into a family that could pay for whatever costs there were that exceeded my scholarships. My husband did not. I shouldn’t begrudge him his student loans because of it. (By the way, if anyone hasn’t read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, I highly recommend it. Includes some topics that kind of coincide with this subject as he discusses why some people are successful, and others not so much…)

    • meg

      Yeah, but in the end, the debt is yours. Until you pay it off, you’ll have debt, and that will affect saving for a car, a house, everything. So in a sense you just have to work through the emotions and get on with the getting on, you know? (Student Loan debt is way easier, because you get earning power… credit card debt, sigh. But still….)

      • rys

        True on the emotional/mental front, but not so much on the legal/financial front (depending on the type of debt, how/when accrued, state law, and whatnot). I point this out not to take away from the long-term consequences/rationale approach but because 1) I think it’s worth a discussion of how it will get paid off (which may not be the same way for every person or couple — maybe the person who owns the debt will use less discretionary money or eat lunch out less or whatever) and 2) it’s important to know (and not all do know) that student loan debt is the only debt not dischargeable in bankruptcy, which probably ought to affect decision-making as well (that said, it is *usually* more stable, deferrable for certain reasons, and less prone to absurd interest rates).

    • A-L

      When we got married, my husband was almost finished paying off his cc debt (had a couple of months to go, at the most), but also had his car loan and student loans. And we just kept throwing money at those, and I felt fine about it, because we were a team. But when I was on a finance forum, and someone suggested liquidating an investment account I had from before our marriage in order to pay off his student loans, I balked at first. Because it was “my” money, earned before we were a “team,” unlike the “team” money we spent monthly to beat back his loans.

      But after thinking about it, it really made the most sense to pay off the student loans. And after thinking about why I was initially against it, I realized that we’re now a team, and that holding on to this debt (and interest rate) so that we could slowly pay it off together was ridiculous. The longer I’ve been married, the less into “equality” I am. I have an incredibly unselfish husband, and he’s so giving, that I would like to be more like him, wanting to give rather than trying to get everything that I “deserve.” So I guess my time being married has taught be to be more team-oriented than me-oriented, and to be more giving. Certainly worth the price of any pre-team money spent.

    • Lizzie

      I helped my husband pay off some credit card debt before we were married or engaged. On paper it was a loan, but he didn’t finish paying it back before we got married and now it’s a moot point. I have never regretted it for a second, although there was a funny moment a month or so ago when we were checking our credit scores and his came up about 10 points higher, which prompted a “Hey – what the f*ck?” from me.

    • Jane

      Your new idea is what we do, and it works really well. No matter what each person makes, we each get an equal allowance per paycheck to do whatever we want with. I think that you have to think of it this way: the world may pay you unequally, but within your relationship, you are each of equal value and therefore deserve equal amounts of fun money.

  • I knew from the get-go that my husband and I would pool our finances. I have a lot of student debt and he makes more money than I do (and for a while there after graduation, I was unemployed). We’re married, we’re a team, and we treat our finances that way. We talk about any purchase that’s over $50.00 and I think we’re still in the process of finding our balance – what we need to discuss and what’s a given expenditure.

    I think that because of the student debt I carry I naturally took on the role of financial leader in the family. I definitely have a better sense of where our bank accounts (and my debt) are at any given time than my husband but I enjoy having the control and I update my spouse regularly.

    Part of this control comes from a family history where my mom seemed clueless (or chose not to care) about what was going on financially. I knew I didn’t want to be that way. However, I can also understand why people may shy away from their bank statements, especially if they’re not so great. Money is a terrifying and derisive thing and some people might cope with the stress of it by ignoring it. It’s not logical but I can see why it happens.

  • Miriam

    I was surprised by people asking permission to buy things. We have merged our finances and toyed with the idea of allowances, but it never amounted to anything actually happening. We basically talk about pretty much everything we buy anyway and have an agreement to discuss larger purchases (definitely not asking for permission, more like a check in, in case the other person was going to make a large purchase that month too before another paycheck comes in).

    Its possible this could just work for us now because we are still newly married and are young and therefore don’t have a ton of money to work with. I guess it could become an issue later and we’ll have to work out an allowance thing.

    It was funny to see this article because I had my husband pick up some makeup for me recently and he commented on how much it cost and I said “I know, its expensive to be a woman!”

    • Liz

      We also don’t ask permission to spend money, but we do check-in and let one another know when we’re buying/have bought something. This way is only possible, though, because we’re both typically aware of what’s in the bank and trust one another to not eff anything up.

    • We are like you, and honestly? Having more money makes it even easier, because then I really don’t care if he buys stuff for himself. Yeah, we totally talk over big purchases, but the small ones? Meh. I know that he’s buying them because it’s ebay and packages arrive in the mail, but I don’t have to care, because we’re not worrying about money on a day to day level.

      • I’ll fourth this. I don’t feel like I need to consult my husband to buy a new skirt or whatever, and I don’t expect him to consult me when he needs a new pair of shoes. We trust each others’ spending priorities, and anything big enough to make a serious dent in our money is likely to be something we want to pick out together anyway (furniture, vacations, investments, etc.).

        The only time when “permission” comes into play is with the big personal purchases, like computer upgrades. My husband frames these big purchases as “can I have your permission to buy X” — I wish he wouldn’t! It makes me feel like a tyrant and that’s not at all the dynamic of our financial relationship. We make decisions together, I don’t tell him what to spend. But since he’s the bigger earner (by a lot) I suspect he’s just trying to make sure I know that it’s all “our” money and he won’t do anything big without consulting me. Still, I wish I could scrub the “permission” language out!

  • Ali

    Joint finances and Caitlin Moran is what it takes for me to de-lurk apparently!

    I find this discussion fascinating, I think my attitude to it is probably shaped by the fact that both my husband & I have had periods where we weren’t earning (him unemployed, me as a student and later on maternity leave) but also I was the major breadwinner for 8 years of our relationship, in fact it is only now that I’m part-time that he earns more.

    So we have a joint account, and we both keep vague track of it. We did the separate accounts and a joint one for house stuff for a few years, but honestly, we weren’t organised enough to make sure there was always enough in there to pay the mortgage, so we went to one current account and joint credit cards for simplicity.

    Over time it all balances out – he’s not bothered by birthday/Christmas presents, I have generally always done better there, so this year I have no problem spending some extra work money on an iPad for his birthday because I know he really wants one and will really appreciate it.

    We don’t ask each others permission to buy stuff, but we discuss big purchases. He realises that his clothes, gadgets, computer peripherals and running gear more than balance out my clothes, shoes, bags and cosmetics. More importantly we trust each other not to risk our financial security on frivolous purchases.

    • youlovelucy

      It took me almost 2 years to de-lurk. Welcome to the comment party!!

  • Laura

    I’ve always thought couples should manage their finances in whatever way works for them – totally merged, totally separate or some combination are all perfectly fine – but there’s no excuse for not knowing what’s going on with your finances. Our finances are completely merged. We budget pretty extensively, but the “fun” money isn’t divided out in any way between us – it’s just there until it’s gone. We talk about major purchases (over $100). My clothes/hair/make-up are more expensive, but he has toys/hobbies that can add up as well. I manage the finances – create the budget, pay the bills – but we talk about it and he knows where we stand. I’m more of a saver than him, so sometimes he’ll convince me to put a little less in savings/retirement/etc and go on a vacation…but it’s always a conversation.

  • Alicia

    Thanks for this post! My fiance and I don’t pool money yet, but we plan on having that change within a year or so. We share rent and phone expenses, but pay personal stuff with our own debit cards. I tend to be the one in charge of the general finances because I am the more financially literate one.

    Not knowing how much money you have (or don’t have) blows my mind! Are you kidding me? It would frighten me to not know how much I owe my credit card every month or how much I have contributed to retirement, but maybe that’s because I grew up in a family with tight resources.

    For me and my fiance, the conversations about money are going to get interesting as we get closer to moving abroad for my job, where he might not be able to work. Trying to plan for retirement and hopefully buying a house at some point on one income will be a great conversation.

  • Erin

    A little off topic, but for those who are talking about having troubles keeping track of several different accounts or hate making budgets, I just wanted to mention that we use Mint (https://www.mint.com/) to great effect. I’ve been using it for several years personally, so when we got married I could see right away what the changes in cost were for the two of us versus just me.

    It also makes budgeting ridiculously easy and makes it easy for me to see where our money goes, which had been a problem for me before. I can now see pretty clearly how much we actually spend on groceries, and how much we save when we cut back on buying alcohol and other pricey items.

    Anyone else using good tools to help manage the family finances?

    • Karen

      Yes! I was going to bring up Mint. If everything goes in here (there are some accounts that it won’t work for like GE capital for instance because they don’t work with Mint), and both parties have the password, there isn’t any reason for both people to not know what the current state of the finances are. I find it incredibly disheartening that women wouldn’t know these things or make themselves learn. The reality is that their husbands could die at anytime and they wouldn’t have a clue how much is in their checking accounts. This is a very ugly situation that I’ve seen play out in bad ways. We all need to be educated and involved in our finances.

      • A friend of mine’s husband passed suddenly after she had just finished battling cancer. She highly recommended making a list of all passwords banking, random internet, whatever and leaving them somewhere easy for your spouse to access in case of sudden passing. I have been slowly creating mine and will put it in our safe deposit box so that my husband can have access to all our accounts and my information.

        • KateM

          SO IMPORTANT!!!! And end of life coversations. DNR, assisted living, wills, organ donations and life insurance policies. We all need to know this about our partners. I tend to think of this as part of the financial conversation, probably because I have a background in finance and worked for a financial planning firm. Knowing about future $$ is also part of the conversation, also who is the benificaries of policy’s and retirement savings.

        • My dad, who died not suddenly of cancer, did not do this, and it was so frustrating. In the days and weeks after his death, we had to hack in to everything, guessing passwords and trying to figure out exactly how much money was where. Like that time wasn’t hard enough…
          Make a list! Or two. Because you never know.

        • Erin

          As an alternative to a list which you have to change every time you change a password, you might also consider using a password manager like KeePass or Last Pass – it saves all your passwords for you, locked down under a master password (and integrates with your browser and the like). It’s both more secure and easier, because it will be constantly up to date as you use it. This way, I only have to hand out my ‘master’ password and they can get to everything – including things I forgot I had accounts in.


      We use Mint too and it’s really helpful. We have very joint finances, except for an investment account each with some money from before we were married… this was recommended by our financial advisor as the “no-matter-how-much-you-are-in-love-now fund” to each have some back-up resources and to be able to afford a good attorney if things were to ever head south. Anyway, our earnings are WAY different but since we pool everything, Mint has been a great tool for us. We can both monitor where the money goes, compare it to our jointly created budget, and discuss things if ever the spending in a given budget category is pushing the limit. Granted I’m the one who monitors more, initiates the finance conversations more etc, but Mint really helps make it a joint process. So I highly recommend it too.

    • I found using Mint was amazing after the first 12 mos because I could run the tools and see how much we were actually spending in each category. We used that information to inform us while updating our spreadsheet budget to match our actual spending levels. I also rather enjoy their phone app because I can pop in at any time to check balances on the important every day accounts without fear of someone getting my phone and actually being able to touch my money.

      • Erin

        Yes, I love this! I regularly look at our ‘trends’ and it’s nice to see where we’ve been doing well at saving or adjusting spending, or being able to notice where we’ve been spending more. And I love that it’s all so automatic! I just go in and clean stuff up maybe once a month.

    • Laura

      Mint was TERRIFYING when I first started using it (how do I spend that much money at restaurants?? How???). But after getting over the initial shock, it’s been SUCH a great tool. We haven’t merged our finances yet, but when we do (soon!), I’m counting on Mint to help me track the changes.

      • Erin

        I KNOW. It is a SERIOUS eye-opener. Restaurants was the big one for me, too, but also /gas/ as it’s gone up and I keep having to reshuffle our budget.

        But I feel a lot more confident in my finances now that I know where my money is going.

        • Karen

          Agreed! In Debtors Anonymous they talk a lot about “knowing your numbers.” When you don’t have this information you keep your head buried in the sand and living in fear. When you have all the information laid out, without making a judgement about yourself, it is powerful. You cannot move forward if you don’t know where you stand.

          • Paranoid Libra

            That makes ABSOLUTELY PERFECT SENSE!!!!! My fiance’ has dug his head in the sand about his finances. I wonder if I can get a mint.com account going for all of our accounts currently and put together something for him to see when he comes home from camping and hopefully start to get him sorted out so OUR finances can start on the up trend overall even if he’s still under employed.

      • What I found was over time when we spent more at restaurants we spent less at the grocery and more or less still stayed within our monthly budget for food. Now when I figured out how much I really spend a year on my hobbies…that was an eye opener. This year I am reducing that spending to necessities only so I can buy a new couch. Yeah…I can’t believe I’ll have more than enough to buy a couch.

      • Laurel

        YES. We were pissing away so much money on meals because we were too tired to cook. It actually sparked a pretty big set of changes in how we approach cooking so that we could easily, simply, and cheaply make our own food no matter how tired we were.

        • Meredith

          Yes! I think it’s helpful to think how much each meal costs you when you buy groceries. My BF and I spend $240-$260/month on food. That comes in at $1.33 to $1.44 per person per meal. Makes you realize just how much eating out costs.

          • Laurel

            The other thing it made us realize was that if we spent $8 on a fancy pot pie to stick in the freezer, it was totally worth it. That $8 pot pie + a salad made dinner for two, and it’s cheap compared to a restaurant meal.

            We spend way more than you on groceries, but that’s an intentional budget/values decision and we’re still around $3 per person per meal.

    • We started with an Excel spreadsheet for our budget. Some of the numbers (like restaurants vs groceries) were a bit of a stab in the dark so using Mint helped us to refine them. We were always coming out on budget but it was really helpful for us to know how it was apportioned.

    • Oh! Another point about Mint…we used it to help track our wedding spending. We took our total budget and divided it by our engagement period (for us was 14 months) and set up a budget in Mint for it (with roll over spending) and make sure to tag EVERY wedding purchase/deposit/etc as “wedding.”

      For example, we have budgeted $450/month until the wedding. Last month we only spent $100 so my slider shows -$350 and the “Over?” column shows $750 to be spent this month. Since spending on the wedding varies so much from month to month that we set up a savings account just for the wedding, at the end of each month if there’s a “left” balance, we try to make sure that the savings account equals that. (For us this month with $750 left, our savings account has $689 in it.)

  • Chickpea

    I’m one of those super exciting people who likes reading about personal finance and setting up Excel spreadsheets to track spending. I also get sick personal pleasure from withholding things from myself. So, in our marriage, I’m the one who sets the budget, keeps track of where the money goes, tells him when we spent too much on something, and he’s the one who usually doesn’t know how much money is in our account (although I wish he would be a more active player).

    We also do the personal allowance thing. His goes right into a separate bank account, and he spends every last dime of it. For me, I just track what I’m spending out of our main account, and I usually only spend a very small portion of it. To me, the amount we spend being totally equal doesn’t really matter. I don’t like to buy stuff, he does. As long as what he buys is within reason, and we can afford it, I’m fine.

    My lack of spending usually means that if I need something fancy, like shoes, it comes out of our joint account, because “you never buy anything for yourself” (his words). Win/win, I’d say.

    • melissa

      “I also get sick personal pleasure from withholding things from myself.”

      Um… wanna start a class to teach others how to do this? Every time the season’s change, I go on a shopping spree. But I NEED skirts and slip on sneakers and sunglasses. I NEED them.

      • Chickpea

        Haha, our family dynamic is interesting. I never buy clothes for myself, until my husband says “you’ve had that shirt for 15 years, it’s time to buy a new one.”

        • youlovelucy

          Ahhhhhh, we are twins! My fiance has told me several times to go buy new clothes and stop trying to bring hobo fashion into style.

    • Meredith

      This is me! I love me some spreadsheets. In fact, I have every purchase I have made in the last 2.5 years (which is since I graduated college) in Excel spreadsheets. And I mean EVERYTHING, including tolls, random coffees, etc; which is oddly helpful when I feel like I’m spending too much on, say, groceries. I can look over the last 2.5 years of data and say, ‘Oh, well not really. It’s about what I’ve been averaging.”

      And I too take pleasure in seeing how long I can go without making a ‘frivolous’ purchase. I also love trying to set a record for how much I saved in 1 month. I find it oddly fun and satisfying.

      • Elsie

        This is me too– the past five years in spreadsheets, both pre- and post-wedding. And there have been occasions in which I’ve had to look up something old, and have been really glad to still have that data.

      • RachelC

        YES SPREADSHEETS. My friends make fun of me but I too have kept track of all – and I mean all – expenses for the past 3 years or so and still going. It’s not a perfect system but it’s really helped me to slowly cut back – sometimes I’ll just say – next month, the ‘eating out/coffee’ category will be just slightly less – and it is and then I celebrate! It is SO useful!

      • Chickpea

        My favorite thing about tracking spending and having a long history of data to cull from is that I can spot trends so much easier. “We spent X amount of dollars more in December this year than we did last year.” or “We spent X amount more in our summer ‘going out’ budget than in the winter.” Which all helps really pinpoint ways to adjust our budget so it works for us. Also, any excuse to make a new Excel spreadsheet, amiright?

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Another advantage to tracking spending is when you need/want to add a new regular expense, like a car payment, gym membership, or ongoing medical treatment, it’s easy to figure out how much you can afford.

  • Brittany

    What gets me here is classing all spending on things like clothes as frivolous and something to be hidden or ashamed of. I don’t think my clothes spending is frivolous. Do I spend more than my fiance on clothes? Absolutely. But the guy owns three pairs of shoes and lives in super hero t-shirts, which makes him happy, and is cheap, so cool. I am not, however, ashamed of the money I spend on my clothes (or shoes, or makeup, or the upkeep of my bike, or books, or my spin classes, or my weekly coffee and lunch date with my girlfriends, etc). Pooling finances has not changed that. All of those things make me happy and help me feel good. Why should I be ashamed of that? Why should my fiance judge that? He wants me to be happy. Wearing pretty things makes me happy. I spend within our means. We communicate about major expenses and touch base about smaller spending items all the time. These things combined mean that I feel no need to hide or separate what I spend.

    • MDBethann

      And depending on where you work, you may HAVE to buy more expensive clothes than he does. I work in an office and DH telecommutes – that means I have to wear business casual and suits to work while he gets to work in jeans and t-shirts every day.

      Unless we’re running up massive credit card bills and burying ourselves in debt and hurting ourselves and/or our loved ones, we shouldn’t have to rationalize or apologize for our spending choices. If we’re within our means, hakuna matata!

      • youlovelucy

        EXACTLY to you both, and bonus points for hakuna matata.

        • MDBethann

          Thanks it just randomly popped into my head.

      • Brittany

        Yeah, I definitely need to be more dressed up than he does at work, and in addition to that, I feel like I need to dress completely differently in my private life than I do in my professional life. It’s actually a piece of advice I got from one of my mentors in college. Keeping teacher-me at school and letting myself be adult-me at home is really important, otherwise working with the kids I work with (formerly incarcerated/gang transfers/teen mothers) becomes quickly overwhelming, and dressing myself differently is one of the ways I help myself feel that distinction. I know that I’m lucky to be able to afford to do this, but I don’t think that makes it a frivolous thing to do. I’m also very happy that my fiance agrees that a little extra cash is a price worth paying for me not to burn out at a job I love.

        • Jaime

          i love this point! i have the same approach, except that i’m a nurse who wears hospital provided scrubs so the financial part is moot for me. but the separation thing! so key for keeping those relationships separate and, for me at least, healthy.

    • Shelly

      The funny thing is that I could have said this exact same thing when I was single. I spent within my means according to my values, needs & wants without feeling any guilt. Now that I’m married (and even more financially secure, I should add), I catch myself not being as transparent. I don’t know quite why I find myself charging a pair of shoes to a personal (not joint) credit card or using cash (which doesn’t show specifics on a bank statement) to treat myself to something. Even though I don’t feel like I’ve been dishonest with my husband, and he certainly wouldn’t bat an eyelash at the things I spend on, I feel challenged to be more forthright. I don’t think I could have put my finger on it until reading this discussion today, though.

  • Ris

    Although my partner and I both work, I do more for the “union” than he does–partly by the nature of our personalities, partly because I care more. This includes cleaning (I have higher standards), meal planning and coupon clipping (he cooks), social planning (he goes to everything cheerfully), organizing trips, paying bills, and managing our joint accounts. Considering that I do spend slightly more on non-essentials (haircuts, clothing, makeup), I think my other contributions to the union more than outweigh these costs. I wonder if the women in the article think about those kind of things–who gets up with the children more, who remembers birthdays and plans for Christmas and cooks and cleans and and and. Not that it matters–you’re contributing in one way, your spouse in another, all for the overall good of the family–but it is something to consider if we’re going to split hairs over equal spending. I also agree that there’s no excuse for not knowing how much your family has in the bank, or passwords, etc. What are they thinking?

  • melissa

    We currently have six accounts between us: personal checking and savings accounts, and a joint checking and savings. It’s so many accounts, and I just don’t think it’s working. Mostly because my allowance (equal to his, by the way) is not covering what I spend on clothes, makeup, etc. It is more expensive to be a woman, at least one who likes to wear as much make-up and as many J. Crew skirts as I like to wear. We both make salaries that in theory tell me I should be able to buy a skirt if I want it. But unfortunately, too much ends up on the credit card and my allowance doesn’t always cover it all at the end of the month. Time to revisit.

    I’m about to be leave a job and be unemployed for an indefinite period of time. It’s in coordination with a cross country move that will be a really great thing. I hate our current city and I can’t wait to get out. But we might as well get rid of all the extra accounts and just have a joint checking and a joint savings. Until I’m working, no one’s going to be buying any J. Crew. But once I am, I think having a little oversight might help me make some smarter choices.

    • My husband and I are currently in the process of transitioning out of that same six account boat. It sounded brilliant when we were preparing to buy our house (pre-marriage). After living together a few years, we had gotten sick of paying each other back for things, and it became too easy for one of us to end up footing more of the bill always (usually my husband who likes to treat). Having the joint and separate accounts seemed to make sense. Joint accounts for joint expenses, and spending money for our own expenses. Over the last three years we’ve found that line is not nearly so clear as it sounded in theory. If clothes were personal expenses, on our solo cards, where did I put the clothes I bought my husband (this phenomena started out as a “gift” thing, but quickly my husband realized he just liked me buying him clothes as a standard operating procedure). It seems like some of you figured to have clothes in joint accounts, but the opportunities for a blurred line go on. Take food for example. Joint account for joint eating experiences makes sense, but sometimes my husband would give me healthy leftovers and grab random take out for lunch. Is it fair to ding him for that, since he’s letting me eat what I want and inconveniencing himself? Or even dinners with friends. Certainly more expensive than eating at home, but, it still is meaning some joint money isn’t going to be needed to feed me that night. All this is a long way of saying that we are now in the process of joining all of our accounts (we’re doing this with ING checking to better sync up with our investments and by augmenting my husband’s local checking/savings to be a joint account and closing mine). We’re hoping that it will simplify saving and spending goals to have all finances merged (even though we could see everything on Mint, we were always trading one of our personal savings to joint savings because of unequal deployment of individual cards). Honestly, we were partially pushed over the edge to make this choice by Marriage as Mini-Socialism. We’re in this together, whole hog, and by getting married, our finances are merged de facto. This joint account thing will make them that way in practical terms, and we’ll have to sort out challenges of equity whether we’re practical about it or not.

      • melissa

        Marriage as Mini-Socialism has been on my mind a lot as well.

  • I feel like this article may be very misleading. In this day and age, most bills can be paid using auto-pay through online banking. I think it’s much more common for NEITHER partner to have any idea about what’s going on with the finances, rather than just the woman. If these couples rarely talk about money, how do they know that their husbands are actively taking care of the finances rather than just paying the minimum balance on the Visa bill every month? It’s totally possible that’s actually what’s going on. When everything comes out automatically, and most people just pay the minimum on their credit card bill (bad idea), it is possible (but stupid) to never have to really look at what you’ve got in the bank provided you’re making enough money to cover the bare minimum on bills.

    I had a discussion with a few people at work one day about how often we look at our bank accounts. I’d say it was about an equal split of men and women for who checked their bank accounts at least weekly and who rarely looked.

  • Oh, I knew. I knew.

  • starkville

    Is it really more expensive to be a woman? What part of our expenses are necessary versus pampering? I save money by painting my own toenails and getting my hair cut every three months. My husband has to get his hair cut every month. His dress shirts/dry cleaning bill are way more expensive than my smart mixing of H&M/Forever 21 with nicer work pieces. For us, it averages out, maybe because i’m a thrifty tomboy and realized i didn’t need 100 pairs of shoes a long time ago?

    We do 75% of our salary as joint, 25% in personal accounts. Personal covers clothes, solo meals, individual debt (student loans, cars), and gifts to spouse. The joint acct is shared expenses and savings for the future. What i like is that we each have the opportunity to save (and spend) money individually. He’s saving for a new car, i’m saving for a robot. Saturday morning is joint account day, where we get to see how much money we’ve saved or spent in the week. it’s a fun ritual after pancakes, but we are both nerds.

    Most of my female friends know exactly what’s going on with the cash flow, but they also don’t give 2 flips about jimmy choo’s. Her unscientific study is probably just the reality of a social circle i do not belong to.

    • Anna

      “i’m saving for a robot”


    • Erin

      I think there are some things that cost more – his shaving cream and razors are expensive, but they don’t add up to the cost of my birth control, tampons, and make-up (and razors).

      We both shop pretty cheaply, but his shirts are usually several bucks cheaper than mine.

      That said, I don’t think the disparity is as huge as some make it sound. A lot of it depends on where you shop and how you dress. I do think it’s true that in a very professional setting, it’s easier for men to mix and match with fewer pieces for more outfits, though.

      • Jashshea

        “We both shop pretty cheaply, but his shirts are usually several bucks cheaper than mine.”

        But do his shirts have to be dry-cleaned and pressed? That’s a bi-weekly expense, most likely. I don’t wear women’s dress shirts (button downs are not a large-chested gal’s friend), so my work-shirts are 90% launderable. They may cost more initially, but they cost less over time of ownership (**nerd alert**).

        • Erin

          No! I refuse to buy something I can’t launder myself. This is not a monied or principled stand. I’m just too darn lazy. ;)

          • kyley

            A *lot* of dry clean only clothes turn out just fine in the washing machine. Just don’t put them in the dryer; hang dry and you’ll be fine.

    • One of the most surprising things for me about wedding planning so far is how much more expensive my FH’s attire was than mine! I think this is an interesting point, because I don’t think men are as likely to go thrifting or bargain hunting as women are. I also think women have more options in the ways we can dress, especially in an office setting. Men’s suits are expensive, and I’m regularly thankful that I can get away with a cardigan and a simple sheath dress most days, whereas C has to wear a suit and tie.
      I also think our personal decisions play a big role. C is a designer, and he feels a lot of pressure at work to look “trendy” and I also work in a very professional atmosphere. We get our hair cut by the same stylist and spend about the same amount on clothes right now, but I think both of us are capable of making a conscious decision to reduce our spending on things like that. There’s no question that there is a lot of pressure on women to maintain high (and expensive) standards of appearance, but C has shown me that men can really feel it too sometimes.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        I agree, EmilyEF. Way below, I have a line about how my suits are $100; his are $800. I could easily spend $300 or $500; he could easily spend $200 or $2,000. So many variables.

        Long story with a point: In December, I bought a “vintage” Dooney&Bourke purse. I’m totally not usually the type to do that, but I’d wanted one for 10 years. It was a big deal to me, and I talked about it casually with my fiance probably too much. I told him about the website I bought it from, and others where I looked. He’d never investigated buying used, apart from cars, books, and Goodwill. He was really excited and says he’ll never buy anything new again, except the obvious like shoes. He hasn’t quite stuck with that, encouraging me to buy a brand-new car instead of spending several weekends looking for a used one, but I’m excited about the prospect of helping him buy high-quality used clothes.

        Getting to the point: I don’t think I could ever depend on buying used for my clothing needs. Women’s sizing is just too unpredictable; you can’t do it online, and I don’t have the patience to do it the old-fashioned way. But I totally think my fiance could buy his suits, etc., used, online.

      • Kara

        Heh. Case A1 for men being more expensive than women is my golf-playing, suit-to-work weating husband compared to my rather-run (outside, thanks!) work at home in yoga pants, etc. self.

        Incidentally, for our wedding he got a custom-made tux, I bought off the rack.We were both happy.

        That said, we’re still trying hard to figure out how to organize our finances. Right now, it’s been a “don’t nickel and dime” thing – but our hardest thing so far has been about buying Mother’s Day gifts (since he earns and therefore spends roughly 2x what I do on gifts–and I didn’t feel like I could/should (not sure which verb applies) be as generous with my mom). Strange set of feelings.

    • Liz

      I understand the price difference for male/female dress and grooming. I’m frugal when it comes to clothes and primping. We use the same shampoo, face wash, shave gel. I shop discount bins and Target racks. But, the AMOUNT of clothes/shoes I need is greater. Whereas he has one pair of sneakers and one pair of boots, I need black heels, brown, high, kitten, flats, ones for work, ones for weddings, ones for cute coffee dates, ones for laundry days. Same goes for jackets, clothes, even jeans (his 3 pairs of the same cut versus my skinny, bootleg, trouser cut, etc)

      • Kaitlyn

        Ah, but do you need all that or do you want all that? I have a pair of hiking boots, a pair of black interview heels, black tennis shoes, and some flipflops. My fiance has… nice black work shoes, nice tennis shoes, work tennis shoes, hiking boots and flipflops. I think the only difference is I have steel-toed shoes that are provided by work for me.

        Jeans? I have 3 pairs of nice jeans, 2 of work jeans. He has… 3 pairs of nice jeans, 2 of work jeans.

        Jackets? I have one spring/fall, one winter. He has the same.

        You want more. That’s absolutely fine and nothing wrong with that. But you don’t need more.

        • Liz

          I think that’s probably a moot point. My husband likes getting dressed as much as I do (or, wants clothes as much as I do). But, he doesn’t have the option of having six different styles of denim (something he actually bemoans).

          Also, as I mentioned below, career dress is where it all really comes into play. My husband has had several jobs, and because of the nature of male clothing, all of his clothes equally translate well for each profession (in an office desk job, in retail, in an artsy design agency = pants, collared shirt). I’ve also had several professions, but because of the nature of female clothing, I’m represented differently by each item of dress. When teaching, I need (need, not want) to wear certain items to convey the authority and age that I hope to, in order to garner the respect that I need in order to do my job well. But, when I’m hosting a pop-up shop for my stationery line, I need (need, not want) to wear something entirely different to convey my brand aesthetic in an appealing and profitable way.

          The range of expression available in women’s dress is awesome, and yeah!, something I enjoy. But the fun of that is balanced by the necessity of conveying the right statement (whereas my husband is unlikely to be judged for making the “wrong” statement. Unless he shows up to work in his workout clothes or pajamas.)

          I don’t think the point of the conversation, though, is to defend how we do or don’t spend money as women versus men.

          • sass

            So, I am wondering now, how do we get the conversation to change from this “need” to wear all these different things and wear make-up every day, to a place where “to each her own!” and the world is ok with it? Because, honestly, this conversation is making me feel a bit uncomfortable… I mean, do women have to look a certain way to do their jobs well?! I am not denying this may be true in certain places/professions (thankfully NOT mine), but just feeling all twitchy and grrrrr about it all…

          • Liz

            I’m honestly okay with parts of it, though. I want my colleagues (male and female alike) to dress professionally and for their dress to demand a certain amount of respect from students as a result. I want people to wear a nice black dress or suit to funerals instead of throwing on black shorts and flip flops. I like that certain dress contains certain connotations. I don’t wear heels because I need to as a womminz. I wear heels because they make me stand taller and show people I mean business (also? they make my calves look amazing). It’s just that my demand-respect-at-work heels aren’t as multipurpose as my husbands demand-respect-at-work black loafers. And in some ways, I feel sorry that my husband doesn’t have the same nuanced spectrum of self expression in his dress. It’s a blessing and a curse, no?

          • Sass, it makes me twitchy too. The thing that’s frustrating about the beauty and self-expression of women’s clothes is that it’s all MANDATORY. Opting out is costly.

            I think one thing we all have to do is stop judging women for the way they look, and vigorously defend women who make choices that aren’t our own. ESPECIALLY when those choices expose them to social judgment.

        • meg

          Not true. You might want it, but it depends on your professional life. For many women, not dressing up to the standards of the profession means a serious decline in earnings. That goes for men to, but it’s cheaper for my husband to dress nicely, because four suits and two pairs of dress shoes does it.

          • Brittany

            Completely agreed! Work dictates the kind of clothing I need. Another factor that requires more varieties of clothing- climate. I need all six of the jackets I have for the climate I live in (summer raincoat, spring/fall rain coat, spring jacket, fall jacket, dressy winter work coat, ski jacket), same goes with shoes. The shoes that get me to work without discomfort are not always shoes I can wear at school all day, and while boots are comfy and appropriate in the fall and winter, my unairconditioned high school is not a boot friendly place when the weather is warm. So, while it may be feasible for some to get by with few items of clothing, for many of us, that just isn’t possible.

    • Another Meg

      There’s an article on Jezebel about this. It actually costs more to buy women’s deodorant then men’s- same with razors and a lot of other things. Women’s health insurance premiums are typically more as well. Here’s a link to it-
      I don’t agree with all of the items they list, but it does make you think.I mean, I shop at Good Will for most of my day-to-day things, including work clothes, but I still have to buy things that my fiance doesn’t, like tampons and bras.
      **Also, props for saving for a robot. Sounds awesome.

      • Rowan

        There is an advertising slogan for this: “Shrink it and pink it!” They take what they have for men, make it smaller, make it pink and charge more for it.

    • Marian

      I agree with this. I think women think they need more than they actually need. I’ve gotten by fine without a vast collection of shoes, flats, heels, etc. I can’t believe how women think they need something different for every type of occasion. You don’t need a different pair of boots to wear at the coffee shop than you do at work. You just don’t. And if you shop wisely, you can wear the same heels to the club that you do to work.

      And maintaining clothes is key. I’m sitting here, having just come from a job interview, in a pair of pants I bought back in 2003. Granted they were nice pants, and bland enough that they’ve never gone out of style … and that’s what’s crucial. I would never blow my money on stuff that’s really trendy for the sake of just looking trendy.

      • Liz

        I’m inclined to disagree. I’m a 26 year old high school teacher, so looking old is a key goal in dressing for work. There’s a big difference between wearing what I like to wear and what I should wear to work, even within the realm of professional attire (I prefer pencil skirts to slacks, but if I don’t want teenaged eyes on my ass all day, I’ll opt for baggy, frumpy yet professional pants).

        It’s easy to generalize and say that a person doesn’t need several styles of dress, but for some, that’s not the case.

      • Laurel

        I think one point that’s often overlooked is that women get judged more harshly for not being fashionable than men. I wear the same goddamn thing every day (jeans, boots, pearl snap), but part of the reason I can get away with that is that I prefer a masculine aesthetic. Also I can wear that to work. Wearing interchangeable professional womenswear is less acceptable in some offices.

        Also, it’s been over a decade since I bought a bra that cost less than $40. And that’s not frivolity AT ALL. It’s the reality of trying to find bras that won’t wreck my back.

        • Marian

          Oh, I don’t think anyone should look unfashionable, or should forgo shopping to the point where they look bad or aren’t able to advance professionally. The important thing is to choose a few classic pieces that will last rather than whatever chintzy outfit Forever 21 is telling you to buy this month. I spend less money than most people I know on clothes, but I constantly get told that I dress well. I’ve been on a tight budget for a while, and this is a skill I’ve developed. And rather than thinking that I need a different pair of shoes for every situation, I go shoe shopping with the thought in mind that I need a nice pair of shoes for, say, weddings AND social outings. Not one pair for each.

          No one has to defend how they spend money (if you’ve got it, it’s your call, and I wish I could spend more), but I think that making wise choices as a consumer is a way to extricate yourself from the BS that convinces women that they must spend more money than men just to look acceptable.

          • rys

            There’s no doubt that different professions demand different types of clothes and that the range is broader for women. That said, a pair of comfortable, classy black flats goes a really long way. Ditto a pair of boots. The key is buying versatile items that can be dressed up or down, disguised from one day to the next with a scarf, a shirt, a belt, or whatever.

            I’m certainly on one extreme — I can pack for 8 weeks away in a carry-on, as I’m doing right now (which includes clothes for work, fun, conferences, college reunion, and fixer-upper assistance) — but there is a middle ground between owning 10 pairs of shoes and 100 pairs of shoes. In other words, even if cute, short red heels would really improve an outfit, the black flats probably still work. As with most things, it’s about how priorities and values steer expenditures.

          • Liz

            That right there seems to contradict, to me. You may have fewer shoes than I do, but I don’t need the scarves and belts to disguise them.

          • rys

            I don’t see the contradiction, but I rarely use the scarf on the shoes :) I can, however, make a black dress + black flats look different and appropriate for about 10 different occasions by varying the cardigan/shrug, the scarf, the belt, the jewelry. As someone else said, I try to buy things that work with everything else, so I have a couple belts and a couple scarves that I can wear interchangeably with almost everything I own and they change the outfit. I’ve trained myself to be a very light packer and this has translated into a more limited but far more intentional wardrobe.

          • Elizabeth @ Lowe House

            I own somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 pairs of shoes and don’t feel even the least bit bad about it. And yes, I wear them all. (I also wear a black dress about 80% of the time.)

      • kyley

        But I also think that we can’t judge women for wanting to spend their money on clothes and heels and makeup. I’m not at all suggesting that you are doing this, but in general I think these discussions often become polarized, and real lived experiences get lost or overrun in the proces.

    • Katie

      I will say, going to joint finances has made me think about lower cost alternatives to clothing. Smart mixing of discount fashion items, indeed, as well as getting good quality vintage clothing from Etsy or boutiques, which are just not available to him. I think I agree with Liz, that on a per item basis, I can look appropriate in an outfit with a lower price. (Think, Jason Wu for Target dress, Nordstrom’s teen blazer, nice pair of pumps to his sportcoat, button down, nice slacks and shoes.)

      But I have/wear/arguably need more clothes. Packing for one trip, where we had two professional events for his dad (day, evening), an engagement party for friends, a fancy dinner out with parents, I wore 4 different outfits, and he got to wear the same suit. That high price suit amortizes down way more quickly!

      • ooh! This is so true! When I flipped over how much C was spending on his suit for the wedding he turned and asked me if I was ever planning to wear my dress again. He’ll wear that suit to work long after our wedding is over. Same witht he shoes, shirt and tie.
        Also, I think the variety of options available can get me into trouble sometimes. Techinically, a classy, tailored, ladies suit with a pretty cami or blouse could be worn for evening events as well. But because I have the option to change and because I like clothes, I do.

        • Katie

          I totally do rewear the jackets from my suits with eveningwear to keep me warm. But the suit as a whole – it’s the rare suit which works as well at business during the day as at the symphony at night, and it tends to read kind of old, unless you go for the tuxedo suit-with-no-shirt thing, which is its own brand of daring.

          The big takeaway I have from reflecting on men’s clothes and women’s clothes is that we think about them differently, we wear them differently, and we shop for them differently. I do get some enjoyment out of it, but occasionally I can’t help but be wistful for a high quality uniform I could wear whenever. I spend so. Much. Time. hunting down the perfect, not-too-expensive, not-too-sexy, appropriate dress for our friends’ summer weddings. Y’know?

    • starkville

      I used to have a billion clothes. when i rented a 2 bedroom apartment so I could convert the second into a closet (awesome!!!), I decided it was time for an intervention. Now I only buy 2″ heels. Comfortable, and all my pants are hemmed to the same length. They look good with skirts, and i can run from muggers in them. I also only buy things in certain color families that look good on me, so almost all my clothes and accessories are interchangeable. I also try not to shop disposable unless I can wear it to more than one place (ie work, bar, on a walk, etc– really cuts down on the impulse tube top purchases). It took a few years but now i’ve got it to a science. Clothes equaled happiness in my 20s, now i’m onto other things which are probably just as bad… but no one would ever justify it as the cost of being a woman.

    • meg

      Oh, it’s more expensive for me to be a woman (though some of this has come with age). I have to pay to die my hair, because I’m going very grey very young, and not dying it (something I don’t even want to do, but I digress) would actually hurt my career… I’d look 10 years older than I am. My husband? Looks older AND WISER and gets paid *more* as he greys. Good hair dye? Not cheap. Then, he has four nice suits that he wears on rotation, and I don’t have that option. But careers play into this. I have very few shoes, but career wise (I’m in public a lot y’all) I have to have a nice haircut and reasonable clothes. Not doing so would cut down on my earning power in a way that it would not for my husband. And my clothes and hair just cost more (and my husband is fashionable, he has NICE ASS suits).

      • Class of 1980

        Well Meg, maybe dying feels right because you’re in the wedding field and you are actually still quite young. You ARE your audience.

        I come from a family that’s defiantly proud of their silver hair. Mom started going gray early and eventually let it go. Because she had such a young face in her thirties and forties, everyone thought she was frosting her hair instead of getting older. Her hair was so beautiful she got compliments all the time.

        I thought I’d go gray early like her, but it didn’t happen. I got some slight gray at the temples in my forties that was only visible if my hair moved just right. Now at 53, the gray has become stronger at the temples, but the rest of my hair is still brown. I’m just watching the changes.

        I’m kinda loving the going gray naturally trend – partly because it is defiant in regards to sexist expectations, and partly because it is saying that getting older and wiser is something to celebrate.

        • Oh, hair is SUCH a signifier in our culture, and it can be really painful. But, I love talking about grey hair! Meg’s right – it does make you look older, and for lots of women in lots of fields, that’s a problem. But, I found my first grey when I was 12, and it’s only been downhill since then, and I still love it. I can’t imagine dyeing it. And, as soon as I read this post: http://www.finslippy.com/blog/on-being-an-object-and-then-not-being-an-object.html, I was sold. Like Bradley, I also want to look intimidating. I’m waiting to stop being seen as an object.

          That said – I come from a family of hair rebels. My father worked his way up pretty high in a government job with a ponytail (and a strong unwillingness to wear a tie unless he had a meeting with the mayor), and my mother has kept hers in a pixie since before I was born. When I was little and drew stick-figures of them, my teachers would always try to correct them with a “No, you mean the one with short hair is your dad.” Nope, that’s not what I meant at all.

        • Remy

          My mom went salt-and-pepper early on (she didn’t dye it; she HATED that HER mother felt she had to dye her roots) and I started finding silvers when I was about 20. I get so excited as I watch my silver streak expand. I think it’s cool (except that the newer hairs are shorter and therefore fly-away), although I joke that “this one is [kitty cat], this one is school, this one is you!”

  • C

    I run the finances in our family because I’m just better at it. Further, I don’t pat myself on the back for being a math genius, it’s just what works for us. I think what strikes me is that in comparison to the article, there’s no shaming of my husband for not being in charge of the finances. He’s not some poor helpless shrinking violet. He’s just not as organized (face it, anal) about our spending as I am. That’s fine! He’s still knowlegeable, he just isn’t the finance minister (although he is definitely the assistant finance minister?) And yet the article clearly paints these women as clueless and reckless. Ack!

    • Laurel

      That’s sexism for you. A man who doesn’t run the family finances is good at delegating; a woman is clueless and silly.

    • Class of 1980

      This is so true.

      A women that does anything traditionally female is dumb. A man who does anything traditionally female is cool and breaking barriers.

  • Ambi

    It is really hard to admit here, but I am one of those women who just doesn’t get it when it comes to finances and would really love for someone to please just do it all for me and tell me what I can spend. I know, shameful. But let’s be clear – I am an extremely smart, educated, and accomplished career woman. I am not some ditzy shoe-happy fritter. But I fucking hate this stuff and it all literally seems like Greek to me. I read the articles and try to learn about it and yet I always feel like I am about to have to take a final in a class I didn’t attend all semester – trying to manage my finances makes me panicky and frustrated. My guy knows this, and honestly it is a sticking point in our relationship. He is afraid of joining himself financially to someone who treats their finances kind of like cooking without a recipe – I just kind of go with my gut and don’t measure anything and hope it all turns out okay. I have told him that I am really okay with him being the finance minister in our relationship, and that I am actually pretty good about following a spending budget if it is set out for me – but that isn’t the kind of partnership he wants. This stuff is hard. I absolutely agree that I should be better at it, and that it would be healthier and safer for me to be equally involved in financial management of our money – but at the same time, I kind of feel like that is asking a shy introverted person to just be more social and try harder at parties. On some level, this is a part of who I am. I need to work to keep it in check and improve it, but he either has to accept me and deal with me as I am, or leave I guess. I can’t suddenly morph into the kind of person who makes spreadsheets and understands the relative merits of different retirement savings options. As a side note, though, I will say that this has NOTHING to do with the fact that I am a woman – I absolutely take after my dad when it comes to this stuff, and my mom was always in charge of family finances.

    • Erin

      Might I suggest reading Get Rich Slowly? It has been very educational for me on some financial principles I struggled with – especially some of the more ‘grown up’ stuff like retirement and IRAs and blah blah blah.


      And upthread I recommended Mint – personal financing and budgets, no spreadsheets required! Seriously, it doesn’t get easier.

      • Caitlin

        I just wanted to second the Get Rich Slowly endorsement. I’m slowly learning more about money and it’s great resource. Especially because they acknowledge the finances isn’t just about money, it’s also about emotions. So even if making investment X is mathematically “better”, some people may still go with Y because it works for them and that’s okay.

    • Lisa

      One idea is to have weekly ‘finance meetings’ where the partner who is more in the lead in terms of managing the budget/paying bills/whathaveyou will explain things. This could be a chance to sit and ask questions, get more comfortable with your family’s particular budget and financial situation, and have some input about how things are going to be managed without having to understand everything all at once.

    • Jashshea

      I don’t understand everything about investments. I just know where the money is flowing. I think “extremely smart, educated, and accomplished career” people think they need to understand every 10-k filing that a company puts out in order to invest in that company. You’re used to having a certain level of fundamental understanding about how ish works. It’s okay to not understand exactly how the stock market works. But you should know if your team is investing in Company X or Mutual Fund Y.

      Easier said than done, obviously. I don’t particularly like being in the dark on something. It makes me feel stupid and frustrated, too. Elementary knowledge is sometimes ENOUGH.

    • Jane

      “I read the articles and try to learn about it and yet I always feel like I am about to have to take a final in a class I didn’t attend all semester – trying to manage my finances makes me panicky and frustrated.”

      That was me! But I MADE myself read a few books (just panicked my way through them) and it was soooooooo helpful. I said this upthread, but I think the easiest way to “manage” money is to do the “pay yourself first” thing where you have a set amount to save each month and don’t stress about the amount you spend after that because you already did the saving!

      • kyley

        I’m so, so glad you posted that up-thread. I felt like clouds had parted and angels sang. haha. It’s so obvious and simple, yet it had never occurred to me. So thanks!

        • Jane

          Happy to help! Every now and then I am off shopping for something fun or having lunch out and I think “no!! I should be saving!!!” and then I remember that I already saved! I have to give a lot of credit to my husband for this system.

    • Alicia

      I’m a big fan of Michelle Singletary. She writes personal and family finance articles every Sunday in the Washington Post. She gives really good advice.


    • Lizzie

      Since I went on a small rant above about how people should be able to do this stuff, it seems only fair that I weigh in here.

      I think the most important thing to recognize is that you are absolutely smart enough and able to understand personal finances. I think usually the impulse to throw up your hands and say “I just don’t get it!” is mostly an emotional one, which is no small thing — this is serious stuff — but the way to get past it is probably talking it through with a friend, or your partner, or a therapist, or reading the right book on the subject, or some combination of all of those (as it was for me).

      Also: retirement saving. Super-important, but when you are trying to get a grip on personal finance management, I think initially it can be a bit of a distraction to feel like you really have to understand everything about them. Once you have a handle on spending, budgeting, and saving, IRAs and 401k-s are less daunting.

      Last, I also enthusiastically endorse Mint.com and bi-weekly household finance meetings, but it always makes me feel all take-chargey and empowered to pick up a book on the subject. I found both of these helpful, if also kinda cheesy:

      9 Steps to Financial Freedom, Suze Orman – the early chapters are quite good on the emotional stuff
      The Motley Fool Personal Finance Workbook – good because it makes you write stuff down, which feels kinda silly and basic at first but then accumulates into something pretty useful if you stick with it

      • Julia

        Word. I’d also like to recommend the Bogleheads wiki on personal finance and investing — INVALUABLE resource.

    • He can manage your money. That’s okay.

      As long as you know what’s going on (where your money is generally, how much interest you’re paying), have a say, and look out for your own interests a bit (no one wants to break up but make sure you know enough to protect yourself if it does happen.)

      If money doesn’t interest you it doesn’t have to be your thing especially if he’s willing to do it. Just be sure that you stay informed.

      • meg

        YES. It’s when women don’t know how much they have in the bank, what bank it’s in, and if it’s in cash, a mutual fund, or on the stock market like it’s Vegas that it’s a problem. You don’t have to understand it all, but in case of divorce or death, you need to be able to say, “Well, we have about $20K in savings, and $30K in retirement and it’s in Vanguard.” If you can’t do that, you could end up very very screwed.

      • Jane

        Yeah, I agree. Its not like every woman HAS to manage the money. But I think no woman should not feel panicked about money either. I think the feeling panicked is a bigger problem than not managing. Divvying up the chores is one of the great perks of marriage.

    • kyley

      I’m like you. I get it. I’m forcing myself to read this thread (because I know its good for me), but it’s giving me mini-panic attacks just to read it. I completely understand where you’re coming from, and I think the shame/guilt about being “bad” with money just makes one a) worse and b) more shame-filled (see: vicious cycle).

      I think there’s a middle ground that would work well for you. Your FH can be the financial minister, but you’re the financial vp. You guys talk regularly (maybe set up monthly “meetings”?) and go over everything, so he doesn’t feel all alone in this, but you don’t feel like the pressure is on you to perform perfectly. Removing the pressure will, if you’re anything like me, alleviate a huge amount of the stress and panic. Gradually, you’ll probably feel more comfortable, and all throughout your FH will feel like he’s still part of a “team.”

  • Liz

    I don’t have anything much to add to the discussion, but I do want to say how much I like this feature! So many times I read articles about families and crave the intelligent commentary of APW (for some reason comments on newspapers tend to devolve rather quickly…).

    And my two cents, because who doesn’t like to talk about themselves?
    (1) FI loves to see me in heels and nice clothes, I’m usually the one telling him “I don’t need any more dresses!”.
    (2) As for financial awareness, we keep track of our own money and expenses now (one thing a LDR makes *less* complicated), he’s better at big stuff like remembering to get credit checks and retirement planning, but I think I’m better at having a budget and an up-to-date awareness of my income/expenses, and knowing what I can afford at any given moment.

    • Catherine B

      I agree! So much better to read the article, get angry, then have a place to come where people are rational and I can calm down about the state of the world.

    • Ambi

      My guy loves it when I look polished and put together too. He really prefers me in heels, nice dresses, with hair and makeup done, etc. (I prefer that look too – I’d wear dresses every day whether he liked it or not, it’s my uniform), and yet, when we merge finances, I am anticipating a battle over the cost of those things.

  • Bob

    As a man (and feminist – yes, we exist), I agree that it is unreasonable that my wife (she prefers spouse, but £10 says she doesn’t read this) should feel guilty for taking more out of our “pool” than I do for a haircut. I seem to spend my life battling with tiny instances of the world making her feel slightly worse than me about perfectly normal things. We’re a team. We share. It doesn’t seem right.

    However, just to make sure that she doesn’t feel guilty, I plan to offset the difference in haircut spending with whiskey spending and occasional £10 bets on APW comments boards about what she does/doesn’t read.

    Should all work out in the end.

    • melissa


    • Liz

      Bob, please stick around.

    • meg

      Comment of the day.

    • Bahaha, awesome.

  • B

    My fiance and I combined finances out of necessity more than anything. Between him going back to school and having to pay off undergraduate loans, it was not possible for us (especially him) to pay all of the bills and scrounge together a bit of money to save for the wedding. I know that it is somewhat of a financial risk for me to essentially take on his loans, but I look at it as an investment into our future. Yes, we are getting married, but even more than that, he is my best friend and I would do anything and everything I can to help him follow his dreams and find a career that is fulfilling as well as has some upward mobility. It is not his fault that he came from a less affluent family than I and has more loans coming in to the relationship, but I consider us pretty lucky, because it allows me to help him (and us) out.

    As far as who manages the finances, we both keep a pretty close eye on the account, but I grew up in an environment where money was not stressful and saving imperative, so I am less stressed and more proactive about our finances. Thus, I manage the budget and spending, but we discuss all purchases. I supposed it will be interesting to see how we manage “frivolous” spending money in the future, but for now it’s all about paying the bills and making ends meet. We are a team. I don’t anticipate us having any real “allowance” in the future any more than a general guideline of how much “free money” we have to spend and then us taking turns spoiling ourselves and each other, which we have always been very good at.

  • Janna

    My husband and I have been married almost three years, and in that time I out-earned him (he was unemployed for a year) and for the past year he has out-earned me (I’ve been in law school.) I’m guessing in a few years that will flip. My question is why should it matter? If you’re in a healthy, equal relationship and treat money as jointly owned, whose paycheck is bigger shouldn’t matter. We have a joint account with allowances to keep in budget, but my husband loves clothes and probably spends the same amount as me, and he loves electronics, so spends a lot in that area as well. Sometimes it’s hard to share money because sharing sucks sometimes, even after the age of 3, but it’s part of marriage and learning to trust and love each other. (All that said, I’m all for discussing [largish] purchases with your partner, especially when money is tight, because that’s just good manners.)

  • My fiancé works in finance, so he’s the financial manager of our baby family by default. Also, I’m just finishing school (law school graduation tomorrow!), so he makes all the money at this point. BUT I know how much we have, what our expenses are, and how much we have left over to play with. It’s always said that communication is key in a marriage, and that counts double for managing money.

    • Congrats!!

      And ditto on the communication. My strengths are in the day-to-day money stuff, and his strengths are in the riskier long-term investment stuff, but it’s so key that we touch base about it often.

  • I always find it kind of interesting when women are completely out of the financial loop because in my house growing up, my mother had full control of the money. She made less and continues to make less than my father, but had full control of the finances. My father got a cash “allowance” that he used for, well, I have no idea because he rarely spent it. If anything, I used it as an emergency ATM when I needed some extra cash. I’d swap a check for $20 for a $20 bill.

    Similarly in my house, I control the expenses. My husband is completely clueless as to what our bills are, when they’re due, interest rates, etc. He’s always had a woman handle his bills getting paid. He just made sure there was cash in the bank so the check cleared. Now I’m that woman. We live paycheck to paycheck so having our own cash isn’t really an option. My husband keeps the extra $100 a month he makes teaching piano lessons because he works 7 days a week. I can keep the extra money I make selling Pampered Chef, but I often opt to put it toward our debt. One day, when we get better paying jobs, we’ll be able to put a percentage aside for our own personal spending.

    But, I think the difference between my parents and my husband and I and the couples in this article is that we don’t spend money on crap we don’t need. When my mother bought a new pair of shoes using the family cash my dad was fine with it because the last time my mother bought shoes was 1978. I can assure you, she wasn’t buying Jimmy Choos. Yes, my hair costs $65 when I get it cut. I get it cut twice a year, not every 6 weeks. When I need new clothing, my first stop is Goodwill, not the mall.

    My husband and I clear purchases with each other because we can’t really afford to make extra purchases. The purchases that we make must be needed not wanted. They have to be justified because we can’t afford to spend frivolously. This was the philosophy my parents lived by and because of that, they are the most financially stable people I know, despite the fact that they don’t make a ton of money.

    I think I went off on a tangent a little bit, but ultimately, I think both people need to be in the loop with their finances. I think they both need to be involved and figure out a plan that works for both people, whatever that plan may be. If a wife is out of the loop and feels like she doesn’t have control, then get control.

    • It was like that in my house growing up as well. They both shared money and knew what was there, but my mom was in control of household finances. He wasn’t great at managing his money when they met, so he had an “allowance” each week. They’ve been married 25 years, so he’s better at money management now, but they just kept their financial setup how it was.

      I’m baffled by how many women (and men) have no idea about the state of their finances. Seriously, get control!

  • Elsie

    My husband and I pooled all our finances when we got married, adding each other to each bank account. We’re fortunate in that we’re both pretty frugal, and we don’t have a need for separate allowances. If there’s an item that’s a want rather than a need, we discuss it, and we sit down to discuss what proportion of our income will be given to what non-profits. I do all the bills and keep track of everything we spend (seriously, every expenditure is categorized on a spreadsheet), while my husband is in charge of investments (something that I have zero interest in. Plus, it stresses me out to think about how much we might be losing or gaining day-to-day).

  • Jashshea

    Wow. Just wow. This author has some interesting friends. I can’t help but draw a parallel to the old days of the MRS degree – “I’m just here at college until someone marries me.” Now it would be: “I’m single now, so I’ll manage my own finances, but I’m really just waiting for someone else to rescue me so I don’t have to think about it.”

    Meg – You make excellent points on how dangerous it is for women to take the attitude that money isn’t their problem if they’re married. I have a recurring fear that my father will pass away first and I’ll have to teach my mother how to write a check, how to access the 401k money, how to pay the mortgage, and I’ll be left to figure out how to run his business.

    Knowing how to manage money is an essential skill for any big boy or big girl. Whether the money is scarce or plentiful. If someone is a better banker, that’s wonderful, but both partners need to have an understanding of how money comes in, where it goes, and how both people can work towards shared and individual goals.

    Semi-related rant:
    Haircare. It drives me crazy when people compare apples and oranges on men’s vs women’s hair finances:
    My dude pays $25 every 2 weeks gettin his hurr did. That’s $650/year. I pay $200 every 10 – $1040/year (cut, color, blow dry – I only get it done regularly b/c I’m graying).

    That means, he spends 62% of what I do on hair. Comparing it as 1:1 (i.e. 25:200 or mine costing 8X as much as his) is not sound math. Looking at the annual cost of goods & services and really thinking about it from that perspective is what will help you gain wealth. #offsoapbox

    • Bob

      Your dude gets his hair cut every 2 weeks?
      That is a well-groomed gentleman. Chapeau.

      • Ambi

        My dude gets his hair cut twice a year – both times, he has them cut it extremely short. Then he lets it grow for 6 months until it is shaggy and long and curly (and pretty damn cute, actually), and then finally cuts it again. Each cut costs him less than $10 at the neighborhood barber shop. He’d prefer that I just cut his hair at home, but I am not brave enough.

        • Ambi

          I, on the otherhand, get my hair cut, highlighted, etc., approximately every two months. My haircare costs are probably pretty close to yours, JASHSHEA. So, for us, there is a drastic difference. Overall, his grooming, haircare, general hygiene costs are almost nonexistant (he very rarely uses anything more than toothbrush, toothpaste, a bar of soap, shampoo, a razor, and shaving cream – all of which are very cheap drug store brands and last him forever). Whereas, I generally spend a lot more – hair and makeup products, good shampoos and conditioners and body washes and razors, manicures and pedicures and spray tans in the summer (yeah, probably frivolous, but it keeps me out of the sun, which I used to be addicted to), waxing, etc. I also spend more on clothes, shoes, exercising (I prefer group classes and bootcamps, while he just runs on his own or enjoys outdoor sports when the weather is nice). Overall, I spend a whole lot more money every year on my appearance than he does on his. Without going into whether this is good or bad (I guess it is probably a negative, but then again, I don’t want to give any of it up . . .), it is just our reality. So while I realize it may not be everyone’s, for us it is very true.

          • Jashshea

            I didn’t include any of my other body-hair related annual costs. I will sheepishly admit those are quite spendy (especially since I’m “investing” in laser removal).

            To be super clear: I don’t think it’s negative to spend money on yourself. I don’t think it’s negative to feel better about yourself when you look the way you want. I feel best about my physical self when I’m waxed, plucked, glowing from the sun (real or fake) and in a sweet outfit as well. I also feel awesome about myself when I’m in jeans & a hoodie and I solve a really complicated work problem. I think feeling good about yourself is always positive.

            Edit: AMBI: I see you made the same point right below here. I exactly’d, but I want to explicitly exactly.

      • Jashshea

        He’s quite dapper – he dresses quite well also. He’s a conservative spender, but he will absolutely spend money on quality clothing.

        Also – most of my guy friends get their hair cut bi-weekly. My dad is more like every 3 weeks. I’m used to my men looking sharp. ;)

    • meg

      Our budgets are about the same, except MANNNNNN I wish my hair grew slower. I get it dyed every six and that leave horrible roots. So, yeah, our math is not even close to as favorable as yours.

      Also, I love my stylist and think he’s worth every damn penny. But still, it’s pricy to be a woman. I gotta dye for the career, he does not.

      • Class of 1980

        Have you thought of semi-permanent color? It fades slowly instead of leaving roots and you can do it yourself with great results and less damage.

        Would that work?

      • Ambi

        I dye my own roots at home with a box of hair color from the drug store in between highlightings. I read about this somewhere in a magazine, and it works pretty well. Let’s you space out the highlighting/dye appointments a bit more.

      • KEA1

        Also: Aveda Color Conditioner. Pricey for conditioner, cheap for haircoloring–it isn’t a total fix for grey, but it would probably tone down the root issue a bit in between pro color jobs.

      • RJ

        For me haircuts to look professional (and that includes a good salon colour with foils to make it look natural), is like the student loan costs – it’s part of what gets me my income.

        When my budget went very close to the bone and I went into overdrafts adn credit card debt, I cut back on everything except haircuts.

        It’s the clothing item you wear most often!

        The other thing about clothes – my ex was a standard size, could buy nice suits and dress shoes, and had jeans that fit him just the same at 29 as they had at 18.

        Womens fashions also change so much faster than mens – I could never get away with wearing clothing items for that long, and my jeans wear out. And then, I’m short, and need short legged trousers, and good cuts.

        Men really can look professional with one suit, 3 shirts and 5 ties.
        Women just can’t get away with that at work.

  • Ambi

    Just a random note, but I am realizing that talking here on APW about all the *frivolous* things I spend money on makes me a bit self-conscious. I know that whether you choose to highlight your hair or buy fancy body wash or really expensive high heels doesn’t make you any more or less of a feminist . . . but it is still a bit of an eye opener to be talking to women I really respect and admire, and hearing them talk about how they don’t spend money on that stuff because they realized that they don’t NEED to. I think it is really hard to figure out if we are spending money and effort on things like our hair because we WANT TO or becuase we feel like we have to. For me, those lines blur a whole lot. Yes, I am happier when I have my hair done and a really awesome dress on and (gasp) a spray tan in the summer. But is it because I inherently like those things, or because I am more comfortable when I feel like I am getting society’s approval of my appearance (based on unfair and unrealistic gender stereotypes). My guy doesn’t feel these pressures. He buys a new t-shirt if he sees one that he really loves and looking at it makes him smile. I buy a new dress because the colors are pretty and the cut is interesting and cool . . . and because I know I will get approval and acceptance from looking a certain way, and that approval feels good.

    Anyway, these are all larger feminist issues that have been written about at great lengths before. But they are coming up for me in this discussion because I kind of feel the need to defend my choice to spend money (and time) on things like teeth whitening or spray tanning or pedicures. Yet again, APW has really made me thing . . .

    • Karen

      Good thoughts. It is good to become conscious and aware of why we do what we do and buy what we buy. I love APW because it is a place where these types of conversations happen.

    • Laura

      Really good points. I choose to buy pricier heels over cheap ones (umm, NOT Jimmy Choo pricey, I wish), because cheap heels make my feet hurt like heel. For me, it’s worth the “frivolous” expense of plopping down $100-$150, knowing my feet won’t be dying at the end of the day.

      Do I NEED heels? No, probably not. I could wear flats (and do, most of the time). But I work in a corporate environment, and sometimes those heels give you the confidence boost you need.

    • Laurel

      This is a really good point. I think as an individual you need to make the decisions that work for you, but it’s also true that when women spend a lot of time, energy, and money on appearance, it reinforces the social message that that’s what women are supposed to do and makes it harder for other people to make different choices.

      • meg

        Not always though. I dress in sparkles and dresses because I like it. (I spend more on my hair because I have to.) But who spends more time in our household grooming and dressing? Hint, his name starts with a D not with an M. I think you can like pretty things without being a bad feminist or just playing into stereotypes.

        • I’m not saying you can’t be the femmest femminist in femmestory and still be a Real Feminist ™. Sparkles and dresses and glitter and pretty pretty jewelry are awesome. But when you go outside in your sparkles and dresses and well-groomed hair and coordinated jewelry, other people — people less enlightened and awesome than anyone here — look at you and think that’s what Real Women do. Then, when there are women who don’t want to do those things, the same jerks act like they’re failing at being women. (I think about this a lot in terms of shaving, which is something that’s 98% culturally constructed. When women shave their visible body hair, no matter why they do it, it confirms the antifeminist idea that women are supposed to shave.)

          Unfortunately there’s no individual way out of this bind because it’s about other people’s perceptions, not about what you do. The best solution is to talk about your own choices and where they come from and vigorously defend other women’s right to NOT be interested in dresses or appearance (and to not be femme). Which you do all the time! Have a Real Feminist ™ badge!

          • Liz

            I’m not sure if I agree. That would be akin to saying that a woman who enjoys doing housework and does a kickass job of it reinforces gender stereotypes and makes life harder on other woman who don’t enjoy housework.

            I dig your closing paragraph though- that we should each do our own thing and defend the other ladies along the way.

          • Class of 1980

            I think the real problem is people being afraid to do their own thing. That is what gives the world the idea that people are more conformist than they really are.

          • One difference between appearance and housework is that housework is private. Then again, I do kind of think that when people reinforce gender roles, they make it harder on people who don’t conform. (That’s based on long experience as someone with a pretty non-normative gender identity.) So I guess with the housework thing I think it depends how you publicize it, and whether you’re reinforcing gender roles that way.

            The way appearance is different is that you can’t help publicizing it, and you very rarely get the chance to frame your views on your appearance. So when you leave the house in super-femme mode, you’re confirming gender expectations just walking down the street. I’m not saying you (hypothetical you) shouldn’t do it, or that it makes you less of a feminist, or whatever. There really truly is no way out of that bind. I think it’s ok to accept that sometimes, the stuff we do ends up unfortunately contributing to social dynamics we dislike. Happens the other way, too, with women whose masculine presentation gets them some bits of male privilege.

          • Ambi

            In response to Laurel –
            As a super-femme Southern blonde, the way *I* choose to address that issue is by letting people form whatever stereotyped impression of me that they want to . . . and then allowing them to realize how wrong that impression was. When I was working for the US Supreme Court in DC, people in that world would immediately form an impression of me based on my appearance, dress, and accent – and I absolutely LOVED it when I was able to completely blow their mind by being so different from what they expected. Whether it was through my work or getting to know my personality, I constantly had people tell me that they didn’t expect a bubbly blonde Southern girl who loves wearing pretty dresses and makeup to be so, well, competent and smart. And honestly, low expectations can be a great thing, at least in my field – opposing counsel who doesn’t prepare for the hearing because they don’t take me seriously deserves to lose.

            So, for me, I don’t really have any guilt that I am reinforcing gender stereotypes by looking a certain way, because I am also turning those stereotypes on their head and making stuffy old men realize that a twenty-something girl in heels and lip gloss just kicked their ass in court.

          • Ambi

            Holy crap, I just realized that I called myself “twenty-something” when that ship sailed a few years ago! Shit, I was on a roll and forgot for a second that I am no longer that twenty-something girl in DC. I feel old all of a sudden . . .

          • Lizzie

            Well, now the conversation just got super-interesting, because as kickass as that approach is (and don’t get me wrong — I have certainly done the same thing on occasion in my professional life), I’m not sure that it subverts stereotypes at all. Because I think what is actually lamentable about the situation is that women are judged by their appearance more than men are, which can be both powerful and pain in the ass. In your case, Ambi, it’s powerful (win!), but wielding that power doesn’t really help to even the overall playing field.

            But please note, this is in no way meant to add logs of guilt to the fire! As Laurel noted, there’s really nothing that can be done about this as an individual without subverting your individuality, which no one needs to do. Although personally, I do my best to try to even the playing field by referring to my husband as a beefcake and inviting other people to check out his ass looks in a particular pair of pants as much as possible.

          • kyley

            But I also don’t think anyone is required to justify, explain, or defend their choices, whether they are normative or not. Because to do so automatically establishes that there *are* wrong choices or motivations regarding physical appearance and femininity.

    • meg

      Lady, I’m the most femme feminist on the planet. I do not spray tan (pale as I can be) but I have loved a good dress for internal reasons since I was too tiny to be influenced by anything but my feminist mom trying to put me in pants, “NO OVERALLS DRESS! NO! NO! NO! DRESS!” Not a damn thing wrong with that. I’ve come to feel that I do much of this because it’s who I am, and I don’t have to apologize for my internal sense of style to any damn one.

      • Class of 1980

        I love the idea of dressing feminine and acting as a strong woman. It sends the message that women are important in and of themselves.

        If a woman wants to dress in a more masculine way, that’s okay too.

        Unfortunately for me, I sometimes equate it with the little floppy bow ties and “power suits” women would wear in the eighties … because looking like an actual woman was a detriment to gaining power in the workplace. You had to be an imitation man.

        Something was horribly wrong with that.

        And yes, I do realize that some women dress in a more masculine way because they damn well want to – and the meaning is totally different today. And that is good. Anything that involves being true to yourself is good.

        • kyley

          This is the problem with the whole argument that feminists can’t be feminine. It is relying on a very old, shitty logic:

          Masculinity = power
          Femininity – weakness

          And I’m not calling anyone out here. My poor undergrads get so confused an upset about this in intro to women’s studies. They think they aren’t allowed to consider themselves feminists because they shave their legs or get emotional about stupid romance drama or like Twilight. It breaks my heart!

          • Class of 1980

            EXACTLY. I have had a problem with this for eons.

      • Ambi

        I am definitely not saying you can’t be feminine and stylish and also be a feminist – of course you can! My comment was just that this conversation has made me realize how much I spend on my appearance (clothes, hair, etc.), and it makes me wonder how much of that I do because I inherently like pretty things (I think that, for me, manicures and pedicures and getting my hair done fall into that category, as do pretty dresses and shoes) and how much of it I do based on societal pressure and norms (shaving waxing, anti-aging products and spray tanning, and business clothes). Also, Meg, I think we have talked about this before, but you are MUCH better about not worrying about what other people think of you than I am. And I know that sometimes I spend money on my appearance to avoid negative judgment – like, if I don’t really want to spend money on something to wear to my boyfriend’s cousin’s wedding, but I know his whole family will definitely be judging me based on my appearance. So, for me, sometimes the line gets blurred. Yes, I absolutely love the pretty dress I got for the wedding, and wearing it makes me happy. But I probably wouldn’t have bought it and just have worn something older that I don’t like as much if I didn’t care what other people thought.

        But I absolutely don’t want to start the whole discussion of “can you be a feminist and still love makeup and dresses” because I think we are past that, right? Of course you can! I’m just saying tha this conversation makes me realize that I spend money on stuff that I can’t really justify, and I do it out of insecurity because I want to feel the approval that comes with looking the way women are expected to look in our society.

  • That article kind of blew my mind. Who are these women with no financial knowledge or responsibility? And in what century are they existing?

    As for how we maintain financial autonomy and equality around here? Quite frankly, we both just spend what we like within reason. We both know what’s being earned at any one moment, we both trust each other not to be a dick in our pleasure spending, we’re both committed to saving for our joint future, and we’re both working to repay any debts. We both have similar values about what’s important in life, we’re both averse to having too much *stuff*, and we both have similar thresholds for those feelings of deep unease that arise when any one purchase seems too expensive. It’s not a formalised system as such, but it works very well for us.

    The issue of it being more expensive to be a woman is certainly felt by me whenever we go joint clothes shopping (I’m just going to buy men’s jumpers from now on – SO much cheaper, and better quality), but he takes pleasure in me looking and feeling good, so there’s never been any questioning of my spending the money I think necessary to make that happen. (Again with the trusting each other not to be a dick.) He’s happy getting a $20 haircut once every 6 months, he knows my haircare upkeep is very many times more than that. It’s just accepted as fact. If he didn’t want to contribute toward that kind of spending on a woman’s haircare, he wouldn’t have married me to begin with. End of story.

    • Also, I LOVE this feature. Keep it coming, please.

      • Yes, please, keep ’em coming.

      • Claire

        Yes, this new Back Talk feature is awesome.

    • meg

      “If he didn’t want to contribute toward that kind of spending on a woman’s haircare, he wouldn’t have married me to begin with. End of story.”

      Me too. And also a good dress. I am who I am, and I gave up apologizing for that a while ago. I CERTAINLY am not going to waste my time apologizing to my husband.

      • Exactly. My dad told the man I had expensive tastes the first time he met him, so it’s not like he didn’t get a heads up early on from someone who was in a good position to know. ;) I’m not apologising for my needs, and I certainly don’t expect him to do so for his. It’s about respecting ourselves and each other within the relationship. Spending our earnings respectfully, yes, but also accepting each person’s needs within that.

  • Katie

    I think I may have been one of the first to tweet this link to Meg back on Tuesday morning when I saw it on the Billfold. I also wrote up a little email to APW because I was craving longer form discussion than Twitter could offer. And here we are! What a great idea this BackTalk is.

    Merging finances is similar to merging other aspects of one’s life in marriage. You get a fresh perspective on what was true in your single life, and you get to ask yourself, are these the priorities I want? Do these priorities fit with my new baby family’s goals? And some parts of your individual identity, you hold on to. Others, you shape to fit the new “us.” Still others you dispense with altogether because they weren’t essential to you. So if the level of personal spending is higher than the new joint budget can allow, you get a chance to really reflect on it.

    As for the division of labor point, I think marriage really can be wonderful in its specialization. I never have to do my laundry ever again! It’s true, sometimes, one person in the relationship takes over responsibility for tasks. But that decision is made out loud, consciously, and anything major and joint you decide together, and you continue to track it all together. (hello, mint.com!)

    Anyway, I think the journalist had a brilliant opportunity to discuss how couples spend money, and she kinda blew it. Maybe both partners should get an equal amount of money periodically they can spend however they want, no questions asked. Where was that possibility? But if her moral was that, even if women DON’T know their finances, they SHOULD, because knowledge is power, I guess I can get on board with that.

    So glad we have a moment to have the discussion I wanted on APW!

  • http://www.slate.com/articles/life/home_economics/2011/01/our_newlywed_money_dilemma.html

    Slate did a really fascinating series on this recently, with a much broader sample size, comparing couples that keep everything separate, couples who pool *some* money, and couples who pool all money.

    It seems as though this NYT article focused primarily on couples who pool some money and have separate “allowance” (or whatever you want to call them) funds, and this was a common theme for the couples in the Slate series too (even the same sex ones) – what’s joint and what’s separate?

    We thought about going that route and it was these kinds of dilemmas that convinced us that it would be less of a headache for us to just pool everything. We both check in with each other before making purchases over around $100. It also really helps that we have similar spending styles – both of us prefer to save and are likely to research big purchases before making any decisions, so it’s not like we’re coming home with new toys all the time.

    As for paying attention to the budget, I will admit that having an economist for a partner makes it hard for me to rigourously track our finances. I’ve taken more of a lead role in them lately but it’s been something I’ve had to force myself to do. The fact that as an independent consultant, his income fluctuates from month to month, also makes it hard to budget the way I’m used to doing (subtracting bills and savings from monthly income, allocating the rest based on monthly needs). If any of you freelancers have tips, I’m all ears!

    I will add one other thing that caught me by surprise recently (and may be unique to Canada) – when we combined banking, we got a shared credit card. Unbeknownst to us at the time, there’s no way to officially have two cardholders, so he was the primary cardholder (because I made him do all the work to set it up!) and I was a “secondary.” We went to sign up for a second card at a different bank this year (to keep his business expenses separate from our household ones) under my name, and found out that because I was the secondary holder, I had no credit history for the past year and a half. So even if you share everything, get some things in each of your names!

  • Michelle

    It seems to me that this is more an issue of trust. Our finances are somewhat separate due to practical reasons (we moved, there were no physical branches of our old bank so I opened an account because I get paper checks, not direct deposit), but since he is very much the breadwinner, most of what we buy comes out of our main joint account. (Mine is considered the “fun money.”) We discuss really big purchases and both just try to spend logically.
    The last line of the article bothers me — “If you don’t control your finances you don’t control your life.” Can’t I give up control if I want to? I think it’s the goal of feminism to do what you want without someone giving you crap for it. I was seriously poor as a young adult and spent a lot of energy obsessing about money, and I don’t want to anymore. I know that Josh has our best interests at heart, so I trust him to take care of our money. I do all the grocery shopping and cooking, and he trusts me to keep him healthy and not pump him full of sugar or arsenic.
    Just a thought. :)

    • It’s one thing to trust your spouse to rake care of the finances. It’s quite another to be completely in the dark regarding the family’s financial situation. You’re guy’s not eating with his eyes closed, I hope (he’d miss out on the deliciousness).

      • Katie


        p.s. Hi Shirley, from a book club buddy!

  • North Star

    We have pooled our money together into joint accounts since we got married. He makes than I do, but not dramatically so. We came up with our monthly budget together & each have our “fun” allowances outside of living expenses. He’s the one who created & updates the budget spreadsheets each month, but I have access to them and can view our account balances as well.

    We’re in the process of buying a house (closing in July-yay!) and both of us read & researched mortgage options together. We also both read through our purchase contract, appraisal and inspection. Both of us are very much aware of what we’re putting down and what our mortgage rate is.

  • Rachel

    My husband and I make virtually the same amount (I actually make about 1K more than he does at this point). We pool our money into joint checking/savings accounts and then get a set amount in our personal accounts. The amount going in our personal accounts stays the same when we get raises—we increase the amount we contribute to our joint accounts.

    It’s understood that all household bills, mortgage, groceries, pet expenses, gas and auto expenses(we have only one car) come from our joint account. Personal accounts can be used for whatever we want, no questions asked. If I want to buy a $300 purse or if he wants to spend $200 on art supplies—it’s our prerogative.

    I like this method because the majority of our spending comes from the joint account, which we both monitor. But we still have a sense of personal money and not having to “ask” one another if we want a more frivolous item. If we both wanted a frivolous item (iPad, for instance), we’d discuss it and purchase it with our joint money.

    Also, in my totally unscientific poll of my girlfriends—almost all of the women were in charge of the finances. The article is ridiculous!

  • Beth

    I appreciate that the point I’m about to make is nowhere as detailed or profound as the majority of the really interesting posts above, but one aspect that occurs to me and doesn’t seem to have come up yet, is the difference between what’s deemed ‘dangerous’ ignorance and a wilful handing over of responsibility.
    There seems to be some unspoken consensus of what is the ‘perfect’ amount of knowledge a woman should at least have regarding the couple’s finances. Obviously this is not the same as control, and this distinction I think leads some to assume (as the writer of the original article in fact does) that control equals ignorance and vice versa.
    I find myself in a much more nuanced position, revolving around the fact that I hate dealing with money. I monitor my spending online and am rarely excessive, but I don’t look at bank statements when I file them away because any spending of any sort makes me feel guilty. I have responsibility for money in the bank that I resent, because it’s complicated my life significantly. (To clarify: I’m not ungrateful for having money – I am keenly aware of how lucky I am – I just had the responsibility that came with it thrust upon me before I was ready and it’s made me feel vulnerable.)
    I am *very much* looking forward to the fact that my partner is happy to deal with our finances when we get married later this year. To me, his agreeing to do this this constitutes a really important sign of our teamwork, that he’s willing to relieve me of the responsibility I don’t enjoy. He’s not stealing my powers; he’s sharing the burden.
    We have decided to pool everything, and are particularly lucky that his much bigger income is balanced by my greater capital, but it was me that *requested* that I/both of us get given an allowance amount each month that I can spend on whatever I want. I’ve asked for this so that for the first time since I had pocket money, I can spend money and not feel guilty because I’m relieved of the need to self-regulate which, as I’m sure many will agree, is often done by guilt.
    I’m aware every couple’s in a different position, and that vastly complicates this whole discussion, but I felt I hadn’t yet heard any opinion or sentiment close to my own yet. I’d be interested to hear what people think, and if anyone has had similar feelings or experiences.

    • Sandy

      I’m in a similar situation in regards to my attitude about money, though not about having any kind of capital.
      When my husband (who is my 2nd) and I started dating I had just gone through a divorce in which I gave up all of my rights to the communal assets in the name of expediency. My first husband had been emotionally abusive and was using the divorce, and my sole attempt to retain some assets from the marriage, to continue to abuse me. Wanting to be out of the situation, I allowed him to have all of the assets because it allowed me to leave sooner. I came away with a job and a car (with a loan) and I count myself lucky that I left when I did.

      For a number of reasons, however, I had a very hard time dealing with spending that first year and ran into some pretty serious problems with budgeting, including having my car repossessed.

      The second year that we were together, I left my job to go to grad school and ran into a number of issues in getting the financial aid that I had expected. I worked part-time in retail (7.25/hr!) and as a substitute teacher but I only brought in a third of what my then-fiance did. While we maintained seperate accounts, and I still paid my car and insurance, the majority of our bills were paid from his account and with his salary.

      Now, in our first year of marriage, we are both attending grad school full time and make about the same amount of money (I make slightly more). We maintain seperate accounts but split expenses evenly. Somehow, I still manage to spend more than he does and it can cause friction. We recently had an argument about this, so we are looking for ways to make things simpler and easier.

      Much like you mentioned, we are planning an allowance but I am nervous. What if I need more than my allowance and I need to take from the joint account? Do I have to explain that? Would I expect him to? Lately, I’ve been wishing for a windfall, thinking that having wealth would make this easier. Thank you to all the ladies who have made it clear that the amount of money is not the issue.

      • Beth

        Hi Sandy,

        I think you show perfectly that how money is an intensely emotional issue – and can be very destructive, whether it’s there or not. I do wonder if maybe this is the case more for women than men – I haven’t spoken to enough men about it to have met any feelings about it beyond an embarrassed but fervent desire to be able to ‘provide’. I certainly think that that pressure for guys brings emotions into it from their side.
        Anyway, I digress. What I meant to say was: unfortunately we haven’t yet had a chance to put our theory into practice but your concern about the allowance was also one we thought about. As absolutely everything will be pooled, any extra will come from a joint account to which I will contribute monthly about 40-50%t. I soon as I reach my limit, I would absolutely mention it just because if everything’s open there’s no guilt. My fiance has said that he has absolutely no problem if he ends up subsidizing ‘my’ lifestyle, even if it costs more than his. He spends very little, I spend more but what we boiled it down to was two things: respect and trust. We respect and trust each other’s ability to decide what should be spent and where. In a practical sense – he doesn’t understand my addiction to makeup, I don’t his addiction to NFL. It doesn’t matter how much either of those cost in concrete terms, because we respect each other’s desires for that stuff and have faith in each other as people to monitor our own behaviour. (Part of my self-monitoring, for instance, was to set that allowance).
        I’m not sure if I’ve explained this well enough, but certainly for us I just feel that if each of you think your partner has good values and lives accordingly, it’s not a matter of how much money is spent exactly. We trust each other, consequently, to spend in accordance with our needs: in tougher times, to both think before spending, in easier times, to consider working towards saving etc. It’s being sensible and team-oriented, which does not mean judging each other’s every personal expense.
        You mention that your partner wasn’t happy with your spending, though. This suggests perhaps he thinks you place too much importance on stuff that he doesn’t or that he just feels uncomfortable with a seeming discrepancy between ‘team’ and ‘personal’ goals. I can only suggest maybe sitting down with him at a calm, non -argument moment and really fleshing out what those goals are. Being in a team shouldn’t be all sacrifice, though: you should both enjoy the money the team is earning (as I see it). Working out in advance the areas you’re both likely to spend that (books, clothes, events) might make it less likely that either of you will make judgments on a case by case basis perhaps..?

        • Sandy

          Thank you for your kind words, and please don’t think I’m complaining about my lot (as Meg said). We have a very good communication style and talk openly, and usually guilty-free, about everything and that includes money.

          For me, money is tied in with issues related to my previous marriage. I want to be independent financially to maintain my independence personally, while still being a part of our team. For M, money is tied with issues of “providing” that we’ve talked about and ideas of where he “should be” in life.

          We continue to talk and we continue to listen and we will continue to work. Thank you for your kind words.

          • Beth

            Lord I just saw how long my reply was yesterday – sorry! I was tired to the extreme, so struggling to condense things I guess :/
            Anyway, I think the concept of providing is one of those that can easily be disregarded as un-modern and therefore value-less, but when I stopped to think about it in terms of my fiance, I realised that I too had a strong desire to be able to care for him and that his was probably equivalent, but what’s happening is that we’re channelling our desire to care in the ways we’ve been taught to: I want to wrap him up when he’s ill, and he wants to be able to finance my life.
            And then, you’re in the middle of being cared for/being reliant on someone else AND, in our cases, imbuing money itself with a general dread lol! Phew.

  • Beth

    @Michele – just seen that actually you had mentioned something similar. Sorry!

    • Michelle

      You are much more well-spoken than I am though! Thanks for elaborating :)

  • Like many of the readers here I read this and though, “Who ARE these women?” They’re certainly not me and they’re certainly not my friends. But that doesn’t mean that this article is totally off base. These women are, I hate to say, my mother. They’re my neighbors. I’d be willing to guess that they form an uncomfortably large percentage of the population.

    It’s a good reminder to all of us to make sure that we’re communicating about money. Forrest probably couldn’t tell you EXACTLY what the interest rate on our house is (he’d be within a percent) or what the balance on our investment property loan is but we talk about it frequently. We talk about what our financial priorities are and how they change (or how we see them changing in the future). This part can be painful but at least we know it’s right and what we need to do.

    The harder part, I believe, is getting to a place where we can talk with those around us (who are not our partners) about money. We need to have conversations (like here on APW) about how we manage money and partnerships. These don’t need to be judgmental “you should do this like me” conversations but rather opening up other ways of doing things. It’s hard and can FEEL judgmental but usually that’s a growing process. It’s a way to see how others do things and consider the health of your own financial relationships in light of them.

    • Meredith

      +1 on the “Who ARE these women?” then realizing, well holy crap, my own mother may fall into this category.

    • “The harder part, I believe, is getting to a place where we can talk with those around us (who are not our partners) about money. We need to have conversations (like here on APW) about how we manage money and partnerships. These don’t need to be judgmental “you should do this like me” conversations but rather opening up other ways of doing things”

      This. I have a friend who singlehandedly made probably half of our circle of acquaintances rethink (or think about for the first time) their budgets, spending, ability to invest, etc., simply because she is super open about how much she is able to save, spend, donate, and invest on her (small, non-profit) salary. Knowledge is power, and sometimes all it takes is for someone else to be transparent with their numbers to make you realize “Oh hey, that’s a good way of doing things” or “Hmm, I could *totally* throw an extra $100 into savings every month.”

      • I try to be as open about these things as I can, and I’m always interested in hearing how other people spend/save their money. It can be a hard topic to broach, though, even with close friends (especially when they make significantly more or less than you do).

  • Karyn

    My fiance and I have a joint checking account for our mortgage, insurance, utilities, etc. and we each have separate checking and saving accounts, along with separate retirement/investment accounts. At least 7 accounts total.

    Oh, and separate credit cards. I asked him a while ago if he thinks we need to merge our finances further and he said no, to which I agreed. He tracks the joint account spending to the penny (something I simply do not have the patience for, OR the head for numbers) and makes sure that – because I earn quite a bit less than he does – I’m contributing a third of the mortgage, etc. while he pays the remainder. This is something we agreed upon when we first bought a home and moved in together.

    The money I don’t pay into the house-account goes back into my personal accounts, and the same for him. From there, we each get to divide our individual money however we choose to – spending money, rainy-day savings, retirement. We also both pay off our credit cards every month (ensuring we don’t accrue personal debt to any extreme), and neither of us are paying off student loans (his were covered in by scholarships and paid off otherwise by money he made working, mine were paid off by money made working).

    We pay for furniture and household splurges (new tv!) out of the home account, and groceries too. But he pays for repairs to HIS car from his personal accounts and I pay for books, magazines, clothes, lunches out, etc from mine. For us, separated personal accounts and a joint “home account” works very well.

    • Angie

      I think it is great that you and your fiance have a system that works for you. My husband & I just got married about 3 months ago and I would say we’re still figuring things out.

      But I did have one question for you – do you coordinate your efforts to save for retirement? It seems that retirements savings should be a joint effort since they will be supporting both of you in the future – like a joint account to be opened when you retire. :)

      • Jane

        I am not the original poster, but most retirement savings vehicles are individual accounts. So, say, you would have a 401k through your work–the pre-tax money that goes in that account is just in your name because it comes out of your paycheck. Likewise, it makes way more sense to open any type of account with a yearly contribution limit under just one name. Example: Roth IRAs have a $5k yearly contribution limit. Open one in each name and a couple can make it $10k a year. So I would say it makes more sense to have individual retirement accounts, but of course, to strategize together about what accounts to open.

  • Allie

    I don’t know who these girls are but I’m definitely in charge of the family finances. The way they portrayed these girls is embarrassing.

  • Hello Jodi

    A friend who is my parents’ age gave me the idea for our current money management strategy: she said when her parents got engaged her mother continued to work and 100% of her income became their nest egg (until she had children). We aren’t having children, but did something similar. 50% of my income is going into my 401k and most of the rest is going to pay down my student loan debt. Once I’m done with the student loan I’ll probably hit the mortgage.We both use Mint, so we took a couple months of my spending and decided how much would be my pin money (ha! antiquated terms!), which is mostly grocery shopping and thrift shopping and other little things. He pays the bills and maintains all the investments, etc, etc. I could see everything if I liked: he keeps track of everything and has reports and pie charts and all that. He’s been doing that for a long time: we both grew up with little money and he ended up with a job (programmer) that makes a lot of money and was very shrewd with it. I’m an accountant, funny enough, and I’m frivolous. I’m also in non-profit, so by noon on Tuesday my fiance has made what takes me all week. I suppose I’m not in on the micro level since I don’t see the bills as they come in and go out, but on the macro view I know everything. I joke that talking about finance is our foreplay. He reads the Berkshire-Hathaway Letter To Shareholders aloud to me.
    A year ago our goal was to make my income redundant so I could be a housewife/kept woman. We are both feminists but I’m not trying to prove a point by managing a non-profit’s GL accounts 40 hours a week. I’d really like to start drinking wine at 3 pm during the week. And even though we’ve proven we can “survive” on just his salary, I gotta admit it’s way cool seeing my 401k statements go upupup and see the amortization table on my student loan go from 13 years to 22 months. So maybe I’ll keep on working. I’m not working past 50, though.

    • melissa

      Kept woman! I love it.

      Part of me wants to stay home and grow veggies, and perhaps babies. Part of me wants to work even if I don’t need to and make as much money as possible, and probably forego babies… that part plans to spend all the money on travel.

    • melissa

      I was so moved, I wrote my last comment before I even finished reading yours. Drinking wine at 3 pm… we might be soulmates. I took last summer off between two jobs and that’s pretty much what I did. I highly recommend it.

  • My husband & I pooled our money into a joint account when we got engaged. We each have our own personal checking that is private and doesn’t have to be explained or justified, and we get an allowance into this each month. We then have an array of shared ING savings accounts, and our own IRAs/401k. I’m the family CFO, and he sometimes goes months without checking the bank account balance. This used to bother me more, but I’m pretty much at peace with it now. I tease that I could be embezzling and he’d never know. I can’t imagine ever *not* watching the pennies grow.

    Growing up, my dad was not a natural money manager, and my mother took over completely when I was young. I had a strong example of how to be frugal and disciplined, which has been great for me, but now I struggle with not feeling guilty about *any* “frivolous” spending. That’s the place where my husband really brings it – he encourages me to treat myself, and never lays on guilt trips about any spending. He also thinks about lifetime ownership costs and quality over cost.

    It’s nice having two really different money strengths, and seeing what we each bring to the table. I allocate funds and monitor savings goals (I initiated liens in our budget as well as personal escrow accounts for yearly expenses), and he makes sure we actually use our money to facilitate having the life we want to have, both now and in the future. Partnerships rock.

  • Hannah

    This has been a really great discussion, and given me more food for thought. The “mini-socialism” post and discussion started new conversations with my fiance, and at this point, I think we’ll be merging our bank accounts this summer after our wedding (just 8. more. days!). I think we both were fearful about giving up control (that whole, “What if we start bouncing checks because we don’t know what the other person is doing” thing). So I totaled up all our “recurring commitments”–all the bills, charitable giving, extra payments on our house, but before the variable expenses of groceries, entertainment, shopping, etc. We’re fortunate that those commitments really only take one of our two paychecks. At that point, we were both able to see that, as long as we talk before big purchases, the check bouncing thing just isn’t going to happen, assuming our financial picture doesn’t change (which I realize, in this day & age, is always a possibility). It really, really helped along the decision-making process about how we’re going to manage our family’s financial life.

  • 1. I LOVE this new feature and hope it becomes a regular thing.
    2. That article was a train wreck and I’m so glad APW is talking about it. Mainly, I felt like the NYT buried the lead, and APW has found it!

    Here are my two cents: we do the separate accounts + a join account thing, and we contribute equal percentages of our take-home pay. He makes almost twice as much as I do, so the amounts are different, but it effects us each equally, if that makes sense. The equal percentages went a LONG way to helping me feel like I had autonomy over our joint account and it helped me feel excited about our financial future — like I was contributing as much as I could, and contributing equally, even if I made less. Our rule about the joint account is “ask before you spend more than $20 on something that might be a frivolous purchase”…as we build trust and put more into the joint account as we get older/get married, I’m sure that limit will change.

    There’s a LOT of shame tied up in making less for some people (because in our culture, income = worth, quite literally) and I think it’s easy to sort of get bullied into (or just accept) the needing to ask permission, rely on someone else, don’t care about the finances, etc. I think there’s a lot of guilt and shame tied up in being a “kept” woman (I mean that TOTALLY tongue-in-cheek) when you’ve thought of yourself as a modern, feminist woman your whole life. But what I wish the women in the article could see is that it’s not “his” income. Clearly, the men in these situations think that what these women add to the men’s lives — raising the kids, volunteering, showing up to all his business events, just being an awesome spouse, whatever — HAS VALUE. If it didn’t have value, he (or she, as the case may be) wouldn’t be willing to support the lesser-earning partner in doing it. I’d like to see more lesser-earning partners to feel empowered and remember that if they’ve come to this agreement that he’ll make more/contribute more, then it is really is joint money at that point, and they shouldn’t have to sneak around or be coy about it. The article reinforced a lot of annoying stereotypes, but I can’t help but wonder if those same stereotypes are exactly what keep women from speaking up and thinking the deserve more autonomy.

    OK that was a lot more than two cents, I admit.

    • Beth

      I think you’re very right to point out that there is point (theoretically) where it’s not the earner’s money – it’s the Team/Family’s money. I think what might weaken that though, or perhaps lie behind it, is the idea that it’s an exchange i.e. that one is bringing the money and their partner is *making up for not earning* by doing home-work. In actual fact, the idea should be of contribution (versus) exchange: both are contributing to the life of the Team/Family. So rather than it being a give and take between 2 parties, there are in essence 3 parties, and each partner is giving and taking from the 3rd (the Team/Family). The 3rd party is made visible when there are kids, but is/should be there anyway without that tangible presence.
      It’s a very subtle difference, but I think you start to see it when a marriage breaks up and especially when it hits legal channels and people have to assess and weigh and value. Suddenly, because money (and property) is the immediate correlation with wealth it becomes entirely about exchange, and how much of the (inflated) money/property from the earner should be ceded, when in fact it should have been ceded to the Team/Family all along.
      Don’t know if I’ve explained that very well – super tired I’m afraid. Just think you touched on something quite interesting discursively.

      • I’m totally picking up what you’re putting down, and I love how you phrased it — both are contributing to Team Family. That’s what I meant by “he thinks what she does has value” and you’re so right that it’s value not for him, exactly, but for the team. I think the “exchange” view is SO common and changing that to a “contribution” view might be a great way for couples to look at it. I think thinking about relationships that way might help with a lot of the stereotypes and stigmas that make money such a sensitive and loaded topic.

  • youlovelucy

    First off, all the comments are so interesting! Finance and money were NEVER brought up in my family (not a “proper” topic of conversation), so reading about how everyone approaches their family finances is really intriguing.

    I’ve always felt like an odd duck when it comes to talking about marriage and money because when it came to combining finances, it just never scared or stressed me out. Not to say that I don’t have money fears/anxieties, but those center less on who has the money and more on whether or not there is enough money to pay for everything. If we have enough money to live off of, then I don’t care who’s name is on it so long as all the things get paid for. It’s a very socialist mindset already, something that grew out of living/growing up around people who used having money as a way to place themselves above people and/or feel more important.

    Bryan and I combined our finances when we moved back to Atlanta from college. In the beginning we both worked as servers, and so 90% of our income was cash. We dropped 70 to 80 percent of our tips into a joint account to pay bills and add to savings, and kept the rest for our personal use. At that point, personal use meant food when we weren’t out together, clothes, shoes, gas, hobby-related purchases, and gifts (with the exception of Christmas, when we pooled money and just bought people things from both of us or I’d make things). All those things were included in personal use because we were very used to not spending much outside of bills, and having a very limited allowance on these things was never an issue. Since our income varied based on the tips we made, we started out with no idea who might make more money than the other. Still, I liked having a collective pot that we took a monthly “allowance” (I hate that word) out of because I always knew whether or not we had enough money, and Bryan liked having a collective pot because he wanted to break away from his ‘want it, buy it’ spending habits that sometimes got him into trouble in the past.

    So now, 3 1/2 years later our finances are still combined in relatively the same manner. Our paychecks are direct deposited into a joint checking account, and a static amount is automatically withdrawn into savings monthly. Another static amount is transferred into our two personal checking accounts, which we use to cover all the things I mentioned above with the exception of gas – that’s now a joint account item since neither of us has the option of walking to work any more. We went from making less than $25k a year to making three times that in the span of about 3 months (yay for working in our fields), and our habits have been very slow in transitioning. I’m still trying to learn that it’s okay to buy things for myself without being plagued by fear of the poorhouse, and Bryan still feels the need to double check with me before buying a video game out of his personal account even though my answer is always the same (it’s your money, I don’t care, can I play it after you?).

    …and now I’ve lost my point. So there’s my financial backstory for everyone!

  • Class of 1980

    I control the money in my household and the business I have with a male partner. It’s going to stay that way forever. I love making those decisions.

    My ex-husband did the bills when I was married, and that was partly because I thought it was good for him for personal reasons. I always knew where everything was and how much we had.

    What’s entirely new to me about younger women and money, and how they negotiate with their partners, is that they seem to have less self worth than previous generations of women. Yeah, I said it.

    They are getting more and higher degrees, which you would think would lead to greater self worth, but it’s not working out that way.

    The quest for “equality” in every little thing has become a noose. You have married couples dividing up their salaries as if they were two countries negotiating a treaty instead of a caring family unit. The one who earns more at any given moment gets to spend more … on them self.

    A 1950’s housewife had too much self worth than to ever put up with such an inequitable selfish arrangement. She felt her contribution had value. You did not see men spending more on themselves back then, even when their income was the only income. If you did, the marriage was considered dysfunctional.

    (BTW, my grandmother who was born in 1909 ran the home and the finances. She took my grandfather’s checks and made all the financial decisions – no apology.)

    The FAMILY is no place for people to be given deference according to their personal and changing monetary status. The phrase “every man for himself” has never before applied to marriage until now.

    • youlovelucy

      “The quest for “equality” in every little thing has become a noose.”

      I see this in and outside of relationships. Recently we covered dinner for another couple one weekend. I knew they were a bit stretched that month because of unforseen vet bills, and we’re doing more than fine, so we paid for the table. Only she tried to pay me back the next week and write me a check so ‘she wouldn’t owe us anything.’

      Here’s how it goes in my head: I like you. We’re friends. So let’s share things, buy things for each other and do things for one another. The combination of these things will even out on it’s own, so let’s not waste brain power on figuring out who owes what at that present moment.

      That just seems to make more sense than trying to measure out everyone’s worth by the minute.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Some 1950’s housewives made sure their households ran that way; some didn’t. Just like some contemporary housewives actually have complete charge of the finances, like your grandmother, and some are woefully completely out of the picture.

      I wonder if it’s not our attitude towards our children that’s changing things. It’s not that the breadwinner is spending proportionally more on him/herself; it’s that the family is pouring more of its resources into the children (fancy sneakers, traveling sports teams, band camp, etc.). You know, all those articles we’ve also been reading about how “it’s different in France.” Because the mothers are dealing with the children more, proportional spending on the mothers declines first.

      • Liz

        That may be a piece of it, but I do think that housework is underrated in our current culture. We don’t seem to really count it as work- visions of bon bons and soap operas and fuzzy slippers are conjured. So the one at home (whether male or female), doesn’t feel that they’re contributing. Whereas housewives in the 50’s were aware of their contributions and considered them valuable. Just thinking aloud, though. Maybe I’m off.

        • Class of 1980

          You are 100% correct. Those women felt they brought something of value to the mix. They were proud of their contribution.

          The idea that staying home is about bon bons is recent and disrespectful.

          I don’t think I can adequately convey how different attitudes were. When I hear younger women say about mothers who are at home that they are lazy or unambitious, or that they are using their children as some sort of excuse, or wasting their lives … well, it takes my breath away.

          And they do say it.

          There is a big difference in what people believed about child development back then, as well as how much work any individual could do in a day. People had more leisure time.

          I think you’d have to have lived in that time to really get how odd it seems today.

        • My grandma was taught by her mother that “a good wife is worth half her husband’s salary”, and has never shown any shame about being a housewife/homemaker. Ask most woman my age (late twenties) who is contemplating or is a homemaker, and you get a justification, or some sense of shame. Like it’s not real. Like it’s good enough for people we pay to do it, but not for us.

          I have a hard time kicking that ingrained thought myself. Anyone had better success outgrowing the “you are a woman YOU MUST SUCCEED BIG OUTSIDE THE HOME” mantra?

          • Class of 1980

            Try living in my generation where we walked the razors edge between the old attitude and the new one. Most of my twenties took place in the eighties.

            The eighties was the time where the rhetoric became real, and lives changed forever. Even though most of us worked in the eighties, it wasn’t till the nineties that you first started hearing insults toward mothers at home.

            Prior to that, it was more acceptable to make a choice either way, and even change your mind later. There was a looser flow between new moms going home and going back to work at various times because attitudes were not set in stone yet.

          • Class of 1980

            Also in the eighties, we were not yet at the point that you needed two incomes to keep your head above water. That helped.

          • Liz

            What really helped me embrace my value as a (terminology for this sucks, doesn’t it? ) homemaker? housewife? whatever you’d like to call me, is that I can quantify my contributions in time spent with my husband/son.

            Meaning, when we were both working, our weekends and evenings were spent playing catch up around the house. Saturdays for grocery shopping, Friday nights for laundry folding. Now that I’m home and those things are accomplished during the day, I really treasure the free time we BOTH get to spend TOGETHER. I recognize that as a large contribution to the betterment of both of our lives.

          • Class of 1980

            Liz, Yeah, when everyone is working full-time, then everyone is working more in the off hours too. You literally gave both yourself and your husband more free time.

            BTW, I am not married right now and have no child, and I hate the double burden of work and housework/errands. Hate having to think about what to eat at the end of the day and actually doing something about it.

            I think I need a stay-at-home spouse so I can concentrate on business and have leisure time left over!!! ;)

        • ElisabethJoanne

          Every year, the feds publish a number meant to represent what it would cost to pay for everything stay-at-home moms do for “free.” The most recent one was like $125,000/year. Slate pointed out that what this means for all households where both spouses work and there’s no “help,” is that those people are doing both whatever their “real” jobs are, plus $125,000 extra worth of work for their families.

      • Class of 1980

        Elizabeth, it isn’t so much about who is handling the finances.

        My main point is that in the fifties, the idea of a husband being entitled to more personal spending money than his wife, based on earning the higher salary, was unheard of.

        Ditto for the sixties, seventies, and eighties for that matter. Where it did exist, it was thought of as abusive to the family and people would have raised their eyebrows.

        It is more common now.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          I guess I disagree with the historical analysis. Certainly the TV shows from the ’60s show wives having to ask for money for a new dress, or saving for gifts for their husbands out of the grocery money.

          • Class of 1980

            Do those old shows have the husbands going out and spending MORE on themselves than their wives got to spend?

            No. It would have been frowned on. That’s my point.

            There was a lot of money tension built into those old scripts to add some drama. But there were plenty of women in real life who just bought a dress without asking about it because they knew their finances well enough to do it, or they were handling the bills in the first place. I was born in 1958, so I was around to see for myself.

            Anyway, you’re confusing asking permission with the husband being entitled to spend more.

            It’s only nowadays that you hear of some husbands and wives having unequal spending limits because one of them earns more.

          • Em

            Agreed. My grandma lived with a bathroom light fixture she hated for fifty years because my grandpa had picked it up at the hardware store and she figured it wasn’t her place to complain — she was just grateful that he earned enough money to support them both. When they finally moved out of that house, she said something about how much she’d hated it and he was *flabbergasted* that she’d never said anything earlier. And on the flipside, she had some assets she inherited that never went into the “us” pile — at one point, when he was starting to get hazy and was into these scammy investment schemes, he started mentioning her stocks — and she just hid the account information.

    • meg


    • Em

      I want to say this carefully, because I agree with much of what you say, Class of 1980 — so forgive me if this is a beast.

      I think it’s a bit harsh to say “young women today have less self worth than previous generations of women.” If anything, I would phrase that observation as “have more anxiety about our self worth.” And I guess I’d respond that *of course* it provokes anxiety to be negotiating all this stuff! Routines, structures, shared and unspoken expectations — these things can imprison, sometimes, but they also make life much simpler.
      I don’t have to remember to brush my teeth every morning — it’s just part of the standard routine. I don’t think about it.

      I think what we’re seeing with all these tortured negotiations, and all the anxiety it produces, is in part a coming to terms with the burdens of obligation — and with the situation we find ourselves in today, of having to pick our obligations for ourselves.

      My grandmother had part time jobs when times were tough, but the weight of responsibility to keep the family financially afloat rested most strongly on my grandfather. Her “self-worth” was packaged up in her management of the household — she always tells me she majored in biology because she couldn’t hack it as a home ec major.

      My mom and my dad made their negotiations in the fading halo of the structures their parents had lived out — my mom had to contend with the challenges of glass ceilings, but not the external pressures to “provide” that plagued her brothers. She was the primary breadwinner, but as she and my dad navigated what that meant, there wasn’t much external pressure for my him to step up as CEO of the house. The reality is that she had it all by doing it all. And of course, there’s a lot of “self-worth” that comes with that — but, wow, the toll it takes.

      So after all their hard work, all their stereotype-busting and renegotiation, the unspoken expectation I’m left with is “doing it all,” like my momma did (or seemed to). I actually think that’s what behind the ugliness of the mommy wars — we’re all grappling with this idea of “doing it all” and responding in different directions and in different ways, because the structures are dead. But we’re all very anxious about this, which is why we judge one another’s choices when they’re different from our own. Ugh. Does anyone else feel like they need a hug?

      • Class of 1980

        “I think it’s a bit harsh to say “young women today have less self worth than previous generations of women.” If anything, I would phrase that observation as “have more anxiety about our self worth.”

        Em, we are saying the same thing.

        I’m not judging the younger women. I’m saying they lost something very important. One of the things that has struck me the most from reading APW, is the anxiety and self-doubt I hear in the comments.

        Sometimes I’m surprised this generation of women doesn’t collectively have nervous breakdowns over the strenuous demands placed on them. It seems the more they accomplish, the worse they are made to feel.

        Of course, today’s young women have had a lot of help from society in losing their sense of self worth. It is all those things you mentioned. There needs to be some rethinking about what constitutes worth.

        • Em

          I’m glad we’re on the same page with a bunch of this stuff! I guess I’m partly just with Elizabeth up there — I’m uncomfortable thinking of the past too rosily. I actually think all this tsimmis can be spun positively, too — we’re all muddling along with our partners, trying figure things out in the new world we’ve inherited, and sooner or later we’re gonna figure it out.

          • Class of 1980

            Well, if you are young right now, the past is just something you read about in books and watch on film. It’s kind of like hearing about a party you weren’t invited to. You’ll never know how accurate the accounts are.

            That past is often demonized to the point that sometimes I wonder if I was really there! ;)

            But I hear it demonized more from people who weren’t there. A lot of people take statistics from the era and extrapolate that things were more negative than they were, because some things they’re accustomed to didn’t exist then.

            That doesn’t take into account how things worked in real life, nor does it take into account how sometimes attitudes of the era smoothed a lot of things for people. In the absence of knowing the difference in how people behaved then, it’s hard to imagine how people managed.

            No time is ever perfect; not the past or present. But some changes have created new problems that were nearly unheard of, as much as they’ve given new opportunities..

  • Denzi

    Our money is basically all piled in the same joint checking account (although we each have a few lingering solo accounts from before we got married). We have a pretty comprehensive budget in Google Docs, and we enter spendings into it so we know when we go over budget. We also each have several “allowances” in the budget: going out to eat without the other person there, clothes and other grooming (mine is more than double his, because of the “tax on being a woman”), and “discretionary.” We also have joint “discretionary” money, for going to see plays, or for getting fun toys that we both want (plants…furniture…improv classes), or for investing in each other’s fun activities. But we recognize that we need “allowances” because we have different spending styles and different things we think are important to spend money on.

    I think for us, some of the individual discretionary money is for individual fun expenses (I’m an audiophile; I need my new music fix every month), and some of it is to save for larger purchases that the other person wouldn’t get behind. So there’s no need to hide my “husband wouldn’t approve of this” purchase because that’s exactly what the money is there for!

  • Lturtle

    Our situation is different from most of those mentioned above. For one, we live in poverty. For real below the line on government assistance poverty. Which is hard. For another, I am disabled. Part of the reason we are poor is that I am unable to work. (hello guilt)
    My first thought when reading this was that my hubs handles all the money stuff and I am fine with that. We each get a little cash to spend on ourselves each month, and everything else goes to necessities. I know it’s being taken care of and if I want to go out with friends, and we can afford that, it’s not a problem. But reading through the comments I have been thinking more about our arrangement. We never explicitly said “this is how we will do this”, it is just sort of how things came together as we merged our lives.
    He brings in all the income, and it is variable, so every couple of weeks we talk about how much he got paid and what our necessary expenses are going to be until the next paycheck. I am in charge of making sure we have that conversation and also of budgeting our household expenses – pretty much everything that’s not rent/utilities. I also plan all of our meals a month at a time to facilitate bulk (cheaper) food buying, do all of the cooking and most of the hands on childcare, though he does some of that too. He pays the bills/rent and does the actual grocery shopping based on my list. Neither of us spends money on clothes, hair, meals out, travel or stuff like that.
    So I guess our arrangement is a little more joint than I thought. We certainly view it as “our” money, and I am generally aware of our financial picture, but it is his income so he is the one who mostly keeps track of it and I mostly keep track of the expenses. It is part of our division of labor for sure.
    I just wanted to include this POV in the hope that I’m not the only one for whom managing money is not deciding what percentage to invest and when to pay off the car.

    • Class of 1980

      You don’t have to decide the investments; you just have to agree to them and know about them. Well … and know how to get to them if needed.

      • Lturtle

        1980, my point was not about deciding investments but that there are none to decide. Our financial picture does not include money for savings or investing, it’s all about juggling necessities. And I only mentioned it because I hadn’t seen that reflected in anyone else’s comments. Not everyone (as you know) is a 30-something professional with disposable income.

        • Same situation here, LTurtle. We finally just sold our vehicle, FINALLY, so we will survive the summer financially (aka be able to afford our loan payments). Feels awesome. Also I am going to be getting my laptop soon, cost $300 to fix which of course we can barely afford, but we’re going to do it so that perhaps I can get some freelance work and make us some money.

          I think financial issues are a whoooooole other ball game if there isn’t a lot of money to begin with. No need to worry about how to invest it, that’s for sure! But always need to worry if there will be “enough” to get by. Hopefully this is something we will grow out of!

    • NF

      The guilt from being unable to work because I’m disabled is HUGE! We’re not poor, but every time we wish we could spend money on something and can’t I find myself crying and apologizing that I’m disabled and can’t work, even though my husband has never complained and is always reassuring. (This is not to say that you should feel guilty, just that it’s hard not to, and let you know you are not alone!)

      Have you looked into your eligibility for SSI or SSDI?

      • Lturtle

        Yeah, it’s just a really long process. Complicated by not having health insurance until the recent wedding.
        It’s nice to know I’m not the only one dealing with the disability/guilt issue. :)

  • When we first combined our finances, the hubs used to sit down at the computer and ask me things like, “You spent $10 at Panera?” I took this SO personally for over a year. It felt like he was accusing me of spending too much money on food when I should have been making a sandwich at home. (Notice he didn’t say anything remotely close to that.)

    Turns out he was just going through all the charges to make sure that none of them were fraudulent. Duh. I did that with our joint account, too, just not out loud.

    Also, after I quit my job and he was the only one working, for a few months I would only fill up my gas tank $10 or $20 at a time. Filling it all the way just felt like too much of an expense. Needless to say, this drove my husband CRAZY, and led at least two conversations ending with, “JUST FILL UP YOUR G–DAMN GAS TANK!”

  • Class of 1980

    Okay, I finally read the New York Times article. If a woman doesn’t know how much money she has and how it’s allocated in her marriage, she’s not only a fool; she’s a damn fool.

    In my view, women are more vulnerable in this world and our biology exposes us to greater financial dependence and risk. We need to be hyper-vigilant about money and security, and we need to advocate for ourselves.

    We can start by placing a value on our services in the family.

    Also, I’ve read that in the Middle East, everything a woman earns is considered her own money. The husband has to pay for everything and she can save hers for herself. Why? It is considered fair because of the greater risks women have in investing in childbearing and rearing. I’ve even known a few American women who do this and I just read a book that says it’s common in Jewish families.

    No idea if the latter is true, and you don’t have to take it to that extreme, but there is an important point in there about women and money and their value.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    My hair and clothes definitely do NOT cost more than my fiance’s. I pay $25 every six months for a hair cut. His are $15 every 4 weeks. I think that makes up for the fact that I use 1.5 hair products per day (conditioner every day, mousse every-other day, and he uses 1 (shampoo). I’m a lawyer; he’s in finance. My suits are less than $100. He spends $800.

    It’s about choices and priorities. Similarly, my mother, a doctor, spends more total on clothes than I do, but she’d never spend $50 on a dress like I do. She just buys more $15 dresses. I’d rather spend my time doing other things, so I don’t always wait for a sale, but I don’t hate shopping, either, so, unlike my fiance, I don’t value quality in my clothes. It’s fun to have to replace things, usually.

    1. For those of us who do pool finances, how do we deal with what comes out of a joint account? Our only pooled finances right now, 6 months before the wedding, are a Netflix subscription and some dates. [It was supposed to be all dates, but we never got the debit card working right on the joint account, so we split checks or take turns.] My fiance, however, has almost no income right now, and we both have student loans, and I need a new car, so I feel like we’re both just living on credit, which is a bummer financially but actually good for my attitude for finances in the relationship. Since all spending is effectually on credit we’ll pay off together after we’re married, all spending is joint, even though he doesn’t even know where I bank. It’s hard to explain, but it’s enabled me to already be thinking about, “Do I want to spend $50 on me to get my nails done, or do I want to save the money towards our [whatever]?”

    2. How do we deal with the fact that it is, in fact, more expensive to be a woman? I just deny the fact, at least for us. My problem is not resenting his different spending priorities, but he doesn’t like all of mine, either. My gym is 4x more expensive than his, for example.

    3. Are we treating each other with respect and care, or are we mirroring the inequalities of the world in our homes? We are lucky and unlucky that we’re the reverse of the norm on so many financial issues. Lucky in that I don’t see us ever having the sitcom-style fights about $50 for his video games v. $50 for my pedicure. Unlucky in that this man who does more housekeeping in my apartment than I do, though he doesn’t live there and otherwise takes excellent care of me, is obviously thoroughly bummed he’s not earning what he “should.”

    4. And why on earth do women not know how much the family has in the bank? I don’t know, but I suspect the women aren’t entirely to blame. In most families, the women make more spending decisions – book the vacations, do the grocery shopping, etc. If the wife is overspending, that’s on both spouses for not having and sticking to a budget.

    5. For me, the real question becomes, how can we fully support each other, while still maintaining our independence? One big step is realizing there are kinds of independence that aren’t financial. We can belong to different political parties, read different books, have different hobbies. Who we are as individuals is not defined by our bank accounts.

  • I love to shop, and my BF could care less, however he has a bunch of excessive hobbies, a la repairing cars, hunting, golfing, etc. We don’t pool our fun money, just food and home, but I make more and therefore have more money. However, I have more expenses, can save better, and have student loans. If we have a large purchase, we usually discuss it like rational people if it benefits both of us, or just get it if we want it with our own money. For instance, new black boots for me versus a used car for both of us. I make sure that we’re both checking our bank accounts, because we’re human and forget due dates, but as an accountant, I’m the budgeter and planner.

    In whole, I would place more responsibilities on these women. Yes, raising a family is important, but you should also demand respect and take fiscal responsibility. If you’re marrying a controlling brute, you have my sympathy.

    • I also LOVE learnvest.com, a financial website geared toward empowering women without boring you to tears or talking down to you. As a pretty financially savvy person, I learn a ton from it (and I’m not even perked to say this!) that I share with my BF!

      • Rebecca

        Cool site! Am I the only one that thinks being able to give/get one of those plans as a wedding gift would be the coolest thing ever?

  • KateM

    We decided to do joint accounts with separate accounts for “play money”. We joined account 3 months ago, but I really wish we had done it as soon as we got engaged. We saved so much more money once we knew the other person could see our purchases. We both still spend on silly things, but not as often and we are much more conscientious consumers. Being accountable to someone else is GREAT. We are both equally accountable to each other, and while I manage the long term planning and determine the budget, we both check the balance on a regular basis and clear things with each other. I make 2 and 1/2 times more than he does, so his salary is going towards savings. It is really important to me that we are able to live on one salary, ideally one day that salary could be either of ours (we currently could not live on just his).
    But taking a step back from the nitty gritty, I think it we lost the thread of the bigger conversation. Yes we all agree that women and men should know how to control their finances and know what is going on with them. But in a marriage, what is the place of money? For us, it has to be an “ours” thing. I do not GIVE Dave money. For me it is more the idea of 100% / 100% vs. 50/50. I trust Dave with my heart and my money and that I can’t hold part of me in reserve in case it doesn’t work out. I trust him to be the father of my children and raise them with the values we share.
    I admit I make frivolous purchases, I am the shoe girl, and I love my clothes. He buys f*ing ammunition to go to the shooting range (goodbye $200) and more DVD’s than we have room for. My hair cut cost more, but shit, one day I will go through child labor (scale officially tipped in my favor FOREVER).
    I would never want Dave to feel financially beholden to me. It is about our family, our home, our lives. My making more was a hurdle he had to get through. He was raised to provide for a wife and family. Providing now means more than just money. He gives me the emotional support to excel at what I do. We also both know what our financial goals as a couple are, and how we are getting there.

    • Jashshea

      Hobbies – GAH! I agree completely. Golf & Shooting range are like $100 EVERY time MIN. But it makes him so happy. And he pays his bills (we’re not 100% merged yet and we agreed old debts would be paid before the wedding) and saves money so it’s no big deal. If one of us loses our job, that’s the sort of shit that goes away.

      I do think you bring up a great point on the pressure on men (sorry to be hetero-normative here, but I don’t know that it applies otherwise) to feel they *have* to provide for the family. I also make more than the betrothed and the way we’re structured right now, I’m responsible for all the savings (long story short – we both have condos, mine/our condo is rented; I have no debt, he has some cc) and he pays all the expenses on his/our condo. I’ve been a heavy saver for years, but the perceived pressure of having someone else KNOWING about how much I’m saving is…overwhelming isn’t the right word, but it’s close. I can’t imagine how much worse it would be to be solely responsible for both. All of you (men or woman) who have done so – you’re awesome and I have a ton of respect for you.

  • Class of 1980

    BTW, what is up with the woman in the article saying she’s “rubbish at math” as the reason she takes no interest in the finances?

    There is no one on this planet who is worse with numbers than me. I always say I was born without numbers in my head.

    That’s what calculators are for. ;)

    • My guess is that she’s playing dumb. Which is sad, because only really smart women do that.

  • Marisa-Andrea

    I will comment more on this later, but let me initially say that we aren’t quite nearly as egalitarian as a lot of the commenters on here when it comes to frivolous spending. We don’t give ourselves allowances and we don’t spend equal amounts of money on ourselves. We have a budget and I definitely spend more of our discretionary income, but we tend to just be “nice” to each other about money. So if my husband wants to spend our discretionary income on a video game console, we just agree to do that. Or if he wants or needs to buy shoes (with him, he usually buys shoes that he needs as opposed to me buying shoes that I want), we just do it and I forgo anything that I wanted to use the discretionary money for. Strangely, this seems to work for us where giving ourselves allowances did not work.

    More on how we decide what is discretionary in a bit.

  • I was so shocked by this article! They totally sweep away even the IDEA that 1) a husband might be the big spender and 2) that a couple could accept each other’s spending habits. What happened to the team mindset? I know that we earn individually and that affects our sense of worth, but that’s part of marriage–having a safe space away from the crappiness of regular society.

    I manage the finances; I make more than my husband; every penny goes into a joint account. He has in the past expressed sadness that he contributes less than I do, but we are both working hard to support each other physically and mentally. The numbers are just the market value of what we do 9-5.

    In regards to spending, I buy stupid things from time to time and so does he. Because we are equally accountable to one another, we “police” ourselves for the sake of the other. God help either of us if we tried to tell the other to not buy something. We let (largely because we are in a position to do this) each other’s spending (eating, exercise, working, etc.) habits run their course if they are not ideal with as little judgment as possible.

    It sounds to me like many of these relationship are supporting each other financially but not emotionally or “spiritually”. It sounds like (from this short article) that the men are not endorsing some of the women’s spending habits instead of actually addressing those spending habits. “You’re ‘woman tax’ doesn’t concern me because it doesn’t come out of my pocket.”

  • Ambi

    We’ve talked a lot about the money we spend on our personal appearance and grooming (hair, clothes, etc.), but what about money spent on decorating the house. I know this question plays into gender stereotypes, but so be it – I tend to buy ALL of the non-essential stuff for the house (all the decorating type stuff, plants for the flower beds, new bedding, etc.). We aren’t married and don’t have merged finances, but I already know where my guy will stand on this issue – big ticket items like furniture, appliances, a TV, etc. would be joint purchases, but if I want to buy a throw pillow or curtains, that is pretty much on me. I resent that – it is OUR house, and he benefits from these purchases, too (even if he doesn’t care about the decorative items, having a nice-looking home that he is eager to invite guests over to is a benefit).

    • Most of our house purchases are joint or evened out by both of us buying a big ticket item with our spending money when the joint money is too low to afford them. For example, the boy just purchased a new couch for our basement and I will be buying a new one for the living room in a little bit. But most things, decorative or what not come from our joint account. We’ve actually set up a House account so that we could make sure to save for all those little odds and ends that always seem to pop up as a homeowner.

  • Ambi

    File under “it costs more to be a woman” – bras.

  • suzanna

    The thing I came away with from this discussion: I should probably stop giving my sweetie crap for spending money, because evidently that feels really shitty to be on the receiving end of.

  • Caitlin

    I don’t have anything to add to the conversation other than to say this is an awesome feature and I hope it continues! I love reading peoples different takes on the article and the resulting discussions.

  • Laura

    Maybe if our financial situation were more… comfortable, less paycheck-to-paycheck, I wouldn’t care so much about paying attention to my/our finances. Like if I didn’t have to budget every single thing, if I had the option of investing (or donating to charity or buying Jimmy Choos… or Steve Maddens, for that matter). Maybe then I might relax my grip, change my homepage from my online banking site, and maybe, just by chance, my SO would have a better working knowledge of the state of our money. But there will never be a question of someone “controlling” the finances. It is always a joint responsibility and joint accountability. The idea that anyone else, particularly my partner, would “control” anything about the way I live my life is absolutely repulsive.

  • Yay for BackTalk! It’s 11:13pm on a Friday night, and I have been waiting all day to have the time to read the article and all the comments. I call that a successful venture into a new feature.

  • Guess what? I don’t need Jimmy Choos to be happy. I’m a naturally frugal person, with or without my fiance. To be honest, both Tom and I love nice things. (who doesn’t?) But isn’t it more stressful to buy things on credit that you can’t afford as opposed to buying things with cash and enjoying them because you own them, not because you have to ‘pay them off?’ If I can get away with spending $12 on a hair cut instead of $60, I’m going for it, and it’s not because of my fiance (soon to be husband.) It’s because, on a philosophical level, I don’t believe in spending a lot of money on anything—just the way I was raised.

    We are planning to pool our money after marriage, and although I am scared shitless to do so, I think it’s a vital part of communication and having shared financial goals (retirement, savings, purchasing a home or other assets). My problem is that I make considerably less than my future husband, so there does come into play the question of ‘should I ask for permission to buy these shoes?’ even if they’re not 800 Choos.

    In regards to the Choos, though, I don’t think they’re necessary. In a materialistic culture where money/monetary = self worth (sadly, this is often quite literally the case, and I have caught myself in this mentality,) it seems necessary to feel entitled to all of these absolutely ridiculous, expensive, excessive material goods that provide instant gratification and nothing more.

    I think the$800 shoe example is a bit extreme, but I do think this article explores a very important topic.

  • Tre

    These comments are rad, folks. We’ve always agreed that I would run the finances. Ten days into our marriage (YAY!) , I didn’t expect to feel like I wanted to talk over every little decision after being married, but I do! It’s strange and I’m not sure if it will end up changing our financial plan from MINE to HIS or from MINE to OURS. Thanks for helping me verbalize that discrepancy and the idea that it’s great to deviate from MY plan to what’s right for US.

  • Nya

    Some of the comments are very interesting, as they say “we pool our resources and get a separate allowance”. I’d say we work the other way round: we keep separate accounts and pool a limited home allowance. The pooled money goes towards joint expense: mortgage, food, dining out together, movies, travel expenses and a broken fridge… If we buy make-up and shaving cream at the supermarket, everything is paid by the pooled account. If I spend $50 on a shopping “spree” at Sephora or BodyShop, or books he’ll never read, I pay this with my own account. Same goes when he buys videogames.
    We never really discussed it, except when we had to define how much was going into the pooled account. It felt and still feels quite natural, and this has worked wonderfully for the last five years. We decided to pool our resources when we bought a home.
    As for the finance manager… well, this is me, but I’d say I more of a home manager as I deal with pretty much everything “boring” (bank, insurance, paying bills, calling the plumber…).

    • We also pool a limited joint account and keep the majority (?) of our money separate. I pay my own credit card bills, gas, student loans, lunch/food purchases, make-up, clothes etc, and he pays his credit card bill, student loans, etc. The joint account is strictly for rent, groceries, utilities, if we go out together for food, and other “home” related items. We defined how much needed to go into the joint when we moved in together and re-evaluate every so often to make sure there’s enough in there and that we’re building a small cushion. We’ve pooled our resources in this way since we moved in together after getting engaged. We just started the process of house hunting, so I’m unsure how much (if at all) our financial management system will change.

      That being said, if either of us needs “extra” (and that’s usually me b/c I have more bills and make less money) it can come out of the joint or we “lend” between accounts. I never ask how my husband spends his money, nor does he ask me. If there are significant purchases to be made, for example, when I traded in my car and leased a new one, we discussed whether our budget could handle it, the pros/cons, and I paid the down payment out of my own cash.

      It will be interesting to see how things change, as I am going to be a full-time med student starting in June, so I’ll be leaving my job. I will have loan refund money (b/c we already decided that we cannot live on one income) but we’re working out exactly how much “extra” I’ll have to take out to supplement. We’ve talked a few times about just throwing all of the money in one big pile, but I have a lot of neuroses about money and spending, so I know I would feel guilty whenever I spent “our” money on something that was just “for me”.

  • Reading this post and the article was really convicting for me. My husband and I combined our savings, checking, credit cards, income, and debt when we got married. One of the things that I admired about him while we were dating was how responsible he was with our money. Granted, he didn’t have the intricate spreadsheet that we do now, but he knew what was going in and out and wasn’t a loose cannon with his own money.

    While I’ve always stuck to our mutually agreed upon budget, I have taken a less active role in the past year or so and this really annoys my husband. It’s not that I don’t like math or that he’s better at it than me; I just didn’t want to deal with it. Now, I realize it’s important to take an active role and come alongside my husband so we can do this together.

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  • Winny the Elephant

    We’ve pooled our finances for the past 4 years. I thought long and hard about how to handle finances before we moved in together and one of the biggest factors in my decision making was the Slate series on finances: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/home_economics/2011/01/our_newlywed_money_dilemma.html
    I really recommend it for anyone who is trying to figure out what system is best for them and why.

    I, like Meg, believe that if marriage is about two partners working towards a common goal, then finances should be joint. But each of us feel that it’s nice to have some discretionary spending money as well so we budget for that- and we each get the same amount of money regardless of who earns more. We have separate visa cards so we put our discretionary spending on there and pay it through the joint account, that way the other person can’t micro manage your spending. For things like clothes, haircuts etc we discuss together whether it is a necessary expense (like a $50 haircut) and therefore joint or a luxury and therefore discretionary (like a $100 haircut). For the most part we agree on whether something is a necessity or a luxury but when we disagree we just fight it out until someone wins. We also rate things on a scale of 1-10 importance so that each person can decide if its worth fighting over depending on the level of importance to the other person.

    • Winny the Elephant

      Oh and I control the finances, pay the bills etc and I know a lot of women who do, I think that anecdotal sampling is skewed