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First came love, then came the money talk.
My money and his money would never become our money. Even though he was worth a few millions more than I was, and I would benefit from such an arrangement.
We were living together, so for the sake of simplicity we funded a joint account with $1,000 each to cover our bills, food and stuff we did together. When that money ran out, we’d put in another $1,000.
That was the extent of our merged finances.
Had I wanted, I could have had him buy the house (or a bigger one, he could afford it!), and support me financially. But I would have felt bought and useless putting anything less than my fair share into the partnership. But mostly, I never wanted money to be a power tool.
“I pay, I rule?” No thanks.
While he was thankful and sometimes in awe of my fierce independence, he would also become thoroughly annoyed. Like the time we got into a fight and I left to go to a hotel because I didn’t want to hear him talk anymore. Or that time I bought his half of the house in cash within two days of the breakup, while he was hoping to keep some kind of power over me.
Money buys freedom, and it buys independence.
That is why I will always have my own, even if I get married and have kids. I mean, can you imagine having to justify every little purchase to your significant other? Tampons? How much you spent on his birthday gift? The cash you gave to a family member in need? I’ll pass.
[Editor’s note: This is a little extreme, but yes – unfortunately there are relationships like this :( Do know that there are others, however, where you *don’t* have to justify anything – or even talk about every purchase! – and that can be a beautiful thing. You still want your own money/independence too, but it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.]
But the biggest risk is if you make way less than he does, or chose to stay at home with the kids, and then succumb to lifestyle inflation. I wish you all the best, but strongly suggest you prepare for the worst, because the odds are that over half of you will get divorced. And if you are financially dependent, it will get ugly.
Take my sister, for example. She is a social worker making barely above minimum wage. She married a guy who made more, and her in-laws gave them a nice four bedroom house. She put her little savings into renovating her husband’s house, and making it look Pinterest-worthy. Four bedrooms and a garden had become her new normal.
When they got a divorce, she had to go back to live with my mother because she was priced out of apartments near her old neighborhood. She wanted to stay close so her daughter could stay in the same school and still easily see her dad. Now she lives in a 450 sq ft place and sleeps on the sofa bed in the living room so her daughter can have her own room. Rent eats up two thirds of her pay, and she can’t make ends meet if her ex stops paying child support.
Another of my friends still lives with her ex husband. He has been sleeping on the couch for two years. She can’t afford to rent a place for herself like the one they live in, and she is too used to the good life to accept downsizing. So all the while she lives with a guy she barely talks to, and can’t move on from emotionally.
Now that I am in my mid 30s, I hear a lot of these stories. And they are the okay ones.
But what if you can’t leave an abusive relationship because you haven’t got enough to move out? What if he empties all the accounts and leaves you begging for alimony?
I wouldn’t feel safe in a relationship if I didn’t have at least enough to get out and live on my own for a couple of months. That includes:
One month deposit and two months rent for a one bedroom (two bedrooms if I had kids)
Gas money to go around looking for a job
Plane ticket or train or gas if I am leaving town
Enough to furnish and equip the place
$500 – because there will be an emergency of some kind.
After two months I am pretty sure I’ll be back on my feet with a job and able to make ends meet. But if you have left the workforce at 22 and are now a 40 year old divorcée with no experience, it might be a bit more complicated. So you need an even bigger cushion.
Just to cover my needs, I’d need about $5,000. How do you save so much money?
You can be sneaky and round up the grocery bill or any other expenses for a while, but I don’t think that is honest and I don’t recommend it. I do know of some women who do that though, when they don’t want to justify such and such purchase.
You can also be straightforward with your spouse, and say you want a “Freedom Fund. “If you suggest that you should both have one, and grow them together, it will be better perceived than “Hey honey, I want a divorce fund!” And really, while we are looking at a worst case scenario, even if things are going well, it can be useful.
Being able to buy gifts for your family, or treat yourself once in a while without explanations is nice. You can budget for the two of you to have a monthly allowance and start saving your money.
Or, because you are just as capable as anyone, you can go out and earn it! There are dozens of ways to make money from home no matter how busy you are. Everyone has skills, you just might not know how to market them.
I play the piano for example. I have made thousands in my teen years teaching it to younger kids. I have played in restaurants a few times, and even offered to do concerts with a singer but was too shy to accept. I also speak French, so I have been a tutor, a translator, and a freelance writer. Two skills, six income streams.
What do people say you are good at? Baking? Making cool flyers for fundraisers? Offer to make the cakes for the next birthday party and look for paying clients online to help with flyers. Or if you have kids, consider babysitting others in a group with your own after school. The opportunities are endless.
If you can make an extra $50 a week, hitting $5,000 will only take a couple of years. And if you want to speed up the process, you can invest that money which will remove the temptation to spend it as well. Assuming an average return of 8% over the next 30 years, you could have just over $55,000 free and clear all to yourself!
Or best case, $55,000 for a nice vacation to celebrate 30 years of marriage.
You may find this entire topic unromantic, but please, whatever you do, build your own stash on the side no matter how great your marriage is.
Having your own money is empowering. And knowing you are staying in a relationship out of love and not necessity is even more important. Please watch out for yourself!