Right before I got married, I was talking to the mother of one of my closest friends. She told me how her parents (who lived through the depression) were always very frugal and she thought they didn’t have much money.
“When my grandmother died, my grandfather found over fifty thousand dollars in cash. She had hidden it in empty cereal boxes she kept in the pantry, in between the mattress and box spring. He even found some in the freezer and taped behind paintings.”
Because her mother was a stay-at-home mom and worked here and there making cakes and cookies for gatherings or events, her husband never asked her about the side money she made.
“She waited on him hand and foot. He never cooked or cleaned and so he never found the money until he had to fend for himself. He always liked her baking gigs to get her out of the house. I don’t think he thought she made anything but a few bucks.”
Maybe her grandmother was hiding the money for an emergency, but my friend’s mom always believed that emergency would have been if she ever wanted to leave her husband and start a different life. “She always tells me to make sure I have my own money, and I remember thinking, Gram, you don’t even have your own. I figured it was because she wished she had some of her own and she didn’t. She wanted to save me from making the same mistake.”
Another friend told me her mother always paid the bills. Her husband works, she stayed at home, and didn’t bring in an income. When she goes out shopping, whether it’s for food, or the flower garden, she takes the cash her husband gives her and hides it. Then, she puts the purchases on the credit card, he never sees the bill, and she pays it.
I’ve heard this story so many times — a woman feels stuck in her marriage because she isn’t the breadwinner, doesn’t have any money of her own, or feels like she will never be empowered enough to make her own money.
My mom has told me these stories of her friends, and she felt the same way, which is why she stayed with my dad for so long.
When I got married, I didn’t listen to any of this. I put all of my trust and empowerment into my husband. He made the money and I stayed at home because we mutually decided that was what we wanted.
What I never considered (until my divorce) was that I didn’t have a dime of my own. We shared a checking account and I never considered what would happen if we divorced, or if (God forbid) he decided to take everything and walk away. My name was on the home and the checking accounts (please make sure your name is on your home and checking accounts), yet I hadn’t made any money of my own for over thirteen years.
I was reading a story one night after I realized that our marriage may be coming to an end. It was a true story about a woman who depended on her husband 100% for financial security. She said she stayed with him (even though she was miserable) because of it. However, when she decided to take her finances into her own hands and start earning and saving some of her own money, she was so happy and confident, it led to the end of her marriage and an entire new life.
For a moment I remember thinking, This is too hard. I’ve lived being financially dependent on my husband for so long, where will I begin? I’ll just stick through this marriage because I can’t make it on my own.
That’s when I knew I had to do something and start taking my life and finances into my own hands.
I know that starting to save some of your own money just for yourself is a privilege. I realize not everyone is able to do that. And having a fund for yourself in case you and your partner don’t make it doesn’t have to be the motive here.
But what I am saying is it’s possible to start small, really small, and you don’t even have to be consistent. Because having your own money to fall back on in case anything happens — and anything can happen — is insurance. For you.
You can start by making sure your hands and mind are in the bills that come in and go out every month. I talk to a lot of women who don’t even know what their household financial situation is.
Having your own cash stash doesn’t have to be about hiding massive amounts of cash or lying to your partner. It can be about knowing where your money is, how much is coming out, and having a say and a plan in all of that.
You can save change, open your own savings account and tell loved ones that’s what you’d like as a gift, or commit to putting $5 a week in that account.
I started working from home as much as I could. I sold some clothes I never wore. I started budgeting and clipping coupons, and little by little, my own savings account started growing.
I think it’s important for everyone to have their own money — especially married women.
I have a friend who had two little kids, was going to nursing school full time and her husband left her. He closed the credit cards, they had to sell their house (that her name wasn’t on) and she was left to figure things out on her own. Thankfully her parents were able to step in and lend her money, but not everyone has that privilege. I certainly didn’t.
When my marriage ended, I had to figure out how to make ends meet if I wanted a home of my own, which I did want. Very badly. Had I been saving something just for me all along (like my husband had been) I would have been a lot better off. I would have had more confidence and believed in myself a lot more. But I had to start as soon as I knew my marriage was ending, and taking on both at the same time was really freaking hard.
Having joint checking accounts and one income is fine. But make sure you are conscious of the money in your house. If you can, have some that is just for you. Again, it doesn’t have to be a divorce or break up fund.
It can be your empowerment fund. I’m proof you never know how life will turn out. I never thought I’d be divorced, and I never thought I’d have to earn an income again. But I was completely wrong. It’s better to be prepared and start saving what you can when things are good, than to have to scramble when things are falling apart. I wouldn’t wish that stress on anyone.
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