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Money and Control in Your Marriage

When I was a stay-at-home mom, way back in the late 1970s, I resented the way my spouse seemed to feel free to spend money on his personal whims. We didn’t have much besides a mortgage, two kids and one (not so well paying) job between us. While I felt free to spend at the grocery for food and medicine and necessaries, I wasn’t comfortable going out to buy myself a new dress or pair of shoes. Hubby constantly railed about being poor and needing to save money. He worked very hard – long hours, lots of overtime. Yet, he also felt free to spend quite a percent of his salary on hobby items.

Since I wasn’t earning the money, I didn’t feel that I should spend on myself or make major household decisions. I didn’t feel that I had control over ‘our’ money. It seemed that my spouse did. I resented it. Heck, I still resent it, even though we now have plenty and can spend whenever we want.

Have you ever felt that way?

If so, you aren’t alone.

In Forbes article: Money And Marriage: Who’s Earning It Vs. Who’s In Charge Of Spending It  The author shares a story about a lady named Gina. She actually made more than her husband Paul and it was causing issues.

“…because she was earning the money, she felt as if she could, and should, control how it was spent. And so she did. And that’s what Paul resented, not her income. She limited the amount he could spend on personal items but resented having to discuss, or defend, her own purchases when she’d earned the money to pay for them.”

Likewise, Families.com blog post: Control Issues in Marriage: Money as a Source of Control acknowledges that:

“One of the reasons so many women are adamant about earning their own incomes is that they have seen what can happen to women who have no resources of their own. While most men are not trying to control their wives with money, it can and does happen. If the woman has no income or makes significantly less than her husband makes, it seems as if he wields control. If he takes advantage of the situation, it can be very damaging to the marriage.”

Kristen Houghton, in her Huffington Post article Who Controls the Checkbook in Your Marriage? also admits to feeling financially unequal:

“When I was a stay-at-home mom, my husband was the only one who brought home a paycheck. While we both agreed that my staying home until our twins were in first grade was what was best, financially I felt unequal. Though my husband Alan was more than generous, I didn’t like having to ask for money.”

In a study Control over Money in Marriage the author acknowledges the situation but notes that there is a difference in the way it plays out in areas other than North America saying that in poorer countries based on reviews of literature by Lawrence Haddad, John Hoddinott and Harold Alderman in 1997:

“Some of the recurring findings from this literature are that an increase in men’s income is associated with more spending on tobacco, alcohol and men’s clothing, while transfers to women are significantly more likely to be spent on education, health, and household services, and women are more likely to spend money on children. In rich countries, however, the question of “who gets what?” rarely takes the form of “who will have enough to eat?” Rather it involves larger, more discretionary, expenditures.”

He also distinguishes types of control over money – specifying orchestration power vs. implementation power. Those with orchestration power get to make the big decisions and escape the day to day drudgery of money transaction processing. They withdraw more in cash – because the cash can’t be traced and they feel free to spend it. Those with implementation power have the chore of transacting – writing the checks (presumably to pay the bills, buy the groceries, etc), balancing the accounts and etc.

Who controls the finances at your house? What type of control do they have?

We still have money disagreements and misunderstandings, even after 42 years of marriage, even after finally talking about some of our past money emotions.

Over the years, we have changed money roles several times. I used to pay the bills, today he does (except the two businesses which I handle). He used to manage the investments, today I do (except the bonds which he manages). He used to do the taxes and I would review his work. For most of the past 5 years, I have handled working with the accountant to get things done and he has reviewed my work. I still write most of the checks. I still balance and track all the accounts and our net worth. I still withdraw money to use as cash. So, I guess my role is now a lopsided balance between orchestration power and implementation power. He still seems more at ease in spending on his own personal hobbies than I do, even though for 28 years I made much more than he in salary! Old habits die hard.

The bottom line is that each couple needs to work it out, knowing that their money upbringing, the society around them and their personal situation all will play a part and need to be considered and discussed while they decide on their respective money roles in the relationship.

2 intelligent comments


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