My husband just told me the company he works for is not doing well. He may not get the raise or the bonus he was looking forward to next year. His base pay is $100,000, with a bonus of $20,000 to $30,000. That bonus was earmarked to pay off extensive house repairs completed this year, but it can be paid next year on a 0% interest plan. He tells me not to worry, that he will think of something and will find a new job. He’s really great in this regard — responsible and confident, and he takes care of our family. We have some savings.
What worries me is his habit of spending money. For example, despite my objections, he bought two cars. Both of these car payments have a low interest rate, but he has about $50,000 left to pay off. We have two mortgages: We live in our house and rent out our condo. The rent just about covers the condo’s mortgage and fees, so it’s a wash.
We have different values on certain things. He wants new cars to drive around comfortably in. I would have been happy with a secondhand car that gets us safely from A to B.
“‘He wants new cars to drive around comfortably in. I would have been happy with a secondhand car that gets us safely from A to B.’”
We have two young kids. They’re at the age when we should be sending them to extracurricular classes or camps that they are interested in — science, sports, swimming or gymnastics. My husband is always saying the kids don’t need that, but he also doesn’t spend any time teaching them how to swim or ride a bike or hit a ball. This drives me crazy.
We don’t have a joint account, and I have to ask him to pay for any of the kids’ activities. He did give me a credit card to buy groceries and supplies for the kids. If the activity is not too expensive, I’m allowed to put it on the card.
By this time, I think you can tell that he has a little bit of machismo, which is galling, but at the same time, I also see his love and responsibility toward his family.
“‘He did give me a credit card to buy groceries and supplies for the kids. If the activity is not too expensive, I’m allowed to put it on the card.’”
In the event that he loses his job or doesn’t find a new job with comparable pay, we will have to tighten our belts as a family. We don’t go on vacations and I don’t buy new clothes or bags. My own personal expenditures, excluding food, are about $200 a month.
I could dip into my own savings of about $70,000 to send the kids to aftercare and summer camp, and I could find a job. I’ve tried juggling work and kids before but felt overwhelmed with the constant interruptions and not having enough hours in the day to do a good job at work, cook for my kids, drive them to activities, etc.
What kind of work can I do? Or how I can better allocate my remaining savings of $70,000? I’m thinking of putting $25,000 into a high-yield savings account and another $25,000 into a separate high-yield savings account. Would it be wise to use the remaining $20,000 for my continuing education to get into a financially rewarding field? I’ve already contributed $6,000 to my IRA this year. Should I open a brokerage account and just pay taxes on whatever index funds I buy?
Wife & Mother
Dear Wife & Mother,
Your husband likes to hold the purse strings.
For that reason, don’t lock away your savings for a long time. Financial advisers typically recommend brokerage accounts of a five-year period. Keep your options open. In order to have your needs met, you need to clearly articulate them outside of his most recent financial decisions — his car purchases. Write down the five most important things you need. They could be, for instance: 1. Joint decision making. 2. Joint account. 3. Marriage counseling. 4. Further education. 5. Getting a job. Have a five-point plan and, regardless of whether your husband expresses his support, pursue the last two goals on that plan — that is, those that are within your control.
How much of a say should you have with the family finances, and how much financial independence do you want in life? The answer to the first question is 50% — because this is a partnership, and you are not in your husband’s employ — and the answer to the second question is 100%. Your husband believes that he and he alone is entitled to make all the decisions. You can leverage an argument of fairness and the fact that this should be a partnership, but nothing will speak louder than having your own income. You won’t change your husband’s controlling nature overnight, if at all. It’s up to you to institute change for yourself.
“Have a five-point plan and, regardless of whether your husband expresses his support, pursue the goals that are within your control. ”
Keep saving and keep contributing to your IRA, and by all means take advantage of the relatively high interest rates. As I told this letter writer, who had $50,000 to invest, CDs are investment vehicles that attract people who are looking for a safe haven for their cash in an uncertain economic climate. Annual percentage yields typically track the federal-funds rate, which is currently in the range of 5.25% to 5.5%. Financial institutions are competing for business and are offering CD rates hovering at 5% and above, double the top rate seen 12 months ago. High-yield online savings accounts are offering similar rates.
Whatever you say or do, he knows that ultimately he holds all the cards. You have an allowance, you don’t have a joint bank account, and he will spend money on cars and other activities instead of your children’s extracurricular activities as long as he is able to. It’s hard to say whether you are in a happy or unhappy marriage or in a relationship that is brimming with conflict. What is clear: The rules have been set by one party, and you are expected to live by them. Men are the sole breadwinners in 55% of marriages in the U.S., so your situation is not so unusual — although the decision making may be more equitably shared in some of those marriages.
“Even as financial contributions have become more equal in marriages, the way couples divide their time between paid work and home life remains unbalanced,” according to the Pew Research Center. “Women pick up a heavier load when it comes to household chores and caregiving responsibilities, while men spend more time on work and leisure. This is true in egalitarian marriages — where both spouses earn roughly the same amount of money — and in marriages where the wife is the primary earner. The only marriage type where husbands devote more time to caregiving than their wives is one in which the wife is the sole breadwinner.”
“What kind of work should you do? Choose a field that you enjoy. The more you enjoy your work, the easier it will be to spend time doing it.”
What should you do? Speak up and act up. That is, state your feelings about what marriage means to you and what happiness and fairness looks like. It may not change your husband’s opinion or lead him to devote more funds to your children’s activities over his new automobiles, but it’s important to make your voice heard. What kind of work should you do? Choose a field that you enjoy. The more you enjoy your work, the easier it will be to spend time doing it. You won’t feel like you are changing the world every day, but if you are doing a job that brings you satisfaction, and you’re working with people you like, that certainly helps.
Your husband is, at least, open about his own wants and needs and how they may even exist independently from everyone else’s. I’ve received many letters in the same oeuvre as yours, although others have given me more cause for alarm. Among them: the husband who wrote a secret will, the man who absconded and bought a house in another state and the husband who kept his income, savings account and P.O. box a secret from his wife.
Ultimately, you can’t change him. You can only change your own situation, and you have the means to do it. You could seek career advice at your local community college. Remember that change is unlikely to happen overnight. Sometimes, we just have to take one action — however small — that leads to another, and another.
Readers write to me with all sorts of dilemmas.
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