It won’t surprise you to learn that I am the money manager in our household. Traditionally women have always run the household even where the man is the sole earner. This is because women tend to prioritise better.
NGOs that are involved in alleviating poverty through microfinance initiatives have learnt the unique position of women in the household. Many schemes now focus on handing money over to women because they are much more likely to feed the kids and buy them clothes than buy themselves a radio or whatever the must-have gadget is.
I didn’t make myself the money manager in the household it happened by default. I care more about the bills being paid on time and as an Economist and former investment banker I’m good at understanding mortgages and the small print in contracts so it was a natural role for me to play.
If we look at a very traditional African family of yesteryear the man went to work and he gave his full pay cheque to his wife who in turn gave him his pocket money. Yes, she gave him pocket money from his own earnings. With this pocket money he could do whatever he desired. The rest of the money went towards feeding, clothing and educating the kids. The wife was fully responsible for the latter set of activities.
Personally, I think this is not a bad model at all because the power was relatively balanced. The wife’s position was respected and even though she didn’t earn the money she had a lot of control over it.
Some husbands will not be open to doing this for various reasons. However, you will increase the chances of avoiding financial frustration is you’re open and honest about how you are managing the money. These are my top 3 tips for ensuring you are financially included in the running of your household:
Tips for women that earn more than their husbands:
This is the last article for now on money and relationships. If you have any questions please contact me on twitter @Getting2Wealthy.
“I have a fantastic relationship with money. I use it to buy my freedom.” ~ Gianni Versace
How to split bills is the subject of many interesting discussions. Eating out at a nice restaurant is not cheap. If you like to eat out regularly then it shouldn’t necessarily fall to your boyfriend or husband to pick up the tab, there is nothing wrong with you paying too.
In the pre-marriage stage my personal preference is for boyfriends and girlfriends to take each other out. You pay one time and he pays the next. If you eat in a very expensive place one of the times then the other person can pay twice in row etc.
I decided early on that a 50-50 split does not work in a relationship. It is so impersonal; it doesn’t show a unified front and it is the reason that I eventually broke up with the man I dated prior to my now husband. This is the story:
It was my birthday and we went out to eat at a cheap Chinese place – I was okay with the cheap and tacky environs as I knew he was saving to buy a house. When the bill came I threw my debit card onto the table fully expecting my then boyfriend to say, “It’s okay, I’ll pay”. He did not. The bill wasn’t even high; it was very affordable but the idea of me paying to eat out on my own birthday made me feel very unloved. Even when I asked if he would allow me to pay he just shrugged and said, “Well you took your card out”.
I was not happy. I knew from that moment that it was over; something significant would have had to happen to convince me otherwise. I had seen enough to know that this was a stingy man. He treated me well generally but he had a funny take on money and finances and I wasn’t going to marry him for that. I knew my worth.
The only reason I didn’t split up with him immediately is that he’d bought Chris Rock tickets for a show three months later and I decided I could hold out until then to see if there was anything worth salvaging. I can be cold and objective like that!
If you are married or are in an advanced stage of your relationship then the ‘taking each other out’ model needs to change. Talk about how you will split bills before you get married. Eating out is one thing but marriage becomes real when you have bills and rent to pay.
My personal solution is to get a joint bank account for common expenses. This works where you and your husband are financial equals. My husband and I lived together for almost two years before we got married and about a year before he proposed, this was a fantastic decision because we really came to understand each other financially.
I made an assessment of how much all of our monthly bills would come to every month including an allowance for eating out plus a buffer and then I determined how much we should each put into our joint account. You could try the same model.
If you’re both paying the same amount into the account then you never have to talk about who will pay the electricity or the water. Importantly, no one will have to be upset that they are paying more bills than the other because you’ve both contributed 50-50 to the account. Due to inflation you will need to regularly reassess how much you should each pay into the joint account.
If one partner earns very little then perhaps they can contribute less to the joint account. Decide between the two of you.
“We all need money, but there are degrees of desperation.” Anthony Burgess
I always believed that I wasn’t the marrying type but for some reason when I got to the age of 24 I somehow decided that it was the next thing that needed to be ‘checked’ off my life list or at least that it wasn’t such a bad idea. I guess some friends were getting married and having kids and all I had was a high-powered job and that didn’t feel like it was enough.
You could say I was in a mild state of ‘pressure’. This was reinforced by my dad’s little lecture about how the deadline for marriage for girls is “25” and that for boys is “30”. Apparently when he reached 30 still unmarried he was panicking!
I was at least pleased to find that he believed both men and women have a deadline and that the deadline is not too far apart. My dad knows that the fastest way to offend me is to imply that girls are in anyway lesser beings than boys!
So, in my mildly pressured state I started looking at boys in a more analytical fashion. The thing about money is that it rears its ugly head in many different ways. You don’t have to be talking about money to discover what someone’s beliefs about money are. Here are a few examples:
“This is my house”
I was visiting a boyfriend for a few days. To ensure we both had access to his flat the key needed to either be taken to work by the person who would be coming home earliest or be handed in to the porter that was in charge of the flats. On one occasion I suggested that he, rather than me, should get the keys from the porter and the response was “but this my house”.
He wanted that either I get home quicker or that I collect the keys from the porter because he was the master of his flat and shouldn’t need to go out of his way to collect ‘his’ key. This was strike one. I didn’t say anything. I looked at him with displeasure and in my head said, “This is strike one” – no one talks to Heather Katsonga-Phiri like that!
This was a sign to me that the person was possessive of what he owned and would make for a very bad financial partner. Possessiveness is a character that is very much ingrained in some people; if a man is selfish and possessive you shouldn’t even attempt to change them – move on – many fish swim the sea.
If you are not yet married there are many things a man can do to let you know if he is giving. A kind and giving man talks highly of his mother and his sisters; if he sees something that would be a good gift for someone he cares about, he says so, and if it doesn’t cost much he gets it. You should look for these signs.
As a teenager I was once “rolling around town” with a male friend and when he saw a disabled woman on the curb he said something mean about her and even at that age I knew this was a bad man. Good men respect women!
Kindness and the willingness to share is a good sign that your financial relationship will be smooth.
“Money is an area of marriage that can be used to develop good communications. It is a tool God has given you to learn a great deal about each other. For instance, just talking about the kind of home that you want to live in helps you to learn a lot about each other.” ~ Larry Burkett
Money is the reason for many an argument between married couples. Whether you have a little or a lot, money forms the basis of many uncomfortable discussions.
In a marriage where one partner earns significantly more than the other that partner will tend to hold much more power than their spouse. In fact, this is the reason divorce was not so common in Malawi a few decades ago.
Men earned significantly more than women, they held most of the power in the relationship and if the woman wasn’t happy then she could leave, but she wouldn’t – she was fully dependent on her husband and incapable of looking after herself; her family advised her to persevere – “ungopilira, nanga utani” (you should just persevere, what else can you do).
This went on for so long that we accepted this as the norm – for the most part society has come to believe that the right order of things is for the husband to earn more than the wife and for the man to control the home.
As a feminist, I believe this is complete rubbish. Things do not have to be that way around.
Indeed, for the last 10 to 15 years the gender balance has been shifting. Girls have been performing well in the education system and it is now not uncommon to have the woman earning more than her husband. It is fantastic that we as women have progressed in this way but one of the undesirable consequences is jealousy from the man and at times unreasonable behaviour.
If your wife earns more than you then is she the head of the house? No, because a home doesn’t have a head, a marriage involves two people in an equal partnership. Responsibilities need to be shared between the two of you; you don’t have to come into the marriage with a pre-set notion of who does what.
In a marriage where you both earn roughly equal amounts there is little reason to disagree about money but nevertheless there can be if you hold different beliefs on how that money should be managed. For example, the woman might have been brought up to believe that it is the husband’s responsibility to take care of domestic bills, rent and even buying their house. On the other hand the man might have the opposite belief, that the wife should contribute equally à la “kuli Gender”!
Many money problems in a relationship are rooted in the fact that it isn’t discussed at all or in the correct way. When something goes wrong or isn’t going the way one person expects it to, a shouting match results. This is not the way to handle money in a relationship. Money is a sensitive issue and it needs to be broached with great care.
If you are not yet married then I’ve caught you at the right time. Before your relationship even gets to the marriage stage you need to decide what you expect of a prospective husband and you need to let each other know these things well before a proposal is on the cards.
My main point in this article is to lay the foundation for the next one; you definitely don’t have to agree with my views on money management but they can form the basis for your own policies. In three years my husband and I have never had an argument about money and we lay the foundations for our financial interaction well before we got married. I’ll tell you all about that next week.
“He who marries for love without money has good nights and sorry days.” ~ Ani Difranco
For 2 years until early 2014 I wrote a weekly personal finance and business column for Malawi's leading media house, The Times Group. The target is middle-class, working African women.
This is a reproduction of the articles that appeared in the weekend edition of Malawi News.