Women and Money

by Ouida on June 22, 2010

A while back I blogged about the book, The Secret Currency of Love.  Now I am reading Financial Infidelity by Bonnie Eaker Weil.  There was an article on CNNMoney some time ago about the financial crimes committed in relationships and this book was referenced.  The contributors to The Secret Currency of Love, many of them high income earners,  were ashamed to admit that they wanted to be taken care of financially.  Dr. Weil reveals that at least a third of women desire to be taken care of financially regardless of their level of income.  This concerns me.  To be out of control and blissfully ignorant financially is to be a slave.  And I am of the belief that their are no benign slave masters even if that master is your domestic partner.  There is also a startling statistic:  either through divorce or death of a partner a woman will, at some point in her life, find that she has become head of household.  AARP data indicates that 48% of women over 75 will live alone.

Over the years I have worked with women whose spouses suddenly died or filed for divorce.  One of my friends told me of the humiliation that she felt when she realized that as as a result of her divorce, she was getting stuck with half of her husband’s credit card debts most of which were incurred while he entertained his mistress.  One of my colleagues experienced the sudden death of her husband only to find her grief turned to outrage and fear when she discovered that he had allowed his life insurance policy to lapse and he had amassed credit card debt that she knew nothing about.  She told me that for several months after her husband’s death opening the mail and packing his things revealed debt and expenses that she was simply unaware of.  She said that being at home was like waiting for bombs to go off as she discovered more and more about how her husband really ran their household.  I’ve worked with nurses who have had to endure personal bankruptcy because there were no marital assets to divide in divorce and the debt outstripped their income.  The converse is also true.  Women who are financially “in-the-know” can choose to leave unsavory relationships because they have the means to do so. A financially savvy nurse recently told me that she was happy she had the financial resources to leave her husband of 20 years after she learned that he was having an affair and refused to end it. As Carla Fried writes in her CBS MoneyWatch post:  “If women don’t see the value in being an active decision-maker in their financial security, then they bear plenty of responsibility for any future financial disadvantage.”  And therein lies the rub.  There is risk, not bliss, in ignorance.

Dr. Weil articulates that money is a stand in for many issues in relationships.  Issues that often began in childhood and were nurtured into adulthood.  She asserts that 33% of women will be be secretive in the area of money and, therefore, damage their relationship with their partner while 26% of men will.  A partner’s unwillingness to be open in the arena of money is a sure sign that the couple needs to go for counseling because deception or lack of openness in one area is a sign of deception in others.

I have simply seen too many women who refused to participate in their household finances find themselves left with relatively little after even decades of marriage failing to understand that the situations in which they were living were on some level simply unsustainable. Some of the wealthiest men I have come to know over the years have credited their wives with their success.  These men are business owners  with 30 to 50 years of marriage and I have found two traits they have come to value in their wives:  active involvement in the running of the family business(es) and frugality.

What can women do?  The road to becoming actively involved in family finances may be a rocky one and may require the aid of a counselor to navigate well.  These are strategies that I have found in the world of personal finance that women can use to become more actively involved:  1) review trusts and wills, regularly making adjustments as children age. 2) regularly review insurance especially life insurance.  Are the coverage amounts sufficient to replace at least 3-5 years of lost income?               3) review credit reports at least yearly. 4) review all bank accounts and the reasons for those accounts. 5) develop a household spending plan and stick to it.  6) regularly review retirement accounts.  7) know where all important documents are being kept.

These few strategies can help women remain in touch with their household’s relative wealth so that they can make responsible financial decisions regardless of their stage of life.

What are your thoughts? Please comment.

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