Feeling left out of the family finances because you don't bring home a paycheck? Here's how to lose the guilt -- and regain control of your cash.
I Feel Guilty Spending Money
Problem: "I don't have an income, so I feel guilty spending money on myself."
Many at-home moms feel your pain, and our society—which places a premium on paid work and devalues caregiving-is to blame, says Olivia Mellan, author of Money Shy to Money Sure: A Woman's Road Map to Financial Well-Being. Yet it's important for you (and your spouse) to recognize that raising kids and running the household are just as important as being the breadwinner. Staying home saves money that might otherwise be spent on child care. And at-home moms make other contributions to the family finances that are often overlooked. "I clip coupons, clean the house, and do home repairs, which really makes a difference," says Amy Grosz, a mom of two in Gilbert, Arizona. In recognition of their value, Mellan advises at-home moms to set aside some money every week to spend on themselves. You don't have to splurge: A simple manicure or new CD can make you feel pampered-and empowered.
My Husband Handles All Our Finances
Problem: "My husband pays the bills and handles all our investments. I feel shut out from money decisions."
Joanne Rutsky, a mother of two in Columbus, Ohio, says she's being excluded from household budgeting decisions. "My husband insists on paying the bills," she says. "He simply won't hand over the checkbook." For at-home moms who find themselves in a similar position, there are no easy answers-other than to keep pushing for change. "Women need to teach their spouses to share the power and responsibility for the family's money," Mellan says. One strategy is to educate yourself about your family's financial situation. Find out how much money is in each account, how much your credit-card bills average, and how much you're saving for retirement and your kids' education. Getting your husband to let you balance the checkbook, take over the budgeting, or help manage your investments will also level the financial playing field. "I'm in charge of the family budget," says Becky Zaffuta, a mom of three in Bradenton, Florida. "I'll say, 'This bill came, and I think we need to cut back. Do you have any suggestions?'"
I Have to Ask Permission to Shop
Problem: "I have to ask my husband's permission to go clothes shopping, and it makes me feel like a child."
Some husbands feel they're entitled to monitor every little purchase because they earn the money. "Whenever I walk in with a shopping bag, he says, 'Are you sure you need that?' " says Kelly Ridley, a mother of two in New Providence, New Jersey. "And he's always buying things for himself, which makes me resentful." In other cases, it is the at-home mom who feels obliged to consult her husband before making even mundane purchases. Doris Cheng, a mother in Short Hills, New Jersey, fell into this habit when she stopped working. "I wanted Ben's approval before I bought anything," she says. Whether it's your husband's need for control or your insecurity that's holding you back, it's time to be treated (and treat yourself) as an equal partner. Mellan recommends putting money into a household account that you both have access to. Make sure there's enough there to cover typical purchases for you and the family so you're not constantly begging for cash. Map out a spending plan together that sets aside discretionary funds for you both. "Approach this as a joint effort—you're giving each other permission to spend a certain amount of cash each month," says Jeff Opdyke, author of Love & Money: A Life Guide for Financial Success. Fairness is key: Your husband shouldn't be buying pricey golf gear while you're restricted to $20 a week. And don't keep your money frustration bottled up: Learn to talk about your concerns. A resolution may be far simpler than you think. "After we talked, I learned that Ben hated having to approve everything I bought," Cheng says. "Now I don't tell him what I'm planning to buy-unless it's something big."
Our Accounts Are in My Husband's Name
Problem: "My husband has all our savings and investment accounts in his name. I'm worried about protecting myself financially in case something unexpected happens."
If you and your husband haven't already merged your money, now is the time to do so. First, use a joint checking account (rather than separate accounts) for primary household expenditures. "When your family finances are contained in a single checkbook, it ensures financial honesty," Opdyke says. Every mom should also have a credit card in her name to maintain financial autonomy. And it's a good idea to open your own IRA account too. Spouses who don't work outside the home are eligible to contribute up to $3,000 per year. "You need retirement money in your name in case you get divorced or your husband dies," says Peg Downey, a financial planner in Silver Spring, Maryland. Also make sure your spouse has enough life insurance to support you and your children in the event of his death. Downey suggests coverage equal to ten times his annual salary. Consider a policy for yourself too: While you may not generate income, your husband would be faced with costly full-time child care in your absence.
How to Avoid Financial Fights
Five ways to work out marital money woes without conflict.
Pick the right time.
Find a nonstressful window of time to talk, such as when the kids are asleep or out of the house.
Write down your main issues ahead of time so it's easier to stay "on message" during your discussion.
Don't get emotional.
Avoid personal attacks that could put your spouse on the defensive. Use "I" messages ("I worry when you spend a lot of money on things" instead of "You're a shopaholic"), and counter every negative comment with a positive one.
This is your opportunity to address your financial frustrations. But it's also his, so let your partner have his say without interruption. Common courtesy will help you achieve your objectives.
Make a plan.
Compile a to-do money list, and meet monthly to track the progress of your goals.
Copyright © 2005 Meredith Corporation. Originally published in the May 2005 issue of Parents magazine.