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Farnoosh Torabi, personal finance journalist, has written an important book for couples on finances and how they affect a couple’s relationship, particularly when a woman is the primary breadwinner.
When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women reminds me of another book, American Couples: Money, Work, Sex by Philip Blumstein, Ph.D. and Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D. that I read early in my marriage.
American Couples explores the dynamics of relationships through interviews with thousands of couples in traditional and non-traditional arrangements. When She Makes More includes representative couples but draws more heavily on research and insights from professionals that include psychiatrists, financial planners, and divorce lawyers.
Power in marriages shouldn’t be distributed by income contributions
My main takeaway from American Couples is that power should not be distributed according to income. Such a mindset is not only unfair to the lesser earning person but also is destructive to the relationship and overall lifetime happiness of each partner.
There are similar findings in When She Makes More. For example, Farnoosh advises that you should “never equate income power with having the ultimate authority in the relationship…the overall power must be shared.”
When She Makes More provides insights and tips to make finances and relationships work throughout a marriage
The premise of the book is that the emergence of women as primary breadwinners is a relatively new phenomenon. Though societal changes relating to women’s rights have been happening for the last 50 years, Farnoosh argues that only recently have a significant number of wives earned more than their husbands. As a result, there is not a road map for these women as they seek mutually satisfying and beneficial relationships with men, who may feel weaker and less valued (by either their spouses or society) because they earn less.
The purpose of the book is to guide women as they make financial decisions, both independently and in partnership with their husbands. I really like that the book covers a broad range of issues through various life phases. Farnoosh excels in pinpointing key challenges while wisely avoiding one-size-fits-all financial solutions.
Many women arrive at financial success without the tools to navigate finances within a relationship
Girls’ childhoods and young women’s adolescence and young adulthood may not prepare them for the challenges associated with establishing and nurturing intimate relationships while managing careers and finances.
One thing I’ve noticed is that women in my generation have most likely experienced some form of gender discrimination and dealt with a changing society while growing up in the 60s and 70s. Our older sisters (those in their late 50s and beyond) had to fight for their rights; for example, when a female outranked a male in my sister’s high school class, she was told that she could not serve as valedictorian. Years later, our younger sisters are encouraged and celebrated at nearly every academic and athletic step of the way from preschool through grad school.
A telling contrast might be girls and running. When I was in high school, I lettered in track, thanks to my efforts, a peer support system, an encouraging male coach, and Title IX, which was passed six years before I graduated. Today, young girls are cheered on through community running programs. They are recruited, coached, nurtured, and even paired with running buddies for their 5K races. Afterward, they are left alone without a detailed, customized training plan for the remainder of their life events.
Many couples deal with a higher-earning woman with no problem but many struggle for various reasons
When I consider women with earnings that outstrip men, many people come to mind. I know couples in their 50s and 60s who seem to be navigating these issues effectively without ego blows or power struggles. Instead, they make joint decisions about what works best for the family.
But then I realized that ambitious African-American women have dealt with these issues for decades. Sadly, though, it took reading this book for me to grasp what my women-of-color friends had to consider when contemplating careers, marriage, and children. (Farnoosh didn’t explore this population separately but an article from Business Insider provides some insights into these difficulties.)
Plus, the book reminded me of couples who wrestled with this dynamic. Several years ago, I remember speaking with a 20something man, who had decided to change careers in order to pursue a position that could match his bride’s earning power. What struck me was not that he wanted to make more money but 1) he didn’t think twice about abandoning a long-held, recently-achieved professional dream to snag a higher salary and 2) he seemed jealous of his wife, seeing her as a competitor not a partner.
Another situation involved a woman in her 30s who held a prestigious, lucrative position. Her husband stayed home to take care of the household. She felt that others judged her family because of their unconventional arrangement. Sadly, her husband was unfaithful. Both young couples divorced.
Studies cited by the book uphold my observations. Specifically, women who out-earn men are more likely not to get married, or if they do get married, they are more likely to be unhappy in their marriages, feel pressured to work less, and experience infidelity.
When She Makes More offers practical advice for dealing with money-relationship challenges
The advice in When She Makes More is timely, whether you agree with every observation or not. It may help a woman avoid marrying the wrong partner and provide guidance in dealing with financial and related issues after getting married. Just as American Couples helped me to clarify how my husband and I would deal with financial matters back in the 1980s, When She Makes More can help couples today.
Here are some of my favorite tips gleaned from When She Earns More:
- Make major financial decisions together.
You need to make big decisions together, including those that affect your finances. These may include the purchase or construction of your home, where you’ll send your children to school and college, how you’ll save for retirement, whether you’ll relocate for a better job offer, etc.
Deciding jointly can be difficult and time consuming. But this approach helps you talk about your dreams and priorities. Plus, you can’t blame one person for a financial mistake! You both have to take ownership of decisions.
- Plan how to handle daily finances.
Sit down with your husband and decide how to handle day-to-day aspects of your finances. This discussion should cover topics such as who will physically pay the bills, how you’ll set aside money for nonrecurring expenses, whether you’ll fund a traditional or Roth IRA, and what health insurance plan your family will use.
You don’t want to micro-manage or be micro-managed but you do need to have or provide visibility of your finances. Keep each other up-to-date on activities and any new developments, like tax changes that may affect your take-home pay or revisions to your insurance policies.
And you should allow each other to spend a certain amount of money that isn’t subject to scrutiny. Some couples keep this money in a joint account while others have separate accounts for this purpose.
- Be flexible about changing financial responsibilities.
Earning power, financial concerns, and relationship needs change throughout a marriage; your sets of rules about handling money and making decisions should be adapted to your current situation. The more agile you are, the smoother the transition from one phase to the next and the happier you will be.
Life stages include the newlywed phase when you are starting to sort through decisions about saving, investing, and spending as a couple; the young-children phase when demands relating to child care, meal preparation, and housekeeping tend to increase; and empty-nest phase when you may have to consider the needs of aging parents.
- Invest in each other’s careers.
Couples can make both time and money investments in each other’s careers. During a season that the woman is doing well professionally, she can provide financial support to help him further his career; she might pay for a professional development or certification program, or pay the bills while he attends graduate school.
At the same time, the man may handle household, money management, and child care duties so that his wife can focus on work-related responsibilities. And, roles can easily be reversed.
- Protect your finances, especially if you are a natural nurturer and giver.
Women should make sure they have savings accounts for specific purposes (such as an emergency fund) and retirement plan (funded) in their names, even if they share their incomes with their husbands.
Any commingling of assets and liabilities should be intentional, not just something that happens and is irreversible later. For example, she should be careful about 1) co-signing on loans if she wants to keep their credit separate or 2) allowing him to pay the mortgage unless she intends to share the house equity.
The underlying message here is that you should be budgeting and spending based on your priorities, monitoring expenses, saving, and investing aggressively throughout your marriage to protect yourself and your spouse.
Christian couples and those with strong faith beliefs tend to pool resources more, based on deep trust
In her research, Farnoosh learns that religious couples tend to trust each other more and are more likely to want to put all money in joint accounts. A notable Twitter response to the question, “should dual-earning couples toss all their money into one big pot?” is “Yes. If you can’t trust your spouse with finances, you should not be married,” which summarizes my thoughts as a newlywed.
Based on what I read early in my marriage and frankly, the ease of managing a single account rather than several, my husband and I had just one joint account for the early years of our marriage. This approach tends to force you to think as a unit, rather than as two individuals. Now, mainly for business and tax reasons, we have both joint and separate accounts for checking, savings, retirement, and brokerage services.
Trusting each other doesn’t mean that you need to set up accounts and automatic deposits, and then forget them. You still need to monitor activities and periodically revisit strategies. Make sure you are using your resources to reach your goals as a couple.
Not every word in When She Makes More resonates with my perspective. But the fresh insights and practical tips make the book a great resource for those who want to deal with the math and the emotions pertaining to money and money management in marriage.