Musings from outside the mainstream.
WONDERING IN WASHINGTON writes to DEAR ABBY commenting on the money management of their children’s generation. They observed their son’s-in-law spending money without consulting their spouses and wondered where the attitude “any money I earn is mine” in a marriage got started. They reiterated that during their 40 year marriage they “always considered what each of us earned was OURS, not mine of hers.”
DEAR ABBY responded by saying times have changed and that “we have become a society in which disposability has spread from material possessions to relationships.” And she solicits her readers to chime in. [Edit: which they do about three months later.]
The nature of relationship has changed. We’re delaying marriage. Both men and women have careers and independence, especially financial independence prior to marriage. This leads to established identities, interests and spending habits prior to cohabitation.
This isn’t always for the better, especially when people from different socio-economic backgrounds attempt to merge households with little discussion about values and roles. I’ve seen major issues even when a couple from similar backgrounds attempt to merge lives.
We have jettisoned most familiar relationship roles of your generation and not replaced them with anything meaningful or functional. So, what you have witnessed might have to do with the expectation or assumption that women have their own incomes.
The men of the generations following yours receive many messages –from women- that the money she earns is hers, and she doesn’t have to explain how she spends it to anyone. She can keep her name and her career. And she will only be a home maker if she chooses that role.
This isn’t to excuse any boorish or thoughtless behavior from men regarding money. Indeed, I felt ABBY was fair in her response and did not to take sides along gender lines. And I don’t plan to here either. Rather, I think it’s important to point out how our culture no longer acknowledges that financial security had a lot to do with why people got married.
Yet we take financial security within modern marriage for granted, despite the fact that we are operating in a vacuum that contains no meaningful dialogue for young couples with two incomes, much less when they transition from two incomes to one.
We seem to have eliminated the idea that we should seek companions with similar financial values and priorities. We’ve replaced “what’s mine is ours” with I should be able to spend money without having to run it by my partner. And many find it an affront to their personal freedom to have to curb their spending or impulse purchases to honor a shared goal.
ABBY’s readers offered many solutions in the follow up column. One of the ways many two income families work with finances is to have a shared account that pays all joint expenses (mortgage, utilities, insurance, food) and each have separate accounts for their own spending. But, this only works if both parties can honor shared commitments and live within in their means.
It’s disheartening to realize how hard that can be for some people.