I don’t think it’s realistic to talk about money without addressing the power it holds. There is a reason why poverty begets violence. Money is about resources, survival and livelihood. Our most primal instincts are awakened when money is at play. Access to money and other resources that only money can provide can determine access to everything else in life such as the quality of education, health care, customer service (Nordstrom v. Walmart), etc. There is a lot of power in money at a societal level and we know it. However, we don’t spend enough time discussing the role money plays at the lowest levels relative to womanhood.
One of the greatest power dynamic that exists is the one between men and women. Given the importance of money in society, it is not surprising that there are constant discussions about how men and women use money, who should pay for what and of course who should manage it. Some people of both genders see women as frivolous spenders. We are split on who should pay. And because of point 1, some people think that the male 1/2 of the household should manage the funds of the married/cohabiting couple.
Personally, I think these are all small minded perceptions of money management. While I married a very fiscally responsible person, there is no one with tighter hold on a purse strings like me. I am also very organized and unlike most people (male or female), spreadsheets excite me. To apply that tired sexist and unfunny joke to me that I’m bad with money like most women is insulting. Plenty of women are good with money. Some of us are great savers because we are disciplined, others went to business school and understand financial markets well, some others are single mothers who know how to make a dollar out of 50 cents.
Sure, I can rant about negative stereotypes on the internet, but how can I complain when I mostly run the finances in my house? The problem is that this is not the reality for many women. Financial bullying is a thing. Many abusers, knowing the power of money or how crippling the lack of it can be, use it as a tool for control. I know of women who hide their purchases in their car for many months so the husband does not catch wind of their extracurricular mall activities. These are the women who are often chastised for going over budget yet are only able to access the bare minimum to keep the household running. They may even be provided less than the minimum but are required to ask their husbands for additional funds if they need anything else.
This is where the “allowance” comes in. Having an allowance in itself does not have to be problematic. The issue usually arises when the person who dictates the allowance is somehow not restricted by any artificial limits on their own discretionary spending. This unequal treatment is often the stepping stone to all other financial abuses that the nonworking or lower earning spouse will eventually experience.
Finally, we can always expect the money bully to make a last ditch effort at retaining his power: limiting your earning potential. Many times, an abusive partner who wants to keep controlling your money may prevent you from working or sabotage your opportunities by jeopardizing your work or even demanding that you reduce your hours.
These are all the reasons why I advocate that women make a serious effort to be financially independent when they enter a relationship. Although people may not always show their ugly side early in on, it helps establish certain expectations and a financially independent woman may even be a turn off to an abusive, controlling, financially bullying man. I understand that financial independence is not realistic for most. Education, child care, mere access to employment are all factors. But, from what I’ve witnessed and the dangerous situations that women have placed themselves in because of lack resources, even a part-time minimum wage job is better than having to ask your abuser for $40 for gas just to be able to leave him.
I have volunteered at a shelter for battered women where, in order to control capacity, the maximum stay was 2 weeks. Many of the women ended up moving back with their abusers because the alternative to the occasional black eye was homelessness in the harsh New England winter. These are situations that make me grateful, not only for a supportive husband, but for my financial know-how, and my earning potential in case he were to ever become less than the man I expect him to be. For some women, employability and financial stability are a matter of life and death.