I have been listening to your podcasts for roughly about two years now and find them very insightful on God’s word and relevant to the times and seasons, thank you for being a blessing. I come from an African household where my father was the main provider as he had a very stable and well-paid job. We lived in houses mortgage-free and he took care of the household bills and essential expenses such as school fees, provisions and maintenance. My parents had separate bank accounts and no complete oversight of one’s income. My wife grew up in Europe where her parents had a joint account and all their income was paid into the account. Most of all the household bills are paid from the account and the account is managed by her father. In addition, they also maintain separate accounts for personal use.
Prior to us getting married, we agreed on having a joint account to use for payment of all household bills and expenses, saving accounts and personal accounts. I contribute higher to the joint account which is approx. 60% of my monthly income. We also maintain separate personal accounts which our salaries are paid in. At the time we got married, this worked well for both of us and we were able to save from the joint account to purchase our home. Initially when we got married, I was underpaid and mostly relied on credit cards and overdrafts for any major unexpected expenses; however, I have changed jobs and been promoted over the years. I recently paid off all my debts with a lump sum payment I received.
We are now over 5 years married and over the years, we have increased as a family which means additional costs such as childcare cost (Nursery) have taken a toll on our expenses leading to almost depletion of the funds in the joint account every month. This has led to us contributing more money to the joint account to keep the account in credit. This has caused arguments a few times as it is believed I should be contributing more to the joint account and handle other unexpected expenses which may arise.
However, I am worried if it is expected of me to handle all the major expenses in the household. Last Christmas we visited my siblings and my wife bought gifts for the kids with her own personal money and asked me to contribute towards the cost which I did. This is how we have done it in the past where we split the cost equally or I pay slightly higher. However, I bought drinks for the same occasion with my personal money and asked for her to contribute towards the cost but this did not go well as she was expecting me to cover the cost.
My question is, how do other like-minded couples manage their finances in the western world? Is it expected for a man to handle all the major costs and at the same time pay for the mortgage, bills, family holidays and maintenance costs? My parents’ situation was different to mine so I cannot use them as an example especially in the western world.
We think that many people including couples who come from the same country and culture will relate to your question. Most of us grow up assuming that money in a marriage “works” in one way. It is quite a shock when we marry and find out that our spouse has an entirely different picture.
The first step we would recommend is to make sure that your wife is open to talking about the topic. Before either of you recommend any specifics, both of you need to be on the same page, agreeing that it is time to rethink things. At this stage of your lives it is irrelevant what each of your parents did or, indeed, what the two of you did earlier in your marriage. Together, you need to work out what is best for the two of you and your children. Neither of you is going to “win” this discussion – the two of you and your family will win.
Congratulations on getting out of debt. That is a huge accomplishment and one that will stand you in good stead. It does concern us, however, that you speak of it as a solo idea and venture. Did you and your wife not discuss what to do with the lump sum payment you got? Marriage is more than a socio-economic relationship. It is the melding of two into one. Do you regularly have discussions about your children – about your concerns and hopes for them? Do you check the temperature of your marriage on a regular basis and adjust time spent at work, with friends, or on hobbies? From your letter, it doesn’t sound to us that you work as a team. Your wife bought gifts for your siblings’ children, and you bought drinks for the occasion, but you never talked about what the two of you should do for the get-together. The money question is secondary to our concern at your lack of communication and failure to act as a unit.
Emmanuel, there are so many questions we have and that we hope the two of you will discuss. You say that it worries you to be responsible for the major expenses of the household. Why does that worry you? Is your wife working because she wants to, because the family needs her income, or because you want her to work? Do you consider yourselves equally responsible for housework and taking care of your children? How does your marriage function in all areas, of which finance is just one?
There are certainly different cultural and family expectations for marriage. We suggest that the two of you stop thinking of “mine” and “yours” and work to think of “ours.” That doesn’t mean that neither of you can spend a small amount without the other’s involvement, or that you have to split expenses 50/50. It means that you work to manage whatever money there is together. We will be expanding on this in our forthcoming book from Wiley Publishers, but think of both of you earning the money in your paycheck, and both of you earning the money in your wife’s paycheck because that is really how it is.
What is important once we are married, is to figure out together what is best for our own marriage. We are certainly influenced by our parents and we can and should learn from others but we must make deliberate decisions and choose our own path. This is not a one-time conversation, it is a continuing education project.
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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