Love, Relationships and Finance: Net Worth and Self Worth pt. 2

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I make very little money, but my spouse makes quite a bit -- and says it’s OK if I use my money for my own needs and don’t contribute to the joint household bills. Will this work ?

In our opinion, this won’t work -- in fact, chances are that as the years go by, it will backfire. When one person pays for everything, what usually happens is that he or she slowly begins to feel a sense of ownership toward everything, as well as a creeping resentment toward the person who is not paying his or her way. What’s more, the per son who is not making a financial contribution gradually feels less powerful, more dependent, and less entitled to participate in joint financial decisions, which is each partner’s right in a committed relationship. If you are working, it would be best for you to contribute an equal percentage, even if that means you pay just a few dollars a month. In a shared life, you both have to pay.

What if I would like to stop working for money and stay home to take care of the children?

The first thing to ask yourself is this: Is staying at home financially feasible? To answer this question, we recommend that you and your spouse add up all your expenses -- everything from the mortgage to food, clothes, and schooling for your children. (If you are paying for day care, you can reclaim those costs.) Now, how much of your spouse’s income would be left over each month if you stopped working? If there would be little or nothing left, and you both decide that this is the right course to follow, then you must share equally in the responsibility of caring for your money. If there is some discretionary money, it should be split fifty-fifty, regardless of who’s bringing it in. Remember, in most states, all married couples’ income is considered to be jointly owned, and that should be the guiding principle of your partnership.

If I do decide to stay home with the children, how do we live on one income?

There is no simple formula for “finding” the money in this situation. You and your spouse must work together to adjust the variables, whether it means seeking a higher-paying job for the partner who earns more money, moving to a more affordable house or apartment, or learning to make do without certain luxuries.

Once we've figured out the financial side of my staying home with the children, what else should my spouse and I think about?

After you've worked out the finances, the most important thing is that you and your spouse agree that it’s desirable for you to stay home with the children. Resentment on either side is a pretty clear indicator that the arrangement won’t work. You must agree, too, that any assets accumulated belong to both of you, not solely to the partner earning money. And you must find a way to ensure that you both keep in mind that the partner who is staying home is a full, equal partner with equal rights and isn't subtly belittled. After all, the stay-home partner will be doing work equal to, if not more important than, that of the partner who marches off in a gray suit to the office every morning.

Both my wife/husband and I go to an office every day. What if one of us loses our job?

If your relationship is strong and you’ve talked about this contingency beforehand, you’ll get through the crisis. Remember the extra 10 percent I asked you to put into your joint fund every month? This is one of the things it’s designed for; it’s there to help you both in times of trouble. Handling setbacks together is part of the challenge and joy of marriage.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008 12:09