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an old-school calculator
by
Vicki Larson
,
October 20, 2022

Women: Marriage Is Not a Financial Plan!

And please don’t leave the financial decisions to your spouse.

I’m not sure why my financial health wasn’t on my radar for so long, but in truth, I am not alone.

When I was younger, I never cared about money. I mean, I knew it was important for some essentials — like eating, housing, not running around naked— but getting rich was never my focus.

Fast forward a few decades, after years of working part-time to raise my children during my 14-year marriage, throw in a divorce, which sent me back into the workforce full time, and believe me — I began to really care about money. Because I didn’t have any. And my new full-time position at a newspaper paid me basically what I was making in my 20s. Except I was now in my late 40s and responsible for two children (FYI: journalism is a highly rewarding career, just not financially).

Needless to say, there were several rough years.

I took out a five-year interest-only loan to buy the house from my former husband (he didn’t want it) so my kids could finish their schooling in the same schools with the same friends, never thinking I would be able to keep it past then. And the only reason I could swing it was that it has a small apartment that was once a garage, which brought in essential rental income to help with the mortgage.

It wasn’t until I inherited some stocks from my parents after they passed —nowhere near enough to retire on but more money, even if it was just on paper, than I ever had — that I began to take a real interest in my financial future.

I met with a financial planner to help me sort out what that future might look like — I’d have to work until I was 70 to retire, she said, and, oh, would I be willing to have a roommate or rent out my house and live small someplace else at some point?

Sure, sure, sure.

I’m not sure why my financial health wasn’t on my radar for so long, but in truth, I am not alone. For a woman, that is.

According to a new survey of more than 1,800 married couples, mostly hetero but a few dozen same-sex, nearly half of the wives say they leave the major financial and investment decisions to their spouses.

This is what women of my mother’s generation often did. But it’s 2020 — who are these women? Surprisingly it’s millennials who are stepping back from being an equal partner.

Why? They wanted to avoid arguing, they had “no idea where to begin,” they thought their spouse was financially savvier and — here’s the kicker — nearly 60% said they wanted to be “taken care of.”

Oh gals, you are breaking my heart.

“Financial avoidance is a recurring narrative among women and wives, often passed down from previous generations,” writes author and financial journalist Farnoosh Torabi, host of the So Money podcast.

This is a particularly bad time to be ignorant of your finances. As she notes, the pandemic has meant more women have lost their jobs than men, unlike during the Great Recession. Also, many schools are closed across the country, forcing parents who can work from home to also be their children’s teachers. Guess who overwhelmingly does that? Right, moms, and so many have cut back on their hours or quit altogether — remember, men typically get paid more than women do, so this makes financial sense, in the moment at least.

In the long run, however, this is a disaster for women.

But even if that’s not your situation, even if you’re working full time and holding steady, chances are if you’re a woman, you’re going to age alone whether you want to or not. In fact, of the nearly 13 million bereaved spouses in America today, 11 million are women. And you absolutely need to understand what’s going on with your money, no matter how much or little you have

As Torabi writes:

If, like some of the women in this study, you worry about not knowing where to begin today, think about how lost you’d be later if and when you really need to manage your investments, life insurance and will with your partner out of the picture. The facts are that women tend to live longer and are more likely to be alone in old age. We often face higher long-term care costs.

I wish someone had talked to me about this decades ago — why didn’t my dad, an avid stock market investor, teach his daughters about the market and money? — but at least I eventually learned about the importance of being financially savvy, albeit the hard way.

Marriage is not a financial plan. Just because you have a spouse today does not mean you will have one forever, either through divorce or death. And sometimes a spouse becomes disabled or ill and can’t work. Then what?

I still don’t care about being rich. But having enough money to get by and not need a partner to take care of me? Yeah, that’s important.

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Hey, I’m working on a book on changing the narrative about middle-aged and older women. Interested? Follow me here, on Medium, and on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, and let’s do this. Want to learn how to create a marriage based on your values and goals? (Of course you do!) Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore (please do) or order it on Amazon. And we’re now on Audible.

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