Not long ago, women were expected to marry, have children, and live a life dedicated to home and husband.
It was what society told women they could and should do. Money, like education, was deemed too complicated for women, despite the fact that managing a home required the ability to budget and plan.
In fact, it wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that women were legally seen as independent financial beings, capable of holding property and wealth separate from her father or her husband. It took another 70 years before women could open a credit card account without a husband co-signer.
But for all of this progress and financial independence, some modern-day women find themselves at the whim of their husbands, financially speaking.
When first presented with the idea that some stay-at-home military wives are granted an “allowance” for taking care of the household necessities, I was more than a little dumbfounded.
Is this practice a way for controlling husbands to keep their wives on a short spending leash?
Does it imply that these military spouses are incapable of handling money? Or that they are untrustworthy?
Can a healthy military marriage survive this kind of arrangement?
Is a Spending Allowance a Trust Issue?
In Kristine Schellhaas’s book, “15 Years of War,” she recounts her life as a Marine Corps spouse, including her time spent as the leader of the unit spouse organization. During that time, she often counseled young Marines headed out on deployment to ensure their spouses had access to their bank accounts.
Turns out, many of these same Marines said “I do” in a hurry because of the deployment and the idea of giving financial access to someone they hardly knew (wife or not) was a bit daunting.
I certainly can’t begrudge them for their concerns, but like Schellhaas pointed out to these Marines, a great many more problems could arise should a spouse be left without access.
A set allowance hardly provides wiggle room for emergencies or unexpected expenses and in times when a service member isn’t available on a routine basis, it’s not hard to imagine the difficulties a military spouse might face.
But these newly married military spouses aren’t the only ones earning an “allowance.”
The Monetary Worth of a Stay-At-Home Spouse
While a get-hitched-get-deployed kind of marriage might suffer from a few trust issues, it’s hardly the kind of thing one would expect from a couple who married under less time-constrained circumstances. However, a quick search of military spouse forums reveals that many military families operate in this fashion.
Since a stay-at-home spouse doesn’t have an employer, the monetary value of the work they do is often hard to estimate. According to Salary.com if stay-at-home mothers were paid for their work at a similar rate as someone employed full-time, they would earn well into 6 figures.
But it seems in some cases, stay-at-home spouses feel guilty asking for money as they don’t directly contribute financially to a family’s income. They are left feeling less valuable than their paycheck-earning spouse and an allowance, while possibly intended as a way of providing some financial freedom, often ends up feeling like payment for services rendered.
Hardly a healthy outlook for a marriage between 2 competent and loving adults.
A Rose by Any Other Name
Discussion of this issue often calls out the controversy that stems from the use of the word “allowance?” It tends to imply one spouse wielding financial power over another.
But, if it were termed “monthly budget” would so many cringe at the thought? If both spouses were limited to an “allowance” would we find less to critique?
After nearly 20 years of marriage, I will admit that money issues are at the top of the list of things we argue about. I have and often still suffer from feelings of guilt in knowing I am capable of earning as much as my spouse, but my income, due to choices we have made as a family, is dwarfed by my active-duty spouse. And there have been plenty of times when we have limited ourselves to an allowance to ensure we stayed on budget.
What I can’t condone, however are those instances where an allowance is used as a power grab. For me, a healthy marriage means both spouses are equally responsible for the well-being of their family, be it earning a paycheck or managing a household. And as long as couples openly discuss spending expectations, whether you call it an allowance or not is really of little consequence. Communicating openly and honestly about your money to each other benefits your marriage.