A number of things have changed in our society over the past 40 years. For example, as we learned recently it’s no longer okay to punish your child by spanking or whipping him with a branch. And while it was maybe never okay to hit a woman we know now it really, really isn’t – especially if you’re a pro football player.
The idea of marriage has also changed dramatically. Some states now recognize same-sex marriages. And many of those that haven’t done this at least recognize civil unions. Divorce has become almost as common as, well, the common cold as about 40% to 50% of married couples in the United States now divorce. Finally, one of the biggest changes is due to the fact most families cannot afford to have one parent stay home with the kids while the other works. As a result two working parents now head 44.8% or nearly half of all US families. There are also couples known as DINKS (Double Income No Kids).
So what type of marriage do you have?
When both people work, what’s the division of labor? Is it sort of typical where the woman is responsible for cooking, cleaning and grocery shopping, while the husband takes care of the lawn and home repairs? Or is it what’s now called “egalitarian?”
The dictionary definition of egalitarian is “asserting, promoting, or marked by egalitarianism, which is defined as “a belief in human equality.” So how does this relate to marriage? It’s a marriage where tasks and responsibilities are shared equally and not based on sex. For example, in an egalitarian marriage, the husband may do some or all of the cooking and vacuuming, while the wife handles storage, dishwashing and home electronics. They may split the grocery shopping or one of the two might take full responsibility for menu planning and food shopping. In other words, responsibilities and tasks are split based on each partner’s idiosyncratic preferences, skills and interests.
Where problems arise
While an egalitarian marriage can be a good thing for many couples, it can have its issues unless boundaries are drawn very firmly. For example, consider the kitchen. Let’s suppose that the wife is responsible for kitchen equipment, organization and cooking but the husband is in charge of dishwashing and storage. Guess what can happen? The woman has a carefully thought out scheme of what goes where that is completely intuitive. However, the husband has no idea where measuring spoons go so he puts them wherever he thinks makes sense and half the time the wife can’t then find them.
That old way of doing things
In traditional marriages things might not have been great but they were simpler. Either dad handed over his paycheck to mom and in return she gave him an allowance for beer and cigarettes. Or the man took care of the money and mom had an allowance for household stuff and clothing and then had to beg dad for big purchases such as a dishwasher.
Live like roommates
How does this work in an egalitarian marriage? There have been a number of alternative solutions created by couples to try to get around the problem of who pays for what. Some choose to live like roommates where each person contributes money to household expenses. This can reduce the need for negotiation but may create even larger problems with “gaps.” What are gaps? These can be fights over things such as whether one partner needs to pay when the other calls a plumber about a slow drain.
Pool some of your income
A second option for handling finances in an egalitarian marriage is where you pool some income but each of you keeps some back. This can work well for young couples whose earnings are nearly equal. Unfortunately, if the earnings are unequal this can lead to problems such as you’re enjoying your new computer while your partner is trying to decide whether to buy a suit for a job interview or replace his dying phone. Under this option, you have fewer gaps but more overlap over personal and joint expenses. These then have to be negotiated, as does the issue of how you spend the larger pool of joint money.
Pool all of it
Of course, you can always pool everything and then each person could have an allowance. This can be a satisfactory solution if you have joint expenses that have begun to dominate your individual expenses. This would include things such as home renovations, having kids, pets and the like. This option does have a decided advantage in that it forces couples to define household goals and then enables them to direct all of their money towards them. However, to make this work you will need to create a detailed budget, track expenses and then negotiate basically everything that you spend money on.
Everyone spends what he or she wants
A fourth and final option is where everyone spends whatever they want out of the joint account. Unfortunately, this is the worst possible system outside of living like roommates. It is the favorite of DINKS until the day of reckoning comes when they wake up and find that they are 45 years old, overextended on their mortgage and have nothing saved up for retirement. The benefit of this is that right up to that point there will be a lot fewer fights over money.
What the modern family needs
As you have read, there is a downside to all of these options for handling a couple’s money. The best solution for the modern family is to use modern financial tools. This is where you have an explicit plan for how you handle money, use good accounting and recognize that no matter the system you use, there will be gaps and overlaps that you will need to resolve or figure out how to prevent them.
What is that explicit plan? It’s basically tracking all of your expenses, creating a budget and then determining precisely who is responsible for what. The good news for those that are seriously budget adverse is that tracking expenses and creating a budget is much simpler than it used to be. There are numerous financial apps and software available that make these tasks incredibly simple. For example, one of the most popular is Mint.com. It’s available for use on all types of smart phones and computers and is just amazingly simple to use. It will track your spending for whatever amount of time you decide and then organize it into logical categories such as clothing, entertainment, food, utilities, transportation and the like. You assign an amount to each of these categories and should you overspend in one of them, Mint will alert you via email. It will also alert you if it finds a financial product better than something you’re currently using (think credit cards).
Another good money management tool that’s becoming increasingly popular is Learnvest. With it you can sign up and add your bank accounts directly from your iPhone so that it’s very simple to track spending, stay within your budget and master your cash flow. It also offers access to financial advice and money-saving tips.
If you feel like you could use some help with your budgeting, here’s a video courtesy of National Debt Relief with some information that features noted financial expert Dave Ramsey …
There are even apps available that can help if you’re having a problem with debt. One of the most popular is ReadyForZero, which will help you create a debt-repayment plan and then track your progress as you get closer and closer to zero or owing nothing.
After you’ve created a budget
You may find that creating a budget is not half as troublesome as deciding who will be responsible for what. This is where you will need to do some good negotiating and try to draw firm boundaries. But understand that no matter how good a job you do there will always be gaps and overlaps and the real secret of good money management is how successfully you are in resolving them.