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Questioning Marriage: Money Matters


The New York Times is continuing its campaign against marriage. First it was that nasty old trick of trying to promote honest communication – a sure relationship killer.

Now there’s this article about how even some wealthy, working, probably usually independent-acting women make their luxury purchases in cash so as not to have a spat with the hubby. That makes marriage sound really appealing – you’re a mistress of the universe on the streets, at home a 1950s wifey with what my grandmother would have called “mad money” tucked away in the underwear drawer (excuse me – “lingerie” at this price point). (I’ve never figured out if the “mad” stash was meant in case of anger or going nuts. Both probably.)

And look, the campaign’s working. Well, you probably can’t credit it all to the New York Times. But now more women in the U.S. are living without spouses than with them. And many of the women are thrilled about it.

Naturally they are. If you feel like you have to sneak around like a teenager with a pack of ciggies when you go shopping, it’s like being married to Big Daddy. Not an appealing thought. (Well, for some women it probably is, but everyone has her own issues.)

Now, if the women were hiding their purchases because they were embarrassed to be spending $2,000 on a bag, or $800 on a pair of shoes, because it’s ridiculously wasteful, that would be one thing. (And you know when they write “The History of the Decline of the American Empire,” there’ll be a section talking about how the signs were plain to see in 21st Century shopping habits.) But, anecdotally, the men discussed in the article have no problem going public with their unnecessary boy-type electronic purchases and such. No one really laughs at the idea of a $5,000 television, particularly if it’s “high def.”

And there seem to be women hiding their purchases with cash at less-expensive stores too, according to the article, although it’s hard to know because the salespeople don’t suck up to you as much at Ann Taylor, do they? Not that there isn’t unnecessary shopping at all price levels. Look at all those pillows, plastic organizers and t-shirts that fill carts at Target.

Certainly, there are relationship issues involved here, but there are money issues too. Women have wrestled more work opportunities for themselves, but we still have some inner wrestling to do. The current received wisdom is that women’s main money issues spring from too much shopping and not enough attention to their finances, and that it’s particularly important for women to understand money because they get hit harder financially in a divorce, and live longer and earn less than men. (Which reminds me, there’s an amusing Atlantic essay by Sandra Tsing Loh that touches on some of last year’s books about women and money.)

The basic problems of overspending and ignoring financial matters are something both sexes can be guilty of – after all, boys and girls, you should always check your credit card bills.

But some girls get steered away from learning about finances by whatever vestiges still exist of the idea that it’s boy stuff. Earning money, and controlling it, is literally empowering. In couples, income disparities can be one of those tough honest communication-type issues (ha!). But whether we earn nothing or a lot, some of us are still uncomfortable with money matters.

Which seems to end up making money – but not for us girls. Suze Orman, who’s curiously addictive to watch during PBS fundraisers, has a book on women and money coming out next month. There’s a slew of information out there, including books without “women” in the title (greenbacks don’t know from pink or blue).

We could all do ourselves a favor and check out a book about money – from the free public library.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 2:10 AM | Permalink

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