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Financially Dependent: Depending On Your Partner For Financial Support

Financially Dependent: Depending On Your Partner For Financial Support

Let’s begin with these questions: Do you depend on your partner for financial support? Could you pay all of your bills and maintain your current standard of living without help from anyone else?

I recently wrote a post called Quitting My Six-Figure Job. If you haven’t read it yet, take a gander and then pop back over here. It serves as the backdrop for the words that follow.

I think it’s valuable to read the whole article for context, but if you are short on time, here’s a brief synopsis. In 2011 I left my high-paying job to become a stay-at-home mom. In the past seven years, I’ve missed out on $1 million worth of potential income. If wisely invested, that money could have grown to more than $3 million throughout my lifetime.

A reader sent me a long email in response to that post. More specifically, she had a couple of questions she wanted to ask:

  • How do you feel about relying on your husband’s paycheck?
  • Is it hard to be financially dependent on your husband?

It sucks. No doubt about it.

I stared at the words on my computer screen and read the email in its entirety fifteen or twenty times in a row. Returning to the first line each time I reached the end of it.

These are difficult questions to answer. How do I feel about being financially dependent on my husband? What do I think about depending on my husband for financial support?

Oh, where should I begin?

Saving at the Start of My Career

First, you should know that I struggled with the decision to leave the workforce. I contemplated my options for months. I thought I knew for sure what I wanted to do, and then, at the last minute, I changed my mind.

Our finances were front and center in my decision-making process. I spent the first twelve years of my career earning and saving money. In fact, by the time I walked away from work, I saved over $155,000 in my 401k.

My company matched my contributions up to 6%, and the market gave me an additional lift after that. The total value was over $300,000 on the day I rolled it into my IRA. At the time, my husband’s retirement accounts were equal to my own.

I was guaranteed a small pension worth roughly $1,200 per month. However, I couldn’t gain access to it until I reached retirement age.

My final paycheck from work included a severance check worth more than $62,000. The previous check was sizable, too, as it included the payout of unused vacation leave and other miscellaneous items.

Our investments at the time totaled over $1 million. My husband saved more than half of that amount.

Knowing the Value of My Marketable Skills

When I left the workforce, I was completely aware of my marketable skills. “How?” you might ask. Well, my employer just happened to announce company wide layoffs when I was four months pregnant.

I set up an interview for a new job weeks after I received the news. I was offered the position along with a slightly higher salary than my previous one. My skills at that time were up-to-date and in demand. I knew I could return to work if the need arose.

Preparing to Stay-At-Home

My situation is unique. Most women who quit their jobs probably haven’t spent twelve years earning and saving as much as I did. Few would have the opportunity to do so. Even fewer are married to a man who did the same.

I didn’t leave my job with mere pennies in my bank account. If my husband and I divorced, I would’ve walked away with half a million dollars. That doesn’t include proceeds from the properties we could have sold.

These financial details provide critical details to my decision-making process. I did not walk blindly into my new role as a stay-at-home mom.

I stepped into that position after saving for over a decade. I amassed those large sums of money long before I conceived my first child.

I would urge all new parents to run the numbers before leaping to stay home. You don’t want to pause your career until you feel confident about your finances.

Working Women Can Also Become Dependent

My skills are certainly rustier than they once were, and my experience more outdated. There is no doubt that my earnings capacity has temporarily diminished as my years outside of the workforce grow.

Most stay-at-home parents are aware of this problem. Some do a better job than others of keeping their skills up-to-date and their network intact. I, personally, have not done an excellent job at either of those chores.

Does this lackadaisical approach keep most stay-at-home parents financially dependent on their spouses? Yes, of course, it does.

But I would argue that stay-at-home moms are not the only ones who are financially dependent.

Do You Depend On Your Spouse for Financial Support?

Many married working women are also financially dependent. While there are certainly breadwinning women in the world and kudos to them, there are plenty of other women who could not support their current lifestyle entirely on their own. (For the record, there are also a lot of men in that same bucket. There are plenty of husbands who are financially dependent on their wives.)

If your partner disappeared from the face of this Earth and took that bi-weekly paycheck along for the ride, could you still pay for your housing, utilities, food, vacations, and credit card bills, or would your lifestyle have to change?

If you cannot maintain your current lifestyle, then you are also financially dependent upon your partner.

I have plenty of friends who are teachers and social workers. Not a single one of them could remain in their current homes, paying their existing mortgages without the addition of their husband’s salary.

You could argue that those women are less dependent on their spouses, but no doubt about it, they still need their husband’s paychecks to maintain their lifestyle.

The Definition of Financial Dependence

Is a stay-at-home mom in a worse financial place than a working one? Probably. The working woman already has a job, a career, a trajectory, and a means to make more money. A stay-at-home mom will need to find employment before she can begin earning. There is no denying that fact.

There are plenty of horror stories about parents who leave the workforce, face divorce, and have trouble finding work. Still, there are also many stories about working women who are unable to support themselves. If that weren’t the case, alimony would never be granted to working women.

Financial independence is the ability to support yourself fully and completely without assistance. In the world of personal finance and FIRE, you are not financially independent until you have enough income to pay for your living expenses without employment.

How many women can support their lifestyles on their own? Let alone reach FI alone?

Systemic Problems

Both stay-at-home moms and working moms face financial dependence. It is more common for a woman to depend on her spouses’ paychecks than to live comfortably without them.

There are many systemic reasons for this problem. For starters, young women are still encouraged to work in lower-paying fields. Nurses and teachers don’t get paid as well as doctors and engineers.

Did you know that women earn less than 18% of all computer science degrees? We should all feel disheartened by this fact.

Empower Women To Earn More Money

Do men naturally gravitate to these occupations, or are they programmed from a young age to earn more money? And if men are groomed to provide for themselves, then why aren’t women?

We should teach young women about personal finance. We should also ensure every girl is as comfortable and competent with a calculator as her male counterparts.

To level the playing ground, we need to introduce young women to STEM and show them how to solve complex problems. We also need to stress the importance of subjects like math and science and provide female role models to meet and aspire to become.

With these skills, they can study, graduate, and move on to high-paying careers. They can also learn that saving money is just as important as earning it. After all, you can’t reach financial independence without saving and investing it.

Passion or Profit

As a teenager, I was told to pursue my passions while my male classmates were told to increase their profits. Why do different genders receive such different messages?

What if a young girl has big dreams that cost money? How much harder will it be for her to achieve them? How much more will she need to depend on someone else to bridge the gap between the money she earns and the lifestyle she craves?

It’s not fair for women to start behind the eight ball. If we wish to remove the need for dependence, we must also fight for equal pay and shrink the wage gap.

I Am Financially Dependent On My Husband

I’m not sure if I answered the question. So I’ll try again. “Does it bother you to depend on your husband’s paycheck?” It turns out that I was dependent on my husband’s money long before I ever quit my job. Despite earning six-figures, I couldn’t pay for our bills by myself. I certainly wouldn’t have qualified for mortgages on multiple homes.

“Is it hard to be financially dependent on your husband?” The same answer applies. I was dependent long before I became a stay-at-home mom. I just didn’t realize it at the time.

Sure, I could have altered my lifestyle and supported myself quite happily, but I couldn’t afford to live the life I planned. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is the truth.

Does it bother me to feel dependent on my husband’s paycheck? Of course, it does.

My Husband Was Financially Dependent On Me

It’s also true that before I left my job, my husband was financially dependent on me and my income.

I should point out that there is nothing wrong with mutual financial dependence. It’s certainly cheaper for two people to maintain a household than it is for two people to maintain separate residences. There are also a huge number of perks.

What Are My Feelings About Being Financially Dependent?

I’ll be honest. If I didn’t have $1 million in the bank before my son was born, I’m not sure I would have left my profession. When I gave up my paycheck, I had a hard time separating my net worth from self-worth.

I never felt bad for being dependent on my husband, but I did feel guilty for giving up my income. I spent many years focused on increasing my salary and saving. It felt strange to give up on that suddenly.

My husband’s company and his salary eventually made up for my lost income, so I never felt the need to worry about becoming destitute or broke. He provided the paychecks so I could stay at home with our children. A fact that I am still grateful for.

We also saved a ton of money despite my decision to stay home. My husband’s income was more than enough to cover all our bills and still invest a lot.

What helped my peace of mind was consistently checking our finances. I never worried about our financial future because I routinely reviewed and managed our day to day transactions, credit cards, bank accounts, and excel spreadsheets.

You may not earn as much as your spouse, but you should still be 100% vested in the outcome of your partner’s paychecks. This is true whether you stay-home or continue to work.

My confidence grows each time I log in to my bank accounts. It comes when I know we can pay our bills and credit cards.

How does it feel to be financially dependent on my husband? It feels okay because we have a ridiculously large safety net. Thanks in part to the markets and my husband’s continued drive to work. I’m sure I’d feel different if we didn’t.

Ashley

Thursday 3rd of December 2020

Thank you so much for posting this. We are having very different experiences. Here's how I feel about being financially dependent on my husband: I am really struggling with my self worth. I quit college when I was only 12 credits away from receiving my degree when we had our baby, and I have never returned. I was really excited to receive my degree and go on to graduate school. I feel pretty worthless. I am homeschooling our seven children, and I work hard at home, but I still feel awful. What makes it worse is that I tend to be quite driven, and my husband is pretty passionless in his career pursuits and small-minded in his vision of the future. I am so jealous of his position. I wish I had the opportunity to build a career. I am stuck here wasting my life, knowing that when the children are grown I will have nothing to show for my time spent raising them--professionally speaking. I will be worse off than when I started. I wish I could start building my career now, but I would have to start at the bottom of any career after being out of the workforce for over 14 years. I know there are ways to move forward, but I am having a lot of trouble seeing them. I am constantly trying out new business ideas (without any investment capital) and then failing at them because I have seven kids that are home with me 24-7, and anything added to that is apparently too hard for me to manage, so I give up and feel even worse--so defeated. It doesn't sound like it, but I believe strongly in what I am doing. I think my children greatly benefit from having me at home with them, and homeschooling is something that I am passionate about, but it doesn't take away the feelings of shame and degradation over not being able to contribute something meaningful to the world, and help provide for my family. I am writing a novel. That is a lot of work. It may result in a paycheck someday, but it certainly not this week. I hate feeling like I am stuck in a problem with no solution. Maybe there is one, but I can't see it from inside this problem.

Oh, and I have a funny podcast. Don't I seem like such a fun and funny person in this comment? Also, it pays nothing. You're a superhero for reading all of this whining.

One Frugal Girl

Sunday 6th of December 2020

Hi Ashley,

Thank you for your comment. As a fellow stay-at-home parent I want you to know that I have felt the same way as you do. Especially, just after I made the decision to stay home. It's hard not to contribute financially and it sucks that as human beings we tie our value and worth to how much money we make. I think that you should keep dreaming big dreams. I don't know how old you are or how old your kids are, but if they are young it does get better as they get bigger. I have more time now than I did when my boys were little. Small snippets of time to write and focus. If you are developing a podcast than you must have a little time available too. Hold on to those pockets of time to do something meaningful that could turn into a career down the road.

Also, remember that life is long. Well, at least hopefully it will be. There is no reason you cannot step into a career later in life. I have been contemplating returning to work even though I have been out of the workforce for 9 years. If you have passion and interest you can climb the ladder quickly no matter how old you are. There isn't an age limit on contributing to the world at large, so don't place the burden of a timeline on your dreams. Some amazing people didn't get to work until their later years or switched careers mid-way.

You have plenty of time to search for the things you love and make money doing them!

All the best,

OFG

Toni

Friday 7th of August 2020

I am also a stay at home mom, and I think you forgot to mention that while yes, I am financially dependant on my husband, he depends on me for caring for our children and our home. Please don't minimize the contributions of stay at home moms.

One Frugal Girl

Tuesday 18th of August 2020

Thank you for your comment.

Contributing in non-financial ways is extremely important, but this post was focused on the monetary aspects of becoming a stay-at-home parent and thereby becoming financially dependent. Technically my husband could hire someone to watch our children and take care of our home, but I can't hire someone to earn money for me. Yes it would cost money for him to do so, but those responsibilities could be outsourced.

Being financially dependent on someone can be incredibly difficult. If a stay-at-home parent is not earning money they still need to be extremely vested in the family finances. They need to know how to log in to bank accounts, where money comes from, how much insurance the employed spouse has, etc.

The issue is not just about lacking income. I think it's also not having a say at the financial table. My husband and I have always been equal partners in those areas of our lives and I think all partners should be. Stay-at-home parents don't need to invest the money, but they need to know that the money is invested. They don't need to buy insurance, but they need to know that it has been purchased, etc.

All partners should talk openly about money. That includes families where both parents work, but I think it is even more important in situations with a stay-at-home parent. Being financially dependent should not mean being blind to the money situation. It should mean that both partners believe in the importance of one parent staying home.

And that they work together to ensure their finances are solid and their bases are covered. It isn't a lot of work and if you set up monthly meetings it's incredibly easy to do.

This is not about going tit-for-tat on who is valuable in the household. Everyone is valuable whether you stay home or not. It's about talking through the weight of becoming financially dependent. It can weigh heavily on the spouse who works and the spouse who stays at home.

The purpose of this post was also to point out that most of us are financially dependent. Even working spouses. Most of us need one another to pay the bills, so we should all be equally invested in understanding our income, expenses, and all other aspects of our finances.