A fridge magnet, an economics lesson and a big freaking fight

I fell out with my boyfriend over a fridge magnet on holiday and learnt that in any relationship, money = power
Publish date:
July 10, 2012
finances, relationship economics, who earns more money

OK, it was really me being a bit of a bitch about the fact that I’d bought all the spending money and didn’t feel like I should have to buy tat with it. The boyfriend wanted to buy a fridge magnet and I said no.

My boyfriend's face was pretty similar to my son's here when I told him he couldn't have the fridge magnet...

Well, I said something along the lines of ‘I’m not wasting my money on that crap’. You’re probably thinking what a complete cowbag, and you’re partly right. It was pretty mean but it also taught me an amazing lesson; the one with the money has all the power – financial and emotional.

This was something my mother surprisingly confirmed when I returned and explained that this small tiff over a piece of holiday tat had turned into a major “discussion” regarding money, the future and whether I trusted that he would be around to rely on - history being as it is (we've been in an on/off relationship for two years).

I did (disingenuously) relent and say he should get the magnet but the damage was already done; he thought I was a tight bitch and I thought he was an irresponsible money-waster. And this is two people that love each other. Happy holidays all!

Me, pre Fridge Magnet-gate

However, let’s look at the lesson that smacked me in the face. I realised as I refused his right to a fridge magnet that if I bore his child then sacked off my career to take care of our child then he would hold all the power. I would always feel like I had to justify my spending even if he never said anything.

And the thing is, I don’t think he would say much. He certainly wouldn’t be as blunt as I was but inside I would know he had earned that money, not me. Married or not, it would still belong to him. Not only would I not be earning, but taking a big fat break from work to raise a family would scupper my career as well.

Pensions are worked out based on NI contributions and if your work history has years’ worth of blanks or partial contributions financially you will be worse off in later years. Yes, you may still have a husband who shares his spoils but what if he dies?

Sorry, I told you I was blunt. But it’s true; he could die, divorce you or simply lose his job and it’s no use burying your head in the sand thinking it won’t happen to you.

Don't think I'm belittling stay-at-home mothers who give up their independence. BUT, I have only worked part time since my son was born and the peers and friends I started my career with at the same company now earn at least 10K more than me. At least. It was my decision to work part time, as being a single mother I felt I needed to be at home more than just at the weekend but in doing so, I’ve financially penalised myself.

It’s also the reason my son's absent father, who has never had to leave work dead on 5 0’clock to do the nursery pick up drives a BMW and can afford to buy his own house while I’m back at my olds' saving for a deposit.

I’m just urging you women to think beyond the baby years. Those kids are going to grow up, no marriage is an unbreakable bond, as a line from a poem I once read stated, ‘A kiss is not a contract’ and neither are those gold bands. The divorce statistics are all too telling.

You might be thinking ‘that girl’s relationship is obviously on the rocks if she can’t believe in joint finances with her man or be happy to let him support her and the family’ but like I said, I spoke to my mother and she admitted that when she gave up her work to look after us kids for a few years she felt like the money wasn’t her own and she was no longer independent - and this is a couple who’ve been for married 35 + years.

Being financially astute and earning your own money is a sure-fire way of feeling good about yourself, and surely makes for a more equal partnership?

The burden of earning the entire family finances is huge and one my other half actually admitted to feeling worried about were we to ever be in that situation. I’m surprised he confessed this, but also glad that he did.

Then, I turned the tables and asked him if he’d be happier staying home with the kids? He was genuinely surprised, like the idea had never really occurred to him, and I bet that’s still the case for 99% of men.

His response was to explain that it would make sense for him to be the one to work if he was earning more money. But why would he be earning more than me? I’ve been in my career five years longer than he has and before I voluntarily sacked off my job I earned more than he did anyway. Oh, those gender stereotypes have got to GO.

Anyway, in summary here’s what I think I’m trying to say: think about the future with or without a man - can you support yourself? Do you really want to stop work completely; after all if you enjoy your job work is more than just a salary. And finally, let your boyfriend buy crap on holiday if he wants to - it will mean you actually have some sex.