As I have been saying for awhile, I hate money. I would be much much happier going through life without ever thinking about money at all (even if this did not mean a life of luxury). I think I would have really liked living in a barter economy, where I just bring you a chicken when I want a new pair of shoes. Bawk. But what I want to write today is a defense of the nest egg. There's been an ongoing Nosy Bitches conversation about how to manage money within a relationship, and then within a marriage. This is something that He-Mouse and I did really really well, if you gauge things in terms of a steady decrease in fights about money. Here's how it went:
Dating: Sometimes he paid, sometimes I paid. (No fighting, cause of the honeymoon period)
Early moved-in-together: Sometimes he paid, sometimes I paid, and we worried about whether we were paying the same amount. (No fighting, but bottled-up worries)
Mid moved-in-together: Sometimes he paid, sometimes I paid, and we sat down and calculated what each of us had contributed and then somebody wrote somebody a check if it was uneven. (LOTS AND LOTS OF FIGHTING)
Late moved-in-together: We opened an account for shared household expenses and each made a flat monthly contribution. This was WONDERFUL. No more fighting about who had spent what, and if there was extra money, we could go out to a nice dinner together. However, this left a pretty serious problem: I was still a grad student, and he had a real job. If we were going to be all in, in the relationship, we had to think about being all in with our money. (Much less fighting)
Right before we got engaged: We combined all our money with one big exception I will talk about in a minute. We agreed to pay down all of the debt we each had coming into the relationship (which was about the same amount). We decided that because He-Mouse will earn more than me over the course of his life (SEE 2., BELOW) we should both put all of our money in a common pot. However, we allocate a set amount of money ($100 a month at the beginning, a little more now) as Mad Money, which is transferred to a separate account and then we can do whatever we want with it, no questions asked. No explaining, in other words, why I want a particular expensive lotion or why he wants season tickets to a basketball team in a city far far away even if he can't go to the games.* (Fighting down to zero, although still plenty of frustration about not really having ENOUGH money. C'est la vie.)
This financial system is excellent. It works to pay down all the personal debt we brought with us, allocates a small amount of financial independence (which will grow as we get on our feet), allows us to roll with a really shitty market (last February I earned only $650, yikes), and allows us to save up for what's important. AND, it makes the equality of our finances match the equality of our partnership.
HOWEVER: I still believe that there are two times when women should not share their money with their husbands, even when their husbands are wonderful and loyal and trustworthy and loving and fair.
1. When money isn't just money
When my stepdad passed away, I got a small inheritance. It isn't a lot of money, but he meant it for big things--part of a wedding, or part of a house. That money was not supposed to be rolled into a household budget and used for little stuff like groceries or car insurance. I know He-Mouse feels the same way, so we have a standing rule that inherited money does not go into our common pot, not unless we decide to contribute it independently. I may decide to put some of that money into a down payment on our first home, in, like, a billion years when we can afford it.
2. Every woman needs a nest egg
Because of the way we are professionalized in the academy--in everything from salary negotiation to aggressiveness in conference networking--men still do earn more than women in their starting salaries, meaning they will earn more over the course of their lifetimes. Also, because of unpaid maternity leave--and the time lost--women frequently choose to give up substantial portions of their income. He's also older than I am, and has been earning for five years or so before I will have a real job (maybe longer, given this economy). This combination of factors means that as individual earners, He-Mouse will have more in savings and in his TIAA-CREFF by the time he retires than I will, based ONLY on systemic gender inequality in our profession.
Therefore, I believe that there is a specific and very political reason for a woman to have her own small nest egg of money, in her own name, that is clearly separate from the household finances. And I know this isn't something every woman can do, particularly in our twenties and thirties. I do think it should be part of a long-term financial plan in every family. It's about your own individual financial security. I hope that this money will never be touched, and that when He-Mouse and I are tiny and old and wrinkly we can use it for a great vacation, surrounded by grandchildren. But I will know that it's there, just in cases.