What to Do if You’re Married to a Money Controller
By Stephanie Spillmann 11/13/17
“If you are dependent on your husband or partner to support you, it is easy to lack the courage to speak up on behalf of yourself and your family.” Suze Orman
I’ll tell you right off the bat that I was, indeed, married to a money controller. My hope is that you will read my story and evaluate whether any of these situations and messages apply to you.
If they do, please consider your situation carefully. Maybe it’s time to change some things. Maybe it’s time you insist on being treated equally, and make it your responsibility to get involved–very involved–in your household finances.
Agree to Manage Household Finances Together … or Don’t Get Married
I had a world of negative money messages to undo after my divorce. I would give this advice to any couple considering marriage: If you’re involved with someone who has a “this is mine, and that is yours” mentality — run.
At very least, talk it out, get counseling — whatever you need to do. You must agree to shift to the “it’s all ours, every dollar that comes through” mentality. Go one step further and agree to manage the household finances as a team with total transparency — always.
Have Joint Accounts and Always Stay Involved
My personal belief is that married couples, for the most part, should have joint checking and saving accounts. Due to my experience as a stay-at-home mom who was kept in the dark about our finances, I believe that every woman should have a private savings account in their name only.
We started a family early; I was barely 22 when our first daughter was born. My ex (I’ll call him Jim — I hate the term “ex”) and I agreed ahead of time that we would live on one income so I could stay home with our kids.
I never regretted being a stay-at-home mother. That’s not to say that I never worked outside of the home. There were years that I worked for several months at a time or during the summers for a catering company during wedding season. Overall, I was home with our kids.
When You’re Left on the Sidelines
From the beginning, we never formed a team mentality where our household money was concerned. I don’t remember if it was implied or said outright — but I knew the money wasn’t my “concern.” I rarely looked at the finances or bank account statements; I knew nothing about our investments/retirement accounts and didn’t know how many we had.
We never had money meetings or discussions. I didn’t earn the money, so the finances didn’t apply to me. This was burned into my brain — from my own lack of self-worth and through implication. This set a dangerous precedent over the years. As we each embraced our “roles”, negative things began to happen behind the scenes and on the front line.
Fighting With A Money Controller
In the forefront, there were fights and degrading tyrades about not buying the milk that was on sale. There were lectures about how I could combine trips while I was out running kids to activities.
I always kept that in mind, and did it as often as made sense given the kids’ schedules. And when I didn’t do it the way Jim would have, there was scolding and the implication of stupidity. Why was I wasting gas on unplanned trips?
Eventually, I started experiencing grocery shopping paralysis. Going to the store became a huge ordeal (that I hate to this day). I would stand in the aisles in a daze — unable to make decisions about what to buy. Was this an okay price, or should I wait until the next time?
On the other hand, I became an expert on prices — still am. I knew exactly what every item I normally bought should cost and when it was priced higher than the other stores etc. I was very good at knowing what to buy at Costco and what was cheaper at the store.
Dark Deception Behind the Scenes
Behind the scenes, there were dozens of credit cards and lines of credit that I didn’t know about. One credit card was opened in my oldest daughter’s name (before she was even 16). I was told it would build her credit early. There were cards in his name and in our name and I think some in my name alone — which I obviously didn’t apply for.
His credit cards, lines of credit, and spending habits were mostly without my knowledge. The few things I knew about — like some “investment” properties he insisted on buying, were against my better judgement. I was sometimes asked about big decisions and purchases he wanted to make, and other times I wasn’t consulted because he didn’t want to deal with the “no”.
Jim bought two investment properties in Florida at the advice of a friend who was also buying. It would make them a “ton” of money. I disagreed, but the purchases were made — just six months before the huge recession hit in 2006/07. By the time the last condo was built (delayed by a hurricane), the housing crash had happened.
He was also laid off from his job in this same time period. We now had our $1800 mortgage and two others in Florida. To say the shit had hit the fan, is an understatement for sure.
We never recovered the money Jim sunk into the Florida properties. Thousands of dollars were put on lines of credit and credit cards to make payments for several months.
Eventually, we were maxed out and just trying to keep our own house afloat. We received court notices all the time for the Florida house in foreclosure. The other one, we sold at a tremendous loss.
We were forced to declare bankruptcy in 2010. With over $120,000 in credit debt, and a new job that paid half of what Jim earned before, it was the only thing we knew to do at the time.
Backing up just a bit. I forgot to mention that we also had a nice rental house (our previous residence) that we barely broke even on each month. I begged Jim to sell this property multiple times for the first several years after we moved to our bigger house. Money was always tight, and it would have been nice to sell and build a savings cushion.
Sometimes he would tolerate me voicing my opinion about selling it and other times it would turn into a major fight. I stopped mentioning it. Finally things got so bad that he decided to sell it. If we had done so when I suggested, we might have made more on it.
It Took Years to Grow My Money Confidence… and I’m Still Working on It
Though it’s been several years since I left that situation, I still fight old guilt feelings about spending and prices. However, confidence in my own personal finance knowledge and accomplishments continues to grow. I’ve made some crucial changes to ensure that I will always have a voice where the money in my life is concerned.
There are four financial must-haves that I recommend for every woman/stay-at-home mom. These can be found in my post: Stay-at-Home Moms: It’s Critical to Be Involved in Household Finances.
I’ll never forget the day my first credit card came in the mail. It was so exhilarating. A few months into my separation, I nervously filled out my own credit card application one day. I did this in secret because– well, I just did. It was my personal business, and I was exercising my right to my own money decisions.
I couldn’t believe they approved me. Afterall, I hadn’t put any of Jim’s financial information on there, and I wasn’t having him cosign. Who was I, non-income earner, mom-at-home, to be approved for a card so I could establish my own credit? Maybe it was a miracle — but I’ve never been prouder of a piece of plastic in my life.
If you’ve never had a credit card in your name, don’t worry. It is possible — and I have a FREE Guide to the 10 best credit cards to start with. I highly encourage every woman to have a card in her own name, completely separate from a partner. It’s important, because life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect it to.
You can also read my post: What to Do if You’ve Never Had a Credit Card
My hope is that this story helps some of you see your financial situation more clearly. Always reach out for help, or find a free finance workshop at a nearby church, if you need to build your money confidence. Everyone has the right to be involved in their household finances.
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