Hi Wanjiru. I am about to get married and as I grew up I kept hearing my mother saying that a woman should have a small account on the side that her husband doesn’t know about. Since we are getting married and we shall be one, is this advisable? What’s your take? – Jane
Jane, thanks for you your question. For the record, you are not the only one who has been told to keep a secret account. I grew up hearing from older women how important it is for a woman to have some money tucked away somewhere and it took me a while to unlearn this worldview. To be honest, money is a thorny issue in marriage – it is ranked up there with infidelity. According to a 2011 National Endowment for Financial Education/Forbes study, 15% of married people have a bank account they keep hidden from their spouses. In my opinion though the issue is much bigger than a secret account; hear me out.
First, let’s put things in context. My mother was married in a “come we stay” setup and lived in an era where women didn’t know how much their husbands earned. Back in the day, women were not in the workforce and relied heavily on men. That meant that as a woman, you stayed in a marriage (sometimes an abusive one) for the sake of your children – because you couldn’t provide for them if you walked away. Unfortunately, this still happens especially in the rural areas. She was also in a long-distance relationship; the kind where the husband is in the city and the wife is upcountry. In that setup, she would tell me “As a woman, it is important to have your own set of income. Even if you are not working in an office, go and farm. Keep a cow. Sell your stuff in the market. If there is no salt in the house, will you eat plain food because your husband is away? You need to have some money so that in case your child is sick, you can take them to hospital without waiting for your husband”. Now that advice makes sense. It talks of hard work and good planning which are key in the making of a home. It does not talk of deceitfulness which is what keeping a secret account really is. We have to differentiate between contributing to the financial well-being of your home and having a secret account. They are not the same.
The situation is different though for most of us. I am blessed to have a responsible man who relates with me in a transparent manner. I know how much he makes and when he gets a raise, we celebrate together. He sorts out our bills on time and has never let us go without water, electricity or any other amenities. He knows how much I make which is peanuts but he still loves me 🙂 Most of have supportive partners where we both put our money together and plan for it. And yet, there are many of us who still have secrets accounts. So what is the problem?
The concept of “just in case”: Most people have a secret account for just in case something goes wrong and you have to part ways. The money then is a place for you to start afresh. It is also money your partner can’t touch in the event of a divorce. Now, I have trouble with people who think about failure when they have barely began doing something. Having a secret account just in case things don’t work out is having one foot in and another out. The thing about Christian marriage is this, we are here till death do us part! We therefore, cannot afford to be undecided. You are either in or out.
My money vs your money: Now that in most households both the man and the woman make money, we have a new problem. Most people cannot get past the “this is my money” concept. We are OK being one in all areas except the money. Which is ridiculous because if we are sharing a roof, a bed and even sharing our bodies, why can’t we share money? When we think about plainly, it is an indicator that we have not fully committed ourselves to the marriage. Putting your money when your mouth is, is a great way honor your marriage. There is a reason why marriage vows have a line that says “for richer and for poorer”.
Personal needs: Majority of the time we fight over money and feel the need for a secret account is because we want to but something that is not in the common budget. We figure “since I make this money, I should be able to do with it as I please”. We are OK to budget for mortgage and house shopping but what happens if I want a new dress and my husband feels that is a waste of money? So, instead of being looked at badly every time I want a new pair of shoes I just channel some money to another account and do whatever I want with that money. This is just selfishness put simply. Chances are I don’t really need that dress or those shoes and that is why I am getting so worked up about my husband’s opinion. Unfortunately, most of us are willing to sacrifice our marriage (by being untrustworthy) over a couple of dresses and shoes (or whatever men buy).
Follow the money and you will not like what you see: Unfortunately, selfishness usually goes beyond shoes and dress for some people. There are people who keep secret accounts to hide affairs, drug problems or even gambling problems. You see, if you put a large travel expense in the joint house budget your spouse is entitled to ask many questions like where you will be going and with whom. But if you have money no one knows about, you can go and do whatever you please. A secret account only serves to accelerate your problem. What you need is to close that account and deal with your problems.
What is the solution?
Personal allowance – I know the need to have some money to go get your nails done without having to explain it. Or being able to buy something you need without calling for a meeting. I know many couples who work with personal allowances and it works really well. Each person gets a reasonable allowance from the monthly budget and they are able to make personal purchases. I said reasonable allowance because high cost items need to be discussed first. This means that when you go for coffee with friends you don’t feel that you have dented the house budget 🙂 It also helps manage expenses because if your allowance runs out too early, too bad for you 🙂
Sharing of assets – It might help for both partners to know they have a part of the assets. You could ensure that your assets have both your names. Alternatively you can each have certain assets in your name e.g. the house can be in the husband’s name and the car in the wife’s name. The idea here is for each spouse to feel they have something. This could help in those cases where when the husband dies the in-laws throw out the wife. She would still have something that is legally hers. It should be used as my things vs your things or I earn more so I get more. It is just a precaution especially in the event of death.This of course needs the two of you to sit, talk and agree. You could even write it down.
Author: Wanjiru Kihusa
I am Wanjiru Kihusa and I’m a writer and founder of Still A Mum – an organization that seeks to reduce maternal and newborn deaths in Africa. I am especially passionate about women and children.
I blog to share my thoughts and experiences hoping that in the process someone will learn from my life.