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This is about dividing responsibilities and resources. Being able to stay at home (getting someone else to pay room and board) is an asset to the partner that does it and being able to take care of your own kids is both an asset and a liability. But the other partner is giving up more than just that allowance. They are (usually) paying the other partner's room and board and giving up the exact same opportunity to stay at home and be with their children. The allowance is just a (hopefully) fair split of whatever is left after all the partnership's financial obligations are met and (sometimes) savings are considered.

This topic isn't really about how to handle finances. It's about how to handle finances in the context of a relationship. It't the relationship that makes things complex, and there are a large number of ways to manage things. Separate accounts is not the only way, and giving a stay at home parent an allowance is not the only way.

I can relate to Joel's frustration with his former wife. My ex-wife was much like that, though I may have handled damage control better than Joel did. The salient fact in my mind is that when one spouse wants to spend money regardless of the wishes of the other spouse or the objective value of the spending for the partnership, the spendy spouse can spend. How finances are arranged can only influence how many hoops the spendy spouse needs to jump through in order to spend.

A couple of examples, with vastly different results:

I started my marriage with joint accounts, because that's what people did. Later, we had two joint accounts. One had my name listed first, the other had her name listed first. There were constant negotiations about who would contribute how much to support the household; by the end, she was spending all of her income while I was bearing the cost of all necessary household expenditures other than gas for her car. I bore the cost of income taxes arising from her income. When we were divorced, the alimony turned out to be cheaper than her random overspending. And money wasn't even a factor driving the divorce; it was a symptom of relationship problems and a reason not to try to reconcile.

In contrast, there were my parents. For most of their married life, Mom stayed home to raise kids and manage the household. She held jobs from time to time when it was determined that the additional income was more important than her time at home. But, she wasn't on an allowance. Dad was.

At the beginning of the marriage, Mom and Dad took stock of their strengths and decided that Mom should manage the money. It didn't matter that Dad earned it, Mom controlled the purse strings. I know, that statement sounds like a situation ripe for abuse; but it didn't happen that way. It was simply how they organized their marriage, and it worked for them. (A by-product of this was that, as a younger married man, I was shocked to learn that there were women who *couldn't* manage money.)

As things turned out, Mom died before Dad did. Shortly after Mom died, Dad said something like, "I'm not sure how I'll manage. I haven't balanced a check book in forty years." That's how much he trusted her.

Three or four months later, Dad said something like, "You know, your mother left me in a very good position." He was surprised. The kids weren't. Mom had talked to us about how to manage money.

That's the level of trust Dad had for Mom, and that's how well Mom deserved that level of trust. It could be argued that when Mom and Dad got married, the social expectation was that marriages last for life. But Mom and Dad were living in a world where both of them knew that Mom's maternal grandparents were divorced. So I'm sure they were aware that it was possible.

Rationally, Dad should have periodically verified that Mom was managing the money well. He didn't, and it worked out for him because she was both a good money manager and honorable. It didn't work out that way in my marriage, but I still believe that it can.

Anyway, there are lots of different types of relationships. Mom and Dad trusted each other, and were trustworthy.

I trusted my wife until it became apparent that I couldn't trust her. Then I tried to educate her until it became apparent that I couldn't educate her. Then I tried to protect us from her poor financial behavior until non-financial issues caused the end of the marriage. Then I fought for as much of the asset base as I could keep, to protect my ability to finish raising our daughter. None of this is particularly relevant to a relationship with different characteristics than mine had.

Patzer
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