Sex and money -- an
Do men and women have a different approach
to money? Wow, do they ever! Can they come together,
financially? You bet! It's a matter of communication -- blending
what he said and what she said into We Said!
User WeezyNig writes: "I've been married
for 13 years and have always handled all the financial responsibilities.
My husband has always been the breadwinner. Now all of a sudden
he is demanding me to turn everything over to him. I don't
want to do this. But when the slightest thing goes wrong he
blows his stack. Help !!!!!"
At times, sex and money seem an impossible
mix. You like going to the movies together, reading the Sunday paper
in bed, and windsurfing in a gale. But you both bare fangs when
it comes to paying bills. And no wonder. According to psychologists,
our attitudes about money are forged in early childhood (isn't everything?),
and we don't even know it. So we may bring more to a relationship
than love, compassion and a great stereo. We're likely to drag along
some deep-rooted, weird quirks about spending and saving.
How we were raised
"We handle money depending on how our earliest
influences trained us,'" explains Linda Barbanel, a New York psychologist
and author of "Sex, Money & Power." "We hoard it, we spend it
lavishly, we use it to get our needs met, like empowerment, assurance
and attention. It's a stand-in for how we're really feeling
about ourselves and our needs ... and we're not usually aware of
Let's look at those early years. Growing
up, she spent weekends baby-sitting, and he mowed lawns and trimmed
hedges. She was praised for raising her own "petty" cash to
buy clothes, while he was Dad's entrepreneurial son "building a
business" by signing up the neighborhood. Those experiences with
money took entirely different directions.
Go back to WeezyNig. Will the battle
for control break up the union? Maybe not, but they need to get
to work. Though probing a mate's thoughts on money can be a bit
like teasing a rattlesnake, sometimes it's necessary.
"Find out what the money is trying to
satisfy. Does that person want attention, want to feel more control,
more respect?" asks Barbanel. "If these words come up, then we have
a very large clue about what's going on under the surface, and it's
So there you are, glaring at each other,
trying to find harmony in love and money. But it's come down
to the gender thing again. According to Barbanel, men use money
as a form of power, and while both sexes use it as a symbol of security,
women are more cautious. Why the difference? Women have never had
much money to control.
"We are relatively new as big wage earners
-- that's why there's so much confusion," says Barbanel, "In all
of history women have never had this kind of responsibility, respect
Not only that ... they're scared of math.
User ALDOMIN writes: "My money is her money and
vice versa, we decide on where to invest the money, but she manages
the bills and other expenses because she does a better job than
what I did. The way I see our money grows, I'll say it's working
Does it take a real man to admit that
his wife pays the bills? Aldomin's wife obviously felt comfortable
with her high school mathematics. But most women enjoy math about
as much as changing flat tires, according to the Gender Investment
Study published by the National Center for Women and Retirement
Research (NCWRR) in March 1997.
Survey results showed
that only 28 percent of their female respondents were comfortable
with their high school math skills, compared to 41 percent of the
males. Those comfort levels have a direct impact on today's financial
"There is some correlation with success
in mathematics and planning for their future and making investments,"
recounts Dorothy Clarke, director of NCWRR. "It became clear
within that study that those with problems in math in the early
years have problems investing today."
Math anxiety leads to investing anxiety
that leads to ... a couple with conflicts over money.
There is no "I" in we
Writes user RokitPilot: "We have a prenup. What's
hers is hers and what's mine is mine. I pay all the bills except
for her car, insurance and credit card. She gives me $200 per month
on bills. I also take care of the retirement investments.
We never argue about money and have been investing a lot of money.
Virtually everyone I grew up with has declared bankruptcy because
they let their wife handle their finances."
Ouch! I can see the headlines "Women
Found to be the Leading Cause of Bankruptcy in America!" Is this
guy just generalizing, or outright chauvinistic? There may be a
thin thread of truth to his theory, though. When it comes
to making a financial decision, a woman's personality matters far
more than marital status, age or income, according to a report called
The Women Cents Study developed by the National Center for Women
and Retirement Research (NCWRR) in January 1995.
While security is a woman's biggest motivator,
fear of failure and the unknown are the greatest obstacles when
it comes to investing, according to the study. So she invests in
overly conservative products, like CDs, and avoids aggressive growth
While that doesn't mean she'll go bankrupt,
she will have less to retire on. That's unfortunate because women
live on average seven years longer than men do, so they need more
money. The good news in the report? Contemporary women are now moving
boldly into the market place and making smart investments. This
takes some of the burden off the partner.
"Couples are finding that when the woman
becomes aware, the couple can do better," explains Dorothy Clarke,
director of NCWRR "She may say, hey, we only have $10,000 in life
insurance on you, and we have four kids to put through college.
Let's look at that again. Whereas the husband was so busy with his
career, he may have forgotten." Spousal letdown is greatest among
couples who leave all the financial work to one partner. Couples
who share the decisions also share in the outcome, whether that's
success or failure.
"It sounds really sexist, but after 25
years of doing this, I've got to tell you, the wives who lay it
on their husbands to earn and manage the money are almost always
disappointed ... like, what do you mean we can't retire yet?" says
Paul Maura, financial adviser from Boston and co-author of "Love
and Money." "The ones that are the coolest to work with and get
the most accomplished are the ones who work together right from
OK, but what if they keep separate bank
Yours -- mine -- or ours?
User SHebert761 writes: "My husband and I have
been married for about eight months. When we had our money separate
everything financially was fine. He now tells me he is falling out
of love with me because I want us to have separate accounts.
He claims that anything I buy is his because he makes more money
than I do. I know that financial problems destroy marriages but
my husband does not see that he is wrong. I need help."
Perhaps it's due to higher wages for
women in the work force or a deterrent to battles over bills, but
separate bank accounts are cropping up in new marriages. That's
OK for his and hers spending money, say psychologists, but anything
more smacks of a lukewarm commitment.
"It's a barometer of their relationship."
says Barbanel. "A lot of women don't want to give up their autonomy
after having worked for awhile and they tend to be territorial with
their earnings. But married people need to know it's all our
After all, says Boston financial adviser
Paul Mauro, if you're going to risk the rest of your life with this
person, what's wrong with risking your money?
"I have seen a lot of the -- 'well,
if you want to invest in that, use your money, I want to keep my
money out of it,' " explains Mauro. "It sounds nice on paper, but
that creates a crack in the relationship that's almost impossible
to plaster up. The project of building money is what keeps couples
together; I think the effort of keeping things separate keeps couples
How do you build that bridge between
love and money? Start with a little gift to each other.
A gift for us
What a relief! We can blame mom and dad (you
know, the early influences) for our money phobias, and our math
teacher for our bad investments. But we still have to get
over it and move on. Why not start with a peace offering gift
of a financial software package? Planning your financial decisions
on the computer is very non-judgmental, and you can both share the
joys of creating a family budget.
"It's loving to share," says New York
psychologist Linda Barbanel, "It's loving to talk about what you
like and appreciate from each other, such as each other's ways of
handling money, too. Some people are good at paying the bills, others
can be appreciated for not running up so many bills," she says with
Writes user Nitram21: "I think it's important
to set up a budget and always work from a point of strength. This
way if one person is spending too much on clothing, then you both
can let the 'budget' do the talking. Of course, initially
both husband and wife have to set up the budget and the spending
categories and agree to where the money should be spent.
"Now that you are no longer one, but
a union of two, working toward common goals should be the first
priority. Once you're on track, then a splurge or two would be forgiven
more easily than a constant habit of irresponsible spending.
Well that's what I think, and I've been married for 11 years and
we have three children."
Before you both dive back into your financial
fray, why not find out what kind of money partners you both really
are? This may help when the growling starts and the teeth begin
Take the money and mates quiz
Are you a Power Seeker, a Keeper, Freedom Searcher,
or Love Buyer? This quiz can help you learn the truth about your
approach to money.
Take this test with your partner, marking
your answers on a separate sheet of paper. Then review your
answers according to the key that appears after the test.
1. It's your anniversary and you and your mate
are dining out with another couple in an expensive restaurant, and
it's their treat. Both of the people taking you out are old
friends who have recently started dating. When the check arrives,
the woman with whom you're double-dating picks it up. Her
date seems uncomfortable. Which of the following actions would
you most likely take if you were in his position?
a) Firmly ask for the check.
b) Shift around in your chair for a moment or two, then offer
to pay the tip.
c) Smile and mention that you'll pay for dinner next time.
d) Make no mention of the check whatsoever, and silently
conclude that your date must really like you.
2. You are a serious tennis fanatic.
You know your mate is trying to save for a vacation this year, but
you just saw your dream tennis racquet, marked down to $350 from
$650. The sale ends today. Which of the following actions
would you most likely take?
a) Dip into the money market
account and buy the racquet.
b) Walk away from the sale, repeating the mantra-like phrase
"Don't buy it, don't even think of buying it. Don't buy it, don't
even think of buying it."
c) Find some way to consult with your partner before the
sale ends, no matter what it takes.
d) Buy the racquet but fib about exactly how much it cost.
3. You're part of a two-career couple.
Each of you is excited about your respective career. One day,
you return from work and learn that your partner has been offered
a spectacular position with a huge salary. There is a catch.
The firm is located 1,500 miles away, in a city where the cost of
living is substantially lower than where you now live. Which
of the following options reflects your most likely reaction to this
a) Since there's all that extra
money to go around, you conclude you can now afford a bicoastal
lifestyle. You urge your mate to accept the offer, and explain
that you can keep your own position. The two of you can connect
on the weekends.
b) Explain that you're willing to move on two conditions:
the new job represents guaranteed long-term financial security and
the new employer pays all moving expenses.
c) Try to explore, in an optimistic way, the risks and opportunities
you both face, and determine how willing your partner is to consider
maintaining the status quo rather than accepting the new job.
Then follow whatever approach seems to make the most sense for both
d) Agree to move immediately without having
an in-depth discussion because you don't want your partner to think
you're trying to keep him or her from earning more money.
4. You are the sole breadwinner in a relationship.
Your partner wants to contribute to a nonprofit cause which you
don't support. Which of these options best reflects your response
to this situation?
Tell your partner you simply refuse to donate money to the cause.
b) Agree to give the money,
primarily because you don't mind the tax deduction.
to give the money, primarily because you know that people have different
philosophies in life.
d) Agree to give the money,
primarily because you don't want your partner to think you're unwilling
to support him.
5. Your mate buys you a lottery ticket and
gives it to you as a gag gift. The ticket ends up being a winner
and you win $500. Which of the following would you most likely
and spend it on yourself.
b) Use the money to pay
Spend half on yourself and give
the rest to your partner so they can have something special, too.
d) Tell your partner they
can choose to spend the money however they see fit, on the theory
that this will encourage your mate to appreciate you more.
6. Your parents recently passed away.
At the reading of the will, you learn that their estate is being
held in trust for you. You get a modest interest income, but
the principal will eventually go to your children. Which of
the following sentiments would most accurately express your reaction?
"They wanted to show who's boss, and they took
the opportunity to do it."
A little extra income for us, and we don't have to worry about the
c) "I didn't
want anything from them anyway, so it's no big deal."
d) "This is awful. They
must not have cared about me much."
7. When you met your partner, you had a number
of investments, some of which your mate did not know about.
Which of the following would you be most comfortable doing?
to yourself as much of your financial information as possible.
b) Keeping a couple of
accounts secret and separate in case of an emergency.
your mate in detail about all aspects of your finances, and addressing
financial issues as equal partners.
d) Keeping a couple of
accounts secret and separate so you can spring a surprise such as
a new car, or a fancy vacation on your mate, thereby improving things
in the relationship when the situation demands.
8. You're planning to give up your apartment
to move into your partner's apartment. You're ready to have your
first discussion about how you'll contribute to the joint household
expenses. Which of the following approaches would you chose?
Divide expenses proportionate to your relative incomes.
b) Contribute only to
those additional expenses caused by your living in the apartment.
c) Split everything 50/50
and not worry about who earns more or less.
that, if your mate is truly concerned about making the relationship
work, they will find a way to redecorate the apartment to your liking
before you discuss financial arrangements.
9. You and your spouse want to buy a computer,
but money is tight. Which of the following options appeals
to you most?
top-of-the-line and finance everything, since quality counts for
something, and a good computer is an essential these days.
b) Research extensively
over a period of two months or so, and save until you find the best
option in your price range at that time.
c) Buy a second-hand computer
and splurge on the software for it.
d) Agree to buy a machine
that meets your basic requirements, but make your spouse promise
to allow you to upgrade it within a certain time frame, regardless
of what your finances are at that point.
10. Which of the following statements best
describes your philosophy when it comes to exchanging gifts with
your partner on birthdays and holidays?
Set a clear dollar limit.
to save money, rather than exchange gifts, in order to make a future
purchase or payment that will benefit you both.
c) Set a
broad range that identifies what you are each willing to spend,
but allow the person a certain amount of leeway within that range.
d) Drop broad hints about
gifts that your mate really ought to track down and, when you can,
identify similarly expensive gifts for your mate so that they will
know how much you care.
If you answered most questions with "a," you
are probably a Power Seeker. Such things as winning, being
the decision maker, and having veto power are in all likelihood
quite important to you. You don't want to be taken advantage
of, and you often push for your own way when you have a say in the
matter. Control is a major issue for you, and you generally
feel most comfortable when you have it. Keeping the occasional
secret, having immediate access to important information, and identifying
exactly what you want from a situation are all approaches with which
you feel comfortable. You feel that quality matters, and you
have a natural attraction to the best when it comes to name-brand
If you answered "b" to most of the questions,
you are probably a Keeper. Given the choice, it's a good
bet you'd prefer to bargain, barter, or borrow before paying good
money for something. The more money you can hold onto, the
better you feel, even if that means temporary inconvenience.
You like to think "in the long term." You probably draw a
deep sigh of relief when you can assure yourself that the bills
are all paid and there's something left in the bank and you consider
that a real accomplishment. People may occasionally bandy
about words like "penny-pinching" and "cheap," but you prefer to
think of your no-frills approach as pragmatic and disciplined.
When you know your money is safe, you sleep better.
If you answered "c" to most questions
you are probably best described as a Freedom Searcher. Your
preference is to take an easygoing approach to financial affairs,
and you don't think getting worked up over money makes for better
decisions. As a general rule, you believe that if you make
intelligent choices on an ad hoc basis, things will probably turn
out for the best. You have an optimistic viewpoint on most
matters, including discussions of money, and you realize that people
often disagree on important issues. If your mate feels strongly
one way or another about a financial question, you will certainly
be willing to provide intelligent observations on the situation,
but you are unlikely to have a high "stake" in the issue one way
or the other. It's likely that you take a "two-heads-are-better-than-one"
approach to pressing financial questions, and that you have a fairly
high level of trust in the answers that collaborative decision making
If you answered "d" to most of the questions
above, you may be linking love, approval, and self-esteem with material
things, and you may be doing so to a degree that may cause problems
in your personal relationships. If you fall into this category,
you may be what I call a Love Buyer, and you may be in for an unpleasant
series of experiences. Expensive dinners and quality clothing
are nice to have, but you should work to change your outlook on
money and status, because the amount of money spent really has nothing
to do with how much someone is loved. Even spending more money
than you want to or can afford on someone does not really make someone
like or appreciate your for who you truly are. Instead of
tying purchase issues to your self-esteem, you may need to work
toward developing a caring, open-minded attitude toward financial
issues, one that clearly separates personal worth from prices, products,
-- Updated: Dec. 13, 2002