The daughter of a friend of mine is getting married in a few weeks. While the guy seems very nice, I’m worried about the match. The daughter isn’t, in any way, prepared for financial independence. She just finished college and hasn’t had a “real” job yet. She only makes a few hundred dollars per month by stringing together a couple of part-time jobs. Fortunately, the boyfriend makes a nice living. The daughter has made no secret of the fact that she intends to just ride along on his money once they’re married. He will be the one handling the bills. She wants to have kids and stay home. Work and money management aren’t on her list of priorities.
This concerns me, though, because I wonder what happens if the marriage doesn’t work out? What happens if he dies and has inadequate insurance? What happens if he turns out to be a poor manager of the money and runs the family into bankruptcy? This girl will be left with no marketable skills and no real understanding of how to budget or plan for a successful financial life. She’ll have to start from scratch. I’ve seen too many people get into this sort of situation and it always pains me.
Let me be clear: I have no objection if a woman or man wants to stay home and raise the kids. I have no objection if he or she doesn’t want to work. That’s a choice to be made between the partners. Where it becomes dangerous, though, is when one partner is completely dependent on the other because that partner has no skills or abilities that will allow them to live independently (or to contribute to the family’s income) if the need arises.
We all go into marriage believing it will work and that things will be fine. But things happen that we don’t expect. The marriage doesn’t even have to end in divorce or death for things to go very wrong. What if the breadwinner loses a job? What if one partner becomes disabled or sick? Can the other one pick up the slack? What if you have kids who are born with disabilities that require expensive care? What if a kid gets hurt and becomes disabled? Can you both earn the money necessary to pay for the treatments? Sometimes plans go awry and the partner who was previously dependent has to either step up and contribute to the income or stand on their own. Without any skills or knowledge about money, it’s likely to be a very painful process. Too many people never make the adjustment and end up relying on government assistance or are forced to move in with family.
People – both men and women – really need to learn how to be financially independent before they add on to their lives. Spend some time working and living on your own before you get married and have kids. Learn how to budget and how to save. Learn how to shop wisely. Gain valuable career skills and contacts that you can draw upon later if the need arises. Learn how to handle your money and legal affairs. Learn basic skills including cleaning and cooking. In short, learn how to take care of yourself before you have to take care of others, too.
Then, once you’ve mastered fending for yourself, consider adding others to your life. Even if you ultimately decide to stay at home, you’ll be able to draw upon those life skills if you need them. Getting into relationships and commitments where you are totally dependent on the other person for money or care is a dangerous proposition.
There’s nothing wrong with getting married, having kids, and deciding to stay home. Just make sure you can fend for yourself if you have to. If the worst happens you’ll be able to deal with it. If you have kids, you’ll be able to take care of them, too. It’s not unromantic to plan for your own care before leaping into marriage and family. It’s prudent and smart.