Till debt do us part — why married women must protect their finances

A third of women are financially dependent on their husbands, so don't get caught off guard in case the marriage doesn’t last, says Nima Abu Wardeh

Illustration by Gary Clement
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

It’s a leap year — and folklore has it that it’s acceptable for women to pop the question on the 29th of February. With this in mind, and the fact that International Women’s Day is soon upon us, I’m setting out some relevant home truths regarding couples and money.

A great recipe for harmony on the home front is to have separate accounts — even if there's a stay-at-home spouse — and a joint one for communal expenses.

First the bad news: these days it’s more likely to be ‘till debt do us part’.

Marriages increasingly end in divorce, not death, which is worrying for women — because a third are financially dependent on their husbands — according to a Fidelity International 2018 study. For expatriates, the figures are higher if we extrapolate from Expat Insider's InterNations Survey of 2015. It found that 84 per cent of the 'trailing spouses' they surveyed were women, most of them between the ages of 41 and 50.

These females can suffer fragile finances. Fidelity’s study found that a third of the women they surveyed would not be able to cope financially should they divorce — a huge jump from the 19 per cent of men who are financially vulnerable.

There is one key reason: women are more likely to take some time off, at some point in life, whether it be to care for their children, parents or partner.

What’s worse is the percentage of women who cannot make ends meet without money from their spouse jumps to 41 per cent between the ages of 35 and 44. And to 40 per cent for women aged 45 to 54. And then up again to 42 per cent for those aged between 55 and 64.

Guess the average age a woman gets divorced? It’s 44, according to the UK’s Office for National Statistics. This means a hugely significant number of females are at financial risk.

There’s only one word for it: shocking. It means divorced women and their children are reliant on the good will of former partners.

A hairdresser I know put it beautifully when she said men “all tell me they would always do right by their ex-wives and children, but then they meet someone”. She was sharing her experiences of ‘the human condition’ — from decades of cutting hair and talking about life’s details.

So what can women do about this?

I believe there should be an open conversation about the need to be paid — even if it means by their spouse — a specific amount that’ll be put away for the long-run. In other words, women should have access to their own savings and earnings — even if it means carving out an allowance for them — a term I realise will send a reluctant chill down some women’s spines.

I believe a great recipe for harmony on the home front is to have separate accounts — even if there’s a stay-at-home spouse — and a joint one for communal expenses.

If both earn, then each puts a percentage into that common account that’s in keeping with what they earn. Ergo if someone isn’t earning, they don’t put any money in, but still have access to it, and have separate money in their separate account.

It’s not exactly romantic, is it? But it works.

Couples who plan together and talk money together form a stronger unit. In another report, the 2018 Fidelity Investments Couples & Money Study, Fidelity asked couples what their best financial tips would be for newly-weds. The top answer: "save as early as possible for retirement", followed by "don't take on more debt than you can possibly afford" and "make all financial decisions together".

Love is in the air — if it is for you, I wish you all good things and long may it last. If it doesn’t, divorce doesn’t have to create desperation as long as you always have your dignity fund.

Nima Abu Wardeh is a broadcast journalist, columnist, blogger and founder of S.H.E. Strategy. Share her journey on finding-nima.com