This post is by staff writer Sarah Gilbert. With my husband across the planet in Kuwait for most of the past two years, we don't fight a lot. When we do fight, it's about three things: what I'm doing with the kids. What things are going to be like when he comes back (for leave, or for good). And money. We started out so well?
At the beginning of our relationship, I had a great job I was leaving, along with my ex-boyfriend, to move back home to Portland and my to-be-husband. It was easy to find a new job (this was 2001), and we settled quickly into the financial structure that existed then. I made most of the family's money and paid all the bills. My husband and I, honestly, were thinking ahead only in general terms. “I want to save money for retirement,” we would say. “Let's have college savings funds for the boys,” we'd say. We merged finances very soon in our young marriage; while I bought the house and had entered into the credit cards before we married, we shared equally in the choices about how to spend our money and control over the debit card. Most of our arguments about money were retroactive. (“Why did you buy drinks for your friends, again?” I might say. “ How much did you spend on fabric?” he might say in return.) Conventional roles work?
When I ended my relationship with full-time work for a salary in late 2008, my husband was supportive. At first, I was making quite a lot in my freelance job and he could make enough at the service-oriented jobs he was working at the time to balance the books. Eventually, we decided he should take advantage of a need for his talents and skills in the Army; it would provide plenty of income and benefits while we regained our financial footing. When he returned, he'd be more employable. He'd have a promotion or two, and those medals and honors do add up to respect in many lines of work. Since we made that decision, but for one glorious month when I had a couple of great freelance jobs come together, he's made the majority of the income. He seemed excited about that, at first; his chance to “provide for his family!” He said things like, “it's my turn,” and “I'm proud I have the opportunity.” We kept our finances combined; the paycheck came into a joint USAA account, and I paid the bills, like always. It was easier; I had the bills coming into my mailbox, and I was the one with most of the expenses outside of bills, as the day-to-day costs of being a soldier overseas can be limited to phone cards, internet cards, cigarettes, and soda. (Well, they could be limited to almost nothing, but some allowances must be made for the difficult environment.) That was great, until he came home for a few months and discovered I'd saved little money for an emergency fund. I thought he understood that we were paying off a lot of debt and I wouldn't be saving money until it was closer to a zero balance. We couldn't come to a good understanding, here; I thought I'd done a pretty good job of managing the money, he thought I'd spent too much on food. “Maybe I have spent a lot on food, but you spend way more!” I said, watching him load up on convenience foods that were “easier” than my organic, from-scratch options.