It’s a question that was raised during a dinner get-together with girl friends from school. When I was asked I said, “Yes, of course,” but I should have qualified that. Of course, I know how much Speedy makes but not to the last centavo. Does he know how much I make? Yes, but not to the last centavo either. We have general figures and that’s enough. But if we were to demand documentation from each other, we would both be able to back up our declarations.
The funny thing is that the issue about letting a spouse know how much one makes exactly seems to be a recurring question that is often followed by unsolicited (yet, well-meaning) advice. It was an issue raised by a cousin (when Sam was still in pre-school) soon after my father died and left my brother and I with some income-generating properties. She said, “Don’t ever tell Speedy how much money you have.” And I smirked. It was an issue I discussed with about a dozen female friends and the consensus seems to be the same. Never let your husband know how much money you make (or have). But don’t expect your husband to declare ALL his income to you either.
It’s a practical approach, I must admit. Some people, husbands and wives alike, have this nasty habit of dipping into conjugal funds and making large purchases without so much as informing the other until after the deed is done. And, Filipino culture being what it is, there are cases when a spouse takes a large amount from the conjugal funds because a brother or a sister or some other relative is in dire financial need and he or she just couldn’t say no.
But probably the most important reason for this sound advice is because YOU NEVER KNOW when one spouse suddenly decides that the marriage is over. You really don’t want your spouse ending the marriage by cleaning out all your bank accounts, right? And if both have proof of how much the other has, you can just imagine how the dissolution of the community (or conjugal) property will go. Claims, denials and counterclaims which can drag on for a long time depending on how much each can prove and disprove.
But as a wife, well, partial and selective disclosure isn’t really that smart because YOU NEVER KNOW how much your spouse is spending behind your back. Worse, you don’t know where the undeclared money goes. I know someone who refused to believe that her husband had a mistress billeted somewhere until she found out just how much money he was making but never told her.
Never mind the TRUST issue. I mean, this isn’t the age when trust means you have to swallow the traditional what is mine is yours business hook, line and sinker. That may sound absolutely romantic but, hell, that is really, really dumb. I used to tell Speedy, “What is yours is mine but what is mine is mine alone” — as a joke, of course, but you get the picture. It means I’m not the kind of wife who believes that marriage means giving up my identity and independence. See, having your own money — clearly designated and delineated — is part of maintaining your identity and independence. And although he’s not a lawyer, over the years, he has learned a lot of my legal mumbo jumbo — including what constitutes my paraphernal (wife’s exclusive) property.
What works better is know how much each other makes but not pooling both incomes together. Keep separate bank accounts. Even if they are joint accounts (you know, for transparency), make sure that it is clear which account contains whose income and agree (put it in writing if that makes you both feel better) that one cannot unilaterally dip into an account that does not contain his income. It means you trust each other enough to make total disclosures but you also respect each other’s rights by acknowledging that he who earned the money (or owns it if it was not earned) is the only person with absolute rights over it.
It’s being adult about money issues. It does away with the you don’t trust me drama while, at the same time, it serves as a constant reminder that each spouse has to respect the other’s right to make certain decisions as an individual. It works for us, I tell you. Speedy and I fight over a variety of things but rarely about money.