Starting My Version of a F*** Off Fund
You may have heard about Paulette Perhach’s viral piece called The Story of a F*** Off fund. I read it a few years ago and thought, absolutely, yes — it’s such a good idea for women to have money put aside that will allow them to get out of bad situations. I could think of a few of my friends who were financially trapped in bad relationships and how having such a fund could allow them to get out and start again.
But I didn’t actually consider starting one for myself at the time. I was in a happy marriage with a great partner. We’d never considered divorce, ever. We might vote differently, think about the church differently, and have different approaches to raising kids at times, but we were devoted to each other, kind to each other and still liked each other, even across our many lines of difference. We were 15 years and 3 kids into the marriage, and that marriage was totally solid. You’d have to pry my husband away from my cold dead hands — I was never going to let the marriage go.
Fast forward four years and the marriage is still good. He continues to be a terrific partner. But as I enter a phase in which child care responsibilities are becoming less onerous and I’m trying to figure out how to develop my career (such as it is), which always took backseat to his, I’m struck by the relative vulnerability of my financial position. I make a fifth of what my professor husband makes. I got my PhD a couple years ago and I love my job, but it’s a part-time contract job with no stability. It could end at any time, and it’s certainly not a career with development potential.
I start to think, what if this marriage doesn’t work out in the long run? What if we change and we realize we can’t be happy in this relationship? How am I going to survive? I’d lose the house, since the house is connected to my husband and his job at the university. I know alimony will cover me for a few years, but my thirties are behind me and I’ve lost those years where most people really establish themselves in their careers. I’m filled with mixed feelings about my past choices. On the one hand, having the freedom to be the primary care giver to my kids while I was slowly working on my PhD was such a privilege. How many other people would have loved that opportunity? But on the other hand, I’ve chosen a field in the humanities where there just aren’t many career possibilities, particularly if I can’t move around to where a tenure-track job might be. I find myself with few prospects for an actual career. I find myself wondering how I could have gotten myself into this position of utter financial dependence. I fear that I am, as Gloria Steinem would say, one man away from welfare.
A couple weeks ago (on Valentines Day, actually) I took a deep breath and invited my husband out to lunch. It was time for a conversation about my vulnerability, in the event our marriage breaks up. I told him I wanted to start a bank account, in my name only, to which we would direct a certain amount of money every month. I wouldn’t actually call this a f*** off fund — I can’t ever even imagine a situation in which I’d want to say f*** off to him, even if we were deciding to go our separate ways. I think of it more like a marriages-break-down fund, and its purpose is to give me, the more vulnerable person in the marriage, some protection in case things go off the rails.
My husband was surprised by the request, but not shocked. I had mentioned a few months before feeling anxious about my future if we broke up. He asked a few clarifying questions about how much I was thinking about every month and about if he was doing anything to make me feel insecure in the marriage. And after a few minutes of discussion, he said he understood where I was coming from and that he was supportive of me starting this bank account. He’s a good man, and luckily we’re in the privileged position of having a certain amount of expendable income every month.
This bank account won’t resolve all my worries and it won’t take away my ambivalence and sadness about not prioritizing career from the get-go. But it’s one strand of a safety net to safeguard my future, as I continue to sift through possibilities to build a career that can truly sustain me.