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.

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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23 Responses

  1. Wendy says:

    I’m so impressed with your post and how you took a stand to protect yourself in your marriage, and for your husband being amenable. If every married woman who was financially vulnerable due to economic inequity required this in exchange for her years of emotional and physical labor in the family (and if every couple could afford to do this), women and children would fare much better when marriages about half the time. Brava to you!

    • Caroline says:

      Thank you, Wendy! It was a hard conversation, but my husband reacted really well. I’m lucky (on so many levels).

  2. Wendy says:

    *end about half the time

  3. Lonicera says:

    Excellent idea! One of the few things I did right was keeping my bank account separate from my husband’s, when I remarried 15 years ago. My first husband had been a spendthrift and I had experienced firsthand financial vulnerability. Like Scarlett O’Hara pulling turnips in postbellum Georgia, I said, “never again!” My husband doesn’t approve of this arrangement but this is what I need to do to protect myself.

    • Caroline says:

      Lonicera, I’m so glad you protected yourself, even with your husband not being wild about the arrangement. If I remarried, I think I’d do the same. I bet it also reduces tensions and arguments about money. I was actually teaching Relief Society once and asked how people managed money in their relationships, and several older women told me they had separate accounts. That surprised me, but it makes a ton of sense — far less need to reach agreement and negotiate when people have complete autonomy over at least some of their money.

  4. TopHat says:

    The best part of having your own money is that it means you DO have the means to leave and yet you choose to stay. Highly recommend.

    • Caroline says:

      Absolutely. That’s what I want for my daughter, and for myself. I want staying in the marriage to be a full-hearted choice, not what I or she is reduced to because we don’t know how to financially survive without the marriage.

  5. Descent says:

    You had to muster a great deal of bravery to have that conversation. It’s likely better that you are open and forthright with your husband about his fund than trying to hide away funds, in addition to your feelings on the matter. Many women, out of a sense of the danger in their relationships, feel they must hide their efforts to essentially escape the relationship they are in.

    • Caroline says:

      Thanks, Descent. Yes, I could have squirreled away the money quietly and my husband would never have noticed — I manage all the money — but I wanted him to understand the way our gender roles had led to some serious vulnerability on my part. And I trusted him to react well. Thank goodness he lived up to my hopes and expectations.

  6. Kari says:

    I love that you had the conversation and that your husband was open to the idea. It speaks to the strength of your marriage that you didn’t want to keep it a secret.

    Two thoughts, take what you like and leave the rest. I am not a lawyer, only someone who got divorced at year 20 and learned some really hard lessons when it comes to just how financially insecure I was. Gratefully, I had been doing the money all the years of our marriage, otherwise I would have been completely lost.

    1-Money deposited into an account strictly in your name does not automatically become yours only. Depending on a whole host of things I’m not smart enough to detail, it could still be considered marital property and subject to a split. You might consider consulting a lawyer so that your assets are legally protected in a hopefully-never divorce.

    2-When you figure out your goal amount, do not count on alimony.

    I knew that my decision to be a stay-at-home-mom for twelve years would hurt my career. I thought it had been a joint decision and that my sacrifice would be respected.The way our divorce played out, however, it became clear that my now-ex didn’t value my contribution at all. When it came time to putting a dollar amount on our marriage, I was the one that got f’ed.

    My point is this. You made an agreement with your partner. May God smile upon you that you continue to have a partner for the rest of your days. Some are very lucky when they divorce, that they do so amicably. However, the decision to divorce is an incredibly painful one, and if you ever find yourself making that decision it likely be because one one (or both) of you is incredibly unhappy in the marriage. Often, anger boils to the top, because it allows us to take the steps we need in order to make the split. And if not anger, then hurt, grief, resentment or joy take over. And all of those emotions make it really easy to say or do some really crappy things when it comes to money, including calling backsies on your agreement.

    • Caroline says:

      Kari, thanks so much for your valuable input. I’m so sorry that your years of contribution as a stay at home mom weren’t valued by your ex-husband and that you got screwed in the divorce. That’s just awful. Terrifying, in fact — exactly what I’m afraid will happen to me if my marriage goes off the rails. I did not know that an account in my name might be subject to community property laws — very good to know! It sounds like really, the way to make sure I’m protected is to get a post-nup. Luckily, I’m confident my husband would be up for that — but it’s overwhelming to think about how to navigate that. Thanks again for sharing your experience and wisdom. I know I’ll take it to heart.

  7. jessica brown says:

    I just returned to work after an 18 year “break” (oldest in college, youngest in kindergarten). I am struck by how incredibly far behind I am, and will never catch up…. I loved staying home with my kids but I missed out big time career wise.

    • Caroline says:

      It’s so hard to know what to do (if someone even has the privilege of choosing to stay home or pursue career — so many have no choice.) I feel pretty far behind as well and I fear I missed out too. I wish I knew what I wanted earlier in my life. If I had, maybe I would have pursued that career and figured out how to manage parenthood simultaneously.

      • jessica says:

        It didn’t even occur to me. Get husband through school, raise little kids, by the time I had mental space for work again, it was too late…

  8. Risa says:

    I think this is wonderful and a very smart financial decision on your part. My husband and I each have our own accounts and then a joint account where we pay all the household bills. This has worked well for us.

    In my 20 year marriage there have only been 3 years when I haven’t worked. Two when I was finishing my Bachelors degree and 1 year when I quit my last job to be home with my youngest. The plan was to go to grad school but financial difficulties forced me into full-time work. While I often get jealous of the stay-at-home parents who have a lot of flexibility in their schedules, I am grateful I chose the career path. Too many of my friends are now facing divorce in their 40s with absolutely no job prospects because they followed church counsel and chose raising children over securing their own financial future. I’m terrified for them and even I worry about my ability to earn money enough to support myself on a pitiful social worker’s salary.

    • Caroline says:

      “Too many of my friends are now facing divorce in their 40s with absolutely no job prospects because they followed church counsel and chose raising children over securing their own financial future.” Yes, exactly this. Staying home can work out fine for some, but it’s a huge gamble. I think your separate plus combined accounts is a smart way to go. I’ve never done that, but I would totally consider it if circumstances were different.

  9. No More says:

    Allow me to reiterate what Kari said. Depending on your state of residence, legal marriage separation and divorce laws can be complicated. Simply having separate bank accounts does not guarantee anything. During the legal proceedings all parties are normally expected to disclose all accounts, all assets, and all liabilities (this would include life insurance policies, 401ks, pensions, IRAs, real estate interests, business partnerships, bank accounts, bonds, stocks, any ownership interests, pending legal actions, loans, pending settlements, winnings and losses, and physical assets). An obvious big problem is when one or both partners have secret accounts or assets which they do not disclose. This can be illegal, and perhaps unethical depending on your perspective. Simply having an account in your name might give you some emotional comfort, but it is a false sense of security. I don’t say this to discourage you, but with the hope that nobody goes blindly into their financial security. There are however a few reasonable and prudent actions for the more financially vulnerable partner to take (usually the wife, but not always).

    1. Always be aware of the complete family and financial situation. Make sure you and your partner both have access to all accounts and that you review them regularly. Keep records. This can help identify if your partner is hiding assets from you, and can be extremely helpful if and when you need to go to an attorney and file legal actions. (Obviously this won’t work if you are the one trying to hide assets.)
    2. Have a secret emergency cash fund. This should be at least $500, but preferably over $2,000 if you can afford that. This is an emergency fund to grab and go if you must leave immediately (such as in case of physical abuse). For this to work it must be a secret stash.
    3. Similar to #2, always have an exit plan. This is generally a network of family and friends who are willing and able to support you at a moments notice until you can get back on your feet.
    4. Have a generous life insurance policy on the primary earner. Even if your marriage doesn’t end in divorce, it could end in death. This is so tragic. Too many stay-at-home moms rely 100% on their husband’s income and have no security if he tragically or prematurely dies. I can’t stress enough the importance of life insurance.
    5. Have a credit card in your name only. This will allow you to establish credit in your name and be an immediate credit line if needed. Ask your partner to allow you to use this card for the everyday spending (groceries, gas) so you can build a solid credit history. You might be amazed at how many 40 year old women have no credit and can’t get a credit card, car loan, or even rent an apartment.
    6. Continue to work on your education and build your marketable skills in the event you need to return to full-time employment.

    • Caroline says:

      No more, thank you so much for this information. When I wrote the post, I was unaware that such an account might not be protected in the event of a divorce. I need to look into the laws in my state. At any rate, thank you for your advice on what can actually protect the more vulnerable partner. I’m lucky that I do manage all the finances in the home, so I have much more of a sense of our financial situation than my spouse does. Your secret stash, exit plans, good life insurance, and credit cards in your name only are terrific ideas. I’ve got 3 of those covered — now it’s time to work on the other one. Thanks again!

  10. Chiaroscuro says:

    I am trapped in my vulnerability. I haven’t created a career, and have no back up. Trying to figure out how to get out of a bad marriage with nothing to go on. Absolutely supportive of your fund idea.

    • Caroline says:

      I’m so sorry, Chiaroscuro. If you ever want to brainstorm ways to create some financial independence, carve out a career, etc. please reach out. I’d love for you and any woman to be able to fully choose to be in their marriage because they want to be — and not because they are financially trapped. xoxo

  11. Helen Lai says:

    You probably would not get alimony. My sister divorced many years ago. The judge said she was not eligible for alimony because she has a bachelors degree.

  12. Melody says:

    This is a brilliant and courageous post. Thanks for sharing, Caroline. What a great conversation. “No More” commenting above is spot on.

    I’m a middle-aged woman with a long-standing career. A few of my same-aged or a little older friends are in good, supportive marriages (as am I) but have never worked outside the home and are entirely unaware of their financial holdings or resources. Employed or not, women need to be on equal footings with their spouses/partners regarding awareness of their finances.

    And I love what you’re doing in your marriage. Sorry for the immeasurable losses you describe. But, good work where you are now.

  13. Em says:

    I wish there were some way to measure the emotional toll that financial vulnerability takes. Just add it on to the giant emotional burden I get to tote around. I’m highly educated and love my job but like you, it doesn’t have job security, has few benefits and would reduce me to poverty subsistence level if I had to support myself and two children with it. I think about it constantly. I lie awake in bed at night worrying about it. I worry about my husband dying suddenly. I worry about him leaving me. I never think of leaving him — we’re happy enough but more pertinently to this discussion I know I’d be barely squeaking by. It is a constant source of anxiety (I already struggle with pathological anxiety, this just fuels it).

    Capitalism sucks. It rewards people who work for money (though often to vastly different and unfair degrees) and offers no safety for anyone else. Unpaid labor is implicitly unvalued labor. What if I lived in a country that offered state subsidized early childhood care? What if I lived in a country with parental leave? What if motherhood came with a retirement pension? I can’t help but think that Zion would look a lot more like a place where having children didn’t automatically condemn you to precarity.

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