Rachel* sat in her car, staring at the gas pump while her infant son slept in the back seat. She gazed at the price for unleaded gas and quickly did the math on her calculator. This was a subtle example of a woman enduring financial abuse.
She had just enough for one and a half gallons of gas. This which would get her home with about a quarter of a gallon left to spare. However, if she put a gallon in and drove carefully, she would have a few dollars to spare for milk.
Moms like Rachel face these dire choices each day. Rachel falls into a small group of women who face an even bigger challenge. Because of her conservative religious beliefs, Rachel has no access to her family’s money. She has to choose between spending her “wifely allowance” on either gas or additional food.
In February, CentSai conducted a survey of more than 500 mothers with children under the age of five, in hopes of studying the financial health and the satisfaction they felt.
For example, money decisions are split nearly 50-50 by the mom and her partner, and 45 percent of all moms had a checking account in their own name.
However, one number in particular stood out. A surprising 9% of stay-at-home moms reported that they couldn’t access their accounts on their own. Without their partner, these moms wouldn’t be able to withdraw money from a bank. They can't use an ATM, or – as in Rachel’s case – get enough money for both gas and milk.
Is this financial abuse, or just a less popular form of marital compromise?
Rachel knows that her situation isn’t ideal, especially compared to other moms she knows. “I have to explain to some of my friends that are not part of my church that money doesn’t really concern me,” she explains. “My husband knows what he is doing as the head of the house. I put my trust and faith in him to do what’s right.”
Premarital money counseling and church seminars featuring financial guru Dave Ramsey are all part of the lifestyle she accepts. Every week, the couple sits down and budgets for the coming days. They go over meal planning, couponing, and shopping online in bulk.
Each financial decision is agreed upon by the other. But when money arguments come up, the husband makes the final call. For example, Rachel says that she and her husband do not see eye-to-eye on sandals for their oldest daughter.
When asked what she would do if her husband died or if they were to get a divorce, Rachel answered, “I would have faith that I married a person who would take care of me in life or in death or in marriage or else wise. I’m on his life insurance policy and we have joint wills. I’d be alright.”
However, Rachel admitted that she does know of horror stories within her community. One story that stood was a leader’s wife whose husband abused her.
When the wife wanted to leave, she wasn’t able to access funds for a plane ticket home. Finally, she went to a local women’s shelter with her children until she could find her first job.
Rachel vehemently denies financial abuse in her relationship. But it’s hard to ignore the link. According to the National Network to End Domestic Abuse, 98 percent of physically abusive relationships have an element of financial abuse. Furthermore, those mothers who are able to break free from these relationships or situations still face adversity. More than half of women are living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census.
When parsing through CentSai‘s survey results, it’s hard not to wonder if the majority of that nine percent of mothers are like Rachel – happy and content with the choice to be a woman without money. Or, if they may be the better halves in an abusive relationship, and are secretly hoping to find a way out.
If your spouse or partner is withholding money or other financial access from you, we recommend contacting the free National Domestic Violence Hotline, where you can request information about what you can do to break free.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy
Readers of this article also read: “Financial Abuse Is Getting Endemic And It Needs Head-On Tackling.”