Thoughts by Richard Bleil
A week or so ago I wrote a post about a female friend who needed help. She was breaking up with her common-law husband and wanted to move, quite literally, across the country. Not to be as far away as possible, but because she wanted to head back to her home. Then she said something that scared the tar out of me. She said she had to save up money before she could do it.
As it turns out, she had no money of her own (they had a joint bank account), no car, and today I discovered she has no credit cards. This means that when she decided that she had had enough of what she described as his narcissism; she still couldn’t leave.
This is a form of controlling women. Although it might not be so common these days, back in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s it was part of the war on women. Until the ‘60’s it was not even legal for women to have a bank account. This blows my mind, but it’s reasonable. If you want to keep women subservient and unable to strike out on their own, what better way than to ensure they have no money of their own?
She decided that she wanted to stay with him after all, a decision I fully support, but I would be a liar if I said I didn’t have my concerns. She deserves to be happy, and if she believes her path to greatest happiness is with him, then I wish them all the best. Still, red flags are flying like crazy in my mind. I can only hope that they are unwarranted, but I’ll still worry.
Today she texted me, for the first time since she decided not to leave him, in fact. She texted to tell me that she had just received her bank card from the bank account she opened up to save money before leaving him. With her permission, I spoke frankly with her about how to protect herself.
First, I begged her to keep the bank account. Being unable to leave because she didn’t have her own money is clearly a form of control. I do agree in the concept of joint bank accounts; it’s a great way for both partners to contribute money to common spending such as bills and food, but the presence of a joint bank account should not preclude independent bank accounts. First of all, if she wants to buy him a gift, the surprise is spoiled if it shows up on the statement. But far more importantly than that, if she decides that he is still mistreating her, she needs her own money to just get out. To the best of my knowledge, he is not physically abusive, but I know firsthand that emotional abuse can be just as bad if not worse. By having her own money, she can leave on her timetable, instead of waiting for his.
Second, I recommended that she borrow money. A credit card is probably the easiest way to do this, but buying a car is better still. This is how a credit rating is built, something I’m guessing she simply does not have at the moment since she has neither a car or a credit card. The catch is to be sure to make payments, regularly and on time. Even after women could have their own bank accounts it was another decade until they could have independent credit cards. These debts are proof to the bank that the debt holder is responsible and can be trusted to make payments on time. Unfortunately, credit cards are high interest and to build credit ratings you have to have a balance on them to pay regularly, which is why something like a car loan might be better.
Finally, I suggested she start playing in the stock market. I’ve only recently started this myself, and while there are risks involved, for the most part stocks will rise in time even if you lose money in the short run. The current pandemic proved that the government is more than happy to throw money into the stock market to protect it if needed, so it’s moderately safe. What’s more, it makes your money work for you by earning interest and perhaps dividends, and while the percent return (or loss) isn’t steady, the banks pay almost no interest at all. The money in the stock market is not immediately available (it does take time to sell stock and transfer the money to your bank account), it is a great way to “squirrel away” a little money here and there, and because of the delay to get that money, it also helps to protect against impulse purchases (a protection I need myself).
I was ready to give my friend my truck (well, sell it to her for $5), put cash in her hands for her journey home, get her started in the stock market, and help her get established. When I pointed out my fear that she couldn’t just leave when she wanted to, she told me she would be taking at least some of these steps to establish her own independent identity, financial freedom and credit rating for which I’m thankful. I wish her happiness, so hopefully he really will change, but if he doesn’t, I hope she’ll have the independence necessary to leave when she is ready.