Let me start by saying that I realise that this is going to be a sensitive issue.
As it stands, women face enough societal pressure, scrutinising every single life decision that we make. Women are judged for not having kids, having too many kids, choosing to work, choosing to stay at home, the list goes on. How we look, what we do and how we parent — everyone has an opinion.
So my aim is certainly not to add to the guilt women already feel. I am a mum of two and I chose to become self-employed in an effort to balance my desire to be a stay-at-home parent with maintaining my financial independence. The juggle has been anything but easy, and I have faced my share of judgement for being a ‘selfish mum’ for working with a bub in tow.
However, putting aside our personal desires and preferences for how we wish to parent, an important topic that we need to discuss is — can women really afford to be a stay-at-home parent anymore?
Again, this is not to say (as one interviewer asked me) that women should ditch the baby for the sake of preserving their super. However, it is about us having an open debate about the potential implications for women who choose to do so and how we can balance our parenting responsibilities with our financial ones.
In my personal and professional experience, there are two life events that can severely impact a woman’s financial independence.
The first is getting into a committed relationship. At this point, without us realising, both men and women often succumb to outdated social norms about how to split the household responsibilities. This means that a woman’s mental load increases and as a result financial matters often fall by the wayside or are delegated to their spouse.
The second is having children. Because now, not only are we more disengaged from our finances, we are also giving up our ability to earn our own income.
The implications of this can be severe, especially if the relationship breaks down. Just take a look at the recently emerging statistics of divorced women in their 50s who are leading the rates in homelessness.
Why is that? Well, after 10 or even 20 years out of the workforce, it can be incredibly difficult to find work. Add ageism into the equation and it becomes nearly impossible. And unless during the course of the relationship the couple have managed to accumulate significant assets, both inside and outside of super, and the separation is fair and amicable, women can find themselves in a precarious position of being unable to find work, and having no resources to fall back on.
So, if you are a stay-at-home parent, here are some simple ways to preserve your financial independence:
Volunteer or Freelance
This is not only great for your mental health and self-confidence, but it is also great for networking and keeping your CV current, in the event you need to find paid work down the track.
Share Your Super
Contribution splitting involves splitting your spouse’s before-tax super contributions between both of your super accounts. This includes any amounts they salary sacrifice and their employer superannuation guarantee contributions. You will need to check that your super funds allow it, and make yourself aware of the rules and limits that apply (your super fund can help with this). This is important because choosing to split your super when you get a divorce can involve significant legal fees and will depend on how amicable the split is. The easier, safer and more cost-effective approach would be to split your super contributions with each other now, while you both like each other and are on the same page!
It’s one thing to delegate. It’s quite another to bury your head in the sand. As a couple, it is crucial that you both maintain visibility of and access to joint funds, that you make financial decisions together, and that you both know where all the important documents are.
Keep It Fair
Just because you are the stay-at-home parent doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be allowed to spend money on yourself, that you should receive an allowance or that you have to ask for permission or justify any purchase you make.
If your spouse is refusing to answer your questions, is secretive about their or your joint finances, or is limiting your access to bank accounts, this could be a sign of financial abuse (a subtle form of domestic abuse that often goes unrecognised).
If you suspect that you (or someone you know) is the victim of domestic violence or financial abuse, an easy starting point is to download the Penda app. Penda is a free, simple to use app with national safety, financial and legal information.
Alternatively, you can call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit www.respect.gov.au for further information on support available.
As much as we may adore motherhood (some days more so than others), the reality is that women can no longer afford to sacrifice our financial independence in order to raise our kids. Times have changed, and the social and financial rules that applied to our mothers and grandmothers no longer exist.
The good news is that just by making a few simple changes we can enjoy motherhood as well as protect our (and our children’s) financial wellbeing.
Natasha Janssens is a Certified Money Coach (CMC)® and founder of Women with Cents. She is an award winning financial educator with a passion for supporting women to transform their relationship with money. If you don’t know what you don’t know when it comes to money and financial matters, her book Wonder Woman’s Guide to Money is for you. For more of Natasha’s tips follow her on Instagram and take the Money Type Quiz.