Book Review: “When She Makes More”
I’m financially independent, but I’m blissfully ignorant of popular culture. (Maybe those two facts are related?) I had never heard of Farnoosh Torabi.
I first noticed her work a few years ago when she interviewed blogger buddy Darrow Kirkpatrick for Yahoo! Finance about his early retirement. (Yeah, I know now that she wrote for Money magazine and covers financial topics on TV, but I don’t read Money magazine or watch TV.) I dropped track on her after Darrow’s interview until Farnoosh popped up again to interview Mr. Money Mustache for Yahoo! Finance about his early retirement. Then she agreed to be the keynote speaker for FinCon14 this September, and I realized that she’s a major personal finance guru.
More importantly (to me, anyway), she writes books. I like books. I know those accelerate financial independence.
The title of Ms. Torabi’s latest, “When She Makes More” immediately hit a chord with me. My spouse and I started our Navy careers only a year apart, and for the first 15 years my submarine pay meant that I was earning more money for our marriage. However that all changed when my promotions stopped– and hers kept going. Intellectually I know that more promotions (and more money) are a very good thing for everyone in a marriage. (Hers certainly accelerated our financial independence.) But deep down inside, a whiny little testosterone-poisoned inner He-Man was occasionally kvetching that I wasn’t hauling home my share of the bacon anymore.
Those feelings turn out to be common among both men and women. It happens more often today, too: during my life, the number of higher-earning wives has quadrupled. In 25% of today’s American marriages, the woman earns more— and the percentage is even higher for recently-married couples.
In the last 20 years, financial researchers have verified that behavioral psychology is a huge factor in managing our finances. We all know that we’re supposed to track our spending, make a budget, and save for financial independence– but behavioral psychology gets in the way. (To learn more about this issue, see Jason Hull’s large collection of studies on “Monkey Brain”.) This is not just a matter of sternly lecturing ourselves about behaving like adults. Our brains have survived the jungles for millennia by developing dozens of shortcuts, and we are not evolved for the modern world of rational reflection and logical financial decisions. We have way too many hormones and reflex responses hijacking our brains to make us feel a certain way when we should be thinking a different way. When we start to act on our financial feelings instead of our analysis, that starts trouble.
Ms. Torabi’s book also got my attention for another reason: my young-adult daughter is smarter than me, she has engineering skills, and she’s going to earn a lot more. She needs to know about these issues so that she can avoid society’s pressure to live out a stereotype.
Unfortunately women seem to be hindered by their behavioral psychology almost as much as men, but both genders experience it in different ways. This is not feminism or gender equality– it’s about relationships where each of the couple responds to the same situation in different ways, and with very different feelings. We have to understand our own reactions before we can appreciate what our better half is feeling.
When she makes more, it can turn into a vicious spiral. Whether her career blasts off or his career hits an air pocket, their relationship takes a non-traditional (yet more common) turn. She’s spending hours at a high-pressure job yet may still feel obligated to manage the house & kids to the ridiculously high standards that society has encouraged for generations. He has his own high-pressure job (it just doesn’t pay as well) while he’s almost always more relaxed about cleanliness & parenting. He’d like to manage the finances (as so many men prefer) but he’s bothered by not having the majority vote. Friends & family (especially mothers and mothers-in-law) are constant reminders of the roles that everyone’s expected to fill. Tired & stressed couples find themselves even more unhappy with their home lives. He withdraws (as guys do), she pursues, the arguments escalate, and eventually the fateful question is considered: “What do I need him for?!?”
They both know that her higher income is no longer unusual. They both realize that traditional gender roles have shifted. Yet neither one of them really understands what brought them to this crisis.
Ms. Torabi supplements the psychological research and surveys with hundreds of her own interviews and stories of couples, families, and counselors. This is not pop-psych self-help buzzword encouragement. This is a wake-up call with stark facts, clear trends, and rising awareness– by marriage counselors and psychologists. It’s a 200-page read, but it moves very quickly. You either know that couple, or you are that couple.
The first two chapters present the problem, but the next eight discuss the solutions. The first step is awareness: there’s a problem, and each gender perceives it differently. Yes, men and women have different standards, but that’s just one part of the problem. Once that’s recognized, the solutions are much easier to see and the book shows you how to make it happen. The magic takes time, and gender reflexes will still kick in at the worst possible moments, but there’s less arguing and more problem-solving.
[Guys, no worries. This is not a male-bashing polemic. Ms. Torabi is living the situation in her own marriage, and she’s sharing the solutions. She actually advises women to relax their standards a little and even cut the man some slack. She helps each person understand what the other is thinking and what will make both of you happy. If you’re wondering what’s causing the arguments and how to deal with your own feelings, then this book has the answers.]
The solution starts (as in so many relationships) with the money. She shows how to divide up the financial chores and run the house like the business that it’s always been. The book explains how both of you can contribute to the financial needs while still having your own money for your own wants & entertainment. You’ll both feel responsible and accountable for using the income to reach your shared goals, no matter who earns it.
Another part of the solution is communication. As a guy, I see the domestic situation differently. I know that when the trash can is “full” it still has at least 10% remaining capacity. Maybe the kids are filthy from a great soccer practice after school, but it’s homework time and they can take a bath after dinner. The house might be a mess and the sink is full of dirty dishes, but we’ll pick up for 10 minutes after dinner. Tomorrow I’ll take out the trash and clean the bathrooms. Sure, things are less than perfect, but none of this bothers us guys because I have a clue and a plan.
Yet when Mom comes home from (another very long day at) work she sees a full trash can, filthy kids and– oh great– someone’s left her a sink full of dirty dishes.
How do you think the next 10 minutes is going to go? It all depends on communication: learning what’s important to each other, what triggers our emotional reflexes, and what we can do to make each other feel better. I was just optimizing the trash & cleanup, but now that I understand how she feels about a full trash can and the kitchen sink then I’ll gladly clean up sooner for a happier relationship. She caters to my preference to run the finances, and I can certainly cater to a few of her preferences.
The third part of the solution is dealing with your environment. If a shiny clean home is important, then you both have to make the effort. If that can’t happen then the next step is either changing the standards or hiring a housecleaner. Figure out what’s really important, but be willing to pay for it if necessary. If you can’t afford it then the standards have to change. The key to this decision comes from both of you agreeing on your financial priorities and then communicating about the choices.
Once you’ve turned your relationship back into a strong team and then cleaned house (so to speak), you’re ready to deal with the rest of society’s stereotypes. You’re going to have to handle workplace expectations– and the expectations of family & friends. Ms. Torabi lays out the statistics, the research, and the stories to help explain the situation. You have to set boundaries with work and have a plan for the inevitable daily schedule disruptions. You have to respond appropriately to the commentary from mothers-in-law and deal with the rest of the relatives. Your real friends will understand your relationship, even if it’s not their choice. “When She Makes More” shows you how to navigate these situations– and when to move on.
Got a handle on all of that? Great: now you’re ready to talk about kids. See Chapter 8 (of 10).
My spouse and I have known each other for nearly 35 years, been married for nearly 28 years, and (thanks to the military) lived together for over 25 of them. We’re a great team, but I still learned quite a bit from this book. Our daughter is going to have an eye-opening experience with it, and now we all have the vocabulary to discuss it. You will too.
I’d normally recommend that you wait for this book to show up in your local library. However this time I suggest that both of you read the book at the same time and keep your own copy handy for future reference. And if you’re the parent of a young adult, I strongly recommend that you buy them their own copy. They’re going to enjoy their own relationships no matter how you feel about them, but at least you can equip them with the understanding and the vocabulary to deal with it.
If you’re a military spouse, let us know what you’ve learned from it and what you’ve changed. I’d most especially love to hear from the men military spouses!
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I wrote this post on 5-10 April but was scooped again by J$! Enjoy his link for more Farnoosh quotes.