How the Heck Do You Deal with Money After You Have Kids?

How do we start a conversation about making shared finances equitable?

How the Heck Do You Deal with Money After You Have Kids?
Photo by Fabian Blank / Unsplash

Sometimes it really sucks to talk about money. Ten and half years and three kids into my marriage, some money conversations have gotten much easier, but generally it feels like the scenarios we’re working through get MORE complicated over time, rather than less. Inspired by a recent email from a Double Shift member and along with personally staring down another painfully expensive childcare year, I decided to do some investigation of personal family finances through a Double Shift lens. Unfortunately, a lot of financial advice seems very simplistic, and it doesn't really capture the nuances of long-term partnerships with kids, and the reality is that there's just no one-size-fits-all. So, I’ve started to wonder, what’s a good place to start in this conversation about making shared finances equitable? I reached out to Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, a money coach, author of the book, Financial Adulting, writes The Money Musing newsletter and is the creator of the Fiscal Femme platform on Instagram. She specializes in bringing a feminist, intersectional and community-minded lens to concrete personal finance advice.

Ashley immediately affirms my experience that money conversations are a constant, complicated moving target. “I would say the biggest shift is for people to realize that there's not really an arrival point. You don't figure this out and you're done. This is a conversation that you're always going to be having.”

So Double Shifters, enjoy this edited and condensed conversation, one that YOU may also be constantly having. I highly recommend the extended members-only audio version this week, it’s a great listen. Ashley has so many pearls of wisdom and I especially liked her insights into how we manage “the keeping up with Joneses” mentality. To listen, become a member. It starts at $7/mo.

Ashley shared a great idea about how to kick off talking about money with your partner if you have one.

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley: I'm a big proponent of having “money parties.” Depending on the age of your kids, they can be involved for part of it too.

A money party is a time every month to put on the calendar. These personal finance conversations are something that often get put on the back burner. So, I would also say to really prioritize it, because it is complicated. There's a lot to do. I recommend carving out about a two-hour window every month to just deal with all of the money stuff, and it also is a great way to compartmentalize it. [Ed note: Wow! Two hours seems like a lot!] Or it works better to do it more frequently then the money parties can be shorter if you're doing it each week.

I have a money party playlist, so I play songs that pump me up about money. I do it in my PJs. I'm really into having rewards. We like to celebrate afterwards somehow by watching a guilty pleasure show or going out.

Another really important thing for partnerships and with kids is to just talk about more than just the numbers. It’s good to interrogate, “why am I feeling so strongly about this?” Or “why are you so upset that I'm spending?” Talking about how our families were with money, our first money memories, those deeper underlying things can help us understand where our partners are coming from and have them understand where we're coming from.

Katherine Goldstein: So, there’s extensive research that shows on the whole women's salaries decline about 4% for every child they have while men's salaries increase about 6% for every child. This is the motherhood penalty/fatherhood bonus. So how should we think about sharing expenses when factors like taking time out of the paid workforce come into play or taking a lower paying job so you have more flexibility in family life. Is there a way for the value of this work to be reflected in family finances?

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley: So, I think it's really important to acknowledge value depending on what the family has decided. You mentioned taking time off or choosing, or sometimes naturally one person’s job has more flexibility.

It’s important to really articulate the value that has as a family and to understand what that contributes and to understand what the replacement cost of that labor would be. I think that it doesn't have to be reflected in a paycheck, but just in a general sentiment of both partners, valuing that contribution can really change how the finances feel. Acknowledging that this is a really valuable contribution versus this idea that the one earning the income is contributing more to the family, whereas this uncompensated contribution is just as valuable, if not more valuable.

Katherine Goldstein: This sort of dovetails into another question, which is talking about salary and expenses in some ways is the easy part. Dealing with long-term relationships, like so many factors can come into play, like credit card debt, student debt, retirement assets, and inherited assets. What are some ways to untangle earnings vs. debt vs. wealth when thinking about equitable finances?

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley: First off, I want to say I think it's also completely fine to have your own money. It doesn't need to be all co-mingled. But when we're thinking about the family unit of expenses, there can be an agreed upon, let's say, a joint account that pays some family bills.

And this is one way that I've seen work for many people, but it doesn't have to be the only way. If someone had financial trauma or wants more protection with their money this might not feel as good. So, let's say we're saying one person is coming to the partnership and they have this extra obligation of paying down debt payments and the other has inheritance from a grandmother. How does the relationship navigate how they want the lifestyle to look? And so in the case where someone has significantly more assets or if someone has debt that they're paying off, if the family unit wants to live a certain way, that contribution will have to come from the one who has more assets in order for that person to be paying off their debt. There has to be an agreement that one can't contribute as much directly to the family unit if the goal is for them to be paying these debt payments. And I think too, it's talking about goals, like how quickly do I wanna do it? What does that mean for my contribution to the group? Is there anything the other side wants to do to help to make that move faster?

Katherine Goldstein: I want to bring in a real-life letter from a Double Shift member who's a dad and the parent to a 16-month-old, because I think a lot of people will relate to this. And I'd love to just get your take.

I have a flexible schedule running my own business and my partner does not. Additionally, I end up doing a lot of the home care, wordlessly waking, baby feeding, grocery shopping, cooking for all of us, putting to bed dishes, some tidying. I'm eager to spend this time to be present with my son and for a family at home. However, my partner of 10 plus years and I have not had a conclusive discussion about money and how, how we earn and how we spend it in this new phase of life. It has always been traditional for us to split bills evenly. However, the repercussions of being the default parent and financial contributor is taking a toll.

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley: I relate to this. It's very easy to just say, “oh, okay, we're just keeping it business as usual.” But it sounds like it’s time to have a more explicit conversation if one person is taking on a whole extra role, or even if they both sharing it, to really talk about how that impacts work.

For me personally, it was hard at first to name the things that I was doing. When you do try to list it out sometimes it sounds like less than it is. An example, when my son first asked about death, I was like, “okay, I need to research how I’m going to talk about this.” Those are just things that you might not even think of as labor, and they take time. And there is also a cost to the being on call, right? Knowing that at any moment if there's a sickness, you are the default parent and you are the one who's rescheduling.

So, defining what the actual unpaid labor workload is at home may create an opportunity to redistribute some things. But then if someone is feeling that their business or income is being impacted, there may be a fairer distribution of the expenses now that one person is taking on more of that.

Katherine Goldstein: I've encountered, anecdotally, that many moms who have a really hard time spending money on themselves in a way that is nourishing or restorative, regardless of what their income is. They may have no problem, like paying a thousand dollars for their kids to play in a travel sports league but would never spend that kind of money on a personal hobby that they are passionate about. Why do you think this is, and what are some ways we can challenge this?

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley: It's such a great question. Start with treating yourself with time, because money adds this other layer. So, if you're able to indulge in time that is “unproductive” just for you, just nourishing and that feels okay, then you can add the money component in. I forget where I read it, but relaxing and nourishing yourself might not feel good at first. And then there is also this pressure that it should be really fun and enjoyable. It's okay if it doesn't feel good and that it takes practice to nourish and take time for yourself. It's okay to start smaller and it doesn't have to be like the first thing is the thousand dollars thing. When you add money in, start asking, what will that spending mean for us reaching our goals or not. It's just clear and feels more conscious and intentional.

Katherine Goldstein: Sometimes spending the money seems like a way to protect the time. Saying “I'm taking this art class and it costs this amount of money, and that means on Tuesdays I'm not available.” These things can be very interlinked.

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley: Some might have less issue with time and struggle with the money and for some its vice versa.

Just remember, there are phases of life that are really expensive. There's no childcare that’s affordable, many people don’t have any paid leave. There are so many things to navigate. Have some compassion with yourself about your finances. Certain stages in children's lives are more expensive and just getting by is sometimes the best that's gonna happen. That doesn't mean that that's what your trajectory will look like financially, forever.

Thanks, Ashley for giving us so much to think about. Be sure to check out her book, Financial Adulting, The Money Musing newsletter and the Fiscal Femme platform on Instagram.

For a completely different kind of discussion about money: Toi Smith, who's shared her insightful ideas about anti-capitalism with us, is launching a program called The Responsibility of White Wealth, "a year-long transformational learning and redistribution circle for white women committed to collective liberation and economic justice who are ready to understand how to use their wealth as a catalyst for change." So cool! It dovetails with her UBI intiative, Loving Black Single Mothers, to which I'm a reoccurring donor.

For tomorrow’s members-only thread, I want to hear from you. What’s your biggest personal finance thorn between you and your partner? And I’d like to acknowledge this topic has been framed in a way that very much centers couples, so I’ll also be soliciting some perspective from unpartnered Double Shifters on some of these issues. To get this conversation into your inbox, become a member.

Members-Only March Hangout

March 23rd 8pm EST

Let’s Start Dreaming Bigger

Our February hangout was SUCH a big success that I want to offer it at a different time of day (evening EST) so a different group of people can attend. I got great feedback on the format, and we'll do some breakout rooms so YOU ALL can get to know each other. (My dream.) So here’s the deal: reading about our feminist foremothers has made me want to encourage us all to dream bigger about what care and motherhood COULD look like in America, not just focus on tiny incremental changes. Join me for an inspirational, collaborative workshop/conversation with other Double Shifters. If you typically can’t come to events during the workday, this hangout is for you!! Members will get a cal invite in their inboxes.

March 25th we're doing an IRL playground meetup in Durham. So much fun this month!!

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