I turn 30 this year, and if there’s one issue that has swiftly escalated to the top of my worry list, it’s financial security and independence. Recently, my parents have talked about gifting me funds for a house deposit. Like most millennials, home ownership isn’t something I was planning on, unless an inheritance came my way. No matter how hard we save, we can’t keep up with rising house prices, and had resigned ourselves to a comfortable life in rentals.
So the offer from my parents is very generous. It comes with one condition – that my partner and I sign an agreement to state that if we break up, the deposit funds remain with me. My parents have reinforced my own assumptions: that despite our best intentions to stay together, money shouldn’t play a deciding role if we one day decide to break up.
In a conversation with a real estate agent about applying for loans, she suggested my partner and I close our personal bank accounts and stick to our joint accounts to make our finances more simple and attractive to banks. I baulked immediately. It scares me to think about combining my finances. But where does this anxiety come from? As an Indian-Australian, the process for combining finances with a partner has always been straightforward.
In some more traditional corners of my extended family, the husband (these relationships were always heterosexual) controlled the finances, and provided funds to the wife.
In my own family, my parents were equal partners, and shared their finances with mutual control.
But things aren’t so linear in my relationship. For a start, we’re not married. Although we’ve been together for eight years, it always felt premature to combine our bank accounts.
When we first began dating, I was in a vastly more secure financial position than he was, with a full-time job and over $10,000 in savings. It made complete sense to keep our finances separate. When we moved in together, we kept our own bank accounts and took turns paying for things. I kept a tally of when each of us loaned the other funds for anything, so it was always accounted for.
It wasn’t until we were six years into our relationship and planning a major move overseas that we finally opened a shared savings account. We agreed to each put a set amount into the account and monitored this closely, but our incomes were still separate. After we returned to Australia, we opened a joint transactions account and began contributing to it for rent, groceries and shared incidentals.
“You’re like Virginia Woolf, except instead of a room, you need a bank account of your own.”
My partner is less concerned about these minor overlaps in our finances. Recently, I complained about my doctor ordering an expensive radiology test as part of my regular check-ups for my chronic illness.
My partner immediately said I should pay for it out of our joint account.
‘No way,’ I replied. ‘You don’t need to be burdened with my medical costs.’
He looked at me strangely.
‘You’re not a burden,’ he said slowly. ‘You’re my partner. We’re in this together.’
It might seem strange that he needs to reiterate this to me eight years into our relationship, but I have always been wary of relinquishing my independence when it comes to money. I’m conscious of always having a decent buffer of savings, should anything happen where I need to cover all my expenses on my own.
This isn’t unusual for women of my generation. We are the generation embedding the financial revolution our mothers started, dismantling a nuclear family system which allocated financial power to men and devalued women’s financial contributions through unpaid labour.
My fear of sharing our finances has nothing to do with my partner as an individual, but a lot to do with the patriarchy.
I have watched friends (of both genders) slowly sink into unequal power dynamics within their relationships, where they pay for most expenses, or are responsible for helping their partner climb out of debt. One friend’s partner spent the money he was saving to contribute to a shared house deposit on a fancy new car without even discussing it – while living in the house she had bought, rent-free.
These are isolated incidents, but when placed within the pattern of gendered financial dependency, they make me apprehensive about getting in too deep.
At the prospect of closing my personal bank account, I told my partner, ”I know it makes sense, but I just can’t do that.”
He smiled at me, nodding.
“I know,” he says. “You’re like Virginia Woolf, except instead of a room, you need a bank account of your own.”
It’s true. And I cherish the independence. Perhaps we’ll need to reassess if we have children but for now, I relish the fact that every shared amount is accounted for, and that my funds remain my own to control. It’s not very romantic, but it makes for much better peace of mind.
Zoya Patel is the author of No Country Woman. You can follow Zoya on Twitter @zoyajpatel.