Why It Doesn't Matter That My Husband Gave Me An Allowance

In our series Not A Trophy Wife, we ask women how they feel when they earn less than their significant other. We've chatted with a marketing analyst dating an investment banker, a woman who moved to Rio for her husband, and a server marrying a man who makes twice her annual income.

In our seventh installment, we chat with Isabelle*, who makes $45,000 in Toronto—but doesn't quite know how much her husband makes.
So! Tell me about your financial life with your husband.
"Well my salary is $45,000 plus a $5,000 bonus, and my husband is an entrepreneur, so to be completely honest with you, I don’t know how much he makes. I know as a business owner it’s not exactly accurate and I know you can write off a lot of things, but what he writes on paper is $80,000. I don’t even know how much his business is worth, but I do know he has a wealth manager who only looks at six figure plus. So even though he declares only $80,000, his business makes more than six figures."
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How did you originally meet your husband?
"We met at a club. I was in school in Vancouver, and I was looking for people to take a picture of me and my friends, and he passed by. The next day, he asked me out for coffee."

So you started dating? What happened after you graduated?
"I went back to Thailand to work right after university, so we broke up. I had a very promising career in public relations. I was in charge of international media, so I would invite media to come to Thailand and host press trips, have them write about our hotels, spas, and restaurants. Compared to the locals, I was making triple what they would make — but still less than an expat's salary. Then we realized that we wanted to stay together, so I went back to Vancouver six months later."

Did you move back for him?
"Well, a big part of it was for him. But I didn't actually grow up in Thailand — being in Thailand was a little bit claustrophobic for me, and I needed that to realize that I had higher potential if I worked in Canada. Or maybe that's just how I justified it in my head."

Was it easy to re-adjust back to Vancouver?
"The original plan was that he would support me for a few months while I got a job, so in his mind he only had maybe a month or two of supporting me. I did go to school in Vancouver, so legally I was entitled to a work permit, but they screwed up. I was living off my savings, which was not a lot, since I only had a few months to save from a salary that is below minimum wage here. It was extremely stressful for both of us. At the time he was working for an oil and gas company so he was making $80,000. We barely did anything fun, we rarely ate out, and luckily I wasn't paying rent and he was paying for my food, but I felt bad using his money because that was not the agreement. I made sure to eat very little, and I don't think I cost him a lot of money, but it was very hard."

"I went from a pretty glamorous career to pretty much nothing."

Can you talk a little bit about how that felt?
"I went from a pretty glamorous career to pretty much nothing. I didn’t have a phone because I couldn’t afford to pay a phone bill. If I wanted anything extra I had to ask his permission and that was degrading. I never had to ask for permission to spend money before."

So once your visa expired...
"I went back to the PR job. The plan was for me to save up and come back to do my master's in Canada. I was there for maybe a year and three or four months. By then, he was no longer supporting me, and I had my own salary, so we would visit each other. It was great — working at a hotel, I had breakfast and lunch covered, and I wasn't paying rent, and I entertained a lot for work so I got a lot of free dinners. Most of my salary went straight to myself and savings and trips with him."

When was the first time you two truly discussed finances?
"The first time we had a serious financial discussion was when I decided to move to Canada again, despite what I went through the first time. He asked me to move back to Vancouver with him after a year or so of doing long distance, and I said, 'No, that was the worst time of my life. I'm not going to do that again.'

"He said, 'This time it will be different now that we know what we're getting ourselves into.' He told me, 'I'm covering everything, so you don't have to worry about it.' But I made sure he knew exactly what I was giving up, because I would have to turn down a promotion and go back to making zero money and living off him. And what if I wanted to do something without him there? He offered a joint credit card, but I wasn't comfortable with that — how would I know what is too much? I told him I'd rather have a fixed amount of cash given to me monthly so I can save it up."

How much money did you two agree on?
"I think initially I asked for $250, but it went down to $150 a month, and I can't remember why."

"Another entitled part of me that thought, 'Hey, I'm giving up so much for this guy. I deserve more.'"

Did you feel weird having to ask for an allowance?
"Well, I was coming from a white collar job, and I turned down a promotion for this. I've always lived a fairly affluent lifestyle, and for me to be dependent on him again... a good part of me just thought, be appreciative. But there's another entitled part of me that thought, 'Hey, I'm giving up so much for this guy. I deserve more.'"
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How was the move the second time around?
"We both did our homework and we both saved up before I made the move, and we were mentally prepared for another year of me not working. I got my work permit 13 months after I moved, but job hunting was extremely stressful. I went to one of the best schools in Canada, I had a promising career in Thailand, but I had very little luck looking for a job in Vancouver. So I took pretty much anything that was basically an entry level administration temp or receptionist job. I was making like, $15 an hour at the beginning, and then I started to cover my own food, and I could go out with my friends here and there. I felt better, but still very small."

Did the money problems get better then?
"Actually, we fought about money a lot then. After I started working, it was all split 50/50, even though he made way more than I did. I think he thought 50/50 was fair, maybe it was like, well you can work now nothing is stopping you from making as much as I am. He hasn’t actually said that but I think he’s thought about it. Because the truth is, he did provide for me — willingly and unwillingly. But financially, we did fight it out. It wasn’t that straightforward, and mentally, I was exhausted from restarting my career over and over and over again."

"Why is he spending so much money on entertainment, when I'm still walking everywhere because I don't want to pay for a bus?"

How do you mean?
"We actually moved to Toronto, so that was my career restart number three. He's originally from Toronto, so I knew eventually we would move there. So when we moved there, I quit my entry level job instead of moving up. And because I had to restart my career yet again, I was unemployed again. I remember, when we moved here, he was so excited that there was a basketball team, so he got half a season ticket online. I felt like, 'Why is he spending so much money on entertainment, when I'm still walking everywhere because I don't want to pay for a bus?'"

So what's the split now?
"Now, I contribute half of housing costs, but food, he takes care of completely. So groceries and when we eat out is all on him. So I guess percentage-wise, it’s 65/35. It's a product of multiple fights."
And where are you now in your career?
"I started at a firm as a temp doing reception, and then I got hired full-time to be an admin assistant, and then I applied for a role higher up and got it, and here I am. I got a lot of hate for applying for this higher role; [my coworkers] thought, 'What did she do to deserve this? Does she even know what to do?' They asked me if I even know how to use Excel. Of course, I do. I mean, I went to school for economics."
Given that you don't know much about your husband's business, I'm assuming you two don't share finances?
"No. I’m sure my parents and how they did it was a big part of why my money is my money and his money is his money, and to this day we don’t share expenses. My father was a diplomat and my mother had to give up her career to travel with him, and I remember how unhappy she was with it. One time, my father went on a huge shopping spree, and someone asked my mom, oh how are you okay with this? My father overheard it, and he goes, well it’s my money, I can spend it however I want. For him to not acknowledge my mother and her nonfinancial contribution was hard to forget even as a kid."

Do you ever feel like your husband doesn't understand what you gave up to move in with him?
"I’m not sure. I think my husband knows in his head. But a lot of people think he sacrificed more, and I came out winning in the end, just because of the financial support that I got from him.

"I did have this conversation with his friend once which was extremely insulting for me. I don’t remember how it started, but we were talking about money, somehow it turned into me defending myself. He thinks that a major sacrifice was made on my husband's part because he had to support me financially, and maybe on paper that’s how it is, but I did not abuse that financial support. I did not spend at all, I’m pretty sure I ate less than I’m supposed to, and people just think that I won a lottery that I’m in Canada working and someone else was supporting me financially. I don’t think anyone knows what I gave up — my career, but also, you know, I see my family only every two years now.

"In all fairness, right now I have every tool I need to be where he is, so what’s stopping me? So it’s fine, I have accepted it, and I’m pretty happy with where I am now. But I read the interview with the lady who moved to Rio, and I was like, okay, I'm not the only one. I think people should know that there is more to what it says on paper."

Names have been changed and interviews condensed for clarity. Have a story you'd like to share? Email the writer at jessica.chou@refinery29.com.

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