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“How women deal with money drives me nuts”

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That Britney Spears. I love her deeply, but she’s given me nothing but trouble and strife since day one.

First there was the schoolgirl/jailbait thing, then the series of undesirable boyfriends and marriages (the first one – annulled after 55 hours – looked like a model of probity and wisdom compared with Kevin Federline), Kabbalah, Madonna-snogging, mental breakdown, custody battles and psychiatric care. She’s caused me more worry, that girl, than all of the Spice Girls and Girls Aloud combined.

But almost never more so than now, after the announcement that her fiancé (and former manager) Jason Trawick is to become, like her father and lawyer, one of her conservators – someone with control of her finances. Partly because it has all the hallmarks of needy insecurity – supporting someone’s bid to have joint custody of your assets feels like the celebrity equivalent of agreeing to throw away all photos of your ex or go the full Brazilian, when you’d rather maintain your natural Mr- Tumnus-the-Narnian-Faun look, to please the new one – which suggests that she still has some issues to work on. But mainly because it is so emblematic of the female approach to money, and because the female approach to money drives me nuts.

The approach, in essence, is to let the men take care of it. You don’t have to go anywhere near Spears-style celebritydom to see this. I’ve never been more shocked than I was by the reaction of mothers to the news last year than the government was going to cut child benefit. “But it’s the only money I can call my own/spend without asking/not have to explain where it went!” came the cries. Cries, primarily (the media being what it is), from middle-class women who had previously earned their own money, are in long-term, stable relationships with the fathers of their children but who still, apparently, live in a world where what’s his is his and what’s hers is a concept without meaning.

True commitment and security is having a joint bank account

Money itself is a store of value. How you treat that money in a relationship is an index of the value you each place on each other. Imagine the ‘traditional’ set up whereby the man earns the single income on which the family depends while the woman stays at home looking after the children. What does it say about him, her and the relationship if that money is still conceptualised – as the majority of the child benefit bewailers seemed to imply that they do – as ‘his’, to be doled out to the woman as she needs it for her own, the children’s and other domestic needs? That doesn’t suggest a true relationship of equals to me. It suggests that someone is still essentially subservient and that someone is not quite ready to let go of a tangible source of power.

If there are two income streams, how do you manage them? Do you pay for the groceries, the cleaner, the childcare, the general daily expenses while he pays for the ‘big’ things like a new car or roof repairs? Is it through careful and deliberate arrangement or is that just how things evolved? Do some sums – how fairly is it working out in the long run? Do you split the bills equally? Yes? Equally meaning ‘50-50’ or equally meaning the person who earns more pays more? Did you ever think to ask about doing things another way? Adjusting for pay rises over the years? Who researches ISA rates? Is your pension equal to his? If not, should he be contributing to yours so that you can share an equally penurious or comfortable (delete as appropriate) old age together?

I’m not claiming to have definitive answers to these questions. I’m just saying that I suspect – especially since the straw poll I’ve done among my friends – most women haven’t even thought to ask them. Maybe it seems too hard and unromantic to do so, or maybe simply boring and irrelevant. But I would argue that true commitment – and true security – is a joint bank account. Is he willing to love, honour and do his share of the washing up? Great. But just check his interpretation of endowing you with all his worldly goods before you sign up for the long haul. Chances are he thinks that means putting his home cinema system in the sitting room and letting you wear his special festival T-shirts to bed, not treating his income as a common resource.

Of course, true security is also having a secret running away fund for yourself. But that’s a thought for another time. Until then, it’s joint access, baby, all the way.

Contact Lucy Mangan at lucy.mangan@stylist.co.uk; twitter.com/lucymangan

Do you agree with Lucy? Let us know in the comments below or on twitter @StylistMagazine.

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