Former Getaway star Kelly Landry wasn’t happy with her $100-a-week “allowance”.
Former Getaway star Kelly Landry wasn’t happy with her $100-a-week “allowance”. News Corp Australia

Why are husbands putting their wives on an allowance?

ONCE upon a time, a man would come home from work and hand over his pay packet to the household accountant: his wife.

But in an era of independence and separate bank accounts, many couples are opting to keep their finances siloed - a situation that prompts the question: "What happens when we have kids?"

That's where "allowances" come in. A survey of any mother's group will reveal some rely on their partners to dole out weekly cash for living expenses, given they aren't earning anything.

This week's courtroom dispute between Kelly Landry and "Mr Sydney" Anthony Bell has brought the topic into the spotlight, with Ms Landry complaining that the $1000-a-week Mr Bell deposited in her account was inadequate - an allegation that he strongly disputes.

The former Getaway star, who is seeking an AVO against Mr Bell which he opposes, told the Downing Centre court that half of the cash went on groceries, quipping: "Have you been shopping in a supermarket in the Eastern Suburbs?"

Ms Landry also claims to have had to call her husband when she was stuck without money to pay for dinner or to get out of carparks. Mr Bell told court he could not recall any such occasions.

And while the estranged Sydney power couple's financial situation is a far cry from the average family, for whom $1000 would form a large chunk of combined income, the remarks have drawn attention to the different ways spouses approach their cashflow.

Mums' groups on Facebook are littered with posts by women frustrated by the loss of financial freedom when they give up work, with the more extreme examples including complaints about not being able to afford basic essentials on their meagre "allowances".

It's an issue that affects many Australians with more than one-third of long-term couples opting to keep their finances separate, according to research by Finder.com.au.

"For the younger generations, it's becoming okay to say 'we're completely different on the financial front, so I think it will be better - for the sake of avoiding argument - to keep things separate," Finder's money expert Bessie Hassan said.

But how do you ensure that both partners will be treated fairly, especially when one is staying home with the kids?

'WHAT'S MINE IS YOURS'

Sydney mum Calleen Theologou has had a joint account with her husband Nicholas since the pair married more than 13 years ago - and she wouldn't have it any other way.

"Once we made that commitment it was pretty straightforward," the mother-of-three told news.com.au; "When you're married, what's yours is mine and what's mine is yours."

Mrs Theologou said the arrangement made her feel "more secure", and that while making joint financial decisions required some give and take, it also helped the couple to make the most of their incomes.

"When you look at the bank account and see that the balance is going up or your debts are going down, you're winning as a team," she said.

Communication was the key to minimising any hostility that might arise, she said.

"You set a limit on spending and it's a united decision," Mrs Theologou said. "Even if I was single, I wouldn't be able to buy everything I want - I can't afford to."

She said power imbalances over money were a relationship killer, and that she knew of women who had to phone their husbands to ask for money to buy milk and bread or take a sick child to the doctor.

"I've seen them in so much pain over something which should be straightforward," she said, recounting one occasion when a friend burst into tears after having to plead with her husband to transfer money for groceries.

WHAT IS 'NORMAL'?

Julie Kun from women's information helpline WIRE said callers often wanted to know what was "normal" when it comes to their family finances.

"The answer is that there is no one way," Ms Kun said, explaining that whether or not a couple had a joint bank account was no indicator of the health of their union.

All sorts of approaches to splitting finances could be found across both normal and abusive relationships, she said.

"If women are not able to negotiate at all or are told what they are allowed to spend on - and they are not allowed to buy anything for themselves - that is a concern," Ms Kun said.

Apart from these cases, which may amount to a form of domestic violence, she said, many women sought advice about more benign relationship issues.

"We have lots of clients who were brought up to believe that talking about money is taboo, that 'my partner will think I don't love them and am only thinking about money'," she said.

She advised stay-at-home mums to remember that they were contributing to the family, too, and had every right to stay informed and make joint spending decisions.

One option popular with couples who want to retain separate accounts was to have an additional joint account for bills, mortgage payments and other expenses, Ms Hassan said.

"Both partners add money into it on payday and that account is used to pay for utilities, groceries - that way they get the best of both worlds," she said.

"Or you can have a joint savings account to save up for holidays and major purchases."

Personal finance expert David Rankin of Sort My Money said the arrangement that would work best was always "the one that suits that particular couple".

"A healthy emotional relationship is built on mutual trust, respect and free will, and the same rules apply to a financial partnership," Mr Rankin said.

"Anyone who uses control of the purse strings to impose their will on their partner is out of line."

If you are worried about broaching the topic of finances with your partner, you can phone WIRE on 1300 134 130. If you are experiencing family violence, call 1800 RESPECT.

News Corp Australia

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