Some time ago, I wrote about the potential pitfalls of investing a lot of time and resources into unpaid, unacknowledged work, even and especially if you’re working in a family business and/or for your spouse.
Honestly, I didn’t expect the post to get any traction. I mostly treated it as a mini-rant on my private web corner. But surprisingly (or perhaps not), I keep getting feedback on what I wrote back then.
Here are a couple of the public comments:
“My husband left me for a younger girl and abandoned me. For 25 years, I worked with him in his company and never had a role, never been put on the books at all. I have no social security at all. What do I do?”
“We bought a business 7 years into a common law marriage. It was in my wife’s name only. I have worked there for free for 19 years. Never thought much about it until now. We have been together 25 years now and she just left me and moved out for a guy she just met. I’m left running her business that was ours by myself now. I’m 66, disabled because of the hard work at the business. I can’t get medicare or SS because she never paid for me… now I’m told that it’s her business and I benefited from it by having a place to live and food for 19 years! I’m tired, disabled and left without anything.”
You guys, these people did what appears the most natural thing in the world. They trusted their partners and put in the work for a family business without keeping score. Because that’s what you do when you’re married, right? But it can lead to some absolutely heartbreaking, glaringly unfair situations. I believe the commenters may have some legal recourse, but it would probably take a skilled lawyer who’d agree to work on a contingency basis.
When I was younger, I didn’t believe in planning for financial crises. I saw it as pessimism, or lack of faith, or whatever. I was all about looking at the future with a bright and trusting outlook, and I got my comeuppance. You guys know the story: I moved into the middle of nowhere, cut myself from all transportation and resources, and was left with no means to provide for myself and the kids when we hit a long stretch of unemployment, underemployment, and disastrous financial decisions. I remember there was one job opportunity that was SUCH a great fit for me and so close to home… only 10 minutes’ ride – but as I had no car, it might as well have been on the moon! I remember thinking, “I did this to myself. My own lack of forethought put me in this position.”
I’m in a different and better place now. And I know I talk a lot about finances and financial security. I do this because I feel a duty to warn people: don’t entrust your whole future (and your children’s future) to one person, even if this person is the love of your life. People can fail you. I bet the people who commented on my original post never thought their partners would abandon them. But even if everyone is 100% faithful and well-intentioned, people still fall sick, lose jobs, and run into unexpected financial pitfalls.
Protect yourselves, folks. If you stay home with your kids, have something to fall back on. If you pour your soul into working in a family business, make sure you get official recognition for your role, if not a salary. If you’re married to someone who isn’t very good with money, consider setting up a separate bank account for your own and your children’s sake.
That’s all for now. Here’s to a joyous month of Nissan and a happy, non-stressful Passover.