I’m sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor in Spain, bent over a jar of spaghetti sauce.
For the life of me, I can’t get it to open. I twist until my fingers hurt. I try to use a tool with a rubber grip. I run the lid under warm water.
My roommates are out of the house, and the thought of trying to explain my dilemma in garbled, apologetic Spanish to my neighbors is too embarrassing to consider. The pasta is drained and waiting in the sink, steam rising.
I bang the jar against the floor, against the countertops. I move between rooms. I squeeze the jar between my knees. I grit my teeth and strain with everything I’ve got, and… nothing.
The Importance of Independence
This incident encapsulates one of my main missions: to be independent. Even when it’s difficult, or I’m on the verge of giving up. Whether in my job, my travels, or in my relationships, I try to tackle difficult situations on my own terms. Independence is critical for developing life skills, decreasing reliance, and increasing personal safety.
For example, at home I do my best to avoid dependency on ritual habits. I avoid using a noisemaker to go to sleep (a contentious point in our household), and I randomly give up coffee for weeks at a time to ensure that I don’t develop a caffeine addiction.
Last month, I shared a hotel room with a coworker and was glad that I didn’t need to pack the bulky noise machine or wire up headphones to my ears in order to sleep. When we stayed in an Airbnb that didn’t provide coffee, I wasn’t distracted trying to mitigate a migraine after missing my morning mug. (But were you distracted by that alliteration? Whew!)
Independence and Money
One of the most important aspects of independence is that of money. Too many people take a backseat when it comes to their money management, even though it drives the choices we make in our daily lives.
There are four stages of financial independence:
The consequences of small dependencies, like that on a noisemaker to sleep or a cup of joe to wake up, are minor. But the consequences of being dependent on others for something big, like your financial wellbeing, can be dire.
For couples, it might be tempting to delegate one person to handle their finances. Having a single, merged account might simplify accounting, and it might be easier to hit a high net worth with two incomes and shared expenses. However, tying your finances too tightly to another person spells disaster if everything unravels.
The reality is that disasters happen. As optimistic humans, we don’t plan enough for them. According to a Merrill Lynch study, only 14% of widows were making financial decisions by themselves before their spouse died. That means that over 80% were left trying to figure out their financial future in the wake of tragedy. In some relationships, dependence can innocuously spiral out of control, sometimes leading to grim consequences.
The Reality of Financial Abuse
People don’t plan for their relationships to fall apart or for their partner to turn on them, but 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men experience severe violence by an intimate partner. In one study, 99% of the survivors of domestic abuse were also abused financially. It’s a serious issue with serious consequences– and at the core of the abuse is the removal of independence.
In abusive situations, the victim’s independence is slowly stripped away, until they are entirely dependent on their abuser. All four stages of financial independence are made impossible as the victim is forced to rely on their abuser for money, give up stability in order to appease, and doubt their own skills and abilities.
The seriousness of abuse underscores the importance of independence. Without it, we become vulnerable in many different ways. It is a prevalent problem (1 in 4 women? 1 in 7 men? Chances are that many people we know are in this situation). If you feel like you are losing your independence, or someone is taking it from you, it’s important to get the help you need to get it back.
Independence is a Skill
Even in healthy relationships with healthy partners, it is imperative to maintain personal independence.
From being able to manage your own money to make informed choices based on your budget, money management is a critical life skill. Ultimately, you can:
You Are Not Excused
People object with a variety of reasons. They say things like:
- My spouse just isn’t interested. They won’t pay attention if I try to talk to them about money.
- It’s simply easier if somebody else handles the money.
- We avoid the topic altogether to avoid fighting.
I get it. We are busy. Money is a loaded topic. We can’t afford to fight more, to have this conversation again. We don’t like thinking about money, or what to do if something goes wrong. Do we have to make things harder on ourselves? The truth is that we can’t afford not to.
The Downsides of Dependence
Yes, dependence is easier. It avoids confrontation, delegates responsibility, and often implies a certain amount of romantic trust.
Yet dependence decreases our self-reliance and self-efficacy. It leaves us vulnerable in emergencies and unable to leave toxic situations, whether in a relationship or a job.
If you or your spouse is uncomfortable talking about money, consider the importance of independence. Meet with a counselor or a money professional. Set up weekly money dates so you can sort through information with your partner. Make the time to get out of the backseat and into the driver’s seat of your financial life.
Dependence is easy, but independence is essential.
Do you have an emergency fund that is 100% in your name only?
Are you able to access your bank accounts right now? Do you know your passwords, security questions, and where to go to get funds?
Is anyone dependent on you for finances? Would they know how to access their accounts or information if you suddenly disappeared off of this planet?
You Are Strong Enough
There are four steps to realize full financial independence, but every rung of the ladder is important. From self-sufficiency, to stability, to self-confidence, to complete financial independence, assess your status. Where are you standing on the ladder? Do you control your money, or does it control you?
I had to believe that I could get that sauce jar open. That it was designed to be opened. That I was strong enough to do it. And finally, as I sat in the middle of the kitchen floor in Spain, with an extra forceful twist and a satisfying pop, the lid came free.