Monday, September 18, 2006

Fuss Budgeting

Today’s Ask Amy column revisits a topic from a few weeks ago: the husband who shirks on his household duties. A reader takes Amy to task for her husband-accommodating advice:
DEAR AMY: Your advice to "Frustrated," regarding her husband's refusal to do the housework properly, was utterly abysmal.

Refusing to finish the job – leaving dishes unwashed, furniture and rugs out of place, etc. – is the same passive-aggressive trick children use in an attempt to get out of chores, and it should be dealt with the same way.

"Frustrated" shouldn't tolerate it for a minute. She should not excuse him in any way.

He's an adult, and he should act like it; it doesn't take two X chromosomes or "high standards" to finish the dishes, put back furniture and rugs after vacuuming or put away the laundry, and it shouldn't take Frustrated's constant attention and reminders either.

If "Frustrated" refuses to let up the pressure, her husband will complain that she's being an unreasonable old nag for expecting him to act like a responsible adult, and if she does let up, he gets to continue being amazingly childish and stick her with all the grinding, constant work.

I recommend a firm conversation in which Frustrated points all this out to her husband, and if his behavior doesn't change, dump him. Life's too short. – K, in Illinois

DEAR K: Many readers loathed my advice to "Frustrated," which was to "re-examine the chore wheel" in their house. I would hope that with some compromises, both parties might be able to work out how these chores can get done - to an agreed-upon standard....

Your advice that "Frustrated" should dump her husband because he doesn't do household chores up to her standard shows that you don't place much value on marriage.
So Amy advises a return to the bargaining table, while K from Illinois recommends a threatened walk-out. Between those options, I’m with Amy. After all, the current division of duties might not split the gains from trade evenly, as the husband apparently has a higher tolerance for filth (or higher cost of domestic exertion).

Once the bargaining is done, I recommend the creation of separate budgets, as suggested by Megan Non-McArdle in a different context (link via Tyler). Each partner should maintain a private fund (Megan recommends 1/3 of one’s income) that’s distinct from the common fund (the other 2/3). The husband is responsible for fulfilling his assigned duties, either by performing them directly or paying for domestic help out of his private fund. Likewise for the wife’s duties and private fund. Each partner will have to make their own trade-off between leisure and consumption, without the option of foisting half the cost of domestic help on the other partner by draining the common fund.

If there’s still an enforcement problem because the husband neither performs the duties nor arranges for domestic help, then simply require a greater contribution by the husband each month to the common fund. The added amount should be sufficient to pay for the help required to fulfill the husband’s agreed-upon duties. The wife may then (a) withdraw the extra money to pay for domestic services or (b) transfer the extra money into her private account and do the tasks herself. Of course, option (b) would effectively turn the wife into a maid-for-hire, but only if she chose to exercise the option.

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