Sunday, April 4, 2010

It's OK to be a housewife. Be a good one!

The role of housewife has been denigrated in recent years. But there is nothing wrong or shameful about running a home, provided you do it well.

Since the 1970's the role of housewife has been denigrated as regressive or sexist. Women wanted to be liberated and have an equal place in society. And yes, back then, things were pretty horrible for women. One can understand why women wanted to get out of the home and live on an equal footing with men.

The plight of women over the years has eased somewhat. If you look back at how things were, you'd be amazed we let things stay the way they were for so long. Women only got the right to vote and own property in their own name only fairly recently. For most of the history of our country, women were treated little better than they are today under the Taliban. Women were chattel or property, their rights (if they existed at all) secondary to those of men.

It is a shameful part of our nation's history, and one we talk little about.

Today, we have come a long way. Women still make less on average than men, but that gap closes every year. More and more women are entering the professions, and barriers to advancement are falling, for the most part. We have a long way to go, but we have come a long way.

Women have not only made inroads into the legal and medical professions, but in some instances are starting to dominate them. More women than men are graduating from law school and medical school in some areas of the country. When I was a kid, people used to think having a "one of those lady doctors" was something to remark about. Seriously.

But a surprising number of women are still housewives, although many might not characterize themselves at that. In many suburban neighborhoods, many women still stay at home and mind the children. But the stigma of "housewife" today is such that many women do not want to label themselves as such, which is a shame. Managing a home is an important job for anyone, and no one should feel embarrassed or ashamed of taking on an important job.

And while the number is still fairly small, an increasing number of men are finding themselves in the position of househusband. For men, this can be an awkward role. But freed of the expectations of a liberated gender, many attack it with vigor and bring great profit to the enterprise.

A housewife or househusband can be one of the most effective jobs for managing money in a household. Unfortunately, the stigma we now attach to this job - and it is a job - prevents many women (and men) from effectively fulfilling themselves in this role.

And this is a shame, too. Because traditionally, having someone manage a household is an effective way to save money and make money. And yet many women, afraid of being labeled as regressive, or having to wear the label "housewife" will shun the role and its duties, thus adding to the expense of a household. And not surprisingly, these "bored housewives" end up being depressed as a result, as they don't feel they have a purpose in life.

For any human being, not having something to do is the worst thing. It starves the brain and causes depression. Winning the lottery, being spoiled, being unemployed, underemployed, or "kept" is never fun, as you tend to feel worthless. Hard work, on the other hand, leads to a sense of self-esteem that is profound and deep.

Many suburban housewives fall into this trap. They sleep until 10 or 11 in the morning, perhaps barely getting up for a half hour to see the husband or children off. They watch a lot of television, and eat, getting fat and adding to the sense of low-self-esteem. They hire a maid to clean the house, increasing the costs to the household and further adding to the feeling of worthlessness. Many of the household chores are foisted off on the working husband, under the rubric of "gender equality" - as if it makes sense for a spouse working 40-60 hours a week to also have to clean the toilets, so the other spouse has time to watch "Oprah".

And then, oddly enough, these housewives complain they have no "time" to get things done!

Now again, these comments can apply to a "house spouse" of either gender. And perhaps, the term "house manager" is more contemporary and gender-neutral. A good house-manger can effectively DOUBLE the family disposable income by SAVING money for the family and IMPROVING the quality of life.

As I noted in my Disposable Income posting, a family making $100,000 a year may really have only $10,000 in real disposable income. So if you can save a measly 10% in expenses over the year, you can effectively DOUBLE your disposable income. In other words, save 10% and you can be twice as rich as you are.

How is this to be done? Well, for starters, turn off "Oprah" and all that daytime TV, get off the couch, and get to work. Look at house management as a job. And yes, many of the aspects of the job are "menial" and difficult labor. But it makes no sense to pay an illegal alien $100 a week to clean your house, and then sit around and get fat. For what you are paying Consuela to clean the toilets for you, you could fund your children's college accounts or buy a new car.

Yes, I know that sounds harsh, but there you have it.

Being a house manager comprises a number of different jobs. Yes, there is the cooking, cleaning, shopping and other "menial" chores. But for many people, these can be creative outlets as well. Cooking is an art, and yet I meet so many people who claim they can't cook or have no talent for it. Well, take that 4.6 hours a day you are watching TeeVee (the national average) and put it to better use - take a cooking class, read a cookbook, experiment in the kitchen.

Shopping is another area where great cost savings can occur if you put your mind to it. I was in BJ's wholesale the other day, and two very overweight and undereducated women were ahead of me wandering around the store, dragging various items off the shelf and tossing them in their carts. They did not bother to check prices, read labels, or think about what they were doing. As one of them said to the other, "Heck, hon, he'll just have to pay for whatever I buy!.

At first I wanted to laugh at this trailer-park mentality, but then it hit me how sad a comment that was. To this woman, a husband was just some mule to be ridden into the ground, and their relationship was basically a race to the bottom, with each party trying to get the most out of it. A divorce is no doubt in their future.

If you read labels, compare prices, and shop effectively, it is not hard to save 10, 20, or 30% or more on food items and also have a healthier diet. But it does take effort, cooperation, time and energy. But any job worth doing is worth doing well.

But aside from the day-to-day chores of managing a house, there are other financial goals a house manager can perform. Managing money is one of them. In many relationships, I see situations where each spouse manages their own money - each has their own accounts and own checkbooks - even married couples! In others, the husband "manages" the money, giving the wife an allowance (how retrograde). Unfortunately, the husband's "managing" of the money usually amounts to his cashing his paycheck at a bar.

If one spouse has to work at an outside job 40-60 hours a week, chances are they have little time to think about and manage money. As I have noted time and time again, bank balances and credit card balances should be checked daily. Yes, daily. And logging ALL of your spending is essential to knowing where the money is going.

If you are a "bored housewife" think about taking charge of family finances. Pay the bills, manage the funds, and take charge. Figure out a budget and figure out ways to save. It beats sitting on the sofa watching the latest Oprah weep-fest. If your husband is not willing to at least share this chore with you, ask yourself why. Money and investing should be a joint, mutual endeavor.

There are many other areas where effective home management can save a family thousands and thousands of dollars a year. You are limited only by your imagination. There is no reason the role of "housewife" should be looked down upon or ridiculed. Like any other job, it can be whatever you want to make of it.