How Much Allowance Do You Get?
Couples in Korea & Money, Pt. 1:
“How much allowance will you give your husband after you get married?” Allowance? Husband? Why were these two words in one sentence?
I didn’t get allowance when I was growing up, but allowance or pocket money as my Korean students have always called it, was something that went along with children in my mind. Why would my husband need an allowance and why were my husband’s friends asking me how much I would be giving him? I had assumed there was some sort of mistranslation or I just couldn’t understand this particular question and I laughed it off multiple times as if it was a joke. Do you mean how much money will I put into our joint account? No? Do you mean how much money I make? No? I’m not sure what you’re asking me. It’s not that my husband wouldn’t deserve an allowance, but I just didn’t understand why he would need one, he works after all and he has his own bank account.
A couple years ago when I was working at an all-boys high school, there was a party for one of the teachers. I forget exactly what was being celebrated, but during the dinner the teacher was handed an envelope of money and upon receiving it he put it into his pocket, patted it and said something about not telling his wife and all of the male teachers proceeded to laugh. It seemed all of the other teachers/husbands were sharing some inside joke. I asked one of my co-teachers what was so funny and he explained that their wives controlled the money, even though most of their wives didn’t work, and all of these gentlemen received allowances from their wives out of the paychecks they were earning. Most of the husbands just used their credit or debit cards, but their wives could track that, so when they received these cash gifts, often they would go into pockets to have a great night out with their friends where they could spend much more than their usual allowance would allow. I found the idea of one person controlling the money in the relationship odd and it didn’t sit well with me. Why would one person need to be in control? I had always assumed a joint account meant joint control. Isn’t that what marriage is about? Sharing the control or just sharing in general?
At our Korean wedding ceremony, during the paebaek portion in which the families are united through different acts there was a jujube placed in my mouth and my husband had to come and try to bite the other side. It was explained that whoever could get the bigger half was to control the money in the relationship. I won, but that’s neither here nor there. I found it intriguing that even during the ceremony to unite us there would be an act devoted to control over the money in our future relationship. I’ve been told that generally in Korean households the wife does control the money because she has to run the house and therefore needs money to buy the food, pay for their children’s necessities, etc. Recently while I was away working at an English camp I met some fellow F6 holders., three gentlemen with Korean wives, and at one point they joked about how they gave their wives allowances rather than the other way around which was more common. One guy had to get on his phone after his wife called requesting some funds to send her some while we were away and another guy said the last time he’d gone to a camp and hadn’t left his wife adequate money, she’d sold his car. It seemed even though they were in “control” of the money they weren’t really controlling anything and when they asked me about my situation I told them there was no allowance in my house and tried to change the subject.
Is one spouse having an allowance a common part of marriage or is this a common part of marriage in Korea? Does it become common when there are kids in the picture? Is it common when one spouse isn’t working?
I work and so does my husband and maybe because of that we don’t need to have the allowance conversation, but I like to think that even if I, or he, weren’t working we still wouldn’t need that conversation. If I’m not working, I’m not spending; at least not on anything extra that’s not a necessity and I know that my husband is the same. We’ve been married two years and still this question arises in conversations and I still find it just as odd as the first time I was asked.