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Applying ‘Spousonomics’ for when there’s a baby on the way

Marketplace Staff Feb 25, 2011

Applying ‘Spousonomics’ for when there’s a baby on the way

Marketplace Staff Feb 25, 2011


Tess Vigeland: Now for a follow-up to last week’s conversation with Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, co-authors of a helpful and hilarious new book about money and marriage called “Spousonomics.” They agreed to do some Spousonomics “counseling” with one lucky couple.

And rejoining us now. Welcome back to the show.

PAULA SZUCHMAN: Thank you, good to be back.

JENNY ANDERSON: Thanks for havin’ us.

VIGELAND: Well, we had a lot of folks write in and joining us now are Emily and Phil Strong from St. Paul, Minn. Hi guys

Emily and Phil Strong: Hi hi!

VIGELAND: Before we get into your question, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourselves — how long you’ve been married, any kids in the picture?

EMILY: Well, Phil and I have been married for a year and a half now and we met on Match.com. And we are expecting our first baby in September.

VIGELAND: Oh congratulations!

PHIL: Thank you.

VIGELAND: Did you guys talk about money before you got married/

EMILY: Oh, what do you think Phil?


VIGELAND: That sounds like a no.

EMILY: We both come from very different views of money and how it works. And so, I’m kind of a control freak when it comes to that, and so, he’s actually probably better at it, but I just feel more comfortable being in charge of it.

VIGELAND: Phil, why don’t you tell us why you’re with us this week?

PHIL: Emily was a big fan of the segment that she heard about the book, and you know, we figured we would get some good insight and it would be a really interesting and fun manner to our upcoming child and all of the issues that are coming up with it.

VIGELAND: And Emily, any specifics that you want Paula and Jenny to address?

EMILY: Well, I think the portion that really hit home with me was the part about the marriage that’s “too big to fail,” like the Lehman Brothers of marriage. And I kind of feel like that’s our marriage, like we’ve just been so great together for the last four years, we’ve been married for a little over a year and a half and that’s been fantastic. And I’m kind of wondering what this new addition is going to do our lives.

VIGELAND: Well, Paula and Jenny, you actually address this very specifically in the book, the arrival of a child and what that means for perhaps division of labor. One of you want to take a first crack?

ANDERSON: This is Jenny. I think one of the most important things you’ll do is almost create a market, so to speak, for the value of what’s going to become a huge number of intangibles. So, if you guys, at this point have sort of worked out your division of labor at home, or you have some kind of system, it’s about to be sort of blown up.


ANDERSON: And what happens when a baby comes is a sort of a new system takes over, but you don’t talk about it, and I think that’s what’s very frustrating. I think because you’re home with the baby and Phil isn’t, you become more of an expert in what the baby needs. And I think you sort of have to create a value for that and then figure out what Phil become can become an expert in and where his comparative advantage is vis-a-vis the baby can be.

VIGELAND: So Phil, how would he describe your division of labor, currently, pre-baby?

Emily laughs

PHIL: Oh wow, she’s laughing. Apparently, she can’t wait to hear this answer. Emily has certain things that she likes done in a specific manner and those things, I stay out of her way on. But other than that, dishes, vacuuming… I try to help out as much as I can. I know I don’t do nearly as much as she does around the house, but you know, anything she needs, she knows she can always ask.

VIGELAND: Is there anything you specialize in?

GUEST: Vacuuming, ice and snow removal from the house and the roof. She’s actually very handy, so any of the installation of light fixtures or anything like that, she is more than capable of doing that. So I would say, she definitely does more around the house than I do.

VIGELAND: So Emily, have you guys talked about how that might change.

PHIL: You know, we haven’t. And I think, you know, you get a lot of advice from people who are close to you and who know you, and I think that kind of skews it. Because I’m just kind of like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear about you’re saying, but I want some real meaty advice.” But Phil cuts himself short. He actually does more than that, because when I am messing with the electricity, he has to stand guard with the phone in hand, in case we need to call 911. Because there has been a time when I was kind of being tossed across the room, messing with some outlets, but that’s a story for another time.

VIGELAND: Paula, how far down the road of kind of practical do you go with this? Do you draw up a list of who’s going to do what when the baby comes?

SZUCHMAN: I would say… I mean, you could just experiment, right? There’s this great concept in economics called “Pareto efficiency,” which basically is a situation where if one person could be made better off, without the other person being made worse off, then it’s not yet efficient. So if you find a situation where one of you, say Emily or whoever it is, can be made better off and Phil will not be negatively impacted by that, then you should do that, because then you’re not in an efficient situation yet. And it’s kind of a nice way to think about “what can I do for the other person that actually will be no skin off my back.”

EMILY: So are we actually going to get this videotape, so I can keep playing this over and over again, in mantra?

ANDERSON: Yeah, three, four, five, six, seven in the morning when you’ll be up feeding the baby.

SZUCHMAN: Well, I also want to say one thing. Emily, you said something that I thought was really important, which is you know, people keep giving you advice. There’s this idea in finance of market noise, which is all the noise of the market that affects your decisions about things. Like rather than basing your decisions to buy or sell a stock, you do it based on what people are telling you. You’re not looking at the information and what’s important to you and how good the company is. So I would say, first and foremost, drown out all that noise. Do not listen to anything — except for us, of course — don’t listen to anything anybody… Jenny’s looking at me.

ANDERSON: I was just going to say, when you have a baby, you don’t know what you’re doing; you are looking for some advice. But figure out the people you trust and ask them for their advice, and then drown out all the others who sort of offer it unsolicited.

VIGELAND: So Emily and Phil, I think you’ve got a little legal insider trading going on there.

EMILY: Awesome. It’s worth it.

VIGELAND: Alright, thanks Emily and Phil!

EMILY: Thank you.

PHIL: Thank you for having us.

VIGELAND: And thanks Jenny and Paula for the free advice.

ANDERSON AND SZUCHMAN: Thank you. Thanks for having us.

VIGELAND: Financial journalists and co-authors Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson. We had such a hard time choosing just one winner from all the creative entries. So, we choose two. Stephanie Neid and Chris Ghan of Boise, Idaho. Got our attention with poetry.

Stephanie Neid: He was listening to Marketplace Money / When he heard a story quite funny / On “Spousonomics” you see / and so intrigued was he / he played the podcast for his honey.

LOVE IT! You can hear their full Spousonomics session at Marketplace.

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