real life

'Chewing gum came out of my allowance.' I was financially abused for 10 years.

Welcome to The Unspeakables, a series by Mamamia that tells unflinchingly honest stories about being a woman - whatever that looks like - in 2021. You can find out more about   The Unspeakables here.

This post deals with abuse and might be triggering for some readers.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but it wasn’t until after I left my marriage that I realised I’d been financially abused.

We met when I was 16 and he was 19. It didn’t take us long before we knew that we wanted to be together forever and so shortly afterwards we were engaged. We were married by the time I was 19. 

I literally went from living with my parents and being supported by them, to entering into a partnership where we shared money from the outset.  

Nobody speaks to women like Mamamia. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia. 

We were both working full time and had started paying off a mortgage. We lived what I’d call an average sort of lifestyle. We weren’t strapped for cash, but we weren’t exactly rolling in it either.  

I can’t recall exactly when the abuse started, I guess because I didn’t realise what was happening to me until after I’d left my marriage. I’d mention some examples to people, and I’d see them actively recoil in horror.   

I can remember that for the longest time I was put on a budget of $30 a week for anything I needed or wanted.

This included clothing, alcohol, lunches, anything. He wasn’t much of a spender and so I already felt like I was the frivolous one in the relationship. Needless to say, the money didn’t go very far. I didn’t have the luxury of ever having my nails or hair done. 

Okay, that’s a lie. Once or twice I got stick-on nails from Priceline or a DIY hair colour kit from the supermarket. It was just the basics for me.  

I developed a love for baking as it was the one thing I could afford to do to keep occupied. 

Whenever we would go grocery shopping, he’d take the receipt and deduct the cost of the eggs, sugar, and milk from my allowance.

On the odd occasion I’d splurge and get some chewing gum too. That would come out of my allowance as well.

Listen to The Quicky, Mamamia's daily news podcast. Post continues below. 


When I was about 24, I needed to have some surgery on my foot after stepping on some glass. 

My mum took me to the appointment with the surgeon to have my stitches removed. The surgeon was about 70 years old and his practice was basically still working off paper records. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Needless to say, they didn’t have EFTPOS and requested the $65 payment in cash.  

I called my partner to explain that I would need to have some money put into my account. 

He called me a liar and told me he didn’t believe that a business in this day and age didn’t have EFTPOS. 

Begrudgingly, he transferred the money. When I asked him if he'd included a few extra dollars for the ATM fee, he exploded: "Are you f**king serious?". 

He transferred the exact denomination for the surgeon’s fee plus the ATM fee. Not a dollar more. I was told in no uncertain terms that I was to bring home the remaining coins. 

I was mortified and embarrassed that not only my mum, but the reception staff had to witness this exchange.  

Occasionally, I was allowed to go to the grocery store on the proviso that the receipt be provided upon my return. 

Whenever I turned over the receipt I’d be met with a shaking head and a look of disgust that the cost of bread, milk, cheese and eggs was $20. 'Exorbitant' is what he called it. 

He constantly threatened to split our finances and told me I'd never have any money without him; that I could never manage it on my own. The only way we could make this work was if I surrendered my ATM card, which was given to me if there was a justified reason. 

The relationship had been deteriorating for years, but having no access to money, I felt trapped. 

The turning point for me was the Christmas holidays in 2014. 

We had a party to go to on the weekend so I’d allocated myself $10 for alcohol and lunch with a friend during the week, meaning I had about $10 left to "splurge".  

Off I went to the supermarket to purchase a tub of ice cream and some topping. I remember sitting at home, ice cream in hand thinking, is this it? Is this all there is to life? 

I’m 26 years old and the only thing bringing me joy is this ice cream.  

It was then that I realised I wanted and deserved more. 

I put plans in place for my work to change the account that my pay went into and coordinated my departure. I couldn’t believe that at 26 years old I finally had control of my own money. 

It was a feeling that liberated and terrified me after being told for so long that I’d fail without him. It’s taken a long time for me to recover from the abuse but leaving and standing on my own two feet was the best thing I’ve ever done.  

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. The feature image used is a stock photo from Getty.