Z ev and I entered marriage with very different attitudes to financial integrity.

I come from a family where erlichkeit is a paramount value. My parents are scrupulous about reporting to the tax authorities every penny of their income, even money they earn from private tutoring. Zev comes from a family where they try to get away without paying for things. When the family goes to an amusement park, they’ll say the kids are younger than they are so they can pay the cheaper price. When they go to the supermarket, they’ll walk out with 30 extra shopping bags. When they vacation at a hotel, everything movable comes home with them.

In kallah classes, I learned that I’m supposed to follow my husband’s lead and not challenge his way of doing things. Ishah kesheirah osah retzon baalah. So although I didn’t like the way Zev dealt with money, I respected his right to manage our money the way he saw fit. He wanted to be the one handling the finances, and he didn’t like when I mixed in, so I mixed out.

Early in our marriage, I earned a master’s degree and began working at a professional job that paid a respectable salary. Zev worked, too, but his earnings were mostly in cash, and went largely unreported. I never told this to Zev, but I was secretly happy that my earnings were all on the books and there was no choice but to report my income to the IRS.

Even with both of us working, we struggled financially. Zev blamed this on the high cost of frum living: tuition, Shabbos, Yom Tov, simchahs. With all the financial pressures of regular frum life, we were always scrambling to pay our bills, and we never had money for vacations or other extras.

Each year, come tax season, Zev would hand me our joint tax return to sign. In the early years of our marriage, I would flip through the return and try to make sense of the various figures it contained, but when I would ask Zev questions, he would get annoyed.

“Just sign it,” he’d urge me. “It’s fine, don’t worry.”

“But how can I sign something I don’t understand?” I’d ask.

“You don’t trust me, Pessy?” he’d ask in a hurt voice. “You should thank me for doing this! You know how hard I work to handle this stuff for you?”

That usually put an end to the conversation. He was the head of the household, after all. Eventually, I stopped asking questions when he presented me with the tax returns. I just signed them without even looking at them.

Our reported income left us eligible for government housing assistance. For years, that benefit covered most of our rent.

When our fourth child was born, my grandparents gave us money for a down payment on a house. Rather than buy a house and lose the housing benefit, Zev decided to put the house we bought in his great-uncle’s name.

I was highly uncomfortable with this arrangement, but Zev dismissed my concerns. “Everyone does it,” he assured me. “There’s nothing wrong with it.”

“But what if Uncle Izzy decides to keep the house?” I argued. “Legally, there’s nothing stopping him from passing it down to his own kids after 120.”

A look of pained astonishment crossed Zev’s face. “That’s what you think of Uncle Izzy?” he exclaimed. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 692)