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Q: My husband controls our bank account—I can’t even access it and I just get a small amount of cash every week. As a result, we’re running out of stuff we need during this quarantine. I can’t seem to keep enough food in the house to feed our kids, who don’t have school. The store seems to always be out of cleaning products, too, so I’m panicking my husband is going to bring in the virus when he comes home from work and I won’t be able to control it. I’ve tried to explain this to my husband but he just laughs and tells me it’s my problem, not his. I’m so stressed. I don’t know if this actually qualifies as abuse, but I know it’s not the marriage I thought I’d have. - Desperate
I hate to break it to you, but yes, this sounds like financial control, which is a type of abuse. When one partner restricts the other partner’s access to finances, including bank accounts, credit cards and bills, or gives their partner an allowance, it’s another way abusers weild power and control. Remember, allowances are for children who aren’t yet responsible with money, not adults.
It’s likely your partner has also said some degrading things to you about your ability to manage money—maybe how you’re irresponsible or can’t be trusted. Financial abuse often goes hand-in-hand with other types of abuses, like verbal or emotional abuse, sometimes physical abuse. Meanwhile, I’m sure your husband is spending money as he wishes, justifying his expenses because it sounds like he works outside the home and considers himself the breadwinner.
I would highly recommend that you reach out at a time when it’s safe—such as when your husband is at work—to a trained domestic violence advocate in your area. This person can be a sounding board for what you’re going through and further validate that this type of treatment from your husband is abuse. It’s not your fault and you don’t deserve it. Any partner that respects their spouse and children would want to make sure they’re protected from illness and disease, not put them at further risk for it while laughing at them. This is demeaning and shaming behavior meant to lower your self-esteem.
If it gets to a point where you’re considering leaving your husband because you no longer feel like you and your children are safe, you may also want to inquire about coming up with a safety plan in order to do so. Depending on their ages, you may also want to include your kids in the safety plan. As much as you may want to shield the kids from what’s going on, you also want to make sure you’re honest with them so they understand that what’s happening isn’t right (see “8 Ways to Talk to Kids Exposed to Domestic Violence.”).
Now, let’s jump to some practicalities. You’re running out of necessities, like cleaning supplies. Many people are experiencing similar shortages where they live, but luckily, people are resourceful. You can find several ways to make your own cleaning products online, but take caution when doing so.
You never want to mix the following:
- Bleach and vinegar
- Bleach and ammonia
- Bleach and rubbing alcohol
- Hydrogen peroxide and vinegar
They can create toxic fumes that can make you and your family sick. To safely make your own sanitizing solution, the CDC recommends mixing together:
- 5 tablespoons bleach per gallon of water or
- 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water
Another online tutorial recommends the same solution as above, but adding four drops of Dawn dish detergent (presumably so you get a nice-smelling cleaning solution!).
While it may be challenging to find bleach right now, it should be on store shelves sooner than disinfectant surface cleaners or hand sanitizer will be, says the CDC. At the time of writing this, I was able to find bleach on Amazon and on thrivemarket.com (but you need to pay $9.95 a month as a membership fee to shop here). There are also companies like Force of Nature that have cleaning solution kits which they say are as effective as bleach but less harmful to inhale and touch.
You may have heard vinegar can be used for cleaning and disinfecting. While it does kill some bacteria and viruses, it’s not on the EPA’s list of recommended disinfectants for COVID-19.
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As for hand sanitizer, it’s still missing from a lot of stores as well and this is because its supply is being prioritized for healthcare workers and first responders. There is one place to get it that we know of: Gifted By FreeFrom, a nonprofit that helps support entrepreneurial survivors of violence.
The CDC doesn’t recommend trying to make your own hand sanitizer, so if you can’t find it in a store, stick with soap and water—aka, handwashing throughout the day, after you touch just about anything.
As for other protective gear, this may be easier to locate. Making and selling reusable face masks has become a booming business. A search on Etsy for face masks comes up with more than half-a-million to choose from. You can also get disposable ones through Amazon.
What about the elusive toilet paper, the holy grail of this quarantine? I’ve heard from others that getting to a store before it opens in the morning and waiting in a [typically short] line will yield positive results in snagging a package. If all else fails, you can find the jumbo, commercial rolls on RestaurantSupply.com, though you will have to buy a case of 12 for $62, and they may feel a bit like scratchy gas station toilet paper, but hey, it’s toilet paper! They also had disposable gloves (but only if your hands are small or extra-large) and some sanitizing cleaning products. (Just FYI: Disposable gloves are recommended only for those caring for someone who is sick or when cleaning, not in other situations like running errands.)
None of these things are cheap, though, so your other option, both for cleaning products and food, is to inquire with your local food bank. Picking up an emergency food box (that may also have household supplies in it) may evoke certain feelings (this isn’t for me... I don’t need this), but if it means feeding your children, it’s time to put aside any pride and accept the generosity for the time being. You may also want to consider posting something on NextDoor, an app that lets people of the same neighborhood connect and communicate. I’ve seen posts on there from people asking for a roll of toilet paper or a face mask and a slew of helpful heroes step up and offer to drop it at their door.
Please stay safe during this quarantine, Desperate, and remember, it’s always OK to reach out and talk to someone about what’s going on. Read “The Danger of Being Quarantined With an Abuser” for more information.
Editor's Note: A perceptive reader did some sleuthing and found even better prices on some of the above items! Here's what he found: The jumbo toilet paper can be found on this site for only $28.26. The cleaning kit is available for just $21.49 here. The vinyl glove link appears to be down, but the same site has these, though I think the stock is low. Also, it appears Amazon.com and local stores have many of the above items in stock again, as of late July. As quarantine restrictions ease, we should be seeing more necessities become readily available.
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