This article argues that the slip between policy intension and outcome in policies addressing women and money lies in three neo-liberal assumptions: that individuals have clear title to their earnings, that markets are not socially constructed and that viewing individuals and families as isolated units of subsistence is a valid analytical method. It argues that critiques of development policy that are rooted in individualised conceptualisations and measurement of female autonomy and empowerment do not adequately challenge these assumptions, instead they tend to rely on them themselves. It also suggests that feminist critiques are based on the double standard that women should have clear title to their earnings and assets, while men should be supporting the family. Using research undertaken in South India, this article demonstrates that the social construction of credit, labour, housing and marriage markets determine the extent to which women can benefit from improved livelihoods. Unless analysis is extended to subsistence needs beyond earning an income and takes into account the interdependencies and alliances within marriages and the wider social arenas on which men and women depend, feminist research will fail to provide a route forward that will benefit women in low-income households.