How single-earner couples can stay equal
(NerdWallet) – Some couples mutually decide they want to have a single income household. But for the others, the decision is made for them.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left many in this situation, especially in its early stages, when businesses closed and jobs in hard-hit industries disappeared. And with schools and daycares closing so frequently, many couples may have thought it made sense to have a full-time stay-at-home parent.
Such upheaval can leave you both helpless. Before, you worked as equals. Now one of you worries about losing your independence while the other feels the added pressure to provide. Suddenly, your relationship dynamic is no longer the one you originally signed up for.
Any change can be difficult, especially one that can make you rethink who you are – your identity, your purpose, and your role within your family. But when it comes to making money-related decisions with your partner, the best way to go is a combination of logic and heart.
Recognize the emotional component
Even if you agree that one of you leaving the job market is the best option for your family, you may both feel conflicted. Not only will your responsibilities change, but the way you view yourself may also change, especially if part of what sparked your interest in your partner in the first place was their passion for their career.
“You get aligned in this professional way – only to then lose that, you might learn things about your partner that maybe aren’t attractive, or that you need to adapt to,” says Stacey Sherrell, licensed marriage and family therapist at Glendale. , California, who co-founded Decoding Couples, which offers lessons, videos and other relationship support.
If you’re the stay-at-home guy, it’s essentially like starting a new, unpaid job that your previous work experience didn’t prepare you for. Without an income, you may feel like you don’t have as much say in financial matters. At the same time, you might appreciate a break from trying to get everything done, as you can now focus solely on family responsibilities. “I’ve seen clients relieved that they no longer have a job,” says Sherrell.
On the other hand, if you’re the new sole breadwinner, you might be wondering when you’ll have your chance to balance career and family. There’s a lot of stress when you’re the only person earning an income, even though your partner’s work from home will give you more time to focus on your career.
Prepare for financial realities
With one of you at home (and dwindling income), it’s time to rethink your budget. Maybe you no longer need takeout three times a week, a professional dog walker, or a cleaning service. Depending on the tasks that the stay-at-home partner will take on, you will likely have significant costs that you can reduce.
Don’t forget the valuable benefits you could lose if you quit your job, such as access to life insurance through your employer, unused funds in your flexible spending account, or purchase options actions that you will have a limited time to exercise after your departure. Before your last day of work, discuss these details with your company’s benefits manager.
Here’s a potentially tricky situation: Allocating money to the stay-at-home partner for their own discretionary expenses. Definitely a budget for it, but whatever you do, Sherrell says, don’t call it an allowance. “That word itself alludes to, ‘I’m giving you something. It’s mine and I’m letting you have it in exchange for something,” she said. “That in itself negates any ‘we’ language – we decide this together, we’re a team, we’re partners in this and that’s how we decide to use our money.”
Acknowledge all the ways you both contribute
In some families, being the breadwinner can also mean being the primary decision-maker, and that’s just not fair. “Money has become synonymous with ‘entitlement’ and that doesn’t work in a relationship,” says Rachel Facio, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Glendale who co-founded Decoding Couples with Sherrell. “In an equal and flourishing relationship, that doesn’t give you the master key to the castle. Society must catch up with this change.
The non-working partner has a lot to contribute when it comes to family finances. They were already making spending, saving and investing decisions while working outside the home, and now they may have more time to manage family finances. Shari Greco Reiches — co-founder of Rappaport Reiches Capital Management in Skokie, Illinois — finds that stay-at-home partners make ideal clients for financial planning. “When I give them a to-do list, they get them done faster,” she says.
Check in with each other once a week, not only to go over what each of you needs to do to help make things work, but also to give you a distraction-free time to talk openly.
“Now is the time to lean into that discomfort and, against all odds, be more vulnerable with your partner about what’s going on,” Sherrell says. “There needs to be some sort of regular safe space to be able to talk about what’s going on for each partner.”
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.