Millennial money: how couples with one income can stay equal

Some couples mutually decide they want to have a single-income household. But for others the decision is made for them.

The COVID-19 pandemic left many in this situation, especially in its early days, when companies closed and jobs in the affected areas disappeared. And when schools and kindergartens close so often, many couples may have thought it made sense to have parents full-time at home.

Such a coup can make you both feel powerless. You used to act on equal terms. Now one of you is worried about losing his independence and the other is feeling the extra pressure to secure it. Suddenly, the dynamics of your relationship are not what you originally subscribed to.

Any change can be difficult, especially one that can make you rethink who you are – your personality, your purpose, and your role in your family. But when it comes to making money-related decisions with your partner, the best way forward is to combine logic and heart.


Even if you agree that one of you is quitting the workforce – this is the best option for your family, you may both feel conflicted. Not only do your responsibilities change, but also the way you look at each other, especially if part of what sparked your interest in your partner was primarily their passion for their careers.

“You align yourself in such a professional way – to lose it later, you can learn about your partner some things that may not be attractive or you will have to adjust,” says Stacy Sherel, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Glendale, California. , who co-founded the Decoding Couples, which provides courses, videos and other relationship support.

When you stay at home, it’s essentially like starting a new unpaid job to which your previous work experience hasn’t prepared you. Without income you may feel that you no longer have a voice in financial matters. At the same time you can welcome a break in trying to do everything because now you will be able to focus solely on homework. “I’ve really seen clients feel relieved because they don’t have a job anymore,” Cherrell says.

On the other hand, if you’re a new single breadwinner, you may be wondering if you’ll get a break from juggling careers and family. If you are the only person earning income due to a lot of stress, even if your partner’s work at home will give you extra time to focus on your career.


If one of you is at home (and reducing your income), it’s time to rethink your budget. You may no longer need a three-week takeaway, professional walk or cleaning. Depending on what worries a partner who is at home will take on, you will probably have some serious expenses that you can reduce.

Don’t forget about the valuable work benefits you can lose when you leave work, such as access to life insurance through your employer, unused funds in your flexible spending account or stock options, you will have limited time to exercise after leaving. Before the last working day, discuss these details with your company’s beneficiary.

Here is a potentially difficult situation: allocating money to a partner who stays at home, at their personal expense. Definitely a budget for that, but whatever you do, says Scherel, don’t call it a surcharge. “This word in itself hints that I am giving you something. It’s mine, and I let you have it in exchange for something, ”she says. “It in itself cancels out any ‘we’ language – we decide it together, we’re a team, we’re partners in it, and that’s how we decide to use our money.”


In some families, being a breadwinner can also mean being the main decision maker, and that’s just unfair. “Money has become synonymous with ‘law,’ and it doesn’t work in a relationship,” said Rachel Fassio, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Glendel, who co-founded the Decoding Couples with Sherel. “In an equal, prosperous relationship, it doesn’t give you the master key to the castle. Society must catch up with these changes. “

When it comes to family finances, an unemployed partner has a lot of attention. They had already made decisions about expenses, savings, and investments when working outside the home, and now they may have more time to manage the family’s finances. Balls Greco Reiches – co-founder of Rappaport Reiches Capital Management in Skoki, Illinois – believes that partners who stay at home are ideal clients of financial planning. “When I give them a to-do list, they do it faster,” she says.

Come with each other once a week to not only consider what each of you needs to do to not be distracted, but also to give yourself the opportunity to talk openly without being distracted.

“It’s time to succumb to this discomfort and, oddly enough, be more vulnerable with your partner about what’s going on,” Scherel says. “There has to be some normal safe space so we can talk about what’s going on with each partner.”


This column was provided by The Associated Press on the NerdWallet personal finance website. Sarah Ratner is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @SaraKRathner.


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