can be stressful
Right now #2 and I are both breadwinners of our respective family units. In case you were wondering about #2, after her FIL died, her DH got very depressed and is taking a break from paid employment. There’s probably a bit more than that, but it’s not my story to tell.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been the sole income of the family– if you recall, DH quit his tenure-track job without anything lined up, so for a few months we weren’t sure what our income situation was going to be like until he got employed.
One of the first things I’ve noticed about being breadwinner is that I feel the need to increase my income. Asking for raises, getting grants, taking consulting opportunities, all of these seem to be more important now than when DH is also bringing in cash. Getting my research done and out so that I can be more attractive should we need to move takes on greater urgency.
Combined with this, I let DH take on greater responsibilities at home. We already have a pretty egalitarian household, and when DH isn’t earning, he starts taking care of more of the daily and weekly chores, especially kitchen stuff and chauffeuring. And I feel less guilty about him doing so. I imagine this is how some women get shunted into home production even when things start out equivalent. I do spend more time on our finances when I’m the only one earning, but it doesn’t make up for the time I’m no longer spending on regular chores.
I do like having DH take care of things at home, but I also like the stress of not being the only person earning money. I think I like it best when we’re both enjoying our jobs and earning a lot of money. I would like it least if I disliked my job but had to keep my job because mine was the only income. My next least favorite would be being the homemaker if DH was the sole breadwinner and hated his job. I’m not sure how I would rate hating my job vs. being a homemaker if DH was happy with his job. I guess it might depend on how easily I could find a new job in that situation. I suspect that I would rather have each of us make 150K than have DH make 300K with me required to make nothing. I might prefer making 300K myself and having DH at home to either scenario though. (Note: I am happy to test any of these three propositions!) Smaller dollar amounts would probably lead to different preferred combinations.
As we’ve noted before, this time we’re in a better position than last time DH stopped bringing in income. As I look through that old post discussing what to do with finances, I am happy that we don’t have to move so much around. There’s no mortgage to stop prepayment on. No private school to save tuition for, no mother’s helpers to pay (though we do have summer camp and daycare throughout the summer). No IRAs to fund (though if DH’s jobless situation continues, I will be eligible to contribute again). And we have a nice cash cushion. My plan is to convert this cash cushion into tax-deferred savings (by continuing to max out my 403(b) and 457, even as we dip into savings) with the thought that doing so will make us more likely to be eligible for financial aid when DC1 goes off to college.
I also don’t know how long I am going to be the breadwinner. DH’s company is supposed to be getting back on track in July, but i’s have not yet been dotted nor t’s crossed on the contract that will put the company back to work for the next couple of years. We can wait, as can DH’s direct boss, but much of the rest of the company cannot afford to take more than one month unpaid. If waiting for the contract lasts too long, the company might just go under and the contract will fall through entirely. My bread-winning this time around may end up being longer term than we had hoped.
Have you ever been the sole breadwinner of a multiple-person household? How do things change? Do you feel stressed? Do you have a family income combination that you prefer (breadwinner/homemaker/dual-income, etc)?