In the late 1970s, a popular perfume aired television ads that told women they could “bring home the bacon / fry it up in the pan / and never let you forget you’re a man.” Enjoli was the “eight-hour perfume for the 24-hour woman.” The message was clear: as a woman, you can do everything. You can earn all the money and still function as the feminine ideal of allure and domesticity.
By now, most of us have figured out that the “24-hour woman” is an impossible and mostly unfair stereotype. While women have certainly made huge strides in society and the workforce, I know from my work with women in transition, especially those who are their families’ principal breadwinners, that they face unique challenges, both financially and emotionally. Among the emotional challenges are guilt (from a society that persists in casting male breadwinners as “normal” and women breadwinners as “different”); negativity from friends, family members, and sometimes, spouses; and higher pressure to succeed. And the financial challenges are just as crucial. Here are three particular financial hurdles faced frequently by women breadwinners, along with some thoughts on how to negotiate them while keeping your finances, your mental wellbeing—and most importantly, your relationships—intact.
- Negotiating with your spouse around how to divide income and expenses. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 29% of married women in the US earn more than their husbands. Due to historical societal expectations, that financial dynamic can put pressure on a marriage, especially when the couple doesn’t share clear expectations about who pays which bills and how much say both partners have over spending discretionary income. There are a number of different ways married women breadwinners can negotiate this issue, however. Some couples divide expenses proportionately based on each spouse’s income; others maintain a joint account for household expenses and separate accounts for each spouse’s discretionary spending; even a straight 50-50 split on everything can work, as long as both partners agree on the method.
- Staying in a job you don’t love because the money is good. For many high-earning women—especially women in transition—this can become a trap that is difficult to escape. After all, you’ve probably scaled up your spending and lifestyle expectations to soak up the majority of the income you’re generating. Even a temporary reduction in pay could spell stress and uncertainty. To work through this, start by asking yourself: Is it the job itself I dislike? Or is it the particular boss, company environment, or something else that could be alleviated by making a move to different employer? With a little planning, some careful inquiries, and networking, you may be able to maintain your financial position and gain a more gratifying work environment.
- Coping with a stay-at-home spouse. Here we come up against societal norms again. Let’s face it: in current American society, stay-at-home dads, while on the increase, are still scarce as hen’s teeth and typically viewed askance by those who believe “the man should be the provider.” But for some high-earning women with children, a husband who stays home with the kids can be the perfect solution. However, that still doesn’t eliminate the need for the spouses to communicate carefully and purposefully around gender, family, and financial expectations. Even when it’s your idea as a couple for Dad to stay at home, there can still be resentment around your career and financial success. It’s vital to openly discuss the nature of both partners’ contribution to the health of the household and just as vital for both partners to frequently and generously acknowledge each other’s importance to the smooth functioning of the home.
I work with successful women in transition to develop personalized strategies for success in investing, saving for retirement, and negotiating the emotional and other barriers that arise in the course of their careers. To schedule a second opinion on your portfolio and to learn more about our various wealth management options, click here.
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