If you earn more than your husband, you’re more likely to be the primary decision-maker on money matters and take charge of things like paying bills, budgeting, saving, and planning for retirement. That’s all according to my academic survey of over 1,000 women conducted with Dr. Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist.
While that is something to be proud of, such an arrangement could be asking for trouble. After all, a sense of equity between two committed people is important, even if there’s an income disparity.
I can relate to this in my own relationship. When my husband Tim and I first got engaged and began planning our wedding, I was definitely the one who took the reins. Admittedly, I wasn’t the best at delegating but, at the same time, he felt a tad awkward offering suggestions and providing input.
I told him – and used these words, exactly, “I feel very alone on this island of When She Makes More.” It’s no fun researching and making all the decisions and then worrying I may have made the wrong choices…and if I do, it’ll only be my fault. We need to share in this, no matter whose income is greater, I explained.
When we spoke about it he completely agreed. He kept quiet, he said, because he trusted me enough to know I wouldn’t make any super irrational choices (like the $500 dinner place cards)…but also admitted to feeling uncomfortable at times about speaking up and actively participating because of our income disparity.
I was relieved and thankful when we had that conversation. As with so many issues stemming from finances, our troubles had little to do with the money. The issue was finding a way to acknowledge and better manage our emotions.
From there, we decided Tim would completely take over certain portions of the wedding planning: picking and paying for the band, tent vendor and charities (in lieu of party favors). This lightened my load of to-dos enormously and offered Tim more substantial accountability, something I discuss is incredibly important in my book, When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women. You don’t want to just ask for his “help.” You must let him step up and take ownership of entire domains and tasks. It sends the message: “You matter. Your income and opinions about our finances matter.” It’s something he may need your help embracing.
A few more steps that are equally as critical towards harmony and leveling the financial – and emotional playing fields – include:
1. Establish long-term priorities and short-term schedules. If he wants to feel involved and on par with you financially, he needs to roll up his sleeves and commit to some of the dirty work like paying bills, balancing the budget, and paying attention to potential investments for your retirement accounts. First, make sure to get on the same financial page and agree to goals so that there’s no miscommunication. Once you both have a clear picture of the finances, figure out together how you want to delegate money.
2. Decide who will manage the bulk of the finances. While every breadwinning woman would do well to monitor finances, that doesn’t mean you have to manage it all, too. While neither of you may enjoy managing the family checkbook, it does make sense to delegate money management to the person who is more interested, better organized, or is simply more frugal. Either way, both research and anecdotal evidence shows that couples have to make a decision about which one controls the finances not based on income or gender, and that whoever makes the financial decisions consult with their spouse. Otherwise you risk turning the other person off in more ways than one.
3. Make decisions by committee. That means asking for help from your man when you need it, agreeing to compromise, and admitting when you’re in over your head. I do this A LOT in my relationship. It’s not easy for a breadwinning wife to admit her weaknesses or ask for help, but it’s essential. It’s enough to just sometimes call or text and say, “Hey, can we afford this? Should we buy this? Is it worth it? What do you think?” It’s critical to admit when you don’t know something. It allows your better half to have his voice heard—and, quite possibly, save your financial behind.
Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance expert and upcoming author of When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women (Hudson Street Press, May 1). Pre-order a copy of her book and receive numerous gifts and be entered to win one of several prizes including lunch with Farnoosh and a visit to the NBC Today Show! Just click here.