I Earn 44% More Than My Husband, Here's How We Manage
We are living in the 21st century where women are more educated and empowered to take up financially rewarding careers. With more women in the workforce and contributing financially to their families today, we’ve broken stereotypes where women are no longer predestined or expected to just stay at home and take care of their children.
However, with this comes new challenges for couples. Not only are women earning their own money; in some cases they’re earning more than their husbands. Enlightened as we may all be, a wife earning more than her husband or being the breadwinner of the family can still create some level of tension or awkwardness, especially here in Asia.
My husband and I encountered this very situation. To give you a bit of context, I am a 34-year-old working professional, married for the last eight years and have two children. I am a Manager at a tax advisory firm in Singapore, earning around $5,500 a month, while my husband works from home as a freelance graphic designer, earning around $3,800 a month.
Thankfully, we found an approach to managing our finances that worked out well for us, starting with open communication and mutual respect.
Discuss financial responsibilities openly
No matter who earns more in the family, money is often the cause of friction in many relationships. Apart from how much money each party brings in, other factors like one’s attitude towards money and savings, thoughts on what is considered a need versus a want, and decisions on who should pay for what, can lead to arguments.
As such, from the early days of our marriage, my husband and I began openly discussing how we would handle our finances so that the differences in our individual financial statuses would never be a bone of contention in future. We talked about how we would pool our resources together to provide for our children and live a comfortable life, while also being able to save as a couple and on our own.
It was extremely important to us that we put everything out on the table and iron out any perceived unfairness, so that we could prevent resentments from quietly building up. We credit this openness with helping to create a cordial atmosphere at home where we feel that we’re working together to contribute to the overall well-being and happiness of the family.
Agree on a way to split the family finances
There are many ways for couples to contribute to the family's finances with no one approach that fits all. Every couple’s dynamics, financial situation and goals are unique, so it’s important to consider what those look like for you and your partner, before deciding which option works best for you.
For us, we explored the following options, complete with their pros and cons, to determine the most fitting option.
1. Split household expenses 50/50:
Put simply, couples set aside the same amount every month, towards the household expenses. For instance, for my household’s monthly estimated expense of, say, $5,600, if we were to choose this option, my husband and I would each be contributing $2,800.
Pros: This is the simplest approach to splitting the family's financial burden and can be considered a ‘fair’ approach since neither party is paying more or less than the other.
Cons: The lower earning partner will be left with considerably less money for their personal use and may feel financially strapped. For instance, out of my $5,500 income, I would have $2,700 left, whereas my husband would only have $1,000 out of his $3,800 salary, which may be insufficient for his needs.
2. Contribute proportionately to monthly income:
In this option, the couple looks at what proportion of the total household income they bring in and contribute proportionately to the household expenses.
In our case, my salary ($5,500) makes up about 60% of the total household income ($9,300), whereas my husband's salary ($3,800) adds up to 40%. Therefore, my contribution to the monthly household expenses would be 60% of $5,600, which is $3,360, while my husband contributes the remaining 40%, which would be $2,240.
Pros: This could be a ‘fair’ way to disregard differences in income levels, since both partners are contributing to household expenses, proportionately to their income.
Cons: The higher earning partner may feel penalised for earning more because they will be contributing more in absolute dollars. In my case, my contribution would be $1,120 higher than my husband's. If our combined monthly earnings fluctuate month-on-month, this might also mean the amount contributed to the household expenses may differ as well.
3. Combine total earnings together:
Each partner contributes 100% of their earnings to a joint pool. Neither partner parks aside any money separately and all expenses—whether family-related or personal—are financed from the common pool.
Pros: Since the couple combines their finances to spend, save, and invest as a unit, this method can foster a sense of unity and sharing – truly embodying the “what’s yours, is mine; what’s mine, is yours” mentality.
Cons: Since all personal expenses come out from the common pool, there may be unhappiness over what each spouse spends on personal needs, especially if either partner is a high spender. The higher earning partner may feel like the other is living off them while the lower earning partner may feel restricted or guilty about their personal spending. This can take a toll on the relationship.
Personally, I didn’t feel strongly for this approach as I’ve also always believed in financial independence.
4. Use only one income for all expenses:
Slightly different from the previous method, here, only one partner's income is used to meet all personal and family-related expenses, leaving the other partner’s income for savings and investment. For instance, we could choose to spend my salary (which is higher) to meet the household expenses and use my husband's salary for investments or put it towards our retirement.
Pros: Apart from the same sense of unity and sharing as in the previous method, this may encourage couples to live more frugally and save more money, as spends and investment decisions would need to be made mutually.
Cons: Both partners need to be prepared to spend from the common pool, and the possible restrictions associated with it. Given that only one income is being used for spending, both partners need to be even more disciplined with their personal spends.
Option 2 allows us to split our finances fairly and retain financial independence
For us, we opted for option 2 – contributing proportionately to monthly income – as it allows us to share the burden of the family expenses from a joint account, while retaining individual pools of money for our personal spends and savings, in the name of financial independence.
Thankfully, my husband is of the opinion that we should not compromise on things that are needed for a comfortable life and I second him on that. Together, we ensure that we do not overspend on our children or the household. For example, we set limits on how much we spend on family outings or food delivery, and opt for basic telco mobile plans that meet our primary needs. While we don’t scrutinise every minor spend, we work well as a team to minimise unnecessary spends and save where we can.
When it comes to personal expenses and occasional indulgences such as clothes and home décor items for myself and books and colognes for my husband, we pay for these out of our own personal savings. Other individual necessities such as personal insurance and savings plans are also financed independently.
Work as a team but ensure your personal financial security too
The trend of women earning more than their spouses will probably become more commonplace, as more women seek rewarding and fulfilling careers. However, not everyone will be immediately receptive towards such situations, especially as men are traditionally seen as the breadwinner.
My advice to couples facing such a scenario is to keep all channels of communication open and discuss your finances deeply. Remember that you are a team and are working to achieve common goals for the family. Set a strong foundation, based on mutual trust, respect, and the willingness to contribute. As your relationship and careers progress, assess your situation from time to time and make changes as and when needed.
Think of your own financial well-being
For women especially – it might seem natural to place the needs of others before your own, but don’t forget yourself and your personal financial wellness. I myself avoid being too self-sacrificial for the sake of my family, as I know I owe myself the responsibility of a secure financial future as well. The added benefit of having a 'Me First' approach towards my financial needs also puts me in a better position to help out more with the family household expenses, should the need arise in future.
We must draw a line as to where our financial responsibilities towards the family end so that we can ensure our own protection and retirement needs are met as well. If you’re unsure how to balance that, consider consulting an Income advisor on the best way forward for you and your family.
This article is meant purely for informational purposes and should not be relied upon as financial advice. The precise terms, conditions and exclusions of any Income products mentioned are specified in their respective policy contracts. For customised advice to suit your specific needs, consult an Income advisor.
This advertisement has not been reviewed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.