Two partners, one paycheck: You’re the breadwinner, now what?

Two partners, one paycheck: You’re the breadwinner, now what?

Five tips for managing your finances in a way that protects both your bank balance and your marital harmony.


Many couples don’t discuss money before marriage, much less, financial ambitions and goals, budgets or risk tolerance. Money can, at the best of times, be an uncomfortable topic to discuss, even with your loved one. And right now, with the COVID-19 pandemic leading to millions of Americans being furloughed or laid off, conversations about household finances are probably feeling trickier and perhaps even more one-sided than ever.

If you’re the only breadwinner in your home — by choice or due to a recent development caused by the coronavirus — here are five tips for managing your finances in a way that protects both your bank balance and your marital harmony.

1. Cover your expenses

Regardless of your income level, it’s a good idea for both partners to have a clear understanding of your critical living expenses as a couple. Stuff like groceries, medication, utilities and rent or mortgage payments. Once you’ve agreed on these, write them down and create a plan to set aside a certain amount each month to cover them. Then have that money automatically transfer from your existing checking account. By automating the process, you’re far more likely to stick to your plan.

If you, as the breadwinner, experience a sudden change in income, knowing the amount you require to cover your day-to-day essentials will be extremely helpful when it comes to knowing how and where to cut your overall spending in order to cope.

2. Create or add to an emergency fund

In many cases, staying at home has meant spending less on going out to eat, entertainment, shopping, etc., and generally being thriftier with resources. But sadly, according to a Federal Reserve survey, 39% of American adults say they couldn’t come up with $400 to cover an unexpected expense. Given that emergencies — or a change in income — can happen at any time, it’s good to have money set aside. A general rule of thumb is to have enough money on hand to cover 3 to 6 months’ worth of living expenses. If you lose your job, for instance, you could use the money to pay for necessities while you find a new one, or the funds could supplement your unemployment benefits.

If you’re looking for additional ways to boost your emergency fund more quickly, you get one shot each year to save your tax refund. Also, look at your budget and make smaller cuts you won’t notice individually, but that will add up significantly.

3. Agree on assets

If you’re getting married and know you’re going to be the breadwinner in the relationship for the foreseeable future, it may be worth considering a prenuptial agreement. Yes, it can be uncomfortable talking about the possibility of divorce before you’ve even walked down the aisle, but making a plan with your partner in advance for how any assets are divided can save a whole lot of pain and confrontation should the worst happen. 

Prenups are especially advisable for people who want to retain an inheritance, family business or self-made practice. And considering divorce can often be expensive, they can provide some helpful peace of mind.

4. Communicate honestly

Communication is crucial to any successful relationship and the same goes for good financial planning. If you’re the breadwinner, make sure you talk openly about any pressures you feel. And if things change for the worse due to job loss or financial hardship, try not to let pride get in the way of discussing how you and your partner can get through it together.

Working as a team to create a budget and stick to it is far more effective than keeping your loved one in the dark while you silently worry about what they’re spending. This need for honest communication and teamwork is especially important if you’re among the millions of households currently coping with the stress and unfamiliarity of having to survive on a single paycheck rather than the usual two. 

5. Get some help

A certified financial planner can help you and your partner manage your day-to-day budget and plan for the future. In particular, they can work with you to determine which expenses are most important to you, decide how best to stay on top of large debts, such as a mortgage or vehicle repayment, and agree on financial goals, like saving for the kids’ college fund or planning for retirement.

It’s important both of you are involved in these conversations, as you may have different priorities or approaches to financial risk a financial professional can help you align on. If your household has suddenly reduced from two incomes to one, or even none as a result of the coronavirus, they can also help you understand any benefit options and tax breaks that may be available. 

The most important thing to remember when financial planning as a couple with one breadwinner is the more in sync you are, the better. Not only will it help you avoid disagreements and reduce the likelihood of surprises, acting in partnership will lead to a healthy, shared sense of “our money” rather than “my money.”

GE-3125299 (06/2020) (Exp. 06/2022)























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