How Much Money Is Enough?

Dear Mr. Dad: Right now, I work fulltime and my wife is home with our twin preschoolers. However, after some discussion, we realized that she’d prefer to be working and I’d rather be home with the kids. Where we run into challenges is that my wife feels she can’t support us on the same financial level we are at now. Does who stays home have to be a financial decision or, assuming we can make ends meet and pay our bills with my wife working and me at home, is there any reason for us not to do that?

A: What an interesting situation. In most families where dad is at home and mom is the primary breadwinner, the decision to reverse traditional gender roles was made because mom earns more than dad. In your case, though, you and your wife are making your decision based purely on what each of you would actually rather be doing. Congrats to both of you for having the courage to even entertain the idea.

As to your question, what it comes down to is how you and your wife define “success.” For some people, it’s “big car, big house, big salary” (and often big credit card bills to boot). But a growing number of people are defining success in other terms, and being happy and fulfilled—whether that’s on the job or at home—is pretty high on the list. So while things may be a little tighter financially, if you and your wife can fill your days doing what you love and still put food on the table, gas in the car, and shoes on everyone’s feet, I say go for it. In fact, it sounds like it would be the best thing for you as individuals and as a family.

Let me give you a quick example of the devastating consequences that can happen when people feel stuck in roles they’re not happy about. A team of researchers from Denmark and the US analyzed salary and medical prescription data for more than 200,000 married couples over a 10-year period. They found that men whose wife outearned them—even by only a little—were more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction than men in more traditional families (men whose wife outearned them by $20,000 or more were twice as likely to be taking drugs for ED). These men were also more likely to be on antidepressants and to commit suicide, and the women were more likely to be taking medication to combat anxiety and insomnia.

The two biggest sources of conflict in couples are division of labor and money. You’ve got the former taken care of. But because your wife is a bit more worried about money than you are, it’s important that the two of you check in with each other regularly to see how you’re feeling. As a preemptive measure, I suggest that you put together a budget right now so you can compare your historical expenses to what your wife will be earning on the job. If you’re like most of us, you can find all sorts of ways to reduce your expenses. Over time, simple things like taking a few channels off of your cable package, eliminating one or two of those morning cappuccinos every week, and eating more meals at home can make a big difference.

Whatcha think?

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