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- If you can, experiment before you try it. If Mom is considering staying at home to look after the newborn, agree to stop spending Mom’s current take-home pay for several months to see what it’s like. Except for an absolute emergency, I’d really urge you to hold true to not spending Mom’s take-home pay because lessons you may learn such as not being comfortable with your remaining emergency fund when you had to unexpectedly pay for that new HVAC unit are important lessons that may affect the overall decision and/or timing of going from two incomes to one income.
- Make a painfully detailed budget and see if you can make one income work. If Jane’s career is soaring and John’s career is painful, Jane and John should take a look at what would happen before John tells them to take the job and…, well take the job. There are going to be relatively fixed expenses such as mortgage payments and utility bills, and family revenue will be going down if John quits, so unless Jane makes enough to cover all of the fixed expenses and the discretionary expenses, it’s likely some of the discretionary expenses are going to have to go or at least be trimmed in order to make ends meet. Look to things like shopping, golfing, massages, lattes, unused gym memberships, vacations, and eating out. In happier news, if income is going down, it’s quite possible your taxes will naturally go down, too, so that will at least help a little! This is also a time where it could be beneficial to finish off debts such as student loans or car loans to reduce your fixed expenses and help the math work.
- In some ways, realize up front that you cannot keep up with two-income families. That being said, realize that they cannot keep up with you, either. What I mean is that if one spouse quits working in Family A, it’s possible that Family A’s financial trajectory and spending power may go down when compared to two-income Family B. However, when it comes to the percentage of the family’s time taken up by work, the flexibility of the family, and the amount of time on the weekends the spouses have to spend doing chores around the house, Family B may be a little jealous of single-income Family A. I’m certainly not saying one approach is better than the other. What I am saying is that from the onset, you need to realize there are often pros and cons that can make you different from other families you are close to.
- Put it all out there with your spouse. Going from a two-income household to a one-income household temporarily or permanently is far more than a financial decision. Why are you doing this? Do both of you want this? What if it doesn’t work for the stay-at-home spouse emotionally? What if it ends up not working for the family financially? Do the household chores/responsibilities change? Should they? What will the stay-at-home spouse do for entertainment and social interaction in light of the loss of friendly co-workers? Will the new entertainment and social interactions add to the family expenses? Should they? These are deep questions, and only you and your spouse can hack through them. The hacking does need to be done, though, as I’ve seen some serious resentment and jealousy fester from the employed spouse vs. the non-employed spouse and vice versa.
- Make sure the working spouse is properly insured. There are many careers where once you leave the working world, you become a little “stale” and lose some of your ability to become gainfully employed in the future. With this in mind, the breadwinner’s income stream usually becomes a little more valuable and, accordingly, needs a little more protection. I’d suggest you take a long, hard look at the employed spouse’s life insurance, short-term disability insurance, and long-term disability insurance. Don’t go crazy, just make sure you are adequately protecting the non-employed spouse’s financial well-being should the employed spouse become disabled or meet the proverbial fatal bread truck. If the stay-at-home spouse is providing a service such as looking after children that would still be needed if they were to become disabled or unexpectedly pass away, some additional insurance may also be needed on that spouse to protect the-income generating spouse's financial well-being!
Thank you to those of you who asked me about this topic. I’m always happy to help, but sometimes I can only help if you ask.