How to Handle Being a Breadwinning Woman


We still have a long way to go for equality, but here’s a stat that should make you want to cheer:

42% of working women with children say they’re a breadwinning woman — meaning they make more than their spouse and bring home the most income for their households.

That number is likely higher when you consider households where both women and men work and she earns more (but doesn’t have children; that 42% only counted moms).

While there’s absolutely nothing bad about making more money, you might have some unique challenges to face or consider when you make more than your spouse. Here’s what to think about (and how to handle both your finances and your feelings).

How to Work Your Wealth When She Makes More

There are some specific things you should consider for your finances when your work brings in more money than your spouse.

First, make sure you take care of your own retirement savings. Some research suggests that women save half as much as men (because they feel more obligated to take care of others before addressing their own needs), even though women usually live longer.

That’s a bad combination that can set you up for failure in your later years. Take advantage of a 401(k) if your job provides it.

Or set up the right retirement plan for entrepreneurs and make sure that, after paying taxes and business expenses, the next deduction from your gross revenues as a business owner goes toward funding that retirement account.

Then, you might want to look into a spousal IRA — especially if your partner is a stay-at-home parent who doesn’t have an employer. Spousal IRAs allow husbands or wives to save (tax-efficiently) for retirement in a Roth or traditional IRA if:

  • You’re married and file taxes jointly
  • Your partner has zero income of their own
  • Your income equals or exceeds their contributions to the account

The rules around contributions and deductions for tax purposes get tricky with spousal IRAs, but a financial planner who works with families where one spouse is the high earner and the other spouse stays at home to provide childcare can help you decide if a spousal IRA is a good money move to make.

Finally, if it’s possible, use some of your high earnings to purchase some more time or peace of mind for yourself. Think outsourcing unpleasant or time-consuming tasks like house cleaning, laundry, or grocery shopping and meal prep.

Why? Because numerous studies show women still do the bulk of household chores even when she’s the breadwinner in the family. In fact, one paper The Guardian looked at reported this depressing fact:

Dig deeper into the numbers, and things look worse: according to some studies, in heterosexual households where the woman is the main breadwinner, the more she earns, the less her partner will contribute to the housework.

As a breadwinning woman, you work hard enough when you’re at work. You shouldn’t need to manage second, third, and fourth jobs as full-time house cleaner, nanny, and chef on top of all that.

Get Your Money Mindset Right as a Breadwinning Woman

These financial considerations are just one part of handling your household finances when you’re the breadwinner in the family. There’s also the mental and emotional side of things — and they can get a little weird.

But before we dig into that, let me begin by saying your money mindset should be super positive! Being a breadwinning woman is something to celebrate because it’s an accomplishment.

Just consider some of these stats about the gender pay gap you’ve had to overcome to become a breadwinning woman:

Still, it can feel hard to feel celebratory about how much you’ve overcome if you’re driven to succeed because of something like a scarcity mindset (or worrying you won’t have “enough” money).

Fearing you won’t have enough or that you’ll run out can seriously motivate you to earn more — at least in the short-term. In the long-term, it’s a sure way to feel perpetually exhausted, negative, stressed, and anxious about your money. If this is where your mindset is now, try:

  • Knowing what’s actually going on with your finances. This means you need a budget that tracks your spending, an overall financial plan, and an investment strategy so you’re aware of the reality of your money. If you’re only guessing, you’ll probably always be afraid because the unknown is scary!
  • Developing clear action steps. Goals and plans are one thing. But do you know how to reach them? Getting very specific about what you need to do with your money to create the life you love can help you feel more confident about actually making it happen. (If you don’t know where or how to start, click here.)
  • Honestly assessing your money “scripts” or stories. What do you tell yourself about money? What do you believe about people who have money (or who lack it)? What does your income mean about you as a person? Be honest about your answers to these questions — and then realize that these are just stories. They’re subjective, not reality, and if they’re not serving you it’s time to replace them with scripts that empower and motivate you to work your wealth instead of feeling badly about it.


But what if your own mindset is no problem — and it’s your spouse that struggles with the idea of you making more?

Getting on the Same Page with a Spouse Who Makes Less

Your spouse may feel all kinds of ways about you earning more — and those ways likely have nothing to do with you and everything to do with how they feel about what their role in your family “should” be.

If your spouse saw being the breadwinner as part of their identity, your new position as breadwinning woman can feel like a serious conflict or even a threat.

And no, it’s not your job to get your spouse to work through these feelings, emotions, or conflicts. But you can be empathic, understanding, and supportive — by helping them:

  • Find an objective third party to work through those internal thoughts or emotions with. That might be a therapist — or maybe it’s just a good family friend who as your best interests as a couple in mind and can provide an outlet for your spouse to have someone to talk to.
  • Do what makes them feel more “masculine” — or just more valuable and helpful. If there are “manly” chores, get out of the way and let your spouse do them. Don’t try to micromanage or just do things yourself. Let your partner take full responsibility for the tasks you both decide are theirs to handle.
  • Work on your finances like the team you are. Have monthly money dates, attend financial planning meetings together, and make financial choices around big decisions and long-term goals together.

What you don’t do can be just as important as a form of support for your spouse. Obviously, you don’t want to use your higher income as leverage in your relationship — or make your spouse the butt of any stay-at-home parent jokes.

Even though it may be tough (especially if you’re tempted to just shake your husband and tell him “oh stop being ridiculous and be happy our household has this kind of income!”), the best way to approach a spouse who struggles with the idea of you making more is with empathy.

If you need help, don’t force yourself to struggle through tough convos with your partner alone. Having a professional to help manage and moderate money discussions is invaluable, and can make a huge difference in how you work your wealth — together.

Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP® is an author, speaker, and financial coach who takes a fun, no-nonsense approach in working with individuals and couples across the country, helping them make smart choices with their money.

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