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How Breadwinning Women Can Have It All

Feb. 3, 2016
Personal Finance
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By Sabrina Lowell, CFP, COO

Learn more about Sabrina on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

Women are gaining ground in America’s workforce. The wage gap between the sexes has narrowed, women now account for nearly half the nation’s workforce, and in many couples, women are the primary breadwinners. But progress often comes with complications: Many women report dissatisfaction at home even as they make strides in their professional lives.

In a third of American couples, a woman earns more than her spouse or partner, according to the Women of Wealth Study by the Family Wealth Advisors Council. That percentage is likely to increase as the population ages, with millennial women earning 95% of what their male counterparts earn, according to the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.

But given those numbers, another finding, from the Working Mother Research Institute, is particularly concerning, if unsurprising: Breadwinning moms say they are a lot less satisfied with their home lives than breadwinning dads. The reasons surely vary, but even the most capable woman can feel overwhelmed by everything she has to manage. Many female breadwinners are also members of the so-called sandwich generation, caring for kids and aging parents at the same time, adding even greater pressure.

Breadwinning women face a variety of challenges, but I believe it’s possible to have it all. In my work as a financial planner, I specialize in advising both young and executive-level professionals, including many women who are the primary breadwinners in their families. Here’s some advice based on what I’ve seen work well for them:

Outsource everyday tasks

Inequitable division of household labor was one of the areas of greatest dissatisfaction for breadwinning mothers in the Working Mother’s survey. It’s not realistic for couples to expect either party to be responsible for the majority of household tasks; they’re both busy. Instead, hire a housekeeper. It will change your life.

In fact, don’t stop with house cleaning. Working couples should look at which everyday tasks, such as grocery shopping or laundry, they can easily outsource. This allows them to invest time in aspects of home life that really matter, such as spending time with their kids and each other.

Budget your time

Make conscious decisions about where you want to be involved. You might want to pick up kids at school, attend soccer games or be on the PTA board. In what other areas of your life can you save time to help you prioritize things you want to do?

Manage your stress

We always tell our clients to make time for themselves. “Me time” can help you reduce stress and feel more relaxed. Remember, you won’t be able to take care of your family and job if you don’t take care of yourself first.

Engage in mentorship

The support of someone who shares your experiences can be invaluable. Find a female mentor who can offer guidance, feedback and support, or become one yourself. Mentorship benefits both parties in the relationship.

Work with a financial advisor

Preserving and building wealth is traditionally a key role for the primary breadwinner. Having a partner such as a financial advisor can help you ensure things are taken care of. Look for professionals who understand your bottom line and who can help you maximize tax-deferred savings and analyze equity compensation plan strategies, if applicable.

Consider your spouse’s feelings

It’s important that your spouse feels like an equal partner. If your spouse is a stay-at-home dad, encourage him to consult from home; this can help him continue to be professionally engaged, preserve his earning potential and re-enter the workforce in stages.

Determine how you’ll divide expenses. Will you base the division on the size of the expenditures or percentage of income contribution?

Remember, communication is key

Good communication about financial matters is essential in any marriage, but in my experience working with high-income clients, communication is even more important in couples in which a woman earns more than her spouse.

Women earning more than men is still a fairly new situation in our culture, and many couples — and single people — might not know how to feel about it. Some coping mechanisms are less helpful than others. For example, higher-earning women who are in relationships may feel the need to downplay their income or position to protect their spouse’s pride. Single women may think their higher salary could hinder forming a relationship with a man who earns less.

But as more millennials advance in their professional lives, we’re going to see more couples in which women are earning as much as or more than their partners. With a foundation of good communication and planning, it’s possible for working women and their spouses to find satisfaction in their home and professional lives.

This article also appears on Nasdaq.

Sabrina Lowell, CFP, is the COO of Mosaic Financial Partners in San Francisco. Learn more about Mosaic’s Financial Fitness Challenge.

Image via iStock.