Connect Marriage

I Make Much More Than My Husband — Here’s How We Manage

L.W. Northmore  |  March 25, 2023

During a typical year, I earn 55% more than my husband. Here are five conversations we have to make things work.

I am a woman who makes more than my husband. Our situation is growing less unique by the day. The percentage of husband breadwinners has been declining for the last 50 years. In 1972, almost half of all heterosexual marriages had the husband serving as the primary or sole breadwinner, according to the Pew Research Center. Today, that figure is down to 23%.

Because of the pay disparity between my husband and I, I’m frequently faced with adjusting my goals or finding a way to negotiate our feelings. Communicating our needs early and often is a great way to minimize frustration, hurt feelings and hurt pride. Here are five conversations we’re having since I make more than my husband.

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1. Short-Term Goals

We all have things we look forward to, and sometimes the anticipation that comes with saving for something we want brings us as much happiness as the goal itself. For me, that goal is travel. For many other women, it’s becoming empowered with investing.

I’m willing to save all year long if it means I’ll be able to take an amazing trip. This is a challenge because my husband enjoys traveling, but not as much as I do. He’d rather save for something he finds more personally rewarding. Because he earns so much less than I do, he can’t afford to split the cost of traveling 50/50.

How we make it work

My husband also enjoys traveling so we share the cost — but not evenly. Most of the time, I pay for the elements of the trip that tend to cost the most and need to be decided in advance, like flights and hotels.

When we’re on the trip, we split expenses that are easier to decide on an individual basis, such as whether to splurge on a meal or special experience.

Because I shoulder so much of the expense of traveling, I don’t contribute financially to my husband’s short-term goals. But I do support his personal projects in other, nonfinancial ways. This includes contributing my time, energy, and skills. For example, one of my husband’s past short-term goals was to make a small indie film. I didn’t contribute to the film’s budget, but I did help by editing the script and crowdsourcing the equipment.

What I learned

Talking about our personal short-term goals often means we both know about and respect each other’s current projects. We agree that traveling is more my passion than his, so there’s no hurt pride that might have come with his not being able to evenly split all the expenses. And no resentment that could have accompanied spending all his disposable income on something that brings me more happiness than him. Instead, he has his own short-term goals to look forward to and he knows that I am ready to be an active participant in them.

READ MORE: How Should Couples Split Finances? The Complete Breakdown

2. Long-Term Goals

Like many couples, my husband and I both share a desire to own a home. When we discuss the financial challenges we will have to overcome in order to buy a place of our own, our conversations always come down to two main goals: saving for a deposit and paying our future mortgage.

Because of our disparate incomes, it’s impossible for us to save up equal amounts for our deposit. However, things are less clear about how even or uneven our incomes might be throughout the 20 or 30 years we’ll be paying our mortgage. My husband is still a student (and is fortunate enough to know he will most likely have a job upon graduation) so it’s likely that our incomes will become more similar down the line.

How we make it work

We’ve decided that I will put aside money for the deposit, while my husband will not. His income is low enough that if he were putting aside money right now, he could not afford to save for any short-term goals (like filmmaking, or adding to his impressive collection of ’70s and ’80s horror movies). Because our short-term goals contribute so much to our happiness as individuals, and because my income is enough to allow for both short-term and long-term savings, I’m happy to be the one to helm this ship.

Part of the reason I’m comfortable with this is because I know that my husband’s income most likely will increase significantly within the next three to four years, so the inequality of our contributions does have a foreseeable expiration date.

But what if his future income doesn’t allow him to split the cost of our mortgage with me 50/50 while simultaneously making student loan payments? We recognize that this is one of the money discussions that we will have to revisit from time to time.

What I learned

When it comes to an expense that lasts 20 or 30 years (or more!), it’s hard to determine exactly what’s going to happen. The fact that my husband is a student means there are still elements of our financial future that are not definite. Even if no decisions are being made today, it’s still valuable for me to check in with my own feelings periodically.

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3. Student Loans

Through a combination of scholarships, informed decisions and extremely generous parents, I’m fortunate not to have any student loan debt. My husband is a different story.

He enrolled in a costly private college right after high school and, after two years of less-than-stellar grades, decided that school wasn’t for him. He left college to work for a couple of years. When he felt motivated to continue, he enrolled at a less expensive city college for the remainder of his undergraduate career.

He is now a graduate student. The cost of city and state college is a lot less than a private institution, but it still adds up. Combined with the two years he spent at a private school, he’ll have approximately $300,000 in student loan debt when he graduates.

How we make it work

Because he owes so much and feels the reason his debt is so considerable is a result of his own poor choices, he is not open to me contributing to the cost of his loan payments.

If he continues to feel this way and is unable to split our future mortgage payments with me 50/50, I know that the option to put the house in my name is there. But who knows what the future holds? One day he could become comfortable with the idea of his debt becoming “our” debt. Or I may, when the time comes, realize I’m not comfortable paying debt that isn’t mine. This is another one of those conversations we will have to revisit.

What I learned

If we had not made it a point to talk about our long-terms goals, we would not have the understanding that we could (if necessary) put just my name on the deed. Of course, it’s not what we prefer, but it’s good to have something to fall back on.

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4. Everyday Expenses

There are a lot of little things we pay for that contribute to our basic cost of living: rent, utilities, groceries and dining out are big ones for us. We also would love to one day adopt a dog, which would mean additional costs, like pet food, grooming, vet bills, and emergencies, among other things.

How we make it work

My husband and I split the cost of our rent and utility bills evenly, but because doing so consumes such a big chunk of my husband’s monthly income, there are some tradeoffs. We split groceries 70/30. When we go out to eat we split the bill evenly, but we also limit the number of times we dine out each week to once or twice, and only on weekends. We rely on our groceries to get us through the week, including bringing lunch to work.

Splitting our rent and utilities evenly comes with sacrifices elsewhere in our budget. Because of the strain owning a pet would put on my husband’s wallet, we’ve put that on hold for the foreseeable future. If we didn’t split those two big-ticket expenses, that might make owning a dog more affordable. But for us the simplicity and equality is more important for our mutual peace of mind right now.

What I learned

When we first moved in together, my husband and I split the cost of our everyday expenses 50/50. As time has gone on, we’ve become more comfortable talking about money and what we can each afford. Because of this, we’ve tweaked some things.

We started splitting our groceries unevenly about a year ago after we decided to make an effort to buy better quality meats and produce — upgrades that can add up over the month. Also, we’ve learned that it’s OK to break the rules every now and then.

Maybe he decides to buy something for lunch rather than eat whatever we’d packed for ourselves. Or maybe we both had a bad week and need to just go have a nice meal. The cost of treating ourselves once in a while is what makes it easier to stick to our plans in the long run.

5. Personal Spending

Personal spending is the way we use our money to treat ourselves. For me, that means occasionally ordering sushi at work, or splurging on new books and clothes. For my husband, that means rare Blu-rays of vintage horror movies.

Though the things we’re buying are small and don’t individually impact our lives much, the freedom to treat ourselves makes a big difference in our overall happiness. But given the disparity in our paychecks, how often (and on what) my husband and I can afford to treat ourselves doesn’t always match up.

How we make it work

My husband and I had a conversation about money when we decided to move in together, and again four years later when we got married. Both times, we decided to keep our finances separate. He has his checking account and I have mine.

Even though we know how much the other earns, having separate checking accounts means that neither of us could monitor each other’s spending, even if we wanted to. Because my treats come out of my pocket and his treats come out of his, we have no reason to care. We both have the freedom to treat ourselves when and how we want, without any reason for the other person to be affected or concerned.

What I learned

I want the power to spend my money how I like and the ability to save a safety net should anything in my life not go as planned. Having the ability to do so is a big deal. I’m happy with the way that keeping our finances separate has allowed me to do that — without answering to anyone by myself.

READ MORE: Securing Your Financial Future in Marriage

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