2020 has brought more than its fair share of challenges. For many dual-income couples, you’ve spent the year balancing careers, working from home, figuring out childcare and distance learning, and trying to keep it all together.
As the pandemic rages on, you are making difficult decisions for one of you to step back from working, or your employer has made cuts and laid off employees. Suddenly your family is down to one income. For most dual-income couples, this is not something you have budgeted for.
But once the reality has sunk in, it is important to take steps to move forward to make sure this unexpected change is a detour on the road to financial success, not a setback. Try these three tips to make sure you recognize the financial, professional and emotional keys to getting back on the right path.
Tip #1: Don’t resign from the family finances
It may be tempting when you no longer have your own income to want to bury your head in the sand and ignore money altogether. Don’t do this. Take a look at how you managed your finances before this change. Did you keep finances separate and both contribute to joint expenses? Did you throw everything into one account and spend freely? Regardless of how you did things before, you must adjust now.
If you previously kept your finances separate and contributed to joint expenses, you and your partner will need to discuss what happens now that you can no longer contribute what you used to. From the results of your budget triage, you’ll know what it takes to run your life. It’s possible that the full amount of the joint expenses cannot be covered by the one income you have left. You need to know how much the shortage is. You need to consider if you can do something short-term to come up with the difference.
If you previously put everything into one pot and spent freely, what do you do when the pot is now much smaller? Is one income enough to cover everything? Likely it isn’t. Work together with your partner to see where you can adjust your spending temporarily.
Regardless of how you used to handle your finances, I encourage you to get more involved now than you used to be. Perhaps your partner was always the one who paid the bills and handled the finances. Now is your opportunity to take over some of those tasks, not only for your own peace of mind, but to help take the burden off your partner. They are probably really worried about being the sole breadwinner.
Can you learn to budget? Yep. Can you learn to handle the bills? Yep. Can you learn to fully participate in conversations on how this short-term situation may impact your financial future down the road? Yep. Becoming more involved in the finances will not only benefit you now, but further down the road it can actually strengthen your relationship.
If you’ve always been the one to handle the finances, think about how you can share more information with your partner to help them feel comfortable that you have things under control. This is your time to shine as you plan for your short-term and long-term future. Ask your partner what information they need and sit down and discuss finances together.
Tip #2: Don’t completely pull back from your professional network
While it’s great to step out of the rat race and take a deep breath, don’t disappear completely. Update your LinkedIn profile with a title that reflects your skill set instead of your old job title. Reach out to former colleagues and connections and let them know your changing circumstances. Let them know your timeframe of when you will be interested in opportunities that may come up.
If you need to get back to work right away, be more diligent in your networking. Even in pandemic times, it’s possible to reach out for virtual coffees with just about anyone. Pick a few people you’ve always wanted to get to know better and contact them. You have nothing to lose. There are so many more opportunities now that you can join in while home, even if you’re juggling children and distance learning.
If you are taking some time to manage the household and childcare, think about your timeframe of returning to work. Consider it will likely take about 3-6 months or more to find a new job. For example, if you think you’ll be able to work full-time again when your kids go back to school next fall, shoot for beginning your search after the first of the year.
Also think about ways you can take this time to learn something new or teach someone else. Perhaps you can write a book, or publish blog posts. LinkedIn and Amazon make it laughably easy to get your voice out there. Then you will have an even more well-rounded resume and content that can help others.
There might be a small part of you that is excited about the change and the opportunity to reinvent yourself. Don’t worry about having a gap in your resume. It’s becoming more and more common with younger generations switching jobs more frequently anyway. All you will have to say is “remember the pandemic of 2020?”
Tip #3: Don’t underestimate the emotional impact to both of you
For someone who has been contributing to the family finances and likely been a high-performing professional, it’s very hard emotionally to make that transition to a single income.
As the person who has lost the income, you may feel guilty that you aren’t contributing. You may feel bad that you have brought financial stress upon the family. You might feel resentful that your partner views this as “vacation” even though you are handling the household and children full-time. This is even if you chose to leave your job, and even if you agreed with your partner it was the best thing to do for the short-term.
As the person who is suddenly the primary wage-earner, your partner may feel stressed at the thought of covering all the expenses themselves. They may feel jealous that you “don’t have to work” anymore. It is possible they resent having to share “their” income with you in a way that wasn’t the case before.
Start by communicating your feelings to your partner verbally if you can. If nothing else, write them down so you can recognize and name them. You may feel uneasy and not know why. Share this with your partner also. It is important to recognize whether it’s stress, guilt, anger, anxiety, or something else (joy?). Your partner may just want things to return to the way they were before this change disrupted everything. Give them space to come to terms with the new normal, even if you think it is only short-term.
Money is one of the biggest sources of power in any relationship so it makes sense that when money is disrupted, the balance of power will shift. Acknowledging the shift in power is the first step towards improving your emotional challenges.
Finally, know when to call in a professional. You may need a financial planner to help with #1, a career coach to help with #2, and/or a therapist to help with #3. Don’t be afraid to reach out! It can be one expense that it makes sense to add during this challenging time. Soon you will be able to look in the rearview mirror and appreciate the detour you went through.