I'm the Main Breadwinner in My Relationship—and I Love It
My fiancé and I don't exactly uphold traditional gender norms. I spend my days happily typing away at my computer, making the money. He takes care of everything else in our home and our lives, including running errands, cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking every meal and managing our expenses, in addition to helping me with things in my business. And despite that not being the norm in society's eyes, we love our dynamic and the life we've created. It works for us.
A little back story: We met in high school when we were 17 years old, back when MySpace was still a thing (RIP), and have been together ever since. We have quite literally grown up together from our wild teenage years, through the tumultuous twenties and now into our thirties.
Financially speaking, the pendulum of who earns more has swung back and forth over the years because, well, that's life. There have been times when we made the same, as in we both worked at the same crappy retail job in our early twenties that paid $8 an hour. And there have also been times when he wildly out-earned me, like the time he helped support me while I was unemployed and searching for my first big-girl job post-college.
Fast forward to today, I run my own business as a freelance writer and certified life coach, which is our primary source of income that allows us to live comfortably in Los Angeles, California—one of the most expensive cities in the country, no less. And we wouldn't have it any other way. In fact, we planned for this. Here's how we make it work.
Get clear on what success looks like for you.
We tried the "normal" route of us both having traditional jobs and hated it. The hours were demanding. My fiance's job, for instance, required him to be on call all night on a regular basis. Our commutes into the city, which were easily two hours each way, were incredibly draining. We were exhausted, stressed and didn't get to spend as much time together. And it all took a toll on our mental health. We knew we didn't want to continue operating that way.
Once we got clear on our vision for our life together, let go of what society dictates we "should" be doing (which is honestly the most challenging part, more on that later) and did what felt right for us, our life, relationship and finances flourished.
Because of his support, I've scaled my business to heights I didn't think were possible, increased our income and have time and energy to pursue all my lofty career ambitions. And I've managed to do that while working 20-25 hours a week on average, which has had such a positive effect on my mental health. Teamwork really does make the dream work. Plus, we get to spend most of our time at home together (as huge homebodies, we live for this) and have so much freedom and flexibility. Mid-day naps are standard around here.
Own your decisions unapologetically.
Still, although our dynamic has leveled up the quality of our lives in more ways than one, going against the grain of the old gender norms certainly hasn't been easy. Although dated and tired, the ideology that the male partner should earn more is so deeply ingrained in the collective subconscious. So much so that we avoided sharing it with people for a long time out of fear of being judged.
When we did share it, people didn't seem to get it, and it was energetically exhausting to try to explain it or justify it to them. Or worse, they would jokingly tease my fiancé about it with comments like: "How's it like being a stay-at-home boyfriend?, which made him feel insecure at times. It was even a touchy subject discussing it with our own families, who definitely lean more traditional. Thankfully, now that we're a few years into it and our loved ones see how happy we are and how much we thrive in this dynamic on all levels (mentally, emotionally, financially, etc.), they don't question it.
In retrospect, the only thing that changed was our perception of it. Once we really owned it and normalized it by making it no big deal, everyone reflected that back to us with acceptance and even admiration. Ultimately, they just want us to be happy.
Remember, a relationship is a partnership.
To us, it really doesn't matter who earns the money or who does what. What does matter is that we're both contributing to the quality of our life. My fiancé does a lot for us, and just because his work doesn't directly earn money, that doesn't mean his contributions to our lives are not just as important or valued. Our relationship is a partnership, and we take really good care of each other in different ways but equal amounts. Neither one of us feels taken for granted.
Manage your money with intention
As for how we manage our money, we keep it super simple. The way we see it: Everything that comes in is our money. We make all financial decisions together. We set long-term and short term goals together (e.g. saving for our wedding and a down payment for a house). From there, we create a monthly budget that supports those goals.
Our monthly budget includes all the usual living expenses such as rent, utilities, car payment, groceries, etc. as well as some business expenses. In addition, we have what we call "fun money" baked into our monthly budget, which we allow ourselves to spend on whatever we please.
And most importantly, we also track every dollar that comes in and goes out using a handy spreadsheet, mostly for business and tax purposes but also because it allows us to always know exactly what's happening in our finances and keeps us on track with our goals. This is typically my fiance's department as he's a lot better with numbers than I am. I'm more of a words kind of girl. This habit—which works universally no matter your situation—has been a game-changer allowing us to get out of debt and make massive progress towards our financial goals.
Although it took some time to get here, we've gotten to a point where we honestly don't care what anyone thinks about our relationship and financial dynamic. At the end of the day, it's our lives. People will come up with their opinions and narratives about other people's life choices no matter what, especially when you veer away from the norm. But, whether it's in your relationship, finances or any other area of life, there is so much power and freedom that comes when you just do what makes you happy. Life gets sweeter.