Farnoosh Torabi

How to Be a Happy Breadwinner

A new book says women who outearn their partners need a new set of financial rules.

Farnoosh Torabi

Farnoosh Torabi has suggestions to help women who earn more than their partners.

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More women than ever bring home the bacon today. As Farnoosh Torabi reports in her new book, “When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women,” the mother is the one earning most of the money in four out of 10 American households with children at home. Torabi also found that when women outearn their partners, they are more likely to be the ones paying the bills, monitoring spending, making decisions about purchases and tackling saving and investment decisions. (Many of the women she surveyed said they wished their partners took on more of those financial responsibilities, though.)

Farnoosh Torabi's book "When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women"

Torabi, a female breadwinner herself, says women who earn more than their partners need a new set of rules to help guide them through the potential pitfalls. Here are some of her suggestions for her fellow big earners:

[See: 11 Money Tips for Women.]

1. Be completely honest.

Torabi says she initially felt embarrassed about her relatively high salary compared to that of her then-boyfriend and now-husband, Tim, so she led him to believe it was actually lower than it was at first. “He sensed dishonesty, which could have made him question my overall integrity and fortitude,” she says. That’s why she says a better approach is to “be bold and upfront about your income in the very beginning, and then use his response to test how comfortable he is with the situation.”

Watch out for sarcastic or demeaning comments about your high salary, she warns. They can indicate insecurity and are signs that the relationship isn’t going to be a loving and supportive one.

2. Share duties.

No matter who is earning more dough, it’s possible to split financial responsibilities so the burden doesn’t rest entirely on one person. In fact, a recent study from UBS Wealth Management Americas found that couples who share money duties feel happier and more confident with their finances. Torabi urges her readers to talk about who will handle what so both you and your partner are clear about your goals and everyday responsibilities, from bill-paying to investment management.

[Read: Couples Are Happier Sharing Money Decisions.]  

Torabi also says that using online tools like Mint.com can make it easier to share financial information easily so no one feels in the dark about where money is going. And no matter how little he makes compared to you, his income still matters. It can pay for things like vacations, college or a new car, for example, she says.

3. Help your man feel proud of his work and himself.

Just because his paycheck is smaller than yours doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve to feel proud of his work. Torabi interviewed a relationship coach, Alison Armstrong, who warns that women can make men feel like failures by focusing too much on what they’re doing wrong. Men, she says, want to feel like providers – even if they’re not the higher earner. That might mean asking your husband for advice, even when you don’t need it, as one of Torabi’s friends urged her to do.

Men also want to feel like they have the freedom to purchase the items they want without having to first get “permission” from their higher-earning spouse. That’s why Torabi says it’s important for each member of the couple to have the freedom to spend a certain amount of their “own” money without consulting the other person first.

4. Outsource housework.

One common area of marital discord relates to how to handle unpleasant tasks such as cleaning the house. Many women, Torabi notes, try to do too much, which makes them stressed out and cranky. “When a woman makes more, she needs to find a way to dial back housekeeping duties so she doesn’t burn out,” Torabi says. She calls it the “buy yourself a wife” rule. Hiring others to clean, cook or do laundry can ease marital tensions, she says, emphasizing that breadwinning women should never assume their partners should take charge of household tasks just because they earn less. That would be a relationship killer.

[See: 11 Money Moves to Make Before You Turn 40.]

5. Don’t stop working, even for kids.

Torabi urges women not to step entirely out of the workplace, even temporarily. “You owe it to yourself to continue to work even if you plan on having kids,” she says. That’s because it can be hard to re-enter the workforce, and particularly hard to find another job at the same high salary as before. And if you do opt out for a short period, continue working in some capacity by taking on contract or freelance work, she suggests.

6. Take some “me” time.

Torabi also urges her breadwinning readers to take some time for themselves each day – a full hour. That might sound impossible, especially for working moms, but Torabi insists that it’s important. Whether it’s going for a walk or talking to a friend, she says we need time to reboot and prepare for another bacon-filled day.