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The Two Income Requirement

Have I ever told you I think the whole dual income household thing is bullshit? No? Then I’m telling you now. Requiring two incomes to live is bullshit. Kids. No kids. Bullshit. It’s some great conspiracy we all bought into. That this is ‘the norm’. That two people should of course be employed outside the home. Of course, we should squeeze all the tasks and errands and general living of our real lives into evenings and weekends. Duh. Doesn’t it make sense that I should spend my ‘free time’ picking up clothes from the seamstress (because I don’t have time to sew them) or running to the bank (gotta make it before it closes). Then I’ll spend more money to pick up dinner on the way home, because yep, no time for cooking either.

Bullshit. When did we sign up for this?

IMG_7745
The constructs of the dual income lifestyle: A Corporate America lunch sack and one very dirty blue collar cooler.

I’ve never understood the work day/weekend split. 5 days on, 2 days off for most of us. Not a ratio in my favor. I actively seek opportunities to slide that my way. 4 days on 3 days off? Sure. We can even discuss a pay cut. An extra day of my life back definitely has a tangible value to me. So far my employers, big and small, either don’t get this or they simply can’t accomodate it.

This explains why I don’t get too worked up about The Husband’s shakey employment situation. Not anymore. During The Leap his job lacking, bigger deal. Now, with my Corporate Sponsorship, it’s usually followed by heavy sigh of relief. One of us at home makes for a pleasant-er day to day. Cleaner house, projects happening, happier dogs, shorter weekend to-do lists. The bank account is certainly lighter. Maybe savings don’t grow at the same clip. Lately, I’ve felt like that’s worth it. Maybe even totally worth it. Once again, that easier life comes with a price tag, in the form of The Husband’s income. It’s easy to say ‘Hell no, I don’t want less money!’ with the pound of a fist. But, when I sit back and contemplate what that less money is buying me, then it kinda seems ok. Coming home to a whole lot less chaos, not having to rush around quite as much, it’s swell. It makes the grind of Corporate Servitude easier to swallow.

The rub for me, is a selfish one. A whiney,’but-what-about-me’ concern. As in, why can’t I be the one to stay home? God love The Husband, cuz I sure do. That doesn’t stop me from day dreaming about how much more productive I would be in his stay at home shoes, boots or slippers. To-do lists flow from the tip of my pen with an overwhelming ease. I can survey my kingdom and name any dozen things needing done. No problem. On top of that, I can prioritize the ones that cost no money and brainstorm ways to minimize the impact of the ones that do. The Husband? Well, The Husband is a wonderful, fabulous do-er. He just doesn’t write the agenda with the same vigor.

This is why I take time-off to stay at home. To reconnect with my household. To get shiz done. To live the life I’d like to live, if only for a week. Is staying home for no particular reason a valid choice? I constantly fight feelings of ‘I shouldn’t’. That because I’m without offspring, I’ve no right to call myself a stay at home anything, and I need to get my butt to work. But, how did we get ourselves into this mess? Not to many years ago, a stay at home spouse was the norm, with or without children. Isn’t a more enjoyable existence justification enough. Do both people need to work full time to afford the middle class dream? Does that dream really mean spending all your time away from the home, possessions, and people we work so hard to fund? Or did we perhaps loose sight?

As I enter 30 days of what promises to be workplace hell, a month so busy I risk falling down on the blog job (for the first time ever), I must remember we do this to ourselves. This is the life we chose. Sure, inflation sucks. That American Dream isn’t as easy to afford on one salary anymore, even for those of us lucky enough to still get salaries. But we chose bigger houses and fancier cars, exotic vacations and designer clothes. Or in my case, ethical groceries and too many dogs. Whatever, it all costs money, which costs me time. Some day maybe I can switch spots with The Husband. Maybe we can live a simpler life. Maybe we can trade temporary unemployment I don’t really worry about (ok, still a little) with a permanent position as household manager. When we live a simpler life. A life with more garden and less going. Less ‘to-do’ and more ‘make do’. I got myself into this mess with a lot of little decisions before I even realized what I was doing. Now I’ll get myself out with a lot more little conscious decisions. And I’ll try to be patient. And The Husband will go back to work… just not this week.

How much is more of your time worth to you? Do you have a two income household? Is that by choice or necessity?

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Comments

dogsordollars
Reply

Preaching to the choir. I know it. :)

Tracy Warren
Reply

We do have a two income family both by choice and by necessity. When our youngest was 8 i went back to work because I wanted to. We were doing fine on one income. We then moved to a bigger house, the husband lost his job and got another one 2 hours away. We bought another house (very small) in that city rather than pay for a hotel and know I have to work. Crap – that all happenend within a few years. My thought is always this: What if something happened to my husband and I was a stay at home whatever. How would I provide for myself if I were not working. Yes we have life insurance but it would only last so long. So I go to work now to pay so that we can live in two different cities and in case something happens to my husband I will be able to take care of myself. In case you are wondering why I don’t move to where his job is here goes – schools stink, can’t sell our house, I have an awesome paying job here and there are no jobs there. Most times I am a big girl about it but not always.

dogsordollars
Reply

Its impossible to be a big girl about everything all the time. And no fun.

Rozann
Reply

Just found your blog. We don’t have a two income household and except for two years (08-10) when my husband lost his job and I worked to make ends meet, I’ve been a stay at home wife and mom. It is absolutely possible to live on one income, BUT, a family has to be willing to live within their means and live more like our parents/grandparents did; which means without all the bells and whistles. I keep telling our adult children to stay out of debt–debt is slavery! When I was single (got married at age 30) I kept trying to figure out a way to stay at home without having to face the rat race of working; I longed to stay home and be a “homemaker”. I truly feel compassion for those who have to work to provide the basics for their families. Life is short, children grow up so fast and it is priceless to be able to be there for all of it.
Just my two cents worth.

dogsordollars
Reply

Welcome Rozann! Sounds like we are on the same page. Keep preaching to your kids. Its a hard message to hear when you are that age, but if heeded it would head alot of these concerns off at the pass.

Samantha
Reply

We currently do live on one income, with three children, and it is not sustainable. I have lots of time to bake, garden, line dry clothing, and all of the little money saving tweaks, but it’s only enough to get by, not to get ahead. The reality is that we will have three children to put through school, and I would like to be able to retire one day. One income can be done for a short period, but for us, it’s not possible for the long term. We don’t live a lavish lifestyle, but it would be nice to have some money in savings.

dogsordollars
Reply

Samantha, thanks for the important distinction on ‘getting by’ vs. ‘getting ahead’. Two completely different things. Money to survive? Yes. Money to save and plan for the future? Harder. When you’ve got plenty of money, its easy to say you want more time and visa versa. Its the balance between the two thats the trick.

Lee
Reply

I work part time, mostly because when the kids were small husband was working all the hours god sends and it was so stressful, so I went part time. Then husband got made redundant so I got 2 yes 2 more part time jobs and was working 6 days a week in total . After 3 years husband got a totally different job altogether from what he had been doing, but on much less money. I got made redundant from 2 of my jobs but increased the other job from 2 to 3 days. But before that happened I had a total melt down-husband didnt help with kids or houshold tasks just came in from work and flopped down and didnt stir again til time to go to work next day. I stayed and didnt throw husband out (both scenarios a distinct possibility!) but once 2 of the jobs finished stayed part time.
We went back to the old way of life, of wife taking care of house and husband working and doing overtime. My 3 day job became 3 short days 9am to 3pm and peace has reigned. Yes there is not a penny to spare but it works, well sort of, most of the time.

dogsordollars
Reply

During my 2 job nightmare, I’m afraid I was much like your husband. Working or wrung out flopped in a chair. The difference is it drove me nuts. I hated not having the energy for my life. If I even thought about it, meltdowns ensued. People are not meant to function that way.

I day dream about a part time job.

Kaitlin Jenkins
Reply

The timeliness of your post is incredible Sarah! I’ve been drowning in various renditions of this same thought pattern for several days now, and reading your post has actually brought some clarity to my own feelings about these types of situations. I too and stuck in corportate servitute while my husband works from home in the summer months, and is a graduate student during the school year. We live off of my income + what he brings in but you can’t really count that as two. Right now I work my job out of complete necessity as I have no passion for what I’m doing at all. I too, hope to be able to switch places with the husband (we’re both in our mid 20’s) at some point. We’ve often discussed me staying home if/when we have kids, but that’s all too far off in the future for now. I definitely feel the burden of conscious decisions, trying to do things myself and lack of time to accomplish said things. Why does all the bullshit take up so much of our time and energy!?

dogsordollars
Reply

That’s the question, isn’t it? How do we get beyond the bullshit? Glad I could help with some clarity, in a timely manner. I completely agree, sometime it really helps to read other people’s similar, yet different thought patterns on what could almost be your problem.

We plan and we plan and we plan. Unless, I’m ‘doing’ in some way, even if its small – deposits into savings accounts, gardens, remembering to set limits on work – I get incredibly, ridiculously frusturated.

Charmaine
Reply

I’m lucky. My husband and I are both self-employed, and we spend much of our time at home, so can accomplish gardening/farming at home to meet much of our food needs, husband does much of the meal cooking while I focus on projects. I don’t know how folks live with full-time jobs out of the house… what’s the point? To pay the mortgage? Pay the nanny? I gave up the rat-race. I know it’s easy for me to say, but if more folks took the leap to believe in their own abilities to work for themselves, I think there would be alot more happy people out there.

dogsordollars
Reply

Believing in your own abilities. An important line, and a skill I probably lack. I completely agree with you though, wtf is all this FOR anyway? What do we really need for pleasant survival? A bunch less than we are getting, that’s for sure.

My thought for the day is totally going to be: Believing in your own abilities. Worth repeating. Thanks Charmaine.

Kaitlin Jenkins
Reply

I’m afraid I might fall in the category of ‘lacking confidence in my own abilities’. If you don’t mind me asking Charmaine, what do you and hubs do working from home? I dream of that on a daily basis….

Jenny
Reply

Amen, sister! My little has made it work on my income alone, though it would not have been sustainable over the long haul. My husband still only works part-time, but it allows him to stay home with the kiddo while I work and vice-versa. Is it perfectly ideal? Absolutely not. I would love to see my husband more than 2 nights a week. But, it is what it is, and my hope is that it won’t always be this way. I dream of the day when my husband gets a good job (we’re working on getting him through culinary school) and I can cut back my hours or change professions entirely.

dogsordollars
Reply

I use the ‘it is what it is’ mantra a lot. ;) It helps to get me through a good solid plan.

Karen
Reply

Right on! Last year, my work life was dissolving and I was miserable, which in turn made my husband miserable. When my stress started to culminate in physical symptoms (insomnia, an ulcer, speeding heart that I couldn’t control), my husband and I asked ourselves “why are we putting ourselves through this?” I walked out of my job one day when someone crossed the line and became a part-time dog walker, bringing in a fraction of the income that I did before.

We don’t have any kids and don’t plan to for several more years, so we’ve faced some ridicule from others who expect that a 28-year-old woman with a college degree aught to have a career if she isn’t raising children. But, we knew we’d face some skepticism and we’re stronger for dealing with it. We’re so much happier now, living a more frugal lifestyle and spending our weekends together instead of dealing with chores and errands.

I totally understand why it’s necessary for some families to earn two incomes. I just wish it wasn’t the expectation for families that DON’T need two.

dogsordollars
Reply

Yeah the stigma is weird. People seem to think there aren’t other completely respectable ways to spend your time. I can think of a 1000 things at the drop of a hat that I’d rather do than work for some nameless faceless entity. Cant you? Cant everyone? Why begrudge someone who makes that happen?

Huge congrats to you for making the leap.

Karawynn @ Pocketmint
Reply

Remember I suggested a while back you should read Elizabeth Warren? Well, her first book is called The Two Income Trap. Let me plug it one more time …

Beyond that, my real response to this is waaaay too long for a comment box. This is the second time you’ve done that to me (the first was the ‘new clothes’ post). :P

dogsordollars
Reply

I’m taking the hint. Elizabeth Warren. Library hear I come.

There is SO much that could be said on this topic. It’s one of my favorite rants actually. But now I’m wondering what you had to say about clothes. ;)

katherine
Reply

Wow, this post is very timely for me. My fella and I discussed this very subject yesterday. We’re expecting our first child. I make almost twice what he makes, but while I’ve calculated my true hourly wage, we haven’t calculated his. Who knows, his may be worth more than mine, after all he has a shorter commute and wears a machine washable uniform. I hate my job. He loves his. Child care centers will cost approximately half of his take home pay. He’s willing to quit his job and be a SAHD, but is worried about giving up his entire salary. And honestly, I would hate for him to give up his job because he does love it so. And he’s good at it. I wish the situation were reversed, because that would be a no-brainer for us. I’d get a part time gig and our family finances wouldn’t suffer. I just wish there were easier answers. To repeat what others have said, it’s one thing to get by, it’s another to get ahead.

Kimberly C
Reply

I had a moment last week where I almost changed jobs. Changed to working at a humane society rather than stay at this job I honestly despise every day. And I didn’t take the jump, because of money. And it hurt. I want to go back to college next fall. That’s my own leap — a loan and part time work and a full time college load. Aiming for a job that’ll make a difference someday, or at least be more tolerable to work at. And, in the short term, I need to be able to build on that savings. It makes me look at my finances with more vigor, to think that I made the choice to stay where I’m at due to money — so I better make that money count. It sucks. It’s choices I don’t want to make. It helps to think that maybe I’m building on stuff, and someday I can sustain part-time or contract work or work-from-home. Or a sabbatical. People still do those, right?

Jen
Reply

I recently divorced an alcoholic that I don’t get child support from. I have two small children to support. I used to work the corporate grind, but I know my kids have been through a lot so I made a conscious choice to be poorer to spend more time with them. I work 30-35 hours a week in a retail job 5 minutes from my new home. We moved to be near family for free child care and other benefits. The town we moved to is very nice, but more rural and housing is cheap. Even though my pay stinks we are making it work, the kids don’t feel poor and we do fun stuff all the time.

I realize people can’t do exactly what I did, but the point is, I totally changed my life to make it more pleasant for my family. I could have kept my old job in the city that made 4xs as much, but I’d have never been home (gone from 6:00 am to 7:00 pm) and most of my income would have gone to child care. I think many couples could go to one income, but there are too many comforts of the 21st century to give up to make it worthwhile for most, which I am not saying is bad, it’s just the way it is now. If one moved to a less desirable area, didn’t go out to eat, didn’t buy many clothes, didn’t take nice vacations, didn’t have multiple cars, smartphones or cable, like a 1950s family, it would be entirely possible to live on one $30k or $40k income. Heck, my kids and I are doing it on about $18k right now with no debt!

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