Four Layoffs in Four Years

Yesterday we kicked off “For Richer, For Poorer” Week by tackling the For Richer bit. (Which is something I think women do not spend enough time talking about with each other. We use a lot of our energy competing with each other and shaming each other for doing well… destructive behavior we can’t stop fast enough.) And today, we wanted to dive into For Poorer. I know many of us are battling with, or have recently battled with, unemployment in this terrible economy. My household has certainly been there, and I’ve written about our year of unemployment, how hard it was, and what we learned. Today’s post from Amelia hits on some important truths that I feel passionately about. She talks about realizing that partnership is not about what we financially contribute, but how we share what we have and support each other (oh yeah, and she talks about married travel).

Finances are something Mark and I have always had to talk about.

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say one of the reasons I was first interested in dating him was because I discovered he was good with money—something I definitely wasn’t.

Our first year of dating saw me suffer a redundancy (for U.S. readers, that’s being laid off) and the indignity of having to move back home to my parents while I looked for new work. I then stayed at my parents for an extra five months so I could work on clearing my credit card debt, while Mark saw out the end of his existing tenancy.

When we moved in together, I started talking to Mark about my finances, and we started to look at things as “our” finances. We had a joint account that we put a set amount of money in to each week, but everything else was our own. That Easter, Mark offered to help me pay off my credit card, and in return I would pay him back at the same rate I was paying off the card with a much lower interest rate. He admitted later he was already planning for us to get married, and he never expected the money back, but rather saw it as an investment in our shared future.

That year we got engaged. And a family member suffered a financial disaster that also impacted us, as Mark had invested all his savings with them. Talk about making wedding planning stressful.

Early the next year, we were both made redundant on the same day. Ouch. Thankfully Mark had had sufficient warning to find a new job, and he eventually received a redundancy payout. We had booked things for the wedding, and busied ourselves making it happen. I temped and did contract work. We merged bank accounts when I changed jobs, and got a joint credit card. We survived, and even managed to squirrel away enough money to put down a deposit on a cute little house the day before our wedding. All this didn’t stop me having minor panic attacks during the wedding planning of how I was spending “his” money on “my” wedding ideas, and that he deserved someone who could hold up their end of the financial relationship.

We came home from honeymoon, moved into the new house and I found more work. It lasted a year before I was let go again (the joy of fixed term contracts) immediately before Christmas 2011. During that year, we set ourselves a challenge of living on just my income, or as close as we could get to it. We failed because we picked a six week period with big annual bills in the middle of it, but we proved that we could get our expenditure down to well below Mark’s income if we really thought about it. Turns out it was a good practice run.

Locally, nothing really happens in the employment market during January because everyone takes extended summer holidays. I fired off a half dozen applications and managed to get a couple of interviews. But the market is tough, and the fact we have booked a six-week holiday to Europe in May makes job-hunting exceedingly hard, especially when there is not a lot of temping going.

The hardest part for me has been letting go of the feelings of guilt. I feel guilty because I am unable to help pay for the upkeep of the house, and for the trip to Europe that I pushed for. Mark wanted to just focus on the mortgage, I wanted to go to Europe sooner rather than later and was definitely never going to consider having kids before we took that trip. I won, and we booked flights five weeks before it was confirmed that my role at work was being disestablished.

But Mark has some cute old-fashioned seeming ideas, and they have really helped with this feeling of guilt (which has also been seriously over-dramatised in my head by the fact I am busy fighting off a depression at the same time). It came as a surprise to me, how much relief I felt when Mark reminded me that none of our grandmothers had worked (except perhaps in the war effort) once they were married. That’s only two generations ago to a time when a man was expected to be able to keep his wife on his own income. He has felt this more acutely than me for a while. After my first redundancy, he worried that he wasn’t earning enough to support a family and so got motivated and started looking for ways to increase his own earning potential.

He has also reminded me that while I might not be working, we are at least not moving backwards financially, that we bought the house we did rather than a more expensive one specifically to reduce the risk in this situation. Then there is the fact that I can manage to get things done around the house during the day, which gives us substantially more freedom to do things together in the evenings and weekends rather than worry about laundry or vacuuming. And it is giving me the chance (and the kick up the pants) to work on ideas for growing my own business—something an old high school friend is very keen to get behind and help with.

Most of all though, he reminds me that so long as I am still trying, then it’s not my fault. There are hundreds of other people looking for the same work I am looking for in this city, so I have some stiff competition. I am at least getting interviews. And then he holds me when it all gets too much and I cry in frustration, or when I shake with fear at the fact my depression and unemployment are starting to make me scared of the outside world. Mark is my rock. It’s still not easy, and I still feel bad about making plans to spend money that I am not earning. Mark reminds me that it will all be worth it, the work will come as we have seen in the past, and that he will support us financially for as long as needed, so long as I promise to keep trying, take on temping when it’s available (and bake frequently when I am at home during the day).

Photo by: Julie Randall Photography

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  • Ugh, Amelia, I relate so much. I’m unemployed and job seeking too. It’s no fun, especially when we’re in this phase of trying to build our dreams. I’d like to be saving hard for a house deposit, I’d like to be doing our pre-baby travelling. I’d like to just have a freakin honeymoon. It feels like all these things are building up, and I hate how often I find myself using the phrase “once I get a job we can…”

    What makes it worse is when he is having a tough time at work, working insane hours and dealing with assholes. The contrast between what he is doing all day and what I am doing all day can be a bit too severe sometimes. Even though he’s been completely supportive, even though we both consider all our money to be entirely shared, it’s hard not to feel I’m not doing my part. It’s tough on both of us. And probably worse on him.

    • SAME HERE! It’s really frustrating, even though we knew I’d not be working in our new city for at least a few months (hard to find teaching jobs in September). Even though I’m working part time it’s not even enough to cover my bills and student loans. And he wants to go back to school in the fall to learn a skill and get a job he’d like much better. Meanwhile I’m having panic attacks because I’m not getting returns on my applications and worry I’ll never work again, or at least not at a job that will pay me what we need to support this family if he’s in school.

      I feel like a ball and chain, and not that tired old metaphor that fifties sitcom stars refer to their wives as.

  • Carly

    This is a great post. A good friend and I were just talking about how tricky it is to combine finances when your partner has more money saved, and the guilt that goes along with that. My husband and I are currently house hunting, and I know the majority of the down payment is coming from “his” savings (even though our money is mostly combined at this point). But he is totally OK with that, knows that I went to grad school, make less money, and never had the chance to live at home and save more. So I just need to be Ok with it now too.

    • I was on the other side of this. When we bought a house, I was able to put (an embarrassingly large) chunk of change down to his infinitely more modest sum. (I’d previously done well in real estate.) I was, and will always be, totally okay with it. I got lucky and we were a team, so it really did not matter in any way that we bought the house ‘unevenly’. I promise!

      • Carly

        Thanks Morgan, good to hear! And good for you! :)

  • carrie

    Oh, the guilt. I was unemployed for five months and I never stopped feeling guilty, even though I had ample savings and David was employed. I felt guilty for sleeping, for not going to the gym, for ANYthing. It was one of the hardest times for me, but one that definitely strengthened David and I. Even though I had to lean on him very hard, he took every bit of it. I felt like I was taking too much of him, but he didn’t see it that way. Unemployment is hard, but it shows you some really good things too. Best of luck to you, Amelia! Thank you for this wonderful post!

  • Rachel

    I agree, this is a great post and I too can relate. Last April my boyfriend of 5 1/2 years was laid off from his job. We were both devastated, but I told him that we would make it work and somehow we managed to do so. It was definitely NOT easy. Afterall, we live in D.C. one of the most expensive places to live. We toyed with the idea of moving in with his parents, but I couldn’t get my head around adding a long commute to work and my graduate classes both of which are located in D.C. On top of all the stress with our finances I too have faced an uphill battle against a generalized anxiety disorder. Did I mention this past year was tough???

    Anyways things are slowly starting to look up. My boyfriend finally found work; we can now begin to focus on our finances, begin saving to buy a house and who knows plan a budget friendly wedding!

  • Sharon L

    I’m going through this now and have been unemployed for over a year. I used to joke that planning a cross-country wedding was a full time job, but once it was over it became difficult to face the guilt, boredom, and depression from applying and applying and not getting any response. I have the higher degree and I feel like I should be making more money to return the investment we made into moving for that degree. I just got a part time retail job and I’m really hoping it helps the other aspects.

    As you mentioned, he does remind me it’s a hard time out there right now for a lot of people looking for work and at least we have a roof over our heads and food on the table. I know we’re lucky, but it is very hard at times. So it’s nice to hear that other women are going through the same feelings and worries. Thank you.

  • streamnerd

    “so long as I am still trying, then it’s not my fault” This, I so need to be reminded of this.

    We are in a different situation. We are both employed with good jobs but these jobs are a 4 hour drive apart. Typically, I spend 3 days at home at 4 days a week where my job is. It has been over a year in this arrangement and because of my line of work and where my current job is, it makes more sense for me to find a new job than him. So I have been applying for job, after job, after job and I feel that my failure to get a job is the reason we can’t move forward with our dreams. That it is my fault we live apart. I often wonder if it would be better or worse if one of us just quit our job so we could be together all the time but leaving a good job for the unknown in this job market is terrifying to both of us.

    Thanks for sharing, Amelia.

  • Alison

    Oh Amelia… thank you. My fiance and I talk about money a LOT. This is mainly because we came from financially insecure backgrounds and we refuse to have our baby family and our future children grow up in a similar fashion. Money is a “hot button” for both of us, and it stresses both of us out. Luckily, we’re both pretty frugal (although I’m more willing to spend money than he is when I have it), and we have similar financial goals. We’re both currently working (thank God) but making ends meet with leftovers and planning our wedding in October is crazy-making. He came with a lot more money in savings and a lot less debt than I did, and I am constantly wracked with guilt about both of those things. I feel like a financial disaster, even though in reality I am far from it, and worry that this will be our downfall.

    But I also am frequently reminded, “. . . so long as I am still trying, then it’s not my fault,” and I try to hold on to that. Thank you for writing such an on-point post, and for making me feel less insane. Good luck to you. <3

  • SelkieKel

    Thank you for this post Amelia! I forwarded it along to my well-intentioned-but-guilt-ridden fiance because he is going through something quite similar (only the gender roles are reversed). He’s lamentably underemployed as opposed to unemployed but is having a terrible time dealing with the same feelings you describe. I pull in approximately 3-4 times what he earns a year, carry the mortgage on our home and most of our monthly expenses. While I consider this fair (or at least proportional to our respective incomes) he is consumed with the notion that he “isn’t contributing enough.”

    Your point that contributions to the household extend far beyond the strictly monetary is spot-on. I may bring home the proverbial bacon, but he’s always right there to help undo the stressful knots that said bacon-makin’ tends to create (that in itself is a lifesaver!). Running a household as partners involves three-dimensional consideration from both parties and the occasional reality check that we’re not alone in our “contribution disparity” is always welcome.

    • Kat

      This! So me and the future soon to be fiance.

      I’m bringing home the bacon and along with him being underemployed and self-employed there’s the whole seasonal nature of the beast, so I too am responsible for most of the bills, and carry the mortgage, which in one sense is great because we know how to live on love and live well within our means and we’ll never have to go through that awful adjustment of learning to live on one income… but there is guilt, oh so much guilt.

      Guilt on his part that he’s not doing “the manly thing” and unable to provide for a future “family.” Guilt that he can’t pay for phone bills, gas, food on a regular basis. Guilt on my part that I make more and therefore put him in the position of not feeling manly. Guilt that I can afford to pay/buy for things more easily than he can, and guilt that I want an engagement ring that he will have to save for, albeit a $300 diamond wedding band.

      We both want to spend our lives together, and see a future that includes each other, so we frequently discuss how money isn’t everything in terms of running a household, that cleaning, cooking, maintaining a household, building and repairing all take time and abilities that can’t easily have a dollar amount attached to.

      But still, there is guilt, and as a result, stress.

    • Gigi59

      The Time magazine cover story this week is about exactly this situation – how in more and more “traditional” families, the wife is the primary breadwinner. It also discusses the increasing number of stay-at-home Dads. It’s an interesting story about gender roles and the changing financial clout of women. And it fits nicely into this week’s APW theme…

    • Jess

      I have a mostly-written but unsubmitted grad-post talking about how both my dad and husband lost their jobs during our 8 month engagement. It was particularly hard for my husband because he had been unemployed for 8 months, found a new job, and was laid off three months later – 5 months before our wedding.

      I remember him saying that one of the hardest things about the whole process was being unemployed at the wedding – seeing old family and friends and having to explain that the job he found hadn’t worked out. He went back to school in the lead-up to the wedding, but didn’t have any firm plans (just a general feeling that he wanted to get out of graphic design and move towards a science-related field). I think it was pariticularly difficult given the gender-narrative of providing for your family – I am the main “breadwinner” in our family, but the idea that he couldn’t even help support us at the time was really devastating.

      Anyway, because I was really tied up with work (young associate attorney at a large firm), he had the opportunity to plan and finalize most of the wedding – he dealt with vendors, finalized arrangements, picked up family from the airport, etc. He picked up the slack where I couldn’t. It was so cathartic and gave him something to control, organize, and put all his effort into. And I think it really showed us both how important partnership is, especially when partners are bringing different things to the table. [This isn’t to say that it wasn’t stressful, because it really really was!]

      Three weeks after the wedding he found a new job and has been there over six months.

  • Oh, yes. I am so sorry the two of you have struggled, but I’m so glad that you have found a way to work through it together. And, like so many of the other commenters, I can completely relate. I got laid off twice last year from the same job– the second time in the same month as when my wife was laid off from HER job. I was unemployed for two months, then found temp work during the summer, but could only find part time things. I finally got the job I have now, which is barely enough to support us with our student loan bills, but my wife still hasn’t found a job and it’s been ten months. It’s definitely a struggle.

    We started a photography company last year that has slowly increased our ‘side income,’ which is helpful. It has allowed us to make ends meet when we only have one full-time income going toward bills.

    I would suggest that anyone who can put aside an ’emergency fund’- (usually 3-6 mos. worth of expenses.) We had two months worth put aside, and that was the only reason we got through those two months when we were both unemployed. Joblessness is incredibly stressful and scary, but that can help. Also, photography certainly isn’t for everyone– that just happens to be what we do– but there are so many ways to make income on the side if you’re struggling, like making and selling things on Etsy, Ebay-ing things you don’t want anymore (books, dvds, clothes, electronics, etc.), taking small temporary jobs like proctoring exams, etc.

  • Seeing as I just laid off yesterday, this is such perfect timing. I really needed to hear that there is a better something on the other side of this.

    • Jess

      There is a better something on the other side – hugs.

    • Being unemployed has its benefits. It’s hard, good things can come out of it.

  • B

    I enjoyed reading this post, Amelia. I wonder, though, at what point this indicated struggling financially? It seems as if, yes, you had to move in with your parents for a period of time which allowed you to get out of credit card debt. But then as I read on, you managed to lose your job, but still pay for a wedding, buy a house, go on a honeymoon, etc. I’m guessing this is separate from the six week holiday in Europe.
    Maybe I read the intro wrong… four layoffs in four years included all of this and that is struggling financially?
    Please don’t take this the wrong way, everyone’s experiences are unique and I’m sure some can relate. I just… don’t understand the “for poorer” part.

    • Liz

      In reading this post, it seems Amelia is discussing the emotional turmoil wrapped up in the experience of unemployment more than say, tangible needs being met. I think that comes through every line. Financial stress and guilt are issues even if there’s still food on the table or, like you said, a holiday in Europe.

    • meg

      I’m sorry, this is not the kind of dialoge we are ok with at APW, period. This is a supportive forum for sharing our own stories. If you want to write your own post, you are empowered to do that, but it’s not ok for you to criticize other peoples lives (which you don’t in anyway know the details of). I’m also going to point out that Amelia lives in a very different culture, where there are far more robust social safety nets, and very different attitudes towards Holidays, and nothing about that is a bad thing (in fact, we could learn a thing or two from them). We’re cutting off this conversation here, and moving on in a more appropriately supportive tone.


      • B

        Really wasn’t the tone I was trying to convey, however, I respect your policies and will refrain from further comment.

        • Amelia

          Hi B

          I get where you are coming from, and Liz and Meg are quite right about this, its more emotional than financial at the moment.

          We paid for a wedding with help from my parents and DHs decent job.
          We bought a house on his redundancy payout.
          We bought flights to Europe, but cant get refunds due to my unemployment, so are going anway :)

          Because of the early experiences and DHs excellent financial planning, we have fallback money.

          Things are tight. They still work. We have very little life and are eating on about $50 a week because pretty much EVERYTHING we have is going in to the trip and the mortgage.

          its not easy. Its also nowhere NEAR as hard as other people have it. And we are totally grateful for that :)

          • B

            Hi Amelia,
            My comment was less a reflection on your own personal story and more of a reflection on the assertion that this could in fact representative of the flipside of “for richer.” (Which, of course, was not Your personal characterization, it’s what i took from the intro) I do not know your circumstances and I am very sorry that it seemed as if you had to explain… I just was making the point that this did not seem like anywhere near a typical unemployment story as far as dollars and cents go.
            Of course, I do empathize with guilt for depending on a partner, no matter how supportive they are. I’ve had to do it myself. I guess that was more the point than characterizing financial strife.
            Thanks for sharing your story.

      • Kristina

        Meg, I’m disappointed in your comment. B’s comment was not rude, disrespectful, or “unsupportive,” it merely raised a different point of view and asked pointed questions. It does not seem that Amelia was offended and her explanations added depth to the topic. If you really want to start a dialouge, as you so proclaim, you can’t just “cut off” conversations. I wish APW didn’t police so fervently. It’s Meg’s way or the highway, it seems.

        • ambi

          Yep, Kristina, and my comment was removed altogether, when I didn’t think it was rude at all. In fact, I am pretty sure that I wasn’t critical of anyone.

          I think it is really interesting that when several of us had problems with the use of dismissive or distainful language in the “I married my best friend” post, not only was it allowed but APW defended the use of language such as “makes me gag,” and “roll my eyes.” A lot of us felt that language was pretty mean-spirited and hurtful, but I never would have suggested that the comments be removed – just that we talk more about it, open up a conversation.

          Here we have a comment that seems to be making a point that Meg disagrees with, but doing it in a respectful way. And I had a comment about hoping that “For Richer and Poorer Week” would bring about concrete discussion (dollar figures, numbers) regarding financial struggle, just as it has about financial success. I honestly don’t believe it was critical of anyone. This whole thread could have created a really insightful conversation about whether what one person considers financial difficulty would also be considered financial difficulty to another, and how we can talk about that openly and honestly without being judgmental or disrespectful. But instead it was just entirely shut down. I thought the point of APW was to talk openly about the hard stuff. Yeah, it is going to be messy and people aren’t going to agree. But I think we should be able to express contrary opinions and viewpoints if done respectfully. I am not sure how B could have expressed her view that Amelia’s story did not seem like an example of financial strife any more respectfully.

          The solution for speech that you don’t like isn’t censorship, but more speech.

    • Hi again B

      My comment below was written quickly while I was still a bit out of it after a minor surgery… I take no offence at your comment, as its something that I agree doesnt come across well in the post.

      Dollars and cents wise?

      *My first layoff, I had base expenses (rent, travel, power, food) of about $250 a week. My student living allowance was about $200 a week. I also needed at least $300 a month to pay off my credit card. When I lost my $300/fortnight job, I moved back in with my parents, paid them $100/week in board and spent most of the rest of my student allowance on travel. It was only once I had another job that I could work on my credit card again. It was mortifying, I couldn’t believe I had become one of “those” people who live with their parents at 25.
      *Mark was given lots of notice (about 3 months) for his layoff. I was given 24 hours. (hence finishing on the same day). We had already booked things for the wedding when he was given his notice, but our budget was small. We spent about $9k on the wedding and honeymoon, and my parents contributed about $3k for the food and booze. I still hate the reception venue we had to chose, but it was all we could justify. Our stunning location wedding was canned.
      *We managed to buy a house by sheer lucky timing. Marks family investment that had lost his (substantial) life savings managed to return just under half of them about 3 months before the wedding. We got the layoff money from his previous employers at the same time (after over 6 months fighting for it). Our mortgage payments now are about the same as we were paying in rent previously. All the old savings were sucked into the deposit.

      As for our trip to Europe? Talk about bad timing. We are seriously stretched by it, but me being laid off does not constitute enough of a financial disaster for our insurance company to refund things (thankfully, we spent all of last year working hard at increasing our leverage in the house, so realistically, half the travel is going on the mortgage). So we are busy finding the cheapest ways to do things, since we had already sunk more than we spent on the wedding in to the trip before I was made redundant. And I feel totally like its my fault – Mark has been there, done that. Several times in fact. I pushed for this, and I’m the one currently not earning because no-one will hire me when we are due to go away soon.

      But we have decided its worth the temporary financial hardship. Mark earns enough money for us to live on, and we are still gradually being repaid his old savings, so we are at least not going backwards, even if we are not going forwards.

      Down here in New Zealand, we have been hit nowhere near as hard as other parts of the world by this recession. Thank goodness. I am one of only a handful of people we personally know who are out of work and unable to find any, partly because skilled workers are still in demand. Mark has increased his qualifications and will be in demand for the forseeable future, so we are blessed. And we realise this!

      BUT, I am a stridently self-sufficient woman. I HATE feeling like I owe my husband money, and as Liz and Meg noted, I think thats the main thing. I feel like *I* am poor, even if my household is not. (if that makes any sense?) Perhaps this shouldnt have been put forward as “for poorer” per se, or even first in the for poorer category – its almost more about “for harder” than anything else.

      • ambi

        What you are talking about makes perfect sense, and I love how you described it – even if your household is okay, you feel poor. That is so real and honest. It’s a topic that we have been talking about all day on the “Marraige as Mini Socialism” post. I, for one, apologize for being a part of the questioning about whether your story “qualifies” as “for poorer.” Obviously, you were writing from the heart about personal experiences that have been really difficult for you.

        I think your comment here really makes the point that rather than shutting down the conversation, what we needed was even more open dialogue. I would normally say that I feel pretty terrible that you ended up feeling like you had to explain the dollars and cents of your personal situation, except that you seem to also be in favor of open discussion of exactly this kind. Like I mentioned in the comment that got deleted, I think it is so brave and so important to talk about the concrete details of financial hardship in the same way that we have been trying to talk about the concrete details of how to be successful. So, you know, I am really torn – I hate that you ended up having to put all of this out there when that isn’t what your post was really about, and I hate that this discussion has in some ways undercut the emotional and psychological aspects of your post. But I really do admire you for being so open to talk about it. I definitely believe that talking through these issues, encouraging open discussion even when it is messy and ugly, is what brings us to a much better understanding. So THANK YOU.

      • b

        I totally get where you are coming from when you talk about feeling like you owe your partner money. I felt awful as a “dependent” in my household, even though I was trying my hardest it still wasn’t what he was contributing. He made the point that, if the roles were reversed, I would never want him to feel like he was a burden, and he was absolutely right. When the roles became reversed, I did my best to make him feel like he made me feel, when I was in that spot. I’m happy to hear you have a supportive husband and family to help you through and I hope this discussion is helpful… I feel really bad you felt like you needed to explain the gritty details, it really was not my intention with my comment.
        I really hope that, career or job or not, you reach contentment in your role in your relationship.

        • (this is in response to ambi as well)
          You know what? I am so sick to death of this assumption that we should never talk “actual” dollars and cents. My friends wont talk about how much they earn, my parents wanted us to learn good money management, but we were never allowed to see exactly how they managed their money. How do you learn when you never talk actual dollars?
          Its almost as if having any money is something we should be ashamed of or something?

          Anyway, I was happy to divulge how it all worked out for us – a lot of luck and some excellent forward planning.
          Funnily – When I was being prepped for surgery on Wednesday, I got asked regularly what I did. I got a lot of kudos for admitting to being a “housewife”, and this from nurses and surgeons. They recognised how hard it actually is. It was wonderful :)

  • Right now, I’m also unemployed. And it is hard dealing with all the emotions of not contributing enough financially, feeling guilt about making financial choices and demands. Emotionally, it’s such a tricky, tangled situation.

    For me, one of the biggest things has been recognizing that each of us contributes to our relationship/household/lives in different ways, and that they are equally valid. He brings in more money, but I’m the one who manages our budget and keeps us on target for our goals. He keeps busy with the freelance, I keep busy in the kitchen. He walks the dog, I clean the kitty litter. As long as we’re both satisfied with where things are, and communicating with each other about the concerns, it’s all good.

  • Carolyn

    Ohhhh, this. “I still feel bad about making plans to spend money that I am not earning.”

    My own husband far out-earns me, and we would be comfortable living on just his salary… Not to mention that he has similarly old-fashioned ideas, would almost be more comfortable if I let him be the sole breadwinner. But I feel so guilty thinking about not bringing in money to contribute to my share of the bills, student loans (he has none, I have a ton), etc.

    Some day I’ll convince myself to let go, and allow myself the time to work on my translation business, my hobbies, and housework. The guilt is the only thing holding me back. Enjoy the time being forced upon you! It sounds like a blessing in disguise.

    • Umpteenth Sarah

      The loans/debt guilt is one I totally relate to as well. I have loads, he has few — I’m currently making quite a bit more money than him, but that will change. And, regardless of our income, it still will always remain a truth that we will be living less well than we could be if we weren’t paying down debt, and that’s fundamentally my negative contribution to the relationship.

      So yeah, ugh. No advice, but definite sympathy!

    • I, too, have loads of loans. My fiancé has none. I struggle a lot with the guilt of this, but try to remind myself that the reason he has no debt is because his family is well-off and paid for his education, while I had to take on student loans to pay my own way through school because my family couldn’t do it for me. And I rationalize that my future earning potential is my most important asset, even though it’s not a monetary asset.

  • ambi

    Several years ago, upon graduation after going back to school for a second advanced degree that I wanted, but probably didn’t actually need, I was unemployed for six months before landing a job. I remember that I remained positive and hopeful, stayed really busy by working out, being productive around the house, cooking, running errands for my boyfriend to help him out, etc. Looking back on it, I know it must have been a really difficult time, but honestly I don’t think I was even aware of how devastating it should have been. I somehow kept my positive attitude and genuinely believed I’d get a great job, even though I was getting rejection letters. I don’t really have much advice to offer, just reflection. I am amazed now that I was able to remain fairly happy in what should have probably been one of the most depressing times of my life. But honestly, I was okay.

    • ambi

      What I mean is, I am kind of amazed by our abilities to get through really tough times. Amelia, I really believe that years from now you’ll be amazed, looking back at yourself, that you were able to not only get through this, but foster a relationship, buy a house, keep putting yourself out there with new jobs, and even plan (and enjoy) a beautiful wedding. We’re all a lot stronger than we give ourselves credit for, and sometimes it is only in hindsight that you can really appreciate it.

      Also, this post made me reflect on the fact that I often view things like layoffs (or illness, or breakups, or depression) as roadblocks or detours that take me away from “living my life.” This post kind of makes me remember that this IS life. Planning a wedding while unemployed, building a relationship while staving off depression – you don’t put your life on hold to deal with the negative stuff. It is always going to be interwoven with the good stuff.

  • Lynn

    I’m really struggling with some of these feelings right now. We’re in the opposite situation, though.

    I left my job and moved home last summer. It took me until December to find a job. In the meantime I used all of my savings. The PA has been employed the entire time, but for what he does and this area, he makes nothing. When I did his taxes last year, I was shocked to see how little it is. We’ve combined finances now that we live together, and while he has enough money to pay his bills, he has nothing to contribute to our household bills. I’m paying for everything.

    It’s hard for me. I am sometimes angry (like last week when he was joking with me about where the joint checkbook was–why do we have a joint account when I’m the only one who puts anything in it?–and I kept telling him he’d had it last–why did he have it when it’s not *his* money?–I was not gracious in that moment, and I feel guilty about it) and resentful. Like last week, when I broke my tooth and couldn’t afford to go to the dentist to have it fixed or pulled. The thought running through my head was, “If you were helping me with *our* bills, I could afford to go to the dentist.” Or when he puts gas in his gigantic truck (that we can’t afford to get rid of and that he doesn’t want to get rid of) using the joint acount.

    I’ve been working through this, trying to make it better. He says that after the wedding (32 days away now), he’ll get a part time job and either work on paying off bills or contributing more to the household. Which is fine and a good plan, but. When I’m home at 6 at night, having a beer on the front porch, I don’t see him being happy working until 11. I also don’t see him getting out of bed to go to work on a Saturday when the beach is 5 blocks away.

    He’s been told many, many times that the place where he works is willing to move him into another position that makes almost twice what he does now…and he’d be essentially doing the same thing. He’s really doing the job now. Last night laying in bed, he said, “I guess I’m going what everyone wants me to do, what everyone says I should do, even though it’s not something I ever wanted to do.” And I don’t understand it because he’s already doing it. He won’t tell me what the huge aversion is, just that he doesn’t want to do it.

    So I told him to go back to school. Get his Master’s degree. His job will provide tuition reimbursement this fall. And he doesn’t want to do that either. What he wants to do is stay right where he is, doing right what he’s doing. Which is the conversation we had when I got my job. I was offered two jobs–one that allowed him to stay where he was and one that required our move and his transfer to the same position with the same company…just in a different city. When I took the one that required the move because it provided us with a better financial outlook, he was angry for weeks. Because he didn’t want to leave his job.

    At some point I want to scream, “I gave up an excellent job to come home to you because you refused to leave your family. I will never be able to make that kind of money *here*. Never. And you can’t at the very least go back to school? Really?”

    We’ve been doing a daily devotional focused on communication and the last several days have been all about money. We’re having cautious conversations about it, tip-toeing around it, and getting closer to the heart of it each time. I don’t like being angry. I don’t like being resentful. I don’t like feeling like I’m doing all of this on my own or that he is content to coast by.

    • Lynn, It sounds like you guys are having a really tough time sorting through the tough choices that money sometimes forces upon couples. We’ve been living on my income for almost two years now (with two months of his contract employment and miscellaneous small jobs) and it can be really tough sometimes.

      It can be really hard not to feel like a martyr and to toe the line of explaining your feelings without accidentally belittling your partner for not contributing financially. It sounds like you’re really stretched so counselling may not be an option so maybe you can try this (it’s worked well for us): write down your budget. As it is. TODAY. No aspirations, no BS. Include EVERYTHING, even non-monthly expenses (the dentist, car insurance, taxes) and then see how much you’re able to save at the end of the month. THEN (perhaps after letting a day or so lapse), look at how much an incremental increase in his wages would make, framing it in a discussion of how it furthers your goals as a couple. A bit of self budget therapy if you will…

      • Lynn

        We have done the line by line budget. Last night we were talking about how if he took the other position at his job, he’d make much more than what he could at a part-time job and he’d have the same hours he does now.

        Perhaps seeing how much faster bills get paid off or how much sooner he gets the toys he wants if he gets a different job would help.

        • Hugs to you guys. And kudos for talking about it!!

    • B

      That sounds like a really difficult situation. I struggled in the past with a similar case. It can be hard to align two lives together when it seems like you and your partner don’t share some values that are very important to you. I wish I had some more useful advice, but as far as i know the only thing that will help is to let him know how exactly you feel about the situation, even though you think it might hurt. Maybe if you are brutally honest, he’ll finally open up about the reasons he does not want to switch positions.
      All I can say is that in my experience, it’s best to air these things out sooner, rather than later.

      • Karen

        It sounds like there are different values at work here, and, dare I say it, it doesn’t sound like you’re on the same team working towards the same goals. I hope you can get this resolved before you get married. My heart goes out to you.

        • Lynn

          I don’t feel like we have different values, although we’ve disagreed recently about whether extra money should go to paying down bills or be put in savings. He wants the bills to disappear so we have more money to eventually save; I’m not comfortable with not putting something away every month NOW for savings. Particularly with money, we are talking about getting to the same place (at least I think we are); we cannot agree on how to get there.

          He is the balance that I need. I am often tightly wound where he is laidback. He doesn’t take much seriously and is always telling me to lighten up. (these are things that have also come out of our devotionals–who we are, what our personality types are and how you work with them). On the other hand, he is the person that everyone knows they can count on. He works hard when he is at work and every job he’s ever had would take him back in a heartbeat.

          I can’t figure out why he is so adamant that he doesn’t want to take this other position when truly he is already doing the job (that’s what his bosses have told us). His parents have talked with him about it as well, and he won’t give them a straight answer either. One of his best friends this weekend told me that I was just going to have to bite the bullet and make the necessary arrangements for him…that’s what he did to get him through college and his first job in this particular field, and while he bitched about it then, he loves it now. The PA nodded and laughed and said that was true and that I just needed to do it.

          • Gigi59

            Oh, yes…Biting “the bullet and make the necessary arrangements”. Exactly what I had to do for my wife when she ran screaming from a toxic job with no plan. She was going to temp for the rest of her life and she was fine with that. I researched jobs & degree requirements and pushed her into a new career path. One in which, thankfully, she’s very happy. I guess that’s part of the partnership, too – a little not so gentle push when necessary!!

          • Just going to throw out a few ideas… Perhaps it could be helpful to discuss this with a third party to help facilitate the discussion? Perhaps a trusted friend/community or religious leader/etc. might be willing to help you guys discuss it for free or maybe a home-cooked meal? Or maybe a community center or local church has some sort of financial planning class? Or maybe it could be beneficial to work through a financial planning book together? Someone else mentioned Suze Orman’s book, Young, Fabulous, and Broke…maybe the library has a copy? Anyhow, I was just trying to brainstorm ways to foster honest, open discussion and getting on the same page… Talking about and managing money is not an easy thing…at all! I wish you both the best.

    • ambi

      Lynn, your situation reminds me very much of one of my good friend’s marriages. She is very ambitious and successful and is definitely the breadwinner in their home. For a long time she really resented her husband’s lack of ambition. She pushed him to go back to school, and he did, and ended up being very unhappy in the career he started after graduation. Despite the fact that he has two degrees and career options where he could make more money, he has chosed to be a farm hand and do manual labor for much less money.

      And you know what, they’ve made peace with their situation. My friend realized that, while our culture pretty much considers lack of ambition as a character flaw, and we often think it is crazy for a person not to jump at the chance to move up and make more money, for many people this isn’t a flaw but just a character trait. Her husband is laid back, easy going, and mellow, and that is what she loves about it. She has just decided that his lack of ambition is part of his personality, not a problem that needs to be fixed. He is happy doing what he is doing. They would be more comfortable if he made more money, but they can survive as it is. And his happiness, somewhat flexible schedule, and the food they get from the farm he works all bring benefits into the relationship.

      All of this is just to say that changing him, getting him to go back to school or take the promotion or make more money, isn’t a permanent answer – you will always feel like you need more money (we all do). After a few years, it will be time for him to step up for another promotion. This may be a lifelong struggle, and part of the solution may be for you to accept and make peace with him as he is.

    • If counseling is an option, I would absolutely recommend it. Money talks often turn into values talks, and if you’re not seeing eye to eye, it can be super helpful to have an objective outside person serving as a conversational referee.

  • Even though both my boyfriend and I are unemployed, he hasn’t been paid his salary for, oh I don’t know, six-eight months now? which really, really sucks. Add to that that we’re planning a very low budget wedding… and I just fell in love with a photographer that is awesome and is offering us a great deal – just because he likes us. He’s still fits in our initial wedding budget, but I still feel guilty spending anything more than strictly necessary.

  • blimunda

    I loved reading this post. I loved when you said that one of the first things you liked about your man was his attitude towards money. It also happened to me, I liked how he wasn’t scared of money (I have this theory that money is like dogs. they always know when you’re scared of them, and find a way to make sure you know they’re stronger than you). I’m recently unemployed as well. the job I had didn’t pay well, was emotionally exausting and left me very close to a nervous breakdown. Still, I couldn’t have left it “just” for this. I received some sort of payout as I “agreed to be fired”, which gave me some financial security, but the very reason I could get rid of it (man I hated going to that place was that my wonderful man kept reassuring me that we would make it. Without problems. And, as I search for a new job, I enjoy staying at home, keeping it tidy, make lunch so he doesn’t have to eat just a sandwich, etc. The dogs are calm now, because so we are.
    Best of luck to you. And enjoy your trip to Europe! May is a wonderful month to travel here :)

    • ambi

      I love your theory about money being like dogs!!! So true.

      And I also really related to Amelia saying that one of the first things that attracted her to her husband was that he was good with money because she isn’t. I think it can be really healthy for us to examine ourselves and acknowledge that we aren’t good with money! However, I have fallen into the trap of letting this be a self-fulfilling prophechy – I allow myself to be bad with money because I have internalized that this is just part of who I am. But we can all learn to be better and smarter with our money! And I think Amelia’s post demonstrates that. Being attracted to her husband because he was good with money isn’t some sort of damsel in distress thing where the man comes in and saves you – she worked with and learned from her husband and together they made their finances work (even in the face of layoffs). I think it is just about recognizing and learning from each other’s strengths.

      • blimunda

        Learning from each other’s strenghts, exactly. I’m actually not that bad with money- I’m just not relaxed about it. I always have savings and think twice before spending big amounts, but that sometimes turns into self depriving (do I really need this 10€ second hand dress? really-really??), which is totally unnecesssary in our case. He helped me realize that sometimes, for sanity, money has to be spent- and it’s actually a good thing, when you still consider your limits.

        • You sound like my mother.
          Dad spent YEARS teaching her that their finances were OK now and she could just spend that money when she found something she liked.
          I was a spend-thrift. I thought nothing of splashing out on new clothes because I could.
          Now? Especially since I am unemployed, I really do feel that I have to justify expenditure. I have to have a good reason.
          Most of the time. (Buying a new lensbaby for my camera was an “I just want” moment). But DH never asks me to justify my expenditure. Because he knows that now, I go through in my head “Do I need this, how often will I use it, does it suit me” etc, and only actually buy when it meets all those criteria.

  • Jo

    This is going to sound weird, but I think one of the best things that ever happened to our relationship is that over the past few years, both of us have been unemployed for long stretches at one point or another. We’ve both been in the financial-support role and both been in the support-ee role. Right now I’m the one not bringing in a paycheck. This time I’m not actually looking for work as I’m going through processes to start my own business (including licensure, classes, research, stuff like that), and if we hadn’t had our previous experiences I don’t think I’d be able to do this. When I start freaking out and feel like I’m not contributing or progressing or accomplishing enough, he’s there to remind me of how he went through that feeling too during his period of being at home.
    Our dream is to actually make this a “habit” in the future when we have kids. We’d like to alternate being the partner who works “light” or part-time. Ideally, I’ll be getting my business off the ground when we start having kids and I’ll be able to control how much work I take in. Then, as I start bringing in more work, he’ll ideally be at a place where he can move on from his full-time job and work a more flexible consultant-type of role.
    We’ve learned to really enjoy having one of us working lighter and out of the home to take care of chores and errands, laundry, dinner. And when I’m tired or don’t feel like cooking, and feel guilty about picking something up or just ordering from the local Chinese place, he makes sure to tell me he doesn’t care, that I am NOT a house-wife.
    Anyway, just wanted to share my experience. We’ve grown into this comfort and our savings as well as where we live make this possible for us and not necessarily for everyone, but I wanted to share that there can be a positive to all of this stress at the end of the tunnel.

    • My being unemployed strengthened our relationship, too, I think. I felt so guilty for relying on him financially, but eventually I came to terms with it, with his encouragement. That’s what having a partner means — sometimes one of you is stronger in one aspect that another. That’s the point. Partners support each other. Maybe someday he’ll be out of work for some reason and it will be my turn to support us. So be it.

      Being unemployed helped me learn to be reliant on my partner and break down some of the issues I had with doing so. It helped me understand what a “joint account” actually means, and I learned more about generosity through my husband’s generosity toward me. And we learned to live on one income which, in the long run, is going to make our savings/vacation/house accounts awesome. We just have to keep it up.

      Also, I LOVE the idea of trading time off. We’ve talked about how awesome that would be too…but with his job and the job I just got (!) I’m not sure we’ll be able to swing it. Kudos to designing your life so that it can work!

      • I was in that spot, too, but now I’m the employed one while he’s looking for work. Things totally change, going in and out of balance, with a lot of give and take. Being on the other side helps you realize how silly it was to feel guilty but also how meaningful it is to be the supporter. I love that marriage allows us to weather unexpected struggles (or intentionally take big risks) by relying on partnership.

        (And, congrats on your new job!)

        • “I love that marriage allows us to weather unexpected struggles (or intentionally take big risks) by relying on partnership”


          That said, I would love to take a (short) turn about where I would be the one earning. It would be awesome to see it from his point of view and experience being the provider. But, I dont think his self-esteem would stand it (he really IS very old-fashioned) for more than about a week. He doesnt even like being sick!

    • yes! i definitely think there is a sort of equity to a shift in financial support between spouses. although we haven’t exactly been there, we are planning it. ever since we met, we have planned for my to be (at least part-time) a housewife while she works. but right now i am working full time, and she is in school and not working. transitioning to that was very hard for her, but i think having been here will make the transition to reversing our roles simpler when we get to it.

  • Amy

    I usually just stalk the stories and comments on here(I’m shy!) But this Story hit home for me as well. I moved from NYC to Portland, Or about four years ago. In NYC I worked as a freelance photographer and eeked out a decent living. When I Moved to Portland, and in with my long time boyfriend, it was an exciting time, but that excitement soon became marred from not being able to get any kind of steady work.
    I had never been one to get depressed before, but with student loan bills looming(big ones) I was getting increasingly depressed about my work, or lack of work situation. This lasted about 3 years
    Through all of this my Boyfriend has been completely supportive and amazing. Any time I would be upset about having to borrow $$ from him he would remind me that he hadn’t done laundry in three years, and that was payment enough. But it was still a struggle to accept that when I had always been completely self sufficient. It felt really demoralizing to ask him for help even though he was happy to give it..I really never in my life felt so completely low.
    Anyway it took 3 years but I finally got an amazing job photographing full time and also opened a wedding photography business on the side. It was a struggle, and it still is financially, but I could not have done it with out my boyfriend being there to support me and to let me know that we’re in this together. It’s a great feeling to know you have someone like that in your life.

  • Kara

    It’s kind of funny the stresses money can make. Even though we’re both lucky enough to have stable jobs with really good salaries, my frugal unwillingness to spend money (like on the flowers I wanted–and trying/failing to DIY something with my very limited time), probably created as much stress between my fiance (who makes much more than I do) and me as actually not having enough money. While we certainly have budgeted our wedding (and been graciously given money from parents and friends), we’ve also had to learn how to balance things out and generally learn to trust each other and our own instincts about money.

  • “All this didn’t stop me having minor panic attacks during the wedding planning of how I was spending ‘his’ money on ‘my’ wedding ideas.”

    I’m struggling a lot with this now. I’m finishing up law school, staring down the barrel of a bleak job market, and have six figures of debt thanks to law school. My fiancé, on the other hand, has been securely employed at the same company for nearly six years where he makes a rather substantial salary that can easily support us both. He makes all the money, and I’m coming into the marriage with only my monstrous debt. I know he accepts that this is the situation, but it doesn’t stop the guilt or the feeling of inferiority.

  • Dana

    I’ve been through this a bit, especially the guilty feelings for not working. I am an American living in Aus and after I did my degree, I came back on a 1 year work and travel visa to be able to continue dating my now fiance. Well, no one really wants to hire someone knowing they have to let them go after 6 months time so I quickly blew through my savings and my fiance moved in with me to help support me, otherwise I would’ve had to move back to the States. I went back home for Christmas and got a job at a local company for two months and S came out to get to know my home state a bit better for those two months, too. We got engaged and when he called to let his parents know; they told him it wasn’t a decision they supported as 1) they didn’t see the spark and 2) they thought I was a mooch! That was really hurtful. S never acted like I was a burden, thank goodness and he reassured me he knew I was trying my best to find something. When we got back to Aus, I was on a de facto spouse visa and had no restrictions on working so I found a job fairly quickly. I was making decent money, but no where near S. I’m about to start a new job next week and it pays even less than the one I was at before, but S is totally supportive of me because he knows it is the industry I want to be in and that it is a good foot in the door type of job. He is so great and I’m so lucky to have his support (yes, financially, as well as emotionally).

  • Jessica

    Money sucks. When my husband and I first moved in together, I was the one with the job and he was looking. I could tell he took it really hard, the feeling that he “should” be supporting or help supporting us and couldn’t. He got a job he didn’t really like that didn’t pay much and was not in his field (teaching, where the job market currently sucks). I am still the main “breadwinner” –ugh I hate that term– but he has found a job with better hours and more money. Still looking though.

    We can’t afford a house, fancy vacations, expensive dinners, or a lot of other things, but we are slowly but surely saving and having a heck of a lot of fun finding cheap/free activities around town. And I truly think all of this has brought us closer together.

  • K.

    I’m so grateful to the APW team and Amelia for this post and the conversations. My husband is amazingly supportive and genuinely happy to share his (thankfully) comfortable income with me, but I am underemployed and I frankly can’t deal. The upheavals of getting married, moving to a new city, applying for countless jobs (in an academic humanities field, so, ugh), struggling to finish my dissertation, and not being able to contribute a cent to our life together makes me so vulnerable to my own tendencies to be too hard on myself. My adjunct teaching job is just enough to pay my own bills every month, and I do enjoy making all the non-financial contributions other people mentioned, but I just can’t let go of the idea that I’m a burden and a net drain on the household. I know he doesn’t think so, but I do–if I could stop being so melodramatic about it we’d both be better off! It helps so much to read about other people’s responses to this kind of stress and to be reminded none of us are alone in this. (And I certainly don’t mean to suggest that my situation is more or less hard than anyone else’s, just that sharing our emotions around money and balancing our marriage partnerships reveals similarities and that’s so valuable to me.) Thank you Team Practical!