I recently had the opportunity to sit down with personal finance superstar Farnoosh Torabi to discuss her just-released book When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women.
Farnoosh’s book couldn’t be more timely. A Pew Study from 2013 found that 40% of households with children have a breadwinning mother at the helm. Last year, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg released a bestselling book urging women to Lean In to their careers. And we can all remember the viral Anne-Marie Slaughter article from 2012 that stated that it’s not possible for women to have it all.
We are clearly at a cultural crossroads for breadwinning women—but there is no guidebook or example for higher-earning women to follow in their marriage and their lives. Until now.
When She Makes More is a practical guide for women (and men) to understand how to make marriage work when the finances don’t fit with our cultural stereotypes.
When Farnoosh and I chatted, she revealed some of the particular pitfalls of being the breadwinning wife—and how to overcome them:
EMILY GUY BIRKEN: I wanted to start by asking you what made you decide to write the book?
FARNOOSH TORABI: It was a very personal journey. I am the breadwinner in my marriage, and I’ve been covering the personal finance space for over 10 years, so I should have been prepared for being the breadwinner. And while my husband and I don’t typically have a lot of arguments over money, there were some other headwinds that I was facing as the female breadwinner, and I didn’t know where to turn.
Add to that, I’m expecting a child, my career is very demanding, and so I was starting to really get nervous about my ability to bring home that paycheck, so that was a lot of pressure.
We’re all reading the headlines about women ascending the workplace and financial landscape, and while that is much to celebrate, I felt that there was this whole other part of the equation that we are not talking about, which is that when you make more as a woman, there are specific complexities that you face that can impact your marriage.
This will hopefully be the first of many books to tackle this issue.
The Relationship-Killing Question
EGB: In the book, you talk about a question that breadwinning women might ask themselves that’s kind of a relationship killer—Am I better off with him or without him? Will you talk a little bit about why that’s such a difficult situation to be in and why breadwinning women might be facing that issue?
FT: By the time a breadwinning woman is asking that question, she is feeling very resentful and she’s overwhelmed. She feels like she is really in it alone.
What’s happening is that she and her husband have failed to really define their purposes in the relationship. They never discussed how they would reorient the relationship in terms of which partner provides what.
The book talks about what to do if you find yourself in that place. The first step is to reevaluate my purpose and your purpose in the relationship. What is each person bringing to the table?
Remember that traditionally a lot of men want to be the financial provider. It is what they’ve been socially expected to provide. And that is some pressure. So if having a male breadwinner is not your dynamic, it would be smart to reevaluate, asking “Okay, what else can you provide to this family that is very significant?” And there are a lot of things more important or just as important as money.
As women, we tend to assume not only that we can do it all, but that we should do it all. A surprising fact about breadwinning women is that when she makes more, she does more housework. She’s actually overcompensating for the fact that she has this more masculine financial role.
The most successful couples I’ve interviewed, whether she’s making more, less, the same, it’s really about being able to be flexible, nimble, and agree to this reality that your life is going to change and you have to change with it.
Speaking to the Male Brain
EGB: In the book, you talked about speaking to the male brain. That was something that I really took away from the book, just recognizing the importance of speaking in the language that is going to make sense to the person you’re talking to. You talk about some specific language that you might use in trying to help your husband see your point of view. Can you talk about that?
FT: Sure. Let’s remember, men want to be the most important person in our lives when it comes to the marriage and the family. And if they’re not providing financially, then they need to feel that their contribution is as important as what you’re providing as the breadwinning woman. For women, this is an opportunity for us to think about what it is that we really could get some help with in our lives. For instance, you might feel that it would be really helpful for your husband to take time off work to help with child-rearing, or to take on all of the grocery and food and dinner responsibility.
So think about the one or two huge things and then do the “big ask.” And part of the big ask involves using correct language. It’s not a want. It’s a need. Talk about how this is going to benefit you as the woman of the family, and how important it is to your livelihood and to your ability to continue to bring home that big paycheck.
Go Ahead—Buy Yourself a Wife
EGB: You mention in the book the importance of buying yourself a wife to help with marital harmony.
FT: I like to tell this story of a woman in New Orleans, who was bringing home the bigger paycheck and traveling all the time. They had kids. She was just running herself rampant, and at one point she had to go on a business trip, and so did her husband, and they forgot to secure childcare.
So they wake up one morning, and they’re making breakfast for the kids and she’s going to the airport and he’s going to the airport, and no one’s there to take the kids to school or watch them. So she says, “I need a wife!”
They laughed about it, but it turned into a business for her. She started a company called The Occasional Wife in New Orleans, which helps families help themselves.
The point is, we could all clone ourselves. And so the tongue-in-cheek title of that chapter is “Buy Yourself a Wife,” but the point is that outsourcing can be a wise investment for anyone, but particularly for women who make more, who are challenged with getting everything done at home.
I know it costs money to outsource, so in the book I offer an equation, sort of a mathematical calculation that can help people figure out whether it’s worth it to DIY a project or outsource it.
The Problem with What’s Mine Is Ours
EGB: You point out some problems with the what’s mine is ours money philosophy in any marriage, but particularly when she makes more. What are some of those issues?
FT: One of the concerns with that philosophy in all marriages is that there’s no financial autonomy. Obviously, if you don’t have a paycheck, avoiding what’s mine is ours is a little trickier, but if you’re both bringing in some money, I think you both are allowed to have some of that for yourselves.
With couples where there’s a lot of financial disagreement, when you look closely, you find that they don’t really have a division of finances in terms of what’s communal money, what’s his money, and what’s her money. So having mine, yours, and ours is very important.
When women make more, she might be thinking, “Let’s just put all of our money together, because then it won’t seem like I’m bringing home the bigger paycheck. It’s all just going into one big pot and no one’s ego is going to get bruised.”
But again, you have the issue of lacking your autonomy, but there’s also the issue that women live longer than men and we need to protect our financial futures more securely than men. We need bigger savings; we need to really stock our 401(k)s, we need disability insurance, and so on. I would say that women who make more need to keep more of their money for themselves.
On Having It All
EGB: Something our mothers and grandmothers tried to promise us was that our generation could finally have it all. They really intended great things, but the fact is that we can’t have it all. So what is a good way to reframe the idea of having it all?
FT: I think that it’s really about having what’s important to you work well, and that’s it.
Men don’t evaluate their lives by thinking, “Do I have it all?” So rather than thinking of having it all at all times, think about having what you need that’s important in your life right now. What will make you feel fulfilled and accomplished in any given point in time?
And remember, having it all is not doing it all.
It’s Not Just For When She Makes More
Even though Farnoosh wrote this book specifically for female breadwinners and their families, I personally found the insights in this book could benefit any marriage where money could be a potential stress point—i.e. any marriage. Between learning how to fairly share financial and non-financial contributions to knowing how to ignore disapproving comments about any aspect of your relationship to learning how to navigate life changes together, When She Makes More offers practical tips and great insights into making a marriage work through the years.