Are two household incomes really better than one?
As authors Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Tyagi note in their book, The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers & Fathers Are Going Broke, the single best predictor of bankruptcy is having a child.
While two-income families make more money today than a one income family did a generation ago, the basics — housing, groceries, taxes, entertainment, and transportation — leave more and more families with less money at the end of the month, they maintain.
More importantly, with both parents in the workforce the chances of someone getting laid off or getting too sick to work doubles.
That's a problem for couples that put themselves at risk by spending to their household income level, rather than taking advantage of that second pay cheque to boost their retirement savings or kids’ college funds.
When considering whether two paycheques will pay off, you have to figure out how much of the lower earner's salary will be eaten by dual-income expenses. And that can be a tricky exercise.
For instance, the "working tax" on a second income includes childcare costs, work-related expenses, lost perks, and additional household costs. You may also find yourself in a higher tax bracket where you end up giving the government a bigger percentage of your overall family income.
As well, regardless of which parent is the one waving goodbye, the-stay-at-home decision often morphs into a second vehicle for errands and transporting those kids.
If you need help getting a sense of your familiy's real bottom line, try this calculator.
But even those numbers don't tell the whole story, maintains Scott Behson, a professor of business management at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He points out that this second job doesn’t have to be equally lucrative or demanding to bring these benefits. A 20-hour a week part-time job brings extra income and psychic benefits to both partners.
"In fact, balancing one high-income, demanding career job, with a second job that is more family- and lifestyle-friendly, seems to be the best match, especially if the secondary income has health insurance, he maintains.
Do the benefits of two incomes outweigh the potential drawbacks? What's your experience?
By Gordon Powers, MSN Money
Posted by: ken | Jun 14, 2021 12:19:29 AM
Posted by: Susan | Jun 14, 2021 8:18:00 AM
It's been my experience in life that the more money you make, the more money you spend (often waste). If I had it to do over again, I would have lived more frugally on one income only and spent more time with my kids while they were growing up. You have many working years available in your life, but only a few years to enjoy your kids while they're still young.
Posted by: Robin | Jun 14, 2021 8:51:57 AM
You couldn't have said it better Susan.
I quit my job (that I enjoyed) to stay home with the kids and I can tell you that I never regretted it. It was the best decision we could have made. Also, in my experience, when I was working outside the home (I worked downtown), I was often shopping for clothes, going to the restaurants with co-workers, pooling money for something or another in the office, buying the train pass…. Now I spend a lot less. The BIGGEST benefit to our family has been the reduced stress of having one parent at home.
Posted by: Marilyn | Jun 14, 2021 9:36:38 AM
Susan and Robin, I echo what you have said. I am a mother of 4 who is now at home with my children. I was upset about being laid off, but I am actually happy they did, otherwise, I probably would still be rushing out the house and leaving my kids with God knows who. Thank God I am no longer running down the stupid train!
I manage the personal finances and help to keep us in check. I get to see my family and enjoy the years that I can never take back. My husband works, but we have found a way to balance things.
Money isn't everything.
Posted by: Judy | Jun 14, 2021 9:57:47 AM
Well said, all of you. I didn't go back to work until my youngest was 10, and at that I felt guilty. We made it work. The kids were far more important than the extra money at the time. Maybe we didn't have the fancy holidays and all the fancy trimmings, but we had a roof over our heads, food in our bellies and clothes on our backs. Yes I made a lot of their clothes when they were young, but I enjoyed that too and they enjoyed picking out the fabrics. The kids were involved in sports and we were happy. When I went back to work, it was because I wanted a little more for the house and therefore something to show for the time spent at work. A revamped kitchen and some landscaping. We still didn't do a lot of holidays cause now the older ones had little summer jobs. Life wasn't so bad. Only thing was that we didn't put the extra away for retirement so now we have more debt than we had before. Still the trade off was more than worth it . My kids are great and we never ever had any problems with them either at school or in society. They are all settled now with their own families and doing just fine thank you very much.
Posted by: Jane | Jun 14, 2021 12:13:55 PM
Oh please... I am a single and it still costs alot of money. I don't make that much money, just enough to pay rent and bills and eat. But couples seem to think that just because they make a certian amount of money, everyone else should be willing to pay the same --- case in point, baby showers/ kids birthdays and weddings! I am actually quite sick of being expected to dish out money or buy presents for such events when I may never have one of these events. Why should single people be punished??
2 income earners definatly have the advantage.
Posted by: Greta | Jun 14, 2021 1:03:50 PM
My husband and I both have a regular Mon-Fri 9-5 jobs, but decided to each work 4 days a week so we only overlap 3 days. We each get a day 'off' and can participate in our Kindergartner's School activities and have our 2nd child in daycare only 3 days/week. This helps us get a better balance to life - spend more quality time with the kids and have time to get some things done around the house. We balance household responsibilities like cooking/cleaning, but that way it's not just 1 person at work and the other at home.
Posted by: me | Jun 14, 2021 2:07:36 PM
@Marilyn, you said it right. I also am staying home while the kids are young. Never a day of daycare or nursery school. Never sick either. There is enough time when they get older for me to go back to work part time or full time. You'll never get those young years back, I don't think any child should be left and stressed until they are old enough to understand and speak for themselves. Sure, we are bringing in less money right now but it is totally worth it. I love and care and teach my own babies/toddlers and all of what would be a "second income" is not gone on babysitters (whom often are just there for the money, not motherly love. It's their job, they are just putting in time and can't wait to punch out at the end of the day.) If our society starting loving "their own" more I think the world would be a happier place. Btw, for anyone that thinks their children won't know how to "socialize" in school if they were never in childcare or nursery school... your wrong. Mine never were and they are the most outgoing kids out there, I believe if a child is "shy" they are that way regardless.
Posted by: Jyl | Jun 14, 2021 2:41:10 PM
What a dumb question! Obviously, a working family of two is better off - single parents must pay additional working costs, as well, which leaves them well behind the duo, one of which chooses to stay home. Obviously, one would not *choose* to stay home, if the other hadn't a better than average income. Those who are of *average* income could not afford houses, cars, major purchases, holidays, education, etc., were half of that couple couple to remain home. Yes, it's true, people often choose to spend stupidly with two people working, but careless spending is not the essence of the question.
Posted by: Myth | Jun 14, 2021 2:47:28 PM
My wife works full time and I work part time. Both are minimum wage jobs and if we did not both work we wouldn't have enough for all expenses. We have 2 kids and I have 1 from my ex so 3 all together. Rent for that many people start at $800.00 plus utilities and water, gas, electricity can cost a lot now a days as well. Food for us is around $600.00 a mth and that's my wifes whole check gone after deductions she get little over $1300.00 a mth the rest comes from my check and that's car insurance, utilities, gas for car, phone, cable and what ever else im missing. So if I did go get a higher paying job and full time now extra expenses would be $900.00 per mth in child care, extra cost on car fuel to pick up kids, higher tax bracket which means no gov help eg child tax and more the gov takes off me. I did a calculation awhile back and it would cost me over $1500.00 per mth just by getting a full time job and if you can not make double that you are no farther ahead. In short we struggle but atleast I don't have to work like a slave just to live.
Posted by: chas | Jun 14, 2021 6:05:44 PM
My wife took off with another "man".I had 2 girls She never came back..The girls were 4 and 10 ..What a mess .Lost my home .Everything. I had No help ..No child support..Zilch..But I had my health and I had a business mentality..When you are one the ground looking up..Well there aint nowhere else to go but UP !I started a little biz on the side ..And dedicated my life to the girls and the Business...Long story short ..I am retired the gals are happily married .And the business well one of the girls and her hubby took it over ..They do 20 million a year ..They have the best life in the world as do my 2 beautiful granddaughters,...ME ,Well still single ..I date occasionally ..Have a nice paid in full condo..Never remarried..And I am still a healthy handsome fellow..I love my life..So when things look hopeless..Hang in there ..The good days are on their way..I promise you..
Posted by: a passionate perspective | Jun 14, 2021 6:12:32 PM
I have really enjoyed the comments that are helping to boost me over this hump today. Reminding me of the things I believe in related to time, money and loving ourselves and our children.
I tend to embrace life as bittersweet.
It is very difficult to measure and say what is the best choice because it really needs to be based on what is best for your own family in the present moment. For me this relates to many things health and well being. People have very different perceptions of things, especially what equals success and quality of life. What I consider quality may be very different from someone else's.
Of course it difficult for a single parent.
Of course it is a challenge for a family whose level of education is lower
A frustration being involved in a professional passion where the trade is underpaid or under valued.
Challenges are huge for families who have sick children, spouses with health concerns, too many pets, want to live in rural areas where jobs are not available. Recreation that isn't accessible for some families.
We make very little and see the benefit of being home and feel an enormous stress trying to figure out how we can do our best to serve our daughters needs. We have had changing circumstances that have allowed one us to present more often than not.
As for Jane having to buy gifts and attend weddings and baby showers. Who says you have to spend money. If your invited just go. Be there, share the celebratory experience. Experience some joy. There can be joy in giving. I give what and when I am moved to and when I have been asked to help and I can.
Posted by: La-La Land | Jun 14, 2021 6:33:28 PM
My father used to be able to support our family on one income when I was growing up. Then over the years as the economy adjusted to the fact most households had 2 incomes, prices for things such as homes just rose accordingly. Now it takes two incomes and a rental suite just to afford an severely price overinflated home where I live. The only people getting by on one income are in social housing with the government picking up a lot of thier tab.(Although surprisingly these people can still afford cigarettes and alcohol).
Also the author says the second income should go to retirement savings or kids college savings. So now one person should work just so a '2008' can happen and your savings get wiped out every few years? Basically work so some fat cats in investment firms can get away with theft and retire wealthy off your hard work? I don't think so...
Posted by: A | Jun 14, 2021 7:57:51 PM
@jyl, Glad I am not your child. Family should come first over money. Our working family of ONE is much better off than working families of two. All a baby wants is to be nursed on demand and in the arms of it's mother not to be left on the floor of a daycare sucking on another kids bottle getting illness after illness. Wise up.
Posted by: kevin | Jun 14, 2021 8:13:28 PM
My wife and I are in our early fifty's and have no kids by choice!!! My brother has 4 and broke has no home nothing, my wife 2 brothers have 4 kids each same thing, that's 12 kids!!! I tell them all the time so much for birth control. My wife and I are semi-tired and life in a million dallor home, a condo in cabo san lucas, life is good for us. Everything payed for and just normal living expense's. To all you people out there pumping kids out compaining how broke you are, stop having kids and maybe you can have a good life? we do!!!
Posted by: family | Jun 14, 2021 10:25:48 PM
I wholeheartedly agree with the comments on giving up the second income. I did it for about 4 years when my younger son was one year old and the older son was 4. To this day, I cherished every moment, and I was actively involved with the boys - be it at home or in the school environment as a volunteer. I also found other ways of earning extra income while at home. Yes, I gave up a good paying job, but money isn't everything. If couples can live on one income, then by all means, stay home to raise the children! However, in this day and age, inflation is difficult to keep up with. Nevertheless, if you are willing to give up certain things --- it is worth the sacrifice.
Posted by: Chop | Jun 14, 2021 10:34:40 PM
one income is good for my family. child care in our town is expensive and there are only minimum wage jobs available at any given time. she would use all of her cheque for daycare and maybe one tank of gas per month. out tax return is huge right now and if she worked , probably go down considerably. she wants to work when our 3 year old starts school so daycare would be only an hour or two per day.
Posted by: Wheels | Jun 14, 2021 11:18:53 PM
I appreciate all the comments above but I feel differently. I am a 36 year old mother of three children aged 6 months, 2 years old and 5 years old. I have worked as a professional since I was 22 and I love what I do. I can honestly say I am a better mom because I work. I never work overtime and take plenty of holidays to volunteer and be with my children. The years I have been home full-time with my kids I am just not as happy and tend to lose my patience by the end of the day.
I have to say I see a lot of stay at home moms glued to their phones while their children are playing at the park or at an activity like swimming or gymnastics. I really believe its not the quantity of time but the quality.
Posted by: Myth | Jun 15, 2021 11:00:45 AM
@Kevin Why are you even commenting if your well off and don't need 2 incomes. As for my kids I am happy to have 3. We cherish watching them grow and teaching them everything we know. Yes kids take a lot money to raise but we make due with what we got. My wife works mornings and I work nights so there is always someone home for our kids. Ya we would have more money if we did not have kids but I would not trade the experience raising them for anything in the world. In short some of us sacrifice a lot to create life on this planet and actually know the meaning of family.
Posted by: Justin | Jun 16, 2021 3:57:43 AM
LMAO!!! Kevin, do you think you would be enjoying your million dollar home if your parents would have kept their babymakers in their pants? Quit being a troll, save your comments and your ego for non baby maker forums you selfish tool.
Hey everybody!! quit breeding, life is so much cheaper with no babies!! ever heard of extinction?
Posted by: Sprocket | Jun 18, 2021 12:40:10 PM
Justin, I may be wrong but I believe that Kevin's comment is directed more at the fact that people shouldn't have children if they can't afford it though his delivery definitely needs some work. I had friends with 2 kids and always complaining that money was tight. So what did they do, they had another planned child. This fall she has to go back to work complaining that they have no money wishing she could stay home with the kids. It's hard to feel sorry for them when they brought it on themselves.
If living off one income is something that you want to do you need to have that conversation early on. Preferrably before you buy the big house, the new cars and have 3 kids you can't afford where the only option is 2 incomes to keep your head above water.
There is no bad luck, just bad planning.