Can Your Marriage Survive An Income Loss?

Losing one of the incomes in your household can be a stress on your marriage, as well as your bank account. Whether it was a carefully made decision or the unexpected loss of a job, the psychological and financial adjustments can be overwhelming. Here are five things to expect and what you can do to ease the transition.

Couple planning finances

Trying to decide if you or your mate can stop working full-time to stay home with the kids or pursue a passion that does not pay the bills? Are you crunching the numbers to figure out how you can make things work after an unexpected job loss or a pink slip you didn't see coming? Here are a few things that you can expect when transitioning from two incomes to one and how you can make your days of scrimping and saving a little bit more bearable.

Think in terms of "ours"

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This is one of the toughest mental changes you need to make when losing an income. It is hard to let go of the satisfaction of contributing financially to the family. The only way you and your partner can make this new situation work is if you make a decision together, from the beginning, that you are a team and all of the money coming into your household is for you as partners. Sensing the need to ask for money from your own spouse can leave the one who is out of work feeling inferior in your relationship rather than an equal.

Budget, budget, budget

You may be used to eating out several nights a week, having a cleaning lady and paying a babysitter, pet-sitter or dog-walker. As your income decreases, your expectations for spending needs to do the same. "Put a budget down on paper that works with one income," says Marianne Zurowski, director of Finance at HP Enterprise Services. Create a budget that revolves around your new income and stick to it. Financial programs such as Quicken provide easy, step-by-step guides to tracking your spending habits and creating a budget with your new financial constraints in mind.

Take a practice run

If you have the luxury of knowing ahead of time about a job loss or have not made the decision to take the leap from leaving your job yet, "Spend a couple of months living off of your revised budget to make sure you can do it before you make the commitment and make it official. This also allows you to see if you missed something in your budget," advises Zurowski.

Discuss your new roles

Tip: Trying to decide on the best way to explain your changing roles to your children? Try these tips on talking to the kids about financial struggles.

Sit down with your partner and talk through how your household will function once one of you is no longer working. Will you be home all day or alotting a certain amount of time towards persuing a new dream? In the past did you share the responsibility of meals, picking up drycleaning and taking out the trash? Having a discussion about your new roles in the house and how you can make it work will greatly decrease the risk of either of you feeling overworked or under-appeciated.


Above all else, shifting from two incomes to one will not go smoothly unless the two of you talk openly, honestly and often, about how life is changing. If you both feel like you can discuss any new concerns or feelings that arise as you make this huge transition in your lives, the road to one income will be much less bumpy.

More on managing your money

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Comments on "Transitioning from two incomes to one"

Megan March 16, 2013 | 3:45 PM

We transitioned to one income before I actually quit my job so we knew we'd survive. You'll manage, just get in the habit of spending less money.

Rachel January 21, 2013 | 12:24 PM

It's possible to go to one income. We started saving all my money when we found out we were pregnant. We needed savings, and wanted to know if it'd even be possible for me to stay home. It's hard, but you get used to it. A budget is necessary, as is constant communication, especially if you have a joint bank account.

Hannah August 15, 2012 | 9:57 AM

Sticking to a budget is necessary even if you have a good amount of income. It's always important to save money and be prepared in case something happens. I've been on a budget since I can remember. It's not really a big deal to not have a ton of money, as long as bills are paid and you're eating, you find happiness in non material things, which to me is better.

Michelle June 20, 2012 | 1:03 PM

Since 2007 I have had to learn how to live with decreased income, and it is safe to say that I have become an expert at budgeting. Getting by with less is difficult at first, but things get easier as time passes. Once your spending momentum has had time to slow down, you will be better poised to stick to the budget you have laid out. But things don’t end here because there are literally endless ways to save money. After learning how to live within your budget, you will no doubt realize how to eliminate extra expenses you thought were necessary, thereby leaving you with more discretionary income to spend on other things. They say that a penny saved is a penny earned, and I know from experience that this is absolutely true. Having less money is not the end of the world…it is simply a situation that requires recalibrating your perception and your lifestyle. Anyone who is faced with an imminent loss of income will make it through and come out the other end a stronger person.

Lauren June 09, 2012 | 12:49 PM

Communicating is key no matter what is going on. We recently went from two incomes to one after I had our daughter. We wrote out all of our "Necessary" expenses. This does NOT include paying for a sitter, going out to eat, paying the landscaper, etc, as those are not necessary. We eliminated a few hundreds of dollars a month by doing that. We then have a savings goal and a "fun" goal where our extra money goes. This allows us to go out to eat every now and then and buy clothes and see movies.

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