My Own Personal Pay Gap: A Bride-to-Be's Earnings Debate With Her Fiance

Figuring out future plans when a woman earns more than her man

My fiance and I rarely fight, but when it comes to discussing money, things can get a little tense. It's not because I sometimes waste money renting movies On Demand when we already belong to Netflix, or because I often opt to put extra cash in my savings account rather than go out to a lavish dinner. It's because I earn more than him.

So we fight about why it's important for him to open an IRA and just when we'll have enough money saved for a down payment on a house. In truth, it's all less of an issue now than I expect it will be once we're married and decide it's time to have kids. Should I, the higher earner, be the one to stay home with the children?

Such a decision would be deemed a "rational" one, as a Harvard University economist recently put it to The Wall Street Journal, in an article about the pay gap between men and women. (April 20 just so happens to be Equal Pay Day.) But I have to wonder: Is it really rational? Shouldn't the family breadwinner maintain his or her job so that the family can live comfortably and still be able to sock away some money for things like family vacations, a child's college education, or heck, even an exorbitant supply of diapers?

It is, of course, a highly personal decision, but there are things to take into account before coming to a conclusion, says Stacy Francis, a certified financial planner based in New York City. "Look at whether, financially, you can take a step out of the workforce," she says. "Do you have an emergency fund? Are you putting money away for retirement? How big is your mortgage?"

Next, weigh if you can comfortably cut back the standard of living you're accustomed to. "Review your spending and make sure it reflects what makes you happy," says Francis, who has two children of her own, ages 1 and 4. (Now we know the decision she came to). "See how you can maximize the money coming in and minimize what's coming out so you won't feel deprived."

In the end, what's "rational" may depend on how hard it will be to get back into the workforce, she says. "How will you keep your skills up to par and how will you maintain your network for if and when you decide to return to work?" Francis posits.

All good questions to ask, though personally, I can't say I'm any closer to a conclusion. (Though that's mostly because I suspect a lot will change in the next few years before my fiance and I start a family.) But at least now, I have a guide, and a rational one at that.

How did you make the decision to return to work or stay home with the kids? Tell us in the comments below.

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