Families who have more than one income may have greater overall buying power than a family who relies on only one. However, while there are advantages, there also are disadvantages associated with relying on a dual income. It is essential for couples to understand both the benefits and drawbacks of having a dual income to decide what is best for their situation.
In some dual income families, benefits include better financial stability and an improved standard of living through providing additional income and a way to reduce debt. In others, it can cause relationship issues, have negligible financial benefits due to child care costs and present challenges with a lower standard of living if one partner has to quit working.
Significance of Finances in Relationships
Money means different things to different people. To some, money is a tool for achieving goals. For others, money provides a feeling of security. Couples often argue about money, so it is essential to determine how best to deal with finances early in the relationship to avoid financial-related stress. Americans are increasingly in dual-income relationships, and learning to navigate finances together is an important part of cohabitation.
The difference in impact on the budget of a family between one income and two may be significant, or it may be negligible. Two professionals who each have strong earning power may potentially bring home a great deal more money than if only one of them worked. However, for lower income families, the cost of working may negate the earnings of one worker. For example, if the cost of child care, transportation and other costs associated with working add up to more than what one worker earns, the dual income may actually cost the family more money than a single income. It is important for families to calculate the opportunity costs associated with working to determine whether a dual income is actually necessary.
Impact on Debt
The impact of dual incomes on a family’s debt differ from one family to the next. In some families, the second income is used as a fall-back for hard times. For example, the family may choose to save most of the earnings of one worker and live on only one income. Conversely, another family may believe that the second income provides more of a safety net than it actually does, encouraging excessive spending that is not sustainable long-term. From 2013 to 2016, incomes rose in the United States, but so did household debts, according to the Federal Reserve Board.
Some couples may experience greater financial freedom with a dual income. They may feel more financially secure knowing they are able to rely on their dual earning capacity for survival. Conversely, some families may have dual incomes but no financial freedom if they find themselves trapped in a position where they must have two incomes to survive.
Standard of Living
A potential disadvantage of a single income, if the family has relied on a dual income in the past, is adjusting to a lower standard of living. So, it is important that couples that make the decision to go from dual to single income plan ahead and put away an appropriate amount of savings or prepare themselves to make sometimes difficult budgeting decisions.
- Bank of America: Couples and Money – How to Navigate Money Matters Without Rocking the Boat
- Financial Mentor: Budget Calculator
- Federal Reserve: Changes in U.S. Family Finances from 2013 to 2016 – Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances
- Tax Foundation: America Has Become a Nation of Dual-Income Working Couples
- Internal Revenue Service. "IRS provides tax inflation adjustments for tax year 2020." Accessed Feb. 14, 2020.
Amanda L. Webster has a Master of Science in business management and a Master of Arts in English with a concentration in professional writing. She teaches a variety of business and communication courses within the Wisconsin Technical College System and works as a writer specializing in online business communications and social media marketing.