MONEY Careers

How to Tell Your Spouse You Want to Take a Pay Cut

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You've had it with your job. You're ready for a more fulfilling career. Now the hard part: Telling your spouse that you'll have to live on less. Here's what to say.

You’re ready to quit your miserable job and do something that you know will make you happier. But there’s a catch. You’ll need to take a major pay cut, and you haven’t talked to your spouse about it yet.

“Assume that it’ll be a very anxiety inducing conversation,” says financial psychologist Brad Klontz. “Money conversations are critically important for the health of a relationship, but they’re minefields.”

To avoid a bruising argument over your lower-paid gig, approach the topic this way:

YOU SAY: “I’m stressed out and unfulfilled at work, and I’m worried I’ve been taking it out on the family. I’m seriously considering switching careers, and I want your input.”

First things first: If you’ve been coming home from work cranky every evening, your spouse may have realized long ago that you hate your job. “This may be a more welcome conversation than you think,” says financial therapist Amanda Clayman. “If you’re not happy in a job, this may not come out of the blue.”

Make sure your spouse understands you’re opening a negotiation, not simply making a declaration that you’re going to quit. This is a decision that affects your whole family, so emphasize that you want to hear your spouse’s thoughts. “You need a collaborative attitude,” says Maggie Baker, a financial therapist and author of Crazy About Money. “Make your partner feel like they’re part of the solution.”

YOU SAY: “I’ve looked at our budget, and I’ve noticed some costs I think we could cut to make up for the shortfall.”

Come prepared. Before talking to your spouse, take an honest look at your budget and assess where you (or the family) can afford to cut back. “The best thing to do is to think through the solution beforehand,” says Klontz. Could you spend less on meals out, for instance? Could your next car be a two-year-old certified preowned vehicle, not a new model?

Spell out the sacrifices you’re willing to make, like taking on part-time work or slashing your personal spending. “If there are ways this can have more of an impact on you, you’ll probably get less resistance,” adds Klontz.

Related: Six simple steps for building a better budget.

YOU SAY: “Before I leave my job, let’s test out these cutbacks for a few months.”

Before you quit, create this stricter budget. Then give your thriftier lifestyle a test drive and see if you can stick to it. “If you have this discussion well before you change jobs, you can practice a less affluent lifestyle,” says Baker. “By play acting it in that way, you can see if it’s doable.”

YOU SAY: “This might be a tough adjustment now, but once I switch careers I’ll have a good chance at earning more down the road.”

Taking a short-term pay cut for a new job can be a smart long-term financial decision, especially if you’ve topped out in what you’re doing. “Sometimes it’s good professionally to make less money,” says Neal Frankle, a certified financial planner and author of Why Smart People Lose a Fortune. That’s especially true if you have many more earning years ahead of you (and fewer big-ticket financial obligations, like kids in college). “Strategically, the younger you are, the more it could make sense to make less money.”

In your new career, you might find it easier to move up the leadership ladder, or perhaps you have the chance to join a startup with high growth potential. Alternatively, look into whether the lower-paying job might have better benefits. If you can argue that your drop in pay will be temporary—or evened out by other factors—make that part of your case for quitting.

YOU SAY: “I’m sure no one in the family will mind if I’m less grouchy around the house.”

Play up the positive. Leaving a job that makes you miserable will probably rub off on the rest of your family. You might have more free time to spend with them, or at least you could be more relaxed and happy after you get home from work. Figure out what’s in it for them, and mention that too.

Keep in mind that seeing you happier in your career will probably make your spouse happy too. “In a healthy relationship, one partner’s happiness and well-being has value in the family,” says Clayman. “It’s not all about the money.”

Read more on money and relationships:

7 Ways to Stop Fighting About Money and Grow Richer, Together

Common Problems, Uncommon Solutions: How Seven Couples Have Tackled Their Money Challenges

When She Makes More: How to Level the Playing Field

 

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