The Art of Being a Breadwinning Woman

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If Money Were Easy

Hosted by Mary Beth Storjohann and Neela Hummel

The Art of Being a Breadwinning Woman

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If Money Were Easy
The Art of Being a Breadwinning Woman

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Episode Summary

Being a breadwinning woman has its unique challenges. Today Mary Beth Storjohann and Neela Hummel talk about some of these challenges and how to address them. They also explore some of the societal pressures women face and how those can be amplified when you’re the family breadwinner. You’re not alone if you feel like you’re juggling all these demands, so tune in to connect with other women’s experiences and see how they’ve learned to help ease some of these stresses.

What You’ll Learn in This Episode:

  • What is a breadwinner? How is it different for women compared to a traditional role?
  • Invisible work not typically accounted for when discussing women’s workload at home and in the workplace
  • The double standard society has with raising children
  • A marble analogy for why women are so hard on themselves
  • Additional preparations women should take for their financial future
  • Statistics showing why it’s crucial for women to take control of their financial lives
  • Questions to ask yourself to know what your “enough” looks like
  • The importance of starting with “why” instead of “how” when it comes to financial choices
  • If partnered, the importance of being on the same financial page
  • The significance of treating your financial journey as a road map
  • Finding the balance between saving and enjoying the wealth you’re building
  • The one main takeaway for breadwinning women

Resources Mentioned on the Show:

Additional Resources:

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Transcript of the Episode

Mary Beth (00:15):

Hey there. Welcome to the If Money Were Easy podcast, the show where we teach you how to expand what’s possible with your money. We are your hosts, Mary Beth Storjohann.

Neela (00:24):

And Neela Hummel,

Mary Beth (00:26):

Certified financial planners and co-CEOs of Abacus Wealth Partners. Today on the show, we’re going to be talking about Breadwinning women, and we are very excited about this. This is a topic that is personal and dear to our hearts, and we’re looking forward to jumping in. But before we do a brief disclosure from our compliance department.

Neela (00:46):

So y’all, this podcast is for educational purposes and is not intended as investment, legal, or tax advice. Any opinion shared is not the opinion of Abacus Wealth Partners.

Mary Beth (00:58):

Thanks for that, Neela. All right. Without further ado, let’s jump in. So, Neela, tell me, what does it mean to be a breadwinner?

Neela (01:09):

Ooh. So right out the gate, the term breadwinner, I think, refers to male or female, basically whoever brings home the bacon. If you have the main financial earning responsibility, if you are the main financial contributor to your family’s financial situation, you are considered the breadwinner.

Mary Beth (01:27):

We spend a lot of time comparing money to food, you know, the breadwinner and the bacon. I wonder…

Neela (01:32):

Doesn’t that make it even better? <laugh> More delicious.

Mary Beth (01:35):

If you’re talking about bringing home the bacon, we could call it the bacon winner.

Neela (01:38):

The bacon winner. Oh, I like that. Yeah. I guess it depends on how paleo you are.

Mary Beth (01:42):

Yes, exactly. <laugh>. So I always, every time I’m looking and writing about Breadwinning women, I’m always like, this is just such a weird and interesting description.

Neela (01:52):

Right? It even goes back to caveman times of whoever gathers stayed home, right? Hunter Gather who brought home, who was the one who was providing, who was the one who was taking care of their family. And so it’s actually a fairly antiquated term if you think about it.

Mary Beth (02:06):

I know. Next steps rebrand, rebrand. 

Neela (02:09):

Exactly. Yeah, I’m in.

Mary Beth (02:11):

Okay. How is being a breadwinning female the same or different then the traditional model? What makes Breadwinning women unique?

Neela (02:18):

Part of what makes this so, so near and dear to our hearts, as both being breadwinners in our families, and also working with a lot of breadwinner women, is there’s a similarity across breadwinners. And that is pressure. You’re on the hook. That if you’re not bringing home whatever financial contribution you have, it feels like the whole system grinds to a halt. And I also think about it in just the way we reward labor in this country, in that it is considered paid work versus unpaid work, which both are so important. And yet, you know, when we think about Breadwinner, we think about it in, in a true, tangible, almost like GDP standpoint, right?

Mary Beth (03:01):

<affirmative>. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.

Neela (03:02):

And you know, so when you think about it, this idea of pressure, everybody’s counting on you. If you are not bringing home the bacon, so to speak, how are you gonna pay for your kids’ soccer fees? How is the mortgage gonna get paid? How are you physically gonna make sure that food is on the table? What comes up for you?

Mary Beth (03:21):

Yeah. I think the responsibility that comes along with being the breadwinner and the pressure is the most interesting part. I think there’s a lot of weight, and it’s interesting. I think women in general as breadwinners carry a completely different kind of pressure than the traditional male breadwinners do. And I also think that the pressure of being a breadwinner in general, what traditional men have carried in the past, I don’t think it was discussed as much. I think there’s a lot of weight in general that comes along with being financially responsible for your family, for extended family, multi-generational Fams. And I don’t think it’s talked about enough, but you’re talking about the soccer fees. The mortgage, the rent, the groceries, inflation. You’re worried about job security. You’re thinking about continued income growth. So you’re more likely to try to figure out how to advocate for yourself and advance your education because you’re slotting into that. So I think there is pressure with the role, whether male, female, non-binary. And there are unique experiences that women have in addition to that financial pressure because of the invisible labor and the invisible work that women traditionally carry at home and in the office as well.

Neela (04:31):

And so when you hear that term invisible work, which I feel like is, is showing up in the media more, and you’re so right, that it seems like we’re starting to talk about that pressure more. What is that invisible work that female breadwinners are carrying that maybe the traditional male model, that they don’t?

Mary Beth (04:50):

Yeah. Well, I think there’s two different ways to look at it, right? There’s the, the, the work invisible labor, and there’s the home invisible labor. And I will say, I think you and I both have the benefit of having very hands-on spouses, right? Our spouses are very supportive of our careers. It is a shared home for us in terms of dividing the labor. My husband actually does a lot in terms of making sure that the kids are ushered around. But I will say the invisible labor that falls on me at home is the emotional wellbeing of our family. Making sure that everybody is okay. Making sure that people feel good, that they have an outlet they’re talked to, digging in and having those conversations. And that carries over to the workforce as well. Women are tasked with the emotional, invisible labor at work, taking care of their employees, making sure mental health is okay, and the load that comes with that because you’re, you’re carrying, you’re absorbing everybody else’s issues or problems and you’re either trying to support them in, in figuring out solutions or you’re providing the space and that takes time away from you and what you need to do for your own mental health and self-care. So I think the invisible labor traditionally falls into the emotional labor. And then it goes into at home. At home you’re talking: laundry, dishes, you’re still ushering kids around. Traditionally at work, we know that it’s traditionally women who’re getting asked to take notes in the boardroom, right. When they’re the only people…

Neela (06:06):

Plan the office party.

Mary Beth (06:08):

Exactly. So I think it shows up in a different way, from admin and tasks, but it’s also the emotional labor that a lot of women carry.

Neela (06:15):

And, you know, I’m so glad you brought that up in terms of the invisible labor in the workplace, because they’ve run all these studies that that is the work, the inclusive work, the DEI work, the employee mental health, that has actually shown that it, it, it is so good for the organization, it reduces employee turnover, it gives people better sense of purpose, and yet those are often the tasks and the concepts that go least recognized in terms of formal metrics. And so it costs a lot both in terms of time and you hit on it emotion absorbing all of it. Even if you’re the best at letting some of those emotional issues roll off you, it still takes a lot. And we see that a lot. And the stats also support the idea that more women, more breadwinning women, more executive women are leaving the workforce because of burnout.

Mary Beth (07:07):

Oh yeah. I mean, let’s be honest, how many times have you and I been asked how we balance it all right? And how many times has my husband been asked how he balances it? Zero. And I’m asked all the time, as an executive woman, I’m always asked, how do you balance it all? Family and work.

Neela (07:22):

I’m asked at every single conference, who is home with the kids? I wonder if my husband’s ever been asked that or if there is an expectation that I would obviously be the one home with the kids.

Mary Beth (07:33):

Exactly. And I, I chose, chose my partner. And so we’ve worked very hard to commit to a relationship. But he is the one on the playground. He is the one going to birthday parties sometimes without me. And so he is, he is told, and I am told, how lucky I am to have such an amazing husband and how lucky the kids, our kids, are very lucky to have such an amazing father. But it’s a double standard. He is doing the things, those moms that are all out there doing, that are not being applauded the same rate. But because he is the one, or you know, two men that are there, they are glorified. They are just applauded. Thank you so much for showing up for your children when they’re 95% of females out there with their kids who are not getting the same kind of praise. And those are the double standards I think, on breadwinning women in terms of the balance. The expectations that, great, you’re doing the breadwinning and you should be also doing all the raising of the children. And the emotional care and upkeep as well. I think it goes back to the pressure that is there. And I think that is the unique thing that women face when they are the financial breadwinners.

Neela (08:31):

Yeah. And you know, on top of the emotional labor, there’s also what you and I were talking about before about this idea of how many tabs does the typical breadwinner woman have open in her brain. It is the tab of, there’s all of the work tabs, and then there’s also all the personal tabs. I once saw that clutter actually affects women more than men because clutter is seen as this ever expanding to-do list. And it’s just one more thing for us to deal with, right? And this idea that the double standard, like you said too, we are always the first call from the school or from the doctor’s office. And that, you know, like in my family, again, wildly supportive husband who is very supportive of my career and we have very different roles in our family. We have had to hit over and over that my husband does all the scheduling. Let him be the first call. He is gonna be the guy who is in charge of all of the appointments.

Mary Beth (09:25):

And I, I got the call earlier today. Neela and I were on a call and I got the call from school. I got, that was the first one, the first phone call. And it’s nuances. And as much as we fight back and assert against that, it’s very interesting of the traditions and the norms that are just built into society. And how those narratives continue and to be the ones that are breaking that mold, there is stress with that as well. Even as you establish boundaries and you assert your way of living and life and there is still pressure on you to assimilate to the normal way of doing things, air quotes. And I think there’s time and energy that there is a toll there. Even if you are saying, “Hey, screw this, I’m doing this my own way.” To stand in that power and to stand in that truth of how you choose to live. You’re still gonna have other people’s way of being and their opinions of you are still going to come at you. I mean, we’re two of the only women in the rooms that we’re in right now. Very often as CEOs we can stand in our truth, and yet we know we are two of the only women representing very unique experiences in those rooms.

Neela (10:29):

Gosh. And so, you know, when you think about that, this overarching societal expectation, and then if you layer that on the fact that oftentimes we’re pretty darn hard on ourselves to begin with, and so you stack these two layered issues, but it’s like a pressure cooker, right? We’re already doing a good enough job of saying, “okay, maybe you didn’t do this well enough or you’re not enough over here,” and the better you’re doing at work, the more you feel like you’re failing at home. And vice versa. That there’s almost this idea of having it all. Can we all just agree that nobody has it all and that it does not exist? Can we just, can we just accept it?

Mary Beth (11:07):

It’s true. Our friend was telling me that basically as women, we go through life and the pressure we put on ourselves is that we go through life and we have a fixed number of marbles and those represent our productivity in the time that we have. And that you can put those marbles in jars for your work, your kids, your family, your extended family, mental health, or what-, whatever it is. And that it’s almost like every time you choose yourself, you’re taking away from somebody else. And so you’re taking away the marble from the family, you’re taking away the marble from the kids, or you’re taking away the marble from work. And that it becomes so hard for us to choose ourselves because we constantly go through life with this lens that we’re taking away from other people who need us when we put ourselves first. And I think it was such an interesting perspective for me when we talk about being so hard on ourselves, because I think that was me, especially as a young mom trying to grow a business pre-Abacus and even now CEOs of Abacus, when there are so many demands on your time, it is so hard to prioritize yourself or to prioritize self-care and the mental health. And you end up stretching yourself so thin because we tend to be our biggest critics. And the pressure that comes with the finances on top of everything else is, it’s tricky.

Neela (12:16):

Absolutely. And when you think about the financial ramifications of being a breadwinner and how you set up your finances best for success, one of the things that we always talk about as planners is you need to put your own oxygen mask on first. And so there’s financial implications for that in terms of saving for future you, for what your family wants to do. But, just like we were talking about with mental health, you gotta get your own oxygen mask on first. Cuz if you’re not taking care of your own mental health, you’re not gonna be able to do all the things that your family needs from you, including bringing home that bacon.

Mary Beth (12:53):

That’s exactly right. I think that mental health is top priority, and then taking care of yourself financially is really key. There’s so many more risks that, as women, we face in terms of living longer, in terms of being caregivers to our family. I think as women, it’s really important for us to focus on putting our own masks on first. Especially because there’s a lot of risks that we have coming our way. So the stats are 80% of women die single, while 80% of men die married. Women live longer than men. 80% of women 65 and older are more likely than men to be impoverished. The average age of widowhood for a woman is 59. And women in general are more likely to be out of the workforce for extended periods of time because they are turned into caregivers for their family. And so those risks alone, as breadwinning women, you’re still carrying the caregiving, you’re carrying the, honestly, the risk of widowhood and the single income, there’s a lot of risks. And so putting your mask on your mental health comes first so that you are prepared to do the work that needs to happen with your financial health.

Neela (13:59):

Absolutely. And so when you think about some of those, with that list of the fact that we’re living longer, we’re having to take care of more people, we spend more time out of the workforce typically, which also typically results in lower earnings. And then you layer that on with the earning gap, the just, the wage gap. And holy moly, it’s almost as, as women, we need to be thinking about our finances even more aggressively. And so when you think about both for yourself, when you think about for your breadwinning women clients, what are some of the financial tools and tips that you recommend to address that?

Mary Beth (14:38):

You know, the interesting thing is the stats in the media. Everything shows women actually make better investors than men because we are likely to stay the course. We’re not typically looking for that immediate return on our money. We’re looking to invest for the long term. We want security, we want the confidence to know that we’re going to be okay, that we have enough. And I think with women especially, it’s understanding what enough looks like before we do any financial planning. There is always the discovery session, the getting to know you, the asking the questions of, what does life look like for you in the future. And so you really understand what somebody wants personally, professionally, and financially. Getting clear on that and then backing into the numbers is really important because without that, it’s like you’re trying to go on a trip without a map. Right? You don’t really have a destination in mind. And so I think that’s the most important part with clients, especially, is understanding those goals. Especially for my breadwinning women clients. And I don’t know if you see this too, but my breadwinning women clients tend to be type A. They are achievers. They also tend to carry a lot. They’re very hard on themselves, carry a lot of pressure, and sometimes there’s a little bit of anxiety around their money. Because it goes back to needing to have that partner, to hold them steady with those goals. Getting clear on what you want is so great because when the little things in the financial trends or the market goes down, when those things threaten to throw you off course, you always go back to your goals. What are you looking for? What are you looking to achieve? And so I would say to start there in getting clear on what you’re looking for. How about you?

Neela (16:03):

Well, I just, I love that you talked about that from a map standpoint, because I think one of the things that happens, particularly in financial media, is everything starts with, “how.” How to contribute to a 401k. How to do this, how, how, how. When we should start with why. Because the why influences the how. And if we’re not starting with why then we don’t know how person A’s plan is gonna differ from person B, and that they might need to be taking different action. So, like you said, the anxiety piece. I think there’s also something to be said about breadwinners who aren’t coupled up. Breadwinners who are single parents. Breadwinners who don’t have a spouse. And societal expectations around a woman being able to put her career first and not wanting to be a parent. And that that should be okay, too. And it’s almost like we can’t win, right? You’re almost penalized if you’re a mom in the workforce, and then you’re questioned if you’re not a mom in the workforce. And it begs the question of, “when might it be okay to be a mom?”

Mary Beth (17:06):

<laugh> Let me know when you find out.

Neela (17:13):

Yeah. So I think in terms of planning around it, I think it’s who are the other decision makers in your family and making sure that if you are that type, a highly controlling person. Hello, me over here!

Mary Beth (17:25):

Hi <laugh>, nice to meet you.

Neela (17:27):

My name’s Neela and I am a crazy spreadsheet lady. That your, your partner is also part of those decisions and that they have access to your crazy spreadsheets and that they are part of the journey. And I think that’s where it’s really beneficial for my husband and me to have a financial planner because things come out of those conversations that I don’t know if we would’ve had, if we didn’t have an independent third party.

Mary Beth (17:53):

I completely agree. I think having the, as another crazy spreadsheet lady, and I don’t ever expect my husband to be able to decipher my crazy spreadsheets because he, he shouldn’t have to. It’s an unfair ask.

Neela (18:04):

If anything ever happens to you. I gotcha. Right. Exactly.

Mary Beth (18:07):

Exactly. <laugh>.

Mary Beth (18:08):

So, uh, I feel very seen though with the spreadsheets, but our financial planner has added tremendous value because we also come to the table with different perspectives. So I know I do, I’m the breadwinner. I handle the finances day to day. And so making sure, one that Brian is taking care of should anything happen to me and understanding the finances. And number two, I bring my own list of anxieties to the table. And even as a financial planner, CEO, I got my own money stuff, right. That I need to work towards. And I know enough at this point in time to delegate that. And so sometimes I have a list of things and I’ll just push the numbers over to our planner and say, Hey, can you run this for me? And he’s great. He’s on it and he’s always like, you’re gonna be okay. Which he knows is actually a very funny thing. He’ll actually send me some messages sometimes, being like, Hey, it’ll be okay. Which I appreciate. Because that’s just how my mind works. It’s always going to be okay, but sometimes it’s nice to have somebody else tell you. It’s great though, because we bring different perspectives to the table. Sometimes I, as breadwinner, tend to be more conservative and even though, if we are okay, I won’t allow myself to spend the money that we can spend. And so it’s nice to have that outside perspective or that just gut check when you, when you are holding it all so tightly, as breadwinner, as the person who manages the finances, getting that gut check and that outside permission, like outside of the relationship too. Because Brian’s wonderful too. He is like, we can do it. And you know, he’s an engineer. He does know if we can do it. I, I very much trust him, but sometimes I’m like, mm, you know what we should do? We should get a professional in here to really tell us

Neela (19:36):

<laugh> Trust, but verify.

Mary Beth (19:39):

Trust but verify. And I, and it’s really nice to have that neutral third party. So I think having a planner has been wonderful. And then there’s the other nuances as a breadwinner, right? Like, we gotta make sure that we’re on it for the life insurance that the family’s taken care of from the protection standpoint. So those are other checklisty things. But knowing the destination of where you wanna go, and having an outside partner, have been probably two of the biggest things we’ve done, especially for some of the major moves that we’ve made throughout our life. 

Neela (20:09):

And you know, the thing I would add there, too, is I know you and I have this, but having a community of other women who are in a similar position, because it’s really helpful to have these struggles somewhat normalized and being like, oh yeah, okay. This is crazy, right? Why are you dealing with this also as a way of just giving ourselves, again, a little bit more grace, a little bit more credit, and this idea that, that we are gonna be okay because we are hard on ourselves.

Mary Beth (20:37):

Yeah. And I think one of the things that we, we haven’t talked about, but that has been incredibly helpful, having the community of women and having an outside perspective too, is giving myself, and, and I see this with clients all the time, and I I’ve been that resource for them, as I’m sure you have been for your clients permission to, to delegate information. Permission to invest and help. So often we feel that we need to, to carry all of it on our own, and from having a nanny from having help around the house and recognizing how blessed and we are to be able to afford and invest in that help to, to be at this point where we can employ others and, and, and pay fair wages to have that support. But being able to have that help around the home is very additive in terms of just mental health, family time in, in other areas. 

Neela (21:23):

Yeah. I’m so glad you brought that up. I was on vacation recently with some family and my brother-in-law somehow found out that I buy hard boiled eggs that are already peeled. And he’s like, “I mean, come on, y’all can’t just hard boil your own eggs?” <laugh> And I was like, you know what? I am in the buy-pre-hard-boiled-eggs and buy-the-pre-chopped-garlic phase of life! Right? And so I’m like, all of the shortcuts, I want all of the shortcuts. Because all that time adds up and it might not be perfect, and it’s also what’s good enough.

Mary Beth (21:56):

Yeah. But that’s, I will say with clients, that’s one of the things that I do find they’re almost like, “oh, can I do this?” Sometimes, like the breadwinning women who carry it all at home, they’re the first call from the school, the building growing businesses, they are the shuttling around. And I see that sometimes. And they’re like, “What more should I do? Where should I allocate this surplus?” I’m like,  “to you maybe? <laugh> To you?” Just to you. And you know, and it’s interesting right, that sometimes it takes that outside perspective to give yourself a like, ooh, is that okay? Can I, can I do this? Is that the best move? And I think there’s a lot of people who are like, heck no, I’m checking all these things. I’m buying the pre-feed eggs and the chopped garlic. But I think there’s, there’s others that need that, that little nudge too. So I’ve seen, I’ve seen both sides of it.

Neela (22:43):

The permission to spend I think is so huge because especially if you’re type A optimizer, maximizer, you’re thinking about every dollar as how do I maximize it? And we’re all naturally trained to not put ourselves first. Then that money’s not gonna go to something that feels almost selfish when Oh yeah, you’re actually taking care of everybody. You’re taking care of you. It’s a net positive. Yep.

Mary Beth (23:07):

And I, and I’m the first one to say, we save our money and we put it aside, and somehow I still make myself live paycheck to paycheck based on my bank account, <laugh>, because that’s the way my adorably crazy mind works, <laugh>.

Neela (23:21):

And we’ve got our systems.

Mary Beth (23:24):

You know, and it makes sure that future me and future Brian and our kids are taken care of. And then that’s what’s left, which is what you should do, right? Is what you’re supposed to do. But when you, when you get to that system, sometimes you get into the habit of all of the dollars go there. And then you forget to allow yourself to enjoy. So I think there’s, I think there’s a balance to strike.

Neela (23:41):

Yeah. Okay. So I think we’ve covered a lot of ground. We’ve talked about some of the pressures that Breadwinning women are facing and also some tools and, and just some general guidelines. But if you were to leave your breadwinner listener with one clear call to action or one main takeaway, what do you think that would be?

Mary Beth (24:01):

I would say one of the questions that I talked to a lot of clients about, one main takeaway, it’s total long term, but if you were sitting down three years from today, what would have had to happen personally, professionally, and financially, in order for you to be happy with the progress that you’ve made? I’d ask you to answer that question. If you are somebody who does not know what you’re working towards, and doesn’t have that full clarity of what you’re moving towards in life, I would take that shorter term outlook before you’re looking at the long term to make it a little easier. But I would say clear takeaway, figure out a destination, at least three to five years from now, and then start working towards it.

Neela (24:37):

Gimme those three P’s one more time. They were so good.

Mary Beth (24:39):

Personally, professionally, and financially, what would’ve had to happen?

Neela (24:44):

Or, say pH.

Mary Beth (24:45):

Yeah. What would’ve had to happen in order for you to be happy with the progress that you’ve made?

Neela (24:49):

Love that.

Mary Beth (24:50):

How about you? What’s your one takeaway?

Neela (24:52):

You know, it’s funny, as you were saying that I almost pivoted, but one of the exercises that I think was most helpful for me is envisioning my tigers. Basically, what would the worst case be in a particular situation? And how bad would that actually be? And, and really what would you do? And, and the reason I say that is it was so helpful to recognize that the worst case was so much less worse than you actually think. And that you have so many more resources than you realize because you’ve got who those resources, what those resources are. I think it speaks to the resilience. And so find your resilience.

Mary Beth (25:34):

Oh, that’s so good. That is our closing call to action. Find your resilience. It’s a mic drop. We’re done. Boom. Thank you all for joining us today for this episode. Thanks for joining and listening to Neela and I chat. This is a topic again, like I said in the beginning, very important, very near and dear to us. You can check out the show notes for more information, and we’ll have some links to some of the resources that we mentioned in surveys we mentioned in this recording. Bye.

Neela (26:02):

Thank you. Most people have formed helpful and harmful habits around spending, giving, and investing. Head to to take our financial archetype quiz and learn your three dominant money types. You’ll receive personalized guidance that helps you have a healthier, more balanced relationship to money.

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