Changing household roles in this economy

The recession is changing how we spend and where we work. In some cases, it’s also reshaping the roles of spouses and families.

Susan Haugen of Edina opened a window on that in a recent post she sent us — intriguingly headlined: “The spousal balance of fortune.”

Haugen, a source in our Public Insight Network, wrote:

My husband was laid off 4 weeks ago — he worked at an engineering firm and the lack of work led to a lack of employees. It was nice that the firm tried to reduce everyone’s hours before they resorted to layoffs.

On the other side of the coin, my job is getting much bigger. I work for a company who had to form a Bank Holding Company in order to qualify for TARP funds. There is an incredible amount of regulation over Bank Holding Companies, so we are busier than ever. (This seems ironic somehow.)

I am paid hourly, so this downturn is affecting me positively. As my hours increase we are very glad that Mr Mom is home to pick up the slack.

It’s an interesting twist. The recession creating problems and opportunities in the same family. So what are the trade offs? Here are some of Haugen’s pros and cons:

pro - if both spouses have jobs and one spouse’s job gets more intense it takes a toll on the family. more stress but also more outsourcing (takeout, convenience foods, lunches and dinners out, lawn mowing service, internet shipping charges). I have noticed lately how easy it is to outsource anything that you don’t want to try to learn (securely hooking up your wireless internet for instance).

pro - we are trying to be a little more careful with discretionary spending. I think that shopping has become such a past time and that marketing is so sophisticated that sometimes it’s too easy to spend on things you don’t need. I try to stick to the list when I go to Target and I’m happier for it when I get home.

Tosto notes: This is right in line with the overwhelming sentiment we hear from Public Insight Network sources that people may be fundamentally changing their spending habits. Back to Haugen.

pro - one spouse can spend more time with the kids (who would otherwise be in daycare). This is hypothetical because we haven’t actually taken them out of school yet. We think it’s good for them and the at home spouse wants to catch up on projects

con - more expensive health insurance and the annoying paperwork that comes with changing your benefits again.

con - the imbalance created when one spouse thinks she’s working really hard and expects the at-home spouse to be really productive when he’s home all day.

We’ve been caught up in a lot of numbers in our reporting on the recession but Haugen’s post really offers some great insight on how an economic slide often compels people to change habits and adapt.

Got a story about how the economy is affecting your household structure? Tell us. And check out the map below to read what other people are telling us about money issues.

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