Essays & Confessions/Family Finances

What It’s Like To Go From Trophy Wife To Primary Breadwinner

By | Saturday, January 23, 2021

Once upon a time, I lived in a 3,600 sq. ft ocean-front home. I  drove a convertible BMW Z4, and was the proud owner of all of the latest toys.

According to all of the important barometers of life, I was “living the dream.”  

My ex-husband earned significantly more than I did, and with our combined incomes, we had a very comfortable lifestyle. I earned a great salary myself, but my salary was a “bonus” compared to what my spouse already brought in. His huge income is what got us to the nice cars, the nice bikes, the big TVs, the fancy trips, and the beautiful home.  Then, as 50% of married people often do, we went our separate ways, and I found myself flying solo on my single salary.  

Cut to six years later: I am remarried, our combined income is a fraction of what my household income used to be, and I’ve never been, or felt,  richer.  I can confidently say that I’m not the same person today as I was then; and, I can equally confidently say that every single thing that I learned was absolutely unexpected. I didn’t set out to significantly change my life. It just happened. 


In my previous marriage, filling up the spaces in our huge home sucked me dry of time, and long-term joy and satisfaction. Of course, I didn’t recognize that at the time. I thought everything was happy and great. We had a big house. Decorating and DIY blogs were skyrocketing in popularity. So, naturally, I took the job of Home Décor/Home Improvement very seriously. And, since we had such a huge “canvas” to fill, all of the projects took up all of my time.  Weekends were eaten up with trips to the Big Box “Home” stores, and the never-ending quest of “taking care of the house.”  

Don’t get me wrong. Buying that new bookcase or fence or wall print absolutely offered a jolt of joy.  But it was a short-term jolt — and the work was never done.  Weeknights were spent, tired and exhausted, in front of the TV (more on that later) and weekends were spent on the house projects. Saturdays were for going to buy the stuff and spending lots of money.  Sundays were spent putting the stuff away, or playing with the stuff, or finding a place for “later.”  That left very little time to notice that I wasn’t spending much time on, or for, myself. 

In my new relationship, our current home is pretty small (just shy of 1400sq/ft) and just the right size for our small family.  There are no major projects required and no empty rooms to fill up. Do you know what that means?? It means that I now spend my weekends taking care of myself and my family.  I hike. I walk. I run. I sit. I read. I nap. I spend quality time with my friends. I hang out with my family. I go on adventures. I play with my dog. I make bread.  I live. The biggest “house” project on the weekends is making sure the bed linens get washed.  


With a smaller house and a single-income, there just isn’t room (in the physical space or in the budget) for those spontaneous purchases like the shelving units, the home decor, the sporting equipment (and the gear), or the technology, or the clothes that I used to just buy for no real reason at all. Every purchase is now intentional and thoughtful and purposeful. And that feels good. When we want to add something to our lives (like the lawnmower we bought last summer), the process of creating space in our home and our budget becomes a meaningful part of the purchase.   We cleared space in the garage (getting rid of some of the dusty “garage-stuff” felt so goooooood), we created some specific criteria (lawnmower must be able to hang flat), and we saved for the cost of the purchase before we made the purchase.  

Even when COVID hit, my second husband and I started to live on my salary alone, and we realized that we were okay. In fact, we seemed better. We weren’t as rushed; we had more time. My husband is able to pick up some work when need be but for the most part, we have chosen to continue to live on one salary and we have continued with this slower pace of life. And we like it. 


Living in a smaller house, and filling up my weekends with soul-filling activities resulted in feeling happier, and more energetic all of the time. Rather than coming home after work feeling exhausted every single day, I found myself with energy to spare.  What was once a solid block of “downtime” to fill watching a few (or more!) hours of TV, was now a found opportunity to do more of the things I loved to do. I am now a person who actually does things after work because I am not exhausted every single day. Of course, I am exhausted some days, but it is no longer every day. I even joined a fitness class that I love, which is not only great for my physical health, but also my social health (shout out to the Jazzercise Community!).

I have also learned that hiking isn’t just a weekend activity. Who would have even guessed that those hills and trees looked even more beautiful on a random Wednesday evening? In the first three years of living this simpler life, I lost 30lbs and I have maintained that weight loss in the years since. And, just like the “lessons” listed above, that weight loss was a happy accident. Don’t get me wrong; we still watch TV, but I would bet a reasonable and responsible amount of money (because I am reasonable and responsible with my money) that we watch less than seven hours of television a week.  


Smaller debt means bigger debt goals. Ever since our debt-amount became less scary, it became way easier to set up a realistic plan of action. A Kia (and no car payments!) has replaced the BMW, and somehow I still manage to get to work just fine.  Turns out maybe I didn’t need the BMW as much as I thought I did. We have reached a place where our only debt is mortgage-debt and it’s reasonable enough that, with some serious effort, we will be able to pay it off within a few more years. My previous mortgage had so many zeros that I couldn’t have even been bothered to try to make any gains on it.  When I was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt (mortgage, cars, tractor, boat, etc), a “tiny” bit more debt didn’t seem like a big deal. Now that a mortgage-free future is within reach, we are super careful about every purchase, and we do not buy anything without having the money in the bank first.

All of this to say that, for me, the accidental investment of stumbling onto a simpler life has given me great returns. I am happier. I am healthier. I have more financial control.  Six years ago, I would have said, with 100% certainty, that I had a great life and I was very happy.  And, I think I was right. I did have a great life and I was happy.  I just didn’t know that by downsizing on life, I would find room for more greatness and more happiness. 

Image via Pexels

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