Once upon a time, my husband and I owned a large house in the suburbs of the United States. We had a big back garden and three empty bedrooms for our cats and occasional guests. We enjoyed our two good incomes to the fullest with nice meals, holidays abroad, and lots of “stuff”. This is the period I refer to as B.C. – Before Children.
By the time our children came along, we had moved to Spain and given up our traditional careers to pursue our non-traditional professional goals. As if going from a cushy lifestyle in America to living in Spain with a growing family wasn't enough of a change, we agreed that I would set aside my research and writing to devote myself full-time to our children. And like that, the trappings of our double-income, no-kids lifestyle were gone.
Unless one partner earns an amazing salary or money is simply not an issue, living as a one-income family is probably not easy anywhere. In my personal experience, there’s a significant amount of budgeting, economising, improvising, making-do, and personal sacrifice, not to mention periodic nail biting. Undoubtedly, however, it’s more achievable in some countries than in others.
I say without hesitation that it would have been impossible for us to be a one-income family in the United States, where health insurance, healthcare, and even part-time quality childcare are exorbitantly expensive. Had our designated breadwinner remained in his or her well-paid traditional job with its corresponding long hours and minimal free and holiday time, perhaps it would have been possible. But we would have been sacrificing both our personal goals and our desire for as much family time as possible.
Photo: Victoria Martinez
One of the things we like the most about Sweden is the focus on children and families. This, along with the high quality of life and social progressiveness, was one of the main reasons we preferred to pursue our path here rather than in our home countries, or anywhere else for that matter.
Although Spain is a family-oriented country, we found the split-day, late-ending workday wasn’t ideal for spending time together as a family outside of weekends and holidays. We could technically survive on one income, but the work hours meant the children were usually in bed by the time my husband finished work. We also couldn’t afford the cost of optional childcare, even part-time, had we wished.
As much as we love our native countries, Sweden offers our family the best work-life and financial balance as a one-income family that we have personally experienced. Not that it’s easy, strictly speaking. The usual rules of economy and sacrifice still apply. We also have at least two financial economies that make our life more affordable. First, we don’t live in a city. In fact, we live practically in the middle of nowhere, as we are regularly reminded by anyone who has located us on a map. Second, we have only one car, which is all we need.
Personally, I am still light years away from the possibility of returning to the days of regular professional beauty treatments and a closet full of impractical shoes. My children have more and better of everything than my husband and I have, and that’s perfectly fine right now. We don’t by any means live a glamorous or extravagant lifestyle, and probably border more on the unintentionally shabby chic (and the chic part might be pushing it).
Photo: Victoria Martinez
On the other hand, our two children are in a wonderful preschool that costs very little and enables me to have half a day every weekday during the school year to resume my professional pursuits. And, since a non-fiction writer and historical researcher like myself – especially one returning to work after several years – is not exactly a high-earner, I feel very fortunate that the cost of childcare for the time I work isn’t putting us in the red.
For me, it’s significant that the State not only recognises that a full-time parent without an income might want or need child-free time, but also makes it possible for them to have it with almost no financial burden attached. Neither the United States nor Spain offer this possibility. As an immigrant with no family or close friends with whom I can leave my children for any length of time, this is especially important and helpful.
Naysayers from across the Atlantic will argue that we pay for these benefits with higher taxes. To this, my argument is simply that even when my husband and I had two incomes and no children in the United States, we paid both moderately-high taxes and a significant amount for health care and insurance.
Ultimately, at the risk of sounding cliché, no place is perfect and each family will have a different set of circumstances. For us, however, living in Sweden has been the best place we could ask to live as a one-income family.
Photo: Victoria Martinez.
Victoria Martínez is an American historical researcher, writer and author of three historical non-fiction books. She lives in Småland county, Sweden, with her Spanish husband and their two children.
Read more from her family column on The Local here.