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Ask The Expert: Should I Work In The Same Office As My Wife?

Question: I work as an insurance agent in a large national company — you’d recognize the name. My wife is the office manager for a local insurance agent with another company. Her boss wants to hire me.

I’d get a pretty decent raise and wouldn’t have to commute as far, but I worry about being in the same office all day with my wife.  I always hear bad things about couples who work together. They spend so much time around each other, they fight. I don’t want to get a raise and lose a good woman. Any advice?

— Patrick in New York

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

Howard Dvorkin on how to get out of debt fastFunny you should mention this, Patrick. Just last month, I read a study on the topic. Yes, researchers actually looked into this.

I’ll spare you the suspense and first tell you what they found. First, couples who work together don’t necessarily argue more. Second, many of them argue less. Here’s what they say…

Dual career couples with the same occupations or work places may have a happier family life and less job and family tension as a result of the work-related support they can offer one another. The beneficial impact is twice that for work-linked couples compared to non work-linked couples.

What’s a “work-linked couple”? That’s what researchers at Utah State University call one of these three situations…

  •  They share an occupation. In other words, they might be insurance agents, but at different companies.
  • They share a workplace but not the same occupation. This would be your situation with your wife.
  •  They share both workplace and occupation. Imagine if you and your wife were both insurance agents in the same office.

Researchers admit these arrangement blur “work/home boundaries” and “may make balancing work and family more challenging.” I’ve found this to be true, especially when I’ve worked with couples in the same office. All things being equal, I think couples thrive more when they work in different places and have different things to talk about when they get home.

That said, I’m also a CPA and credit counselor, and I like hearing about raises and shorter commutes (which also saves money). Before you take the job, however, I’d ask some other questions…

  • What about health insurance? While not universally true, smaller businesses often have less comprehensive healthcare plans. You want to ensure your raise isn’t being spent on higher premiums for less coverage.
  • What about promotional opportunities? In a small firm, there might be fewer opportunities to move up and earn more. Then again, one of those opportunities might be as partner in the firm or even purchasing it from the owner if he’s retiring soon. You need to have a frank conversation about this.
  • How healthy is the company? If both spouses work in the same place, and that place goes out of business, both incomes are instantly gone.

As you can see, Patrick, my concerns are less about the dynamics of working together and more about the fiscal realities of the job. First, you need to address the questions above. Then if you decide to take the job, I’d suggest you read this Washington Post story from a couple of years ago. It documents couples who work together.

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Have a debt question?

Email your question to editor@debt.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a  CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.

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