You get it, financial independence that is. You can’t wait to start building some serious wealth to buy your freedom. You understand that being financially independent will allow you to spend ALL of your time, not just weekends and holidays, doing whatever YOU choose. You are pumped and eager to start working on making your dream a reality.
There is just one problem… your partner is not board. I will use the term partner here to refer to a spouse, fiancé, fiancée, or any serious significant other in your life. I’m lucky, my wife was on board with financial independence (FI) from the moment I first stumbled upon it. In fact, it was one of her co-workers that recommended the Mr. Money Mustache blog to me. I was hooked right away and read the entire blog in a few days. I promptly shared the concept of FI with my wife and the conversation went something like this:
Wife: that sounds cool, are you sure it is possible?
Me: yeah, the math checks out!
Wife: let’s do it!
You may be thinking “that’s cool, but what if I’m not so lucky?“. Worry not! in the 2.5 years I have been into FI I have seen several people successfully bring on board their once reluctant partners. This article is a collection of the lessons learned from those stories, I hope you find it helpful.
Before we dig into what you can do, let’s start with what NOT to do. One of the most common mistakes that’s almost guaranteed to fail is looking through your expenses and nag your partner about their frivolous purchases. I’m with you, many of those expenses are in fact wasteful and are in conflict with your FI dreams. However, such expenses are not frivolous to your partner and if you use the aforementioned approach, your partner will likely see FI as deprivation and run in the opposite direction.
You have been warned. Now let’s look at what you can do to bring your partner on board with FI. There are several approaches, not one is necessarily better or worse than the others. Different approaches work for different people. For example, if your partner is inclined towards math and numbers (left brain), a great place to start would be this article: The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement. If your partner doesn’t like math, you can try to appeal to their emotions (right brain). Storytelling can be a great way to do just that. You can tell them about someone you admire (favorite FI blogger or podcaster for example) and how they have built amazing lives through financial independence.
Another approach that seems to work great for most people is to start the conversation by asking the question “what does your ideal life look like?“. Very rarely will the response be: “I want to work at a cubicle from 9am to 6pm for 50 weeks every year, for the rest of my life, just to pay for the fancy house we never get to enjoy along with all the things we buy to fill all of the empty space, while being one emergency away from financial disaster.“. Sounds insane when you put it that way but sadly 80% of Americans have less than $5,000 in savings according to this CNBC article.
Let’s assume your partner is not insane and gives you a more reasonable answer like “I would love to spend more time with you and the kids” or “I would love to have time to follow my true passion and maybe start a business out of it” or “It would be great if we could slow travel around the world“. At this point of the conversation your partner will be more receptive as you make the connection between FI and how it can help you reach your goals. Maybe, this will be your partner’s light-bulb moment. If it’s not, do not despair, there is more.
Choosing the Right Media
I first discovered FI through Mr. Money Mustache and then continued on with other blogs. I suppose I’m lucky to have found FI through a medium which suits my learning style (reading). I might have gotten a later start to FI if I had first stumbled into a podcast instead of a blog. The point is: help your partner out by pointing them towards resources that are in the best format for them. Here is a list of my favorite resources. Also, don’t be afraid to get creative and be your own medium by delivering a presentation to them. This is a great example of one.
Leading by Example
You have had several conversations with your partner, sent them links to every single blog and podcast you can think of, you even gave them a PowerPoint presentation, and they are still not on board with FI. Don’t give up just yet, the story I’m about to share should be a message of hope for those with even the most reluctant partners. Without further introduction, here is the story of the Mad FIentist:
The Mad FIentist probably doesn’t need much of an introduction but just in case you are not familiar here is a quick summary. The Mad FIentist is a thirty something early retiree who used to work in computer science. He has successfully reached FI and lives in Scotland with his wife (Mrs. FIentist), one of the main characters of the story. His site, madfientist.com is one of most respected FI blogs, and it is mostly known for tax optimization and travel hacking, although his writing also covers many other topics related to FI.
Back to the story about reluctant FI partners. The Fientists couple has been together for about 15 years. For the first 11 YEARS or so Mrs. FIentist was not into FI at all. She loved her job and she loved spending money. Mr. FIentist wasn’t going to let this ruin his FI plans or his relationship, so they used what I like to call the Separate-Separate-Joint (SSJ) method for managing their finances as a couple. Under the SSJ method the couple has one joint account to which they contribute equally to cover basic joint expenses such as housing and food. In addition, each spouse has their own separate account, which they manage as they please. And so, Mr. FIentist carried on with saving and investing while the Mrs. did her own thing.
Fast forward 10+ years into the relationship and one night she surprised him with a letter that explained how her mindset had changed over the years to the point where she was on board with FI! You can read the full letter here. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but if you are feeling lazy here is a summary of what I think were the key elements to the mindset shift:
- By living with Mr. FIentist and editing his blog articles over the years, she realized that he was not depriving himself of anything by saving money. In fact, for him saving and investing was a gratifying act in and of itself. She started thinking about the things she liked to spend money on and wondered if she would be any less happy without them.
- They had the “what would be your perfect life conversation“. The oversimplified answer for them was: family/friends, traveling, learning, creating. None of those things require that much money. In fact, two average income earners in a household should bring more than enough money to pursue all of those things. The real constraint would be time… and that is exactly what FI is all about. Mrs. FIentist started to clearly see the benefits of not having to work full time.
- She realized that financial independence does not necessarily mean early retirement. Sure, early retirement may be the dream for some people who pursue FI, but that’s just one option. Mrs. FIentist loved her job and so early retirement wasn’t really appealing. For her FI would allow her to work less, spend more time with loved ones, travel more and pick up new knowledge and skills along the way. Basically, FI would allow her to live life in her own terms.
So there you have it, pretty sweet story, right? Don’t be nagging, be patient, and most importantly lead by example :). If all else fails, there is still one more tool in the toolbox.
Like or not, us humans are social creatures. That’s part of the reason why 80% of Americans are broke. Because things like car loans are common, our primitive brains think it is OK to sign up for such a thing. Same goes for falling into debt to pay for an expensive wedding, or to borrow money to pay for a vacation. We see enough people doing something, we give ourselves permission to follow. The entire keeping up with the Joneses behavior is predicated on this herd mentality.
You and I know better and can be mostly immune to making bad financial decisions just because everybody else is making them. But why not use this natural human tendency to help you bring your partner on board with FI? One of the most powerful things for my wife and myself during our FI journey was attending Camp Mustache 2016. Meeting face to face with people who are on the same FI journey (and many who have actually reached FI) was very inspiring an energizing. Also, hanging out with people who have actually achieved FI eliminated any doubts we might have had on whether achieving FI was even possible.
Having your spouse meet people who are on the FI path could be one of the most powerful tools for getting them on board. Meeting other FI oriented people works because it addresses two of the most common objections:
- Objection #1 goes something like this: “to achieve FI at a young age you have to be a lunatic who lives in their car and eats only Ramen noodles.” Once your partner has the chance to meet people in the FI community they will realize nothing is further from the truth. Your partner will be able to see that we live normal lives and that most people wouldn’t even be able to tell we will be financially independent decades ahead of everybody else. It all comes down to making smarter decisions and being more intentional about how we allocate resources (time, money, etc.). If your partner is able to realize this, it will be a huge step towards changing their mindset.
- Objection #2 revolves around disbelief: “Is FI really possible? Can we seriously accumulate that much money that soon?“. This is an understandable objection. I’d be lying to you if I told you that it has never crossed my mind, even after working through the numbers myself. This is why having role models and peers who are on same FI path can be so helpful. When I was a young boy, I saw a friend who did competitive Taekwondo do a handstand. It was the coolest thing ever and I wanted to be able to do a handstand myself. I tried and failed miserably on my first attempt. Lucky for me, my dad knew how to do a handstand and he said “I can teach you how to do a handstand, it will take practice and time, but if you apply yourself you will be able to do it in a few weeks“. He was right! And I was lucky to have him as role model. Reaching FI is no different, it has been done before, it can be achieved by you. Role models and community can be huge assets on this journey, use them to help you and your partner.
You might be thinking: “Great! I get it. But, where do I find like-minded FI people? Everyone around me seems to be on a race to see who can spend their paychecks faster.” Great questions, there are three main ways I have been able to find community:
- Local FI groups: chances are, there is an FI group in the city/town where you live. Here is the link for my own city (Raleigh, NC).
NC Triangle FIRE Group. We usually meet once every couple of months, for a potluck, a hike, or just to hangout :). If you live in a different city these would be good places to start looking for a local group: List of local Choose FI groups, FI Map, and Mustachians on Facebook.
- Larger FI events: such as Camp Mustache, which yours truly attended in 2016. These usually take place over a long weekend and consist of hikes, bonfires, beer, and breakout sessions where you get to dig deep into specific topics such as tax optimization, investing, and travel rewards to name a few.
- Your current friends and family: when I first found out about FI I was very exited to share the concept with my friends. A few of them loved the concept and are on their own paths to FI. It has been a lot of fun!
I hope you have found this post helpful and can use some or all of the tools to bring your partner, and maybe even your friends, on board with your FI journey. Remember that FI is a counter intuitive concept to our consumerist mainstream culture, so it might take some time for people to see the light. Be patient, supportive, and tailor your message to best fit your partner’s personality and learning style. Don’t be nagging, introduce them to FI minded people, and most importantly lead by example.
How about you and your better half? Are you both on the same page when it comes to FI?