So you have found the path to FI and you are running down it, full speed ahead.
You've devoured dozens of podcast episodes and poured over FI blogs. You have read every article on the website. You've memorized many of the posts and comments in the ChooseFI Facebook group. You regularly contemplate your post-retirement life. Anyone who knows you at all knows that terms like house-hacking, geoarbitrage, and Roth conversion ladder are now part of your regular vocabulary.
So what's the problem? Turns out that while you are super excited about this new way of living, your spouse or partner may not be.Anytime a couple is not on the same page about an issue, complications can arise. But the good news is that with time, patience, and a commitment on your part to model and practice good financial habits, it is possible to get your significant other on the FI path with you.
Rather than telling you what you should do to help your partner on board, let's start with what not to do. Don't announce that you're house-hacking as a side hustle beginning this weekend. Don't decide that beans and rice are fine for every meal in order to save money. Do not cut cable, sell a car, or drastically change anything about your life.
Instead, recognize that your desire and enthusiasm for embracing this different lifestyle might be startling to your spouse. This will be especially true if it's a big change from how you've been to this point. You'll need to let go of your assumptions about where your significant other should be. Accept them where they are on this journey – even if they're not on the path at all yet.
While it's tempting to radically change your life to meet your new goals, choose to go slow instead. Brad and Jonathan recently interviewed author Gretchen Rubin for the ChooseFI podcast.
She wrote a book called “The Four Tendencies,” which discusses the four different propensities people have when it comes to meeting both internal and external expectations. One of the points that she makes when it comes to improving a financial habit is to start slowly. Ask your partner if you can just look at your finances together to gather information and see where you are with savings and where your money goes.
That's it–nothing changes right away and nothing major happens. You're letting your partner start to slowly wade into your marital financial waters.
Know Your Partner's Tendency
We mentioned Gretchen Rubin's book on the four tendencies. Because of how well they apply to our spending and saving habits, we recommend you know both your tendency and your partner's. You can take a very short quiz to determine which tendency you have. Are you an obliger, a questioner, an upholder, or a rebel?
- Obliger: meets external expectations but struggles to meet internal expectations
- Questioner: meets internal expectation but struggles to meet external expectations
- Upholder: meets both internal and external expectations
- Rebel: struggles to meet both internal and external expectations
Ideally, your significant other should also take the quiz. However, if you're still in the “go slow” phase and they're not open to a quiz, take a look at the four tendencies anyway. Try to see it through their eyes. Read about what each tendency means and see where you think your partner might fit. If you've been with that person for a long time, you might very well be able to determine which tendency they are for yourself.
Understanding your tendency and your spouse's can give you a good start on understanding how to approach them about finances. Use that information to your advantage as you continue to introduce FI to them by talking to them about money in ways that make sense to them.
Talk About Motivations And Shared Life Goals
It's a lot easier to make changes to your spending and saving habits if you're working towards something specific. Sometimes things like early retirement or even a certain amount of money in the bank aren't enough to motivate some people, depending on their tendency. They need specific, tangible goals to strive for in order to make changes to their finances.
After you've had a chance to look at your finances together, start talking about what motivates you in life. What drives you and your partner? Is it more time together? Is it wanting to be free from debt? Paying off a mortgage? Amassing a substantial savings account so you know your family will always be taken care of? All of these things can be significant motivators when it comes to spending and saving.
Remember that your motivations don't have to be the same. No matter how in-tune you are in other ways, you may be worlds apart when it comes to your financial motivators. And that's okay. Motivations can be aligned without being identical. For instance, maybe you want to pay off your mortgage and your partner wants to retire early because they hate their job. It's a whole lot easier to retire if you don't have a mortgage, right? So those motivations are aligned without being the same.
If you need some help getting started with this conversation, consider starting with these questions:
- If you didn't have to work and had no debt, what would you do with your life?
- What expenses bring you the most satisfaction or would you be afraid of losing?
- What is your biggest fear about changing the way we do things?
Once you have each voiced your motivations, talk about the shared goals the two of you have together. This is where you dream big about life is like after achieving FI. Do you want to travel the world together someday? Have you always dreamed of having a vacation home in the mountains or on the beach? Do you want to retire early just so you can spend your time however you want? Whatever your shared goals are, write them down. Add to the list as you think of more things.
When you have your list complete, post it somewhere that you both can see it often as a reminder of what you want to accomplish. It's easier to make good financial decisions if you're constantly staring at your potential reward.
Set Small Goals That You Can Work On Together
For some people, planning so far in advance might be too challenging. It may work against their tendencies. Additionally, having your significant other wait months or years for a desired outcome once they're just starting to get on board with financial changes to your life may be too hard.
As a follow-up to your discussion about larger motivations and shared goals, set smaller goals. Choose ones that are easier to accomplish and take less time. The big goals may always be in the back of your mind and on your shared list, but they might be too much for your partner to wrap their head around.
The most important thing that you, the person totally on board with FI, can do at this point is to listen a lot more than you talk.
Listen to what your partner thinks are small manageable goals that can be met quickly without drastic changes. Remember that you are already solidly on board with FI, so this is about how to get your partner comfortable with the idea. It's about helping you ease your way into fiscal responsibility together. Letting your partner make the decisions about what spending habits to change first gives them some control as you start to navigate towards bigger and bigger financial changes.
If you can check a short-term goal off of your list because changes in your spending gave you the money to do it, that might be the motivation your partner needs to keep working towards the bigger goals.
Practical Tips For Continuing On The FI Path Together
After you've started the discussion about FI and have come to an understanding about where you want to be and how you want to get there, make sure you do things that continually support your (formerly) reluctant spouse and encourage them to continue the journey.
- Lead by example. If you want to help your spouse get on board with FI, model the behavior you want them to use. Don't spend frivolously. Learn to fix things around the house so you're not paying for a repair person or just buying something new. Teach yourself how to invest properly.
- Discuss finances regularly so you both know how you're doing. (Tie this back into their tendency. For example, if they're a rebel, show them how their influence and decisions have affected your savings.)
- Celebrate when your goals are met. Small progress is a huge motivator for making big progress!
- Praise your partner along the way for the things they're doing to help you meet your shared financial goals.
- As your significant other becomes more comfortable with FI, talk about how quickly you can meet some of the bigger goals by changing around some things in your life.
Give It Time
In closing, we circle back to where we started. Time is often the best hope for getting a spouse on board with FI. Acknowledge that this is a big adjustment and make sure you're proceeding forward at your spouse's pace, which may be very different than your desired one. Read about how one passionate FIer slowly got his wife excited about joining the movement.
We posted a question on the ChooseFI FB group page asking people how they've discussed FI with their reluctant spouses. The issue of time came up there too. Nicole mentioned talking to her partner over the course of several months has gradually made him start to come around to the idea. She said that she has slowly introduced him to the idea of FI, showed him how much she has saved since she started down the path, and posed general questions to him like, “What do you want to do in life when the kids are gone?”
Jeremy posted that his wife and he think very differently about money. Over the last two years, he has created a spreadsheet detailing how much they're saving and spending so that she can see the figures for herself, which has helped show her how important FI is. It also helps that they share the goal of making each other happy. He keeps some money for nice things in the budget for her and she supports his desire to save in other ways because retiring early is important to him. Over time, they are making it work.
We'd love to hear more things from you about how you've helped introduce your reluctant spouse to all things FI!
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