I’ve been getting an increase in emails lately that are asking a common question, so I thought I’d take a short break from the Core Principles series to address it. The question that has been asked many times can be summarized like this:
“Hey, Brave. I’m totally on board with everything you’re saying and want a similar lifestyle for myself. The problem is, my husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend just isn’t on board. Did you have any problems like this?”
The short answer is “Yes!”
My wife has always had major reservations with my financial strategy. In fact, despite the fact that we started dating when we were 16 and married at 25, we’re only now becoming aligned in our financial decisions at the age of 33. I always wanted to save and invest, she always wanted to spend. It makes sense, though, because she grew up with the typical middle-class baby boomer parents that believed “the good life” was achieved by buying it. Her dad’s motto on spending all of his money and having no savings is “you can’t take it with you,” as if the fact that your money is useless in the afterlife is an excuse to spend more than you make today. They are now 65 and have no savings and a small pension.
So, as with most couples with different financial perspectives, we argued a lot. Luckily I knew I was right and she was wrong, so I stayed persistent. (Just kidding, honey) OK, I’ll be honest – we were both wrong. The reason we argued about money wasn’t because we disagreed, it was because we were trying to have a rational discussion based on irrational opinions. She was equating “spending” with “happiness” because that’s what her parents and friends did, and because that’s what the people on TV told her to do. I, on the other hand, was just a money-hoarding cheapskate with no real purpose or strategy. We were both wrong because neither of us had deliberately come up with a strategy.
Luckily, I finally saw the error of my ways. And now I’ve put together a simple guide on getting your spouse to embrace the brave new life.
Step 1 – Create a personal strategy for yourself
This is the most important step. You should have your own set of core principles. You can use mine, or you can create your own. But if you want to convince anyone to change their ways, you first need a solid and complete philosophy of your own. Frugality for the sake of frugality is a life of deprivation, and you’re not going to get anyone on board by advertising deprivation.
Now start living those principles. Don’t talk about it, don’t plead your case, don’t ask anyone to change, just live by your philosophy. “Be the change you want to see in the world,” as Gandhi would say. Show that you can spend less and be happy. Heck, show how you can be even happier with less stuff burdening you.
In my particular case, I didn’t quite follow this advice (I didn’t know any better). I started by encouraging my wife to work with me to start getting rid of excessive “stuff” in our house. I pointed out that we were constantly picking things up, constantly re-arranging our stuff to make room on a shelf for more stuff. I was repeatedly getting upset because I couldn’t find my keys that were, of course, under a bunch of stuff on the table. It was time-consuming and mentally unhealthy for me to always be so frustrated. So we started out small, just taking boxes of stuff to Goodwill. Once we did this, I found that my wife actually liked it. She practically got addicted to it. And so we expanded the effort, we talked about having less utensils and plates in the kitchen, less toys on the shelves, less knick-knacks on the mantle, less pictures on the wall, etc. It became easier to keep the house clean, and this made us both happy. Thus began a foundation for my wife’s frugality because there’s no better way to avoid having excessive stuff than to never buy it in the first place.
Eventually, this led to larger changes. For example, we talked about how having a smaller house would mean less stuff, and less rooms to keep clean. This is something that would never have been acceptable to my wife had she not taken the mental baby steps of learning to let go of material things.
It’s also important not to ask too much of your significant other. For example, I decided to sell my car. I’m not asking my wife to do the same thing, especially since we have 2 little kids at home. I choose to cut my own hair, rather than pay someone. I don’t ask my wife to do the same (OK fine, I’ll admit it, I did offer to cut her hair for her to save a few bucks).
Once you begun making the changes for yourself, then you can begin casually mentioning the benefits you’re receiving. “Wow, it sure is nice to be able to eat desert guilt free since I bike 10 miles to work every day,” or “Check this out honey, just got another dividend check. $150 bucks for doing nothing, can you believe it?”
Step 2 – Find common grounds
Once you have a solid philosophy, you can begin searching for common ground between you and your significant other. Obviously you must share some common desires, goals, or priorities or you likely wouldn’t be together. This is where it becomes so important to have your own set of core principles.
My wife an I are very different in many ways. She likes to spend money, I like to save it. I make decisions based on environmental sustainability, she doesn’t. I would prefer to bike to the store, she’d rather take a car.
But we also share some common priorities. We love each other and our kids. We value our kids’ educations, and are very interested in learning about alternative forms of education besides traditional classroom settings. We are, for the most part, both introverted and would prefer to spend time at home watching a movie than going out to a party. We both see the value of a simple life. And finally, although she won’t admit it, we both enjoy doing things a little different than everyone else.
So these common grounds were the things I focused on when first getting my wife to embrace the brave new life. For example, she would have never moved into a smaller house if I had simply proposed it as a way to save money. However, a smaller house saves time cleaning, and I knew she’d appreciate that. A smaller house meant the family would be closer together, and I knew she’d appreciate that too. So I focused on these things when we first discussed it. Once we got serious about it, and we recognized that an early retirement was possible (and all the side benefits that came with an early retirement), I could then bring up the huge financial benefits of a smaller house.
Step 3 – Show the benefits of investing
When you focus on not spending, you’re focusing on deprivation. You’re fighting the natural human desire to have things now, rather than later. Instead, focus on the benefits of having investments. And don’t talk about it, show it! Here’s how I did it:
2 years ago, my wife got a $25K inheritance. We share our finances, but I told her that she should keep this money to herself. I suggested that she open a separate bank account, I’ll have no access to see how she’s spending it, so for the first time since our marriage she could spend as frivolously as she desired. At first, she was going to upgrade her car, then just spend the remainder on various little things like clothes, expensive salon haircuts, and occasional massages. While reminding her that it was er decision, I suggested that she might want to consider investing in dividend paying funds. I told her that I’d be happy to help her put together a little portfolio consisting of 50% reliable dividend stocks and 50% Treasury Bonds. It would yield her about $85/month for eternity, while slowly growing in capital and dividend payouts. She had never considered anything like this, but she liked it and we set it up. Then I realized something: It wasn’t until this time that she truly understood the amazing power of making money work for her. It was at this time I realized what a bad husband and terrible person I was. I realized that I had spent a decade asking my wife to make deprive herself of things in order to save money, but I never taught her about the benefits.
But all is good now. With her passive income, she can go get a massage, get $50 haircuts, or buy other luxuries – and not ever deplete into her capital. Actually, her capital gains are up quite nicely.
If I could do it again, I would have given her $25K the day we married and taught her the wonders of investing and getting passive income. In fact, I will probably do something like this when my kids get a little older, so they can learn this lesson while young.
Step 4 – Discuss the benefits of financial independence
The point of saving money is to increase financial security and, eventually, achieve financial independence. What you do with your independence is up to you. But no one can deny that there are huge benefits!
For me, it’s retirement from the corporate life. I’ll free up time to relax at home, venture out into various small entrepreneurial gigs, ride my bike, read, write, and stare into space. But none of those things do any good for my wife, other than perhaps give her a happier husband. So instead, I talked to her about how she and our kids will benefit.
My kids will have their daddy around to play with. Daddy is a little more silly than mommy, so with him they get dance parties, wrestling time, and random spontaneous games like “bounce the bouncy ball off the kitchen wall into the basket.” Since our personalities are so different, we talked about benefits of having both of us in their daily lives. We both want to be proactive in our kids’ educations, and the more I’m around the more we can each spend with them exploring and learning.
But mostly, I know my wife’s real motive. She knows that the more I’m home during the day, the more she gets to take naps! So I talked about that to.
With these 4 steps, you can show your significant other a vision of a better life that they may not have seen before. Don’t assume they already see it, you need to show it to them.
That’s really all there is to it. First you come up with a total philosophy for yourself and start living it. Then you start showing (not talking about) how a simpler life is a better life, how investing money can create passive income, and how that passive income can ultimately result in financial independence. Finally, you show them what life will be like when financial independence is reached. Everyone’s goals and strategies will be different, of course, but I think this outline should work for most couples.
And if all else fails, point your significant other to sites like mine, MMM, ERE, or suggest they read Your Money Or Your Life. For some reason, the words of a random anonymous guy like me writing on a blog can sometimes be more persuasive than the words from your own spouse. (Seriously, I have personal experience from this)
I’m sure some of you will have a personal situation that I haven’t solved in this post. That’s OK, put it in the comments below. I’m sure our collective brain can come up with some solutions.
And if you have other suggestions that worked for you, we would all benefit from you sharing them here.