How To Get Your Significant Other To Embrace a Brave New Life

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.

 

That’s it

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.


35 Responses to How To Get Your Significant Other To Embrace a Brave New Life

  1. Thanks for sharing this very personal story.
    Change isn’t easy, and changing your life away from one of consumption and towards one which reflects your personal values is the hardest change of all.

    It’s funny how a complete stranger echoing your opinion somehow makes it more credible! It’s almost like “well, you sound crazy but it this other guy says the same thing, maybe you’re right!”

  2. Dave says:

    With regard to Step 3 – I highly recommend giving your kids money to invest – personally, my parents gave me $25,000 of their money to invest when I was 20 (with the agreement that I would get half of the profits). I promptly lost half of it, but learned a lot in the process – eventually getting a job in finance (after graduating as an engineer).

    Now they have $60k in that account (I never took my half) and I got the best education in investing and finance they could have given me. Its amazing how much effort you will put in to learning things if there is real money at stake.

    • Yeah, I was thinking I could even do it as a sort of allowance when they are young. I could put $6K in an account for each of them, and target 4% dividend returns. That would be $240/year or $20/month to spend how they want.

      Slowly, over time, they could watch their capital rise, even as they are spending their dividends. Can you image the joy of a 10 year old when he sees that his dividend payout just increased from $20/month to $21/month because VZ just increased their dividend payout?

      I bought my first stocks when I was 11 years old with my paperboy money. I made $2500 in 2 years of service, and invested it all in BLY (Bally Fitness at the time). It doubled in about a year after I “retired” from the paper delivery service, then I bought some Vanguard funds that eventually took it up to $18K by the time I graduated college (the 90’s were very generous to this teenager). I think it’s lessons like this that taught me the benefits of investing.

    • jennypenny says:

      I figured out how much money I was giving my kids each month for things like school trips, occasional hot lunch, clothing, and take out food. Now I give it to them at the beginning of every month and they have to budget it. They have to decide if going to the movies the first weekend of the month is worth passing up any other offers they get for the rest of the month. This has made them appreciate my frugality more than anything else.

      I really like the idea of investing some money for them and letting them keep the dividends. I think I’m going to steal that one :)

  3. Well said, Brave! I was just working on my own article on this topic, called “Selling the Dream”.. but now I’ll have to rewrite it so it’s not just repeating your points. Thanks for ruining all my hard work!! :-)

  4. ah yes, convincing the spouse. here how my battle has proceeded (it continues) …….

    first phase – convince her that this isn’t another flash in the pan revelation that fizzes out (oh, i’ve had a few) .. by sticking to it!

    second phase – show her the data .. putting together the spreadsheet that clearly shows a realistic crossover point for FI was huge

    third (current) phase – use rule of 300 to show how living (more) frugally can pull in the crossover point significantly

    I find the hardest subject to make a counter-argument against are in relation to ‘security’ (nicer neighborhood / nicer schools / bigger suv / etc) especially how these relate to the children.

    great post, Brave!

    • I find the hardest subject to make a counter-argument against are in relation to ‘security’ (nicer neighborhood / nicer schools / bigger suv / etc) especially how these relate to the children.

      I had a short struggle with this as well, but I think the same strategy applies as with your second phase: data.

      Our kids come first for my wife and me, so we considered all these ‘security’ things too.

      We bought a very reasonably priced house (in fact it was half the price of the house we sold when we moved), we are in one of the two best school districts in the city (and very high in the state), and area crime is close to 0. We just had to work a little harder to find a home and neighborhood that we liked, but they are out there.

  5. lil pappy says:

    How to actively transfer this pursuit of FI and a thoughtful life is the most interesting question to me. Individuals will always get the bug. And the web has created ways to make these communities of individuals mutually beneficial and supportive of one another.

    But how do we get our loved ones on board, or to consciously choose not to do this.

    My first pursuit as a father was to be loving. An abundance of affection and time spent with my children. Then, basic kid discipline stuff (I’ll stop there with that).

    Then, regarding monies, I focused on gratitude. Gratitude for what we had and for what we were able to do.

    I then mentioned to my son when he was 9 that we were making money while we slept. He told his friends that was what he wanted to do.

    I also bought stocks in companies my kids were interested in when they were well valued and sold the stocks when they reached an over priced point. My kids understood Barbie, Spiderman, and Mickey Mouse. They learned about Mattel, Marvel, and Disney.

    Now in their teens, they are given choices…driving licenses or tennis lessons. Asking the question in time as to whether a household with two drivers needs a third or fourth driver.

    With this type of targeting their choices, and allowing them to make purchases that drive me bonkers ($300 for an Itouch!!!) with their own earned money allow them to experience the pleasure and pain of purchasing. Every now and again, we chat about purchases and they can identify which are regretted and which they were happy with.

    My experiment will last another 13 years with them (25 years is my cut off since the prefontal lobe stops growing at that point). My relationship will last a lifetime and if they opt out, I want the love to be there for the next 5 decades, even if they choose a different relationship with money and the world then what I have.

    Love your blog and MMM, ERE. Thank you.

    • It sounds like your approach with your kids is very similar to mine – love first, teach second.

      I like the idea of buying stocks in things my kids like, I’ll have to think more about that. I know that personally it’s always fun to think “Hey, I own them!” when I see a company I own. Then again, those companies are selling crap I don’t want my kids to want. Oh, the dilemma…

  6. The Stoic says:

    Great article! This is not something I have to worry about now as I’m single, but I do worry about finding someone who shares the same financial values as I do.

    I think it would be interesting to hear your wife’s perspective on this change. You should see if she would be willing to write a guest post.

    Cheers

  7. Shawn says:

    Another stellar article. Thanks for posting.

    Don’t wait on retirement to start hosting those dance parties!!

  8. rjack says:

    Good advice!

    I use to regularly argue with my wife about how much money she would spend. She argued that I was trying to “control” her. Maybe I was.

    We finally came up with a compromise where I transfer a certain amount of money every month into separate Fun Money accounts for each us. Fun Money is for haircuts, clothes, entertainment, restaurants, etc.

    The odd thing is that so far she seems to be saving most of her Fun Money. Also, we stopped arguing about money.

  9. Mr Crore says:

    Great post brave.

    The trick which worked for me was giving more control to my wife in budgeting and planning the household expenses.

    Basically she gets x amount every month and she is free to do whatever she wants with the money left once all the household expenses are taken care of. Now she is really careful and doesn’t go over the budget. To give her full credit she is even trying to save some money out of the amount allocated for household expenses.

    This has worked wonders for me 😉

  10. Awesome post! This is one of my favorites.

    While our story is a little different, I did have a light bulb go off in my head when I learned about investing. Before that I was scared I would lose money and didn’t really believe it would work (or I actually never really thought about it much, other than my 401K). As soon as I had my own Vanguard account, I was hooked and started saving way more.

    The idea of doing this for your kids is also an excellent one. One of the huge benefits of living this kind of lifestyle is that you can show your kids how awesome it is!

  11. You really need your partner to be on board with the plan. If he/she is not with you then it will be very difficult or even impossible to do . Luckily, my wife has a similar financial outlook. We are both savers and she has accepted my plan.
    I worked on it a little at a time and eventually she also thinks it’s a good idea for me to leave the corporate job. She is nervous about it, but I’m pretty sure we can make it work.

  12. Debbie M says:

    Steps with my SO:
    1) He moves out of his rental into my small house. It’s not much bigger than his rental, and we’re both stuffed into it, plus it doesn’t have a dishwasher. But he loves the location and the very low housing costs which are getting lower with the house getting paid off.

    Still, he wants to add a huge amount of square footage to it because he has lots of space-consuming hobbies, not to mention loads of clothing, tools, etc. This would add quite a bit to our costs for property taxes, insurance, and utilities.

    2) I make it very clear how much I want to be financially independent. When we met, he said he always wants to work. He’s now to the point where he thinks that working half-time would be ideal!

    My next plan is to de-clutter a lot. I’ve finally gotten good at not buying crap, but I’m still not so good at getting rid of crap (especially things that used to be a good idea but that I no longer use).

    I’m also taking a sabbatical from work (by which I mean that I quit my job without having another one lined up, and I’m not going to even start job hunting seriously for a month or two). It never occurred to me to demonstrate how my not working is a boon to him. I don’t really want to take over all the housework or anything like that. The only benefit I’ve thought of so far is that I can get some things done when he’s not home instead of trying to do them at the same time as he is. Also, I’m more likely to go to bed at a reasonable time (which makes it easier for him to) since I’m more likely to have had “enough fun” by bedtime.

    Oh, my gosh, he sure likes having a lot of stuff though. And fantasizing about having more stuff when he gets richer. He has favorite expensive cars. Favorite expensive boats. Favorite expensive guitars (which he doesn’t even play anymore). He wants to start very expensive businesses (home construction, home theatre creation, electronics stuff, just to name a few). He’s getting pickier about clothes and food (though I have shown him that thrift stores do have some good clothes). He always sees stuff he wants–I rarely see stuff I want. It’s a big difference. At least he’s good at not spending beyond his means, even when he’s pretty poor.

  13. Chris says:

    Wow, great post! I really needed to hear this. I’m sold on the benefits of living a simpler life of frugality and freedom, but I can’t seem to get my wife excited about it. I see it so clearly in my head, but, I fail miserably when I try to explain it to my wife! She is coming along slowy, my last two big hurdles are to downsize our house and move closer to work to cut down on transportation costs. I’ve been digging your “brave new life” posts. It has challenged me to codify a similar philosophy for myself. I have a very busy work life and having a personal philosophy will keep me on “my path” and not the path that work continually tries to suck me into.

    Great job Brave. We think alot alike. I’ve never met (pseudo) so many introverts/INTJs (like myself) in my life, until I started reading ERE, MMM and you-awesome!

    • What a wonderful coincidence that your “last two big hurdles” can be solved by the same action!

      My old house was 3189 square feet. When we bought it 8 years ago, we felt like we had “made it.” What fools we were. What we had really purchased was a money pit and time pit. More area to heat, cool and keep clean. More floor space to vacuum, and more rooms to fill with useless things like a dining room table. My taxes then were higher than my entire mortgage today! So far it’s been 8 months since we moved, and I can say that I have never, for a single moment, regretted the downsize.

      I think I’ve talked my wife into writing a post in reply to this article offering her perspective, hopefully in the next few days. Hopefully your wife will find it interesting.

  14. Grammar Police says:

    Love the site (and especially the recent posts), but I seriously got distracted while reading this article by how many times the text said “less” (continuous quantity) when it should have said “fewer” (discrete quantity).

    Sorry for the nitpicking :)

    • Haha. Thanks for the clarification. I’m always up for some fancy grammar learning. My best friend, an English PhD, (and best friend in my wedding) used to say: “You have so many good ideas, you should learn how to write them.” And so it continues…

      For other poor grammar engineers who want to learn how to pass by the grammar police, here’s a little information.

  15. Mike says:

    Leadership is hugely important when you’re not both on the same page. If all you’re doing is throwing what you consider to be frivolous expenditures at your Sig O, it’s just going to cause big problems. Further, if saving money isn’t really important for the other person (yet), then you’re the one with the problem, not them, and you need to bring solutions to the table, not problems. Try to frame it in terms of something that IS important to them (more time together, less harm to the environment, better physical fitness, whatever). You can bring up the benefits of saving money later if you need to.

    For example, getting rid of cable can be a huge sticking point. Cable TV is at this point a basic staple of life across the socio-economic spectrum in the U.S., so suggesting that you STOP buying it can seem extreme. My suggestion for couples clashing over cable is for the one in favor of cutting the cable to show some leadership on the issue and start coming up with activities you can do in the evening that don’t involve Comcast (or TimeWarner or whatever). Put the emphasis on doing something fun and different. Then, after a couple of weeks or a month, casually bring up the fact that that you haven’t used the cable much at all lately and holy cow, why are we shelling out $150 for something we don’t use?

  16. The further you get into your “real” life, the harder it is to extricate yourself. These are great things to begin talking about right away, before kids and a house. I’m trying to get my wife to come around, but she likes the idea of a “nest.” I think she is warming up to some of my ideas, though.

  17. […] is a guest post from my wife, in response to my recent article about getting her on board to our new lifestyle.  Feel free to use the comments section for any follow-up questions you have […]

  18. 40Percent says:

    Thank you so much for sharing all of this-
    I love your idea and enjoyed reading about your real estate adventures
    I found you as I searched for an investment option for my 8 year old and checked into peer to peer lending
    He recently received money for his communion and wanted a new bike I want to teach him to give save and invest so we agreed that he could spend 40% and would give 10%, save 20% and invest 30%.
    We are looking for a peer to peer lending option for children if you know of one.
    Thanks!

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  21. […] Financial Independence / Early Retirement blogosphere that I have trouble relating to: Getting a partner on board, dealing with a spendy spouse, or the idea of one person in a relationship instigating changes. […]

  22. […] ways to continue the trend, I adopted the passive aggressive approach of “accidentally” leaving blog postings open on my wife’s iPad so that she would see them the next time she went online. I figured that I […]

  23. Macs says:

    Thank you for sharing awesome and great article in your blog. This really a great blog. Making money and making extra money is really important these days. Especially, when you guys having a tough time with your finances. Saving hard earn money is also a must so that during rainy days, there will something to pick from our pocket. Teach the kids to invest in a most practical way.

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