Getting my wife on board with the FIRE lifestyle

by Joel - Published May 22, 2020

a couple looks at the horizon

[Happy Friday! Please enjoy more backstory on our man Joel who will be taking over the blog here shortly! See you back on Monday for one last week of hanging out together! :)]

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It’s a common question in the personal finance community … “How can I get my partner on board with Financial Independence?”

Tough to answer, because everyone’s relationship is a little different. But, the more we all share our stories and ideas, the more we can help others develop stronger financial plans with their partners!

So today I’m going to share some of my personal stories, and I want to hear yours, too!

Getting my wife on board with FI

First, it’s a bit unfair to say “I brought her” on board with FIRE. Because the truth is, my wife and I built our financial plan together. Even though I was responsible for 95% of the technical details and spreadsheet stuff, it’s our plan, our journey, and our life.

I didn’t realize this until years into our relationship … The biggest mental step I took in getting my wife on board was to de-board my own boat first. Like getting off my single kayak before jumping into a double kayak.

The beginning: Our first finance conversation …

About nine years ago, my wife (then girlfriend) had just graduated from college. She ran home one day and announced, “I got a job! Woo hoo!”

Since I was an idiot back then with tunnel vision (still am today sometimes), I ruined the mood immediately by hounding her with a series of money questions … “How much are they paying you? What benefits do they offer? 401(k)? Think we can afford a house soon?”  To me, this was important stuff! We lived in Hawaii after all, and things ain’t so cheap out there.

My poor girlfriend started hyperventilating. We were on completely different pages financially. This was her first full-time job out of college and she hadn’t thought about all the “grown-up stuff” that I had been dealing with for years.

After a nice long fight and avoiding the topic for a few weeks, we finally sat down and talked about where we went wrong …

I learned these lessons pretty quickly:

  1. If she’s excited about something, I should get excited about it, too. Extinguishing her enthusiasm only teaches her to extinguish my enthusiasm in return. She will never be excited about money if I don’t show excitement about the things that are important to her.
  2. I learned that our financial journey would be a loooooong road. No sense in rushing things or pushing her into conversations she wasn’t ready for. We had the rest of our lives together to figure it all out. Awww, how sweet ;)
  3. I started to recognize that she could teach me things, too. She’s incredibly savvy, and I needed to be more like her in more ways.

Stronger as a team

As we kept dating, I started to realize that my girlfriend kicked ass in areas that I was never good at. She was very thrifty, always good at negotiating, and passionate about sustainability. She taught me how to reduce-reuse-recycle and helped curb some of my dumb spending habits.

The more I appreciated and learned about her cool strengths, the more she took an interest in mine. We found that teamwork makes us so much stronger than working as individuals.

I would ask her, “Hey, can you help me find a good deal on a surfboard?” She would save me hundreds of dollars in bargaining.

In return, she would ask me things like, “Hey can you help me with my tax return?” Or, “What is a Roth IRA? Should I set one up?”

Admitting our weaknesses to each other bonded us tighter. I learned that coming from different financial backgrounds wasn’t a bad thing. It was a good thing! Because we each had our own financial strengths.

Celebrating the 1st of every month! (Passive paychecks)

My career was in sales, so I used to get paid monthly commission checks. Some small, some big. My wife and I would always go out and celebrate when a big paycheck came in. This is common — many people celebrate work paydays.

But for me, it always felt bittersweet. On the one hand, I always want to celebrate when money comes into my life! But on the other hand, the blood/sweat/tears behind each paycheck was slowly killing me. Whenever we celebrated a payday, I couldn’t help but feel sad about the hundreds or thousands of non-refundable hours of my life I traded to earn that money.

So about five years ago, we made a change.

I bought a small rental property in Texas in 2015. When the first rent check came in, we yielded a few hundred dollars in profit. Not a huge amount, but the fact that we didn’t have to work for it was awesome. The next month brought another rent check. And the next month, and the next, etc. Soon enough, my wife and I started to celebrate the 1st of every month. 

Monthly celebrations brought several benefits

  1. My wife got more excited about passive income instead of earned income. She saw firsthand the power of income-producing assets. She wanted more of them!
  2. It got us talking about money more regularly. Every month, we check in with each other, make sure we’re still happy with our plans, and modify anything if needed.
  3. Celebration became a regular part of our life. Whether we have a good month or bad month, money is always a positive topic and celebrated in our household. :)

A big “ah-ha” moment for my wife

One day my wife and I were talking about her work. She was a part-time substitute teacher back then, considering moving to a full-time position.

I didn’t want to push her to work more if she didn’t want to, but at the same time, I was very excited about the extra potential income. Any extra income from her would go straight into our investments and make a huge difference for us later in life.

Since my wife isn’t really money-motivated, I needed a way to encourage her to work without saying it’s for “money.” So I eventually blurted out a statement that was a defining moment in our relationship. I said, “For every week that you work now, you are shaving 2 weeks off of us having to work later in life.”

Something just clicked when I said that. Just the thought of her being able to buy us time together later in life was a big motivator for her. She doesn’t care about the money — her motivation has always been about TIME.

Still figuring it all out!

It’s been a fun journey, but it’s far from over. My wife and I don’t have kids yet, don’t know when we will officially be “FI,” or even which city we want to live in when we’re older. Our money discussions and decisions will continue until we die.

But the hard part is mostly over, and I’m lucky to have such a patient and dedicated partner in life.

For those out there struggling to talk with their partner about finances, keep searching for ways to break through and get on the same page. The more we all share our stories, the more we can help each other get to better places in our relationships.

Soooo … How did you get your partner on board with FIRE? Any defining moments, or was it easy from the get-go?

*Top pic by Cody Black

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Matt May 22, 2020 at 8:11 am

I love the comment about de-boarding your boat first. This was probably the hardest part for me to understand that my way was for me and if we are going to do this together the key there was thinking differently, think together.

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2 Joel May 22, 2020 at 9:04 am

Yeah I never realized it at the time, but looking back it was a big turning point. Can’t be in 2 kayaks at the same time… Think different, think together… that’s got a ring to it!

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3 Bo May 22, 2020 at 8:38 am

My wife was mostly absent from our financial plan for many years, letting me handle the details and telling me she trusted my judgment.

That’s fine and all, but in recent years, I’ve worked on getting her up to speed, and now we’re on the same page, mutually, to work together on reaching FIRE in the next 5-10 years.

We became debt-free on April 15th 2020, and now we’re securing income.

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4 Joel May 22, 2020 at 9:11 am

Hey Bo – CONGRATS. Being debt free is a huge milestone!

Trust plays a major role at the beginning. I was the same for a little while, my wife would just trust me to handle everything. But then I started thinking “What if I die and my wife doesn’t know what to do afterwards?”. I wanted to teach her about where money comes/goes so she can understand the end game.

Glad to hear your wife is up to speed and working on plans with you. It’s way more fun and exciting when 2 are involved vs. just 1 person!

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5 Andrea May 22, 2020 at 8:42 am

For my husband, it was a “visionary” statement, I guess. We’re hopefully about 5 years away from FIRE “retirement.” I turned to him one day and asked – “who do you want to be in retirement? the guy who’s home all the time taking care of his stuff/toys, or the guy who’s never home because he’s traveling the world?” He chose travel, and *BOOM* he was highly motivated and onboard! It’s great when you can visualize your future self at the end of the journey!

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6 J. Money May 22, 2020 at 8:57 am

THAT’S SUCH A GREAT QUESTION TO ASK!!!!

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7 Joel May 22, 2020 at 9:17 am

Amazing. I’m saving your note and will add it to a collection of helpful ideas for newbie’s out there. That’s really a great questions to ask about WHO do you want to be? So good.

Oh, and when my wife wakes up this morning I’m gonna make a vision statement with her!

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8 Francis May 22, 2020 at 9:27 am

Here’s the winning line and message. Perfectly aligns with the book “Your Money or Your Life.”
“…the hundreds or thousands of non-refundable hours of my life I traded to earn that money.”
Non-refundable hours of life is a much more impactful way of expressing time if one is doing work for just money alone.

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9 Joel May 22, 2020 at 9:46 am

Yep! I’d gladly trade all my money to have that time back in life – but life doesn’t work that way. :( All I can do is make sure I’m happy with where I spend my future hours, and help others avoid the same trade mistakes.

Don’t kill me… I haven’t read Your Money or Your Life! (yet)

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10 Samantha J Allen May 22, 2020 at 11:09 am

My husband and I were very young when we started out life together, and we walked the journey of financial education together while taking Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace course. It became easier to talk about money with goals and a script, and common language. We began working together toward paying off our debt and our relationship became stronger because of it. He is still much more conservative but having a shared vision gets us on the same page heading toward the same destination.

Fast forward many years – we’re totally debt free (even had a mortgage-burning party!) and we’re maybe five years from extreme early retirement. Life is good!

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11 Joel May 22, 2020 at 3:40 pm

Hey Sam! Love the idea of a “common language” – makes it much easier to discuss money. CONGRATS on being debt free! Life is definitely good!

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12 Lisa May 22, 2020 at 11:46 am

You say “my wife and I built our financial plan together” but you immediately point out “[e]ven though I was responsible for 95% of the technical details and spreadsheet stuff.” That second part seems superfluous unless you really want to show up your wife for doing “more” than her.

You suggest that because your wife didn’t ask YOUR money questions from her first job offer “[w]e were on completely different pages financially.” Women tend to be a little slower on the uptake on 401ks and IRAs, but it doesn’t mean they’re less grownup or less financially savvy. She’s thrifty, a good negotiator, and got a good job out of college. Why can’t you say, she was doing great for a 23-year old and we were on the same page financially with equal but different strengths but I have bad social skills so I ruined the conversation?

You said “My wife and I …” and later say “I bought a small rental property in Texas in 2015.” I hope you meant “we bought.”

Finally, you convince your wife by saying “For every week that you work now, you are shaving 2 weeks off of us having to work later in life.” I will admit it’s a bit of a sore subject for me as I know a fair number of women who had the same language used on them by their husbands to convince them to work more and then their husbands left them. And I know you’ll say “I would never leave my wife!” and that’s what those husbands also would have said.

I just worry about when people are cajoled into doing things they don’t want to in order to provide for an uncertain future together. She’s young, you’re still in love, and money seems fine. If I were her gal pal, I’d ask, would you be happy doing this even if the future doesn’t materialize as you imagine? What would you like to do in the future and how can you work toward that now? Also, is your name on the deed of that rental property?

Sorry, had to be the lawyer to damper the parade.

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13 Joel May 22, 2020 at 3:48 pm

Woah Lisa! I’d hate to be up against you in a courtroom! I appreciate your feedback and sharing perspectives I didn’t see while writing this. Cheers! Joel

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14 Holly May 22, 2020 at 1:59 pm

Congrats on bonding together over goals and strategies! I’m certain it will help strengthen your marriage.

My ex refused to budget with me. Although I was the primary wage-earner, he made many high-priced spontaneous purchases without collaborating (for example, one day he rolled up to the house in a BMW SUV). He was always in debt. I was never in debt until we married and combined resources. I finally insisted on divorce. That solved my problem; a few years after the split, I became debt-free, except for the mortgage.

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15 Joel May 22, 2020 at 3:57 pm

Wow Holly. I’m sorry to hear the relationship wasn’t successful – I’m sure you learned a ton along the way. That’s crazy about the BMW!

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16 [email protected] May 22, 2020 at 5:49 pm

Very similar to my wife and I. Even though we are on the same page financially, I do most of the thinking and initiating investments and future earnings. We are a team, but that is my strength. She has strengths in other areas that I do not. We are always conversing with investments and our retirement plans. She knows what is going on and could take over if needed whenever she wants. I don’t make a move if she is not comfortable with it. She always thought she would work till 60, but I showed her the numbers. We even paid a CFP to go over the numbers to confirm and we will be retiring eight years earlier. Life is good!

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17 Joel May 23, 2020 at 9:55 am

I like the way you put it about playing your strengths. My wife and I are the same… She could take over at any point, but doesn’t have the interest that I have. Regardless, she is involved and approves every decision we make.
Congrats on early retirement – to both of you! Life is definitely good!!!

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18 Adam Egloff May 22, 2020 at 6:16 pm

”For every week that you work now, you are shaving 2 weeks off of us having to work later in life“ That has to be the best way to describe it to a person that isn’t money motivated. Brilliant article, I look forward to more!

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19 Joel O'Leary May 30, 2020 at 9:09 am

Hey thanks Adam! I’ll admit, I didn’t have the exact math to back up that saying at the time – because it depends on how much we make vs. how much we need later. But it’s not about the money – it was more about making sacrifices now that have huge payoffs later.
Cheers!
Joel

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20 Liz May 22, 2020 at 9:13 pm

My husband and I have been married almost 12 years and I’ve always been the one handling the money. We started off our marriage like that because he left after 6 months to deploy to Iraq so I was the one at home who could pay the bills and I’ve been doing it ever since. He knows about how much we have/ save but he’s not really into money. He’s also not a big spender so it makes it easy for me to keep a handle on the money.

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21 Joel May 23, 2020 at 9:59 am

It’s cool you guys can divide and conquer like that. And it definitely helps when your partner isn’t a big spender and has little wants in life.
Please tell him THANK YOU for his service. Enjoy the long weekend :)

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22 Jen May 23, 2020 at 8:59 am

My husband was laid off from a six figure job due to COVID and we have no idea if he will be able to replace it or not. We’re “ok” because I also make six figures but we have already vowed that once he’s working again we are getting serious with FIRE. I don’t ever want to be “ok” again, we earn too much for that.

The lay-off was the push my husband needed, I think. Fingers crossed for us! He’s interviewing almost weekly right now.

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23 Joel May 27, 2020 at 5:19 pm

Sorry to hear he was laid off, but I’m glad you’re already thinking about making good changes for the future! Tough times and conversations in life lead to golden moments later on!

Good luck to him on the job hunt!
Joel

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24 Steveark May 23, 2020 at 3:19 pm

I think that you should be on the same page financially before you ever get married. Actually all the important parts of life, spirituality, having kids, where you’d like and hate to live, view on pets, political views, career goals and everything money should be thoroughly vetted. Marrying someone without knowing where they stand on even one of these topics is risky business. Marriage is a lifetime commitment so there should be a great deal of discovery before signing the contract. We did that and after 41 years of marriage we are still waiting to have that first fight about money.

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25 5am Joel May 27, 2020 at 5:22 pm

Love hearing from people that have been married for many decades. Congrats on 41 years! Awesome advice – thank you!

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26 Paul May 27, 2020 at 7:40 am

This is such a great topic and one I wish more people had the courage to tackle (although, I understand why they don’t). Wife and I continue to struggle with this. Brief moments of clarity followed by stupid purchases that we NEED but somehow make our lives significantly worse. I’ve just been luck on the earnings side of things and been able to keep ahead of it for the most part BUT I know if we were running on all 8 cylinders, we’d both be retired right now. I know its a process but also its in how we both communicate. It feels like we are getting there, albeit slowly.

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27 5am Joel May 27, 2020 at 5:33 pm

Hang in there Paul. Progress is progress, even if it’s slow. I think every couple can look back and identify things they could have done more efficiently. Just got to keep moving forward and try to learn from the past.

Love the 8 cylinders analogy. It’s time to fire them all up!

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