Finding your frugal compromise without destroying your relationship


“You spent how much?”  Does this sound familiar?  So often I have read about how we über frugal early retirement weirdos are supposed to somehow magically, perhaps via telepathy, in-grain in our spouse our love for frugality that comes naturally to us.

Question, how many of you out there have grown up, with identical values, parents, lifestyles, hobbies, as your spouse or partner?  I’m waiting…

Can I be painfully honest here, just for a moment?  Most of us do not have spouses that share the same love/passion/desire for FIRE as we do.  Usually, from what I have read, one person leads the way, and tries to pull the other person along, or ends up dragging them along.  Can we sell them our early retirement dreams?  What if your spouse, like most Americans, isn’t programmed the same way you are?  What if they don’t care how long they work for?

The sales pitch approach

Ahhhh, if only the world was so perfect?  This seems to be the approach I read about most often on financial independence blogs.  It’s the, “hey, just talk your spouse into early retirement.”  Let’s explore this for a moment, shall we?  Everything your spouse knows and has ever known, about work-life and retirement, has been ingrained since birth.

 

Early retirement is not like selling bottled water to a parched marathon runner.  This is a lifestyle pitch, a complete and total change of ones expected course.  It is like a fish trying to swim upstream.

It is very likely that your spouse is frugal and a saver in ways that you are not.  Respect your differences.  It may be that what’s important to them is ignored by YOU.  Yes, you, the one staring at the screen now completely entranced by this phenomenal topic.  You might get defensive at questions such as, “what do I get out of early retirement?”  Even worse, you may be drilled with such sincere inquiries as, “you sound like you just don’t want to work.”

Newsflash: if you wanted to live a conventional life, such as working for the man or a soulless corporation, early retirement wouldn’t be on your radar screen.  As a reader of the Finance Patriot, you are the 1%; the risk takers, the dreamers, the lovers of life.  So step one is admitting what’s obvious, “yes, I don’t want to work forever.”  That’s OK.  Conventional norms of working a normal career, with fixed pay, don’t appeal to you.

Share the dream instead

The happiest place on Earth

Your partner may have different dreams than you do.  Perhaps they want to travel the world and you don’t.  I think it’s important to explore what the other person wants out of life and then try to find a compromise that will make both happy.  For example, your spouse doesn’t want to quit working ever, but wants to travel the world.  You could say, “imagine if you had all the time in the world to book trips for cheaper prices and more often once you retire?”

Now, instead of it just being your dream, you are attempting to get your spouse to share the dream.  Perhaps your spouse wants to volunteer more at the school or spend more time with the kids.  Early retirement is a perfect vehicle to spend more time on ANYTHING.

Do you view spending money on vacations as delaying your FI date?  This is a dangerous path to go down, as you may end up resenting your spouse for this.  Instead, your travel compromise can be “travel hacking.”  The internet defines travel hacking as:

Travel hacking is the art of collecting frequent flyer miles and points to travel for free. The best part is the majority of miles are earned without ever stepping foot on a plane.

(My credit card page has some useful credit card links to start your travel hacking)

You don’t want to spend money traveling, but your spouse does.  You learn how to travel hack, and sign up for multiple credit card bonus offers in order to travel for less, or even better, for free.  This is the best of both worlds, and one that myself and my spouse enjoy.  We are now flying our entire family next month to Puerto Rico due to this frugal compromise.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

It’s very easy to want your spouse to dream about early retirement like you do. However, realize that your spouse isn’t going to share your dream over night.  It will likely take months, if not years, to persuade them to see the endless vat of benefits of financial independence.  Your job is tall, as they are trying to unlearn everything they have ever seen around them in their lives.

Empathize with your spouse. They may have fears of no health insurance, running out of money if they retire too early, and what your new normal will look like.  Be sure to explore and find out what their fears are.  It’s entirely possible that their fears are based on not having the same understanding of how money works as you do.  Do not downgrade their fears; they might be unfounded fears, but they are still very real.  View yourself as a learner and educator, someone who is on your partner’s side and not against them.

Livin’ La Vida Frugal-  or lead by frugal example

I am not going to lie to you and say that getting your spendy spouse to change is going to be easy.  It’s going to be hard, and that is why some stealthy strategies are going to be necessary.  One important thing you need to do is always be frugal, and discuss your frugal strategies with your spouse.  If you have some bad spending habits, give them up and really be the change you want to see.

Fact: Frugality can and will lead to wealth.

Perhaps you still buy lunch at work, if so, read my article about packing a work lunch instead. Calculate how much changing cell plans has saved you each month/year, and share your excitement with your spouse.  Praise your spouse for frugal changes that he/she has made.  For myself, I am very happy that my wife suggested that my son and I share a birthday cake (our birthdays are five days apart).  In prior years, I had always wanted a carrot cake on my birthday.  However, what a silly waste it is to insist on a carrot cake, when half of my son’s chocolate birthday cake is still in our freezer!  Small wins are important, celebrate your partner’s frugal ideas and wins.

My actual birthday cake, complete with Pokemon figures and shared with my six year old son.

What not to do

Do not put down your partner.  This is very hard to do, when benefits of FIRE are so painfully obvious to you. Here are some important things not to say:

“You spent how much?  Are you out of your mind?

“Buying those golf clubs can only be described as CRAY-CRAY.”

“A penny saved is a penny earned, but being with you is only seeing pennies burned.”

“Are you bad at math?”

Can you see where this may not lead your spouse to be persuaded, and me even draw your spouse into rebellion?  This is not an enviable spot to be in.  It’s best to avoid knee jerk reactions and, instead, talk about these topics when we are well rested and calm instead.

Perseverance

Anything worth doing in life is hard.  This is the harsh reality of life.  Therefore, the longer you persist in following the steps above such as; leading a frugal example, sharing your same early retirement dreams, compromising on your obsession with intense frugality, will lead to more successes.  Remember, you married this person because you enjoy their company and have things in common.  Focus on the good, and don’t let petty differences get in the way of your financial independence dreams.  It’s possible you may learn to want the same things and you will need to compromise to find your common goals.

Measure your success in baby steps, and not in leaps.  As with everything in marriage and love, keep the expectations low.  That’s the only way to be happy in a relationship.

29 comments

  1. Great advice. Too often in the personal finance / early retirement self-help community everyone promotes the cult lines. Others WANT to work until they can’t. I’m merely professionally lazy and want to work hard until I don’t have to. Personal finance is just a slice of family finance & adherence to your advice is a great way to avoid the Divorce Tomahawk of Doom.

    Seriously, after dealing with the most troubled families in my City I often go home with the sole goal of hugging the bast…s I live with and love.

    1. I can only imagine what that must be like. Keep in mind though, for every one seriously messed up families you see, there are many boring, normal houses just trying to live their lives in Peace.

      I say, “Love the one you’re with.” Their are many other good reasons to get divorced, frugality is not one of them. Better to fight for your marriage if you can.

  2. Great post and wonderful, tempered advice. My ex and I never could come to agreement on money (she spent, I saved). Although that wasn’t why we divorced, it probably played a huge part. Without me being her “controller” she eventually had to file for bankruptcy several years after our divorce. I ended up marrying someone who’s values about money are more in line with my own. And so it goes. – Marty

    1. Money is such a deal breaker for couples. Not having enough leads to fights, and completely incongruent goals makes it seem like there isn’t enough; at least for one of the parties. People don’t divorce, usually, over one thing. It’s generally a collection of things.

      Sorry you had to go through the heartache, but at least now you can truly value what you have now.

  3. I see this all the time when I facilitate Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class. Spouses are usually one or the other and it’s very rare for both of them to be the same. A lot of times they have a light bulb moment listening to their spouses on why it’s important to be frugal/loosen up the wallet in certain situations. Usually they start compromising on some issues and really helps their marriages.

    1. That sounds great. I just couldn’t bring myself to reconcile what I read online, two spouse couples that were both very frugal, and what I saw in real life, was that two people always seemed to be different in their spending habits. What I find most interesting is it isn’t always the man or woman that is frugal, it’s almost as likely to be either.

  4. Yikes…this is a great article, but hurts to read. Particularly that it holds true for most of us. My wife is great. She watches what she spends, knows and supports my plans, but we still can’t pull the trigger on all of the frugal steps I want to take (like changing phone carriers to google) or not spending so much money on courses for our son….alas, I am luckier then most but still would like a warp drive to independence.

    1. I am definitely more frugal than my wife, but I think the best thing we can do is be patient and understanding. We have an expensive cell phone plan even though switching to Cricket would give us more data, same towers at a lower price. yes, it can be frustrating.

  5. Great post! I agree 100% that it takes time. When I first started pursuing FIRE it came about through reading MMM. I started slowly making small changes in our lives and my wife was a little skeptical at first, but now 3-4 years later she’s on board! I guess knowing that she only has 4 more years left of full time work is good for motivation. I still don’t agree with everything we spend money on, but I think its important to pick and choose your battles and to keep the big picture in mind.

    1. Exactly, like everything else in marriage, you won’t win all the time. I think having a frustrating or annoying job really is the change people need to get on the FI board. That, or having kids and not being able to see them during the work hours also might help.

  6. ughh finances can be the Achilles heel of a relationship especially if you have two very different ways of spending or were raised with different kind of values around money which is the case for me. Also, when you are both finance and accounting people, its an informed decision. But compromise and allowing each other breathing room is the key to the sweet spot. Great read.

    1. Thanks again for the great input. I am going to guess you are the more frugal one? How do you two differ? I’d love to read about it on your blog if you want or can post about it. Also, keep up those excel spreadsheets, they will only help you in life. My wife isn’t an accountant by trade, but she loves spreadsheets even for her to do lists.

  7. My wife played a great trick: she waited for years, until I wanted to become FI, and became frugal as a result. she had been frugal years before I started, but she let me believe I’m the one who found out about all of this 🙂

    1. That’s a great trick. I am glad that she liked her job enough that she was patient enough to wait. I became very impatient about FI after my job started becoming stressful this last year.

  8. As with most things in marriage it is all about compromise. When I first started getting into FIRE my wife was afraid we were going to be eating nothing but Ramen and never using the AC again. She is slowing getting on board now that she sees we aren’t doing anything extreme just being a little more careful.

  9. A great post but it’s a reminder that it’s not just about frugality where compromise needs to be made within relationships, it’s pretty much everything!

  10. The idea of sharing a common dream is how I got my girl on board. She wants to travel and be a stay at home mom. Both dandy ideas. I laid out the cost savings I was looking at in terms of the quality and quantity of trips we could afford. At spending she wanted we could do one trip per year somewhere on the east coast driving the whole way with a toddler. With my budget, we could afford one trip anywhere in the nation (with one international every other year) and a second smaller trip staying a hotel somewhere in the state.

    It was a simple pitch. She had a dream, I just gave her a better one.

  11. Great advice! My husband and I are mostly on the same page, but we do have somethings that the other places higher value on than others.

    1. I do think that’s the ideal situation, is two people who are naturally frugal. Otherwise there will be friction and it needs to be mitigated. Thanks for your input.

  12. I think your article resonates with many, many couples 😀
    We used to have quite a few arguments regarding spending too much, but in the end we managed to get on the same page: I agreed I often exaggerate with being frugal and my other half agreed he used to spend way more than he earned. So, as a couple, we somehow balance each other out and manage to work towards the same goal: saving for retirement. Even if not an early one, it still counts!

    1. I know how you feel. Over time, I have come to accept her frugal ideas even though I consider myself the more frugal one. She sometimes comes up with ideas I didn’t think of and that definitely helps.

      I’m glad you have found a happy medium between you two.

  13. How did I just find this post? I really need to get a better system for keeping up with blogs.

    This is really level-headed advice. My fiance never thought about money…until I came along. I’d say I chose the ‘lead by example’ approach. We don’t always agree on things, but it’s about compromise or finding ways to work smarter. Like, travel is more important to me. So he’s happy to sign up for cards and go along for the ride, especially as my schemes make it way cheaper.

    Anyway, I gave him an assignment to write a guest post on my blog re: our differences. Can’t wait to see what that dude says.

    1. I would love to read a guest post. I suggested to my wife she write a guest post and she wasn’t at all interested. She does edit though, if I ask her, and I made sure she read this one before I published it.

      Thanks for commenting.

  14. Comprimise is key to everything in marriage, not just finances. You have two people that are similar, but still with different opinions, ways of doing things, and values. Each person has their own unique habits. Just like you would hate to have someone force you to adopt their spending heavy lifestyle, they probably hate if you try to force an extreme frugal living mentality on them. Now that is an extreme comparison, because chances are you are marrying a like minded person and you money/spending habits are not that far off. But there will be disagreements and us frugal minded people have to be just as flexible. Chances are, a simple, honest conversation will usually get the job done and a fair comprise will be met.

    Thanks again!

    Bert

  15. “Do not put down your partner”

    Over the years I’ve learned in hard ways to be very careful in choosing my words when questioning spending. So the end result is we both get a discretionary budget each month that we agreed upon that allows us to spend freely and still responsibly. This way we are independent, yet still a team in achieving our financial goals.

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