Earlier this year, my fiancee casually mentioned our plan to reach Financial Independence, or FI, by our mid 30’s to her father. She used the phrase, ‘we plan to reach retirement in our mid 30s,’ which naturally set off a lot of bells and whistles. I wrote more about this experience in an earlier post; it was the first time I found myself explaining early retirement to someone, let alone to my future father-in-law.
Before writing that post, I googled the topic of early retirement in relationships. I then started to google some of the common issues couples face. I was genuinely appalled at some of the articles. When it comes to financial problems in relationships, many of the headlines read similar to, “How to Convince My Wife to Save More,” or, “How to Handle Significant Other Who Has No Interest in FI.”
I started to ask myself this basic question: “Why is there such a disconnect and what should people DO about it?”
What do we do if one person is on board with early retirement or reaching financial independence at an early age and the other is not?
I understand the idea of having a strong belief and wanting your partner on board, but we can’t convince or “handle” someone into adopting the same set of beliefs as us.
The approach that worked for us is to first seek to understand and then to be understood. I first learned of this principle from Steven Covey.
Part of the reason I created Distilled Dollar was to share in how we managed to get on the same page. It was a long road and one I’m grateful we were able to travel successfully. If we believe personal finance is sexy, then why wouldn’t we want to be on board, right?
Sadly, it isn’t that easy. People have varying degrees of priorities and values.
Pick your poison. For me, I love pursuing my hobby of triathlon training, which can be expensive when you add up the cost of things like a road bike, shoes, accessories, and other miscellaneous costs such as race registrations. For her, she loves to have a glass (or bottle) of wine with dinner.
Realize that if you’re strong in your ability to craft a budget and stick with it, and if your partner is weak in that area, then that this is an opportunity to grow together.
The second critical component is he or she is going to be stronger in some other area of your lives that matters. So, be respectful and think about it from his or her perspective.
This isn’t a chance to go on a diatribe about how FIRE is the greatest thing in the world and that he or she NEEDS to be on board because it is so awesome. You shouldn’t mention how spending on luxuries is the greatest travesty ever and that he or she NEEDS to read every article by Mr. Money Mustache ever written.
Trust me, you need to bottle that feeling down and take it step by step.
Seek first to understand what’s important about money to your significant other, and work from there. In the end, you’ll likely converge on similar themes such as having more freedom, more security, and more options.
A 2nd Option to Mend a Financial Problems in a Relationship
Another example I’ve seen played out follows the old quote, “The best revenge is a life well lived.”
Sadly, the word “revenge” is a bit drastic, but you can see the point.
If you disagree with someone, the best way to utilize your energy might be in succeeding in what you’re trying to accomplish. Let them see you become happy and fulfilled, and then they’ll see the value. They might even come around and change their life to adapt more to your FIRE habits.
Actions speak louder than words here, so I want to demonstrate this principle in real life by leaving you with a story by another personal finance blogger I admire, Brandon from the Mad Fientist.
One of the reasons I came to admire Brandon is because he did not try to convince his wife to pursue financial independence. He spent many years before his wife ultimately saw the value in his path of living and wrote him a letter expressing her respect, admiration, and a few of her new insights into how she was going to live her life a little differently.
Of course, there was no need for her to change. In a strong relationship, it is not uncommon for both people to come together on the same ideas, attitudes and behaviors over the course of time. We become two peas in a pod.
What do you do when you notice a gap between you and your partner? Have you tried either approach or a different one of your own? If it is something that needs to be addressed ASAP? If so, how do you plan on approaching the conversation? Do you routinely touch base on finances with your significant other?