Today’s post tackles spending and savings in relation to our partners. I can’t add up all the emails and messages I’ve received that basically go, “I’m perfect, but my spendthrift spouse, sheesh, he/she is a total spendthrift and doesn’t save!” I’ll tackle how to bridge that savings or investing gap to get on the same page, financially, without torpedoing the relationship.
(Today’s post was inspired by Bobby’s incredible post on How to be Awesome at Handling Your Money with Your Spouse. Bobby’s been a fantastic blogger in the personal finance space, and one of my first coaches who helped me get started in creating an online presence. If you need a bit of a kick to pay off your loans or want to learn more about finances and relationships, then check back to his article and his site.)
Okay, onto today’s post…
Spendthrift Spouses, Savings and The Land of the Midnight Sun
Ever notice your spouse or significant other mismanaging their money?
Or worse, they spend needlessly on purpose…
…just on the whim of a moment.
Long time readers of Distilled Dollar know much of the journey of this site has been about my relationship with my fiancee as we managed to go from living paycheck to paycheck to saving over 60% of our income, within 3 years.
No small task; we still can’t believe how far we were able to go in such a short window. The post I’m most proud of naturally lends itself to our engagement announcement (I even managed to slip in a bit about us becoming bank married).
Outside of love, one of the multi-page-list-long reasons of, ‘why we are such a great match,’ is that we’re both thrifty.
Hell, she’s thriftier than me.
When I was suffering my worst quarter and feeling that gut wrenching feeling of seeing my net worth goin down… She was working full-time and going for her undergrad and applying for more opportunities.
Land of the Midnight Sun
My fiancee comes from the Land of the Midnight Sun. She’s a warrior, through and through. Part of that unique backstory is her ability to sift through the bull and know what’s valuable.
This blog is a product of our relationship as we both broke out of many negative habits and started to claw our way towards meaningful financial milestones, one after another.
Her innate sense of frugality comes from not wanting to waste a moment. Mine comes from not wanting to waste future moments. Together, we make a perfect match.
My backstory isn’t as exciting, having always been in or just outside America’s third largest city, Chicago.
Charlie Munger once quipped, “Marriage and business partners are much the same – when it comes to marriage, have the best that will have you.”
His partner, Warren Buffett, drives home the point for me, “The best thing I did was to choose the right heroes.”
Heroes and Savings
Of course I have my long list of financial heroes and heroines. To pursue early retirement or financial independence at an early age, that’s one bold hero’s path to take!
I’m glad to say my future spouse makes the list since our combined efforts over the years go above and beyond what either of us could have ever accomplished on our own.
For us, 1+1 = 100. But what about you?
What to Do with a Spendthrift Spouse
If you are in for the long haul and unable to get out, and just looking for those 1 or 2 things you can do, right now, to “fix” the situation, then read on below.
2 Quick Solutions to Get Your Spouse on the Same Page (Financially) NOW
- Identify why your spendthrift spouse is such a big spender.This isn’t a 1 on 1 conversation, but rather an observation from you over what creates the spend. If he’s feeling low (call him Low-energy Joe), does he then randomly jump on the computer and impulsively shop online? If she’s feeling ecstatic after a bonus (let’s call her Jazzed up Jessica), does she immediately spring for a $2,000 vacation package?Start to observe without judgment, and seek to understand before you hope to be understood yourself.
- Identify one trigger or one behavior and work to find common ground.By all means, I recommend we practice this approach internally, but for this article, I’m focusing on the spendthrift spouse and tweaking their spend.
Following the first example above, Joe’s spend can be eliminated by,
A) removing the credit cards from the stored online cookies (tweaking his environment),
B) removing his wallet and credit cards while he is online (environment) and/or,
C) identify if there is a time each day or each week – lazy Sunday for example – the causes him to go online and shop(environment).
I highlighted three environmental changes or “hacks,” as these often band-aid the problem and create a desirable, short term solution.
For long term results, the best route is to identify areas the two of you wish to save towards or spend towards. Often, we can get more done by focusing on building the new, rather than trying to “crush” bad habits which is technically impossible. We can only rewire previously learned habits.
To wrap on Joe’s example, depending on the individual, the easiest solution may be to simply eliminate the ability to spend, by tweaking the environment. The longer term solution most often is to identify the trigger and (remove it, or…) rewire the routine to go from a negative result (spending impulsively) to a positive result (investing impulsively, or better yet, investing with a gameplan in mind.)
In Joe’s case, diving in deeper might unveil that’s he’s not happy about the way he looks and he covers this up by buying very fancy clothes for work. Or, Joe might be an avid hobbyist who’s a bit addicted to spending money for his weekend play, at the cost of his future retirement, and current peace-of-mind regarding his family’s’ finances.
For Jessica’s $2,000 pending purchase of an impromptu vacation, I’m all for those types of purchases of travel, BUT, we want to eliminate guilt and all those negative feelings down the road. PLUS, we want to optimize spend so we can increase our assets and therefore, increase our passive income and secure financial independence.
Enjoying a vacation is much easier when you’re not worried about how you’ll afford it when the credit card bill comes due.
So, how does Jessica do this even though she REALLY wants the vacation?
Jessica needs a strategy, whereas, Joe needs a quick fix. Long term, they may need more or different items, but for now, Jessica’s lack of strategy is allowing the unplanned funds to go towards non-strategic objective.
Spendthrift Spouses, Savings, and Strategy
Having a strategy in mind helps us get on the same page.
Before a strategy, there’s nothing to connect on.
Having vague life goals is a start, but saying, “I want to move to the North Shore of Oahu by the end of 2019,” makes the goal concrete – or at least, more defined. By filling in the gaps we are able to move closer to our end destination,
- What type of house will it be? A condo? A ranch?
- Where on the North Shore?
- What will the mortgage be? What’s the price of houses we would want?
- Will we see more or less of our family?
- Will we miss people who we currently see a lot? Can those people visit us?
I started using the questions above as a framework for any strategy. By gaining specificity, we often gain clarity on what to do next. The $2,000 vacation might not seem as appealing IF that $2,000 can be used to achieve the overarching goal.
Two large caveats I can already hear are:
1. “Well, I need a vacation at least once a year, so what the hell am I supposed to do?”
100% agreed – so, I recommend frugal road trips or, if you do decide to go somewhere, “expensive,” know that you can breakthrough that marketing scheme. I went to Hawaii for 10 days for $1800. So, if 2K is your budget, try to budget 50% or 75% of that and invest the rest in yourself.
Frugality is not a sacrifice, but it becomes a burden if you misinterpret it.
Once you see how spending less today translates to earning more next year and gaining an extra few steps towards early retirement and even gaining some confidence around our money, then wow. It becomes…
(pro tip: Another quick way to internalize this point is ask yourself, if you spent 20 years being frugal and saving and investing and then retired at 45 instead of 65, will you say to yourself, “Wow, I just sacrificed 20 years of my life for what!?” OR, would you say to yourself, “Wow, I just GAINED 20 years of my life back!”)
The 2nd caveat…
- “We don’t have a strategy for 2019, 2018, or let alone 2017. I think we’re fine to spend the money.”
If you don’t have a life strategy, or a direction you are going, or a clear route to getting there, then be sure to swing back to one of the earliest Podcasts covering Life Strategy.
The smartest mentors, teachers and friends I know have one common quality when it comes to their investment and savings horizon: They have a clear cut strategy.
Being able to see around the corner and anticipate that next big hurdle or opportunity, well, that vision becomes possible when we can start to look ahead to the 2nd or 3rd next move.
Often, I see the complete opposite happen with spouses and relationships when they discuss money. They’re so tied into the 1st decision, that they aren’t able to look further on down the road.
Expanding our vision, to account for how this decision will impact us next week, next month, or even next year – that type of decision making is vital towards achieving a bigger long term result.
Bottom Line and Conclusion
Don’t aim to make your spouse frugal if she’s a spendthrift. Aim to understand your spouse, understand their environment, and see if there’s a way you can create a change that’s in line with the future strategy the two of you decided on.
Often, this translates to, “change and improve your communication if you want to “change” your spouse’s spending habits.” Not what everyone wanted to hear, but this honest truth gets us closer to those crazy ridiculous goals of financial independence in our 30’s.
Develop a strategy to develop your savings and you won’t have to worry about Spendthrift Spouses or Savings.
What was the big change in your life that led you and your spouse to connect more on the same page and achieve more by working together? Or, what’s holding you back from bridging the gap in your relationship?
P.S. To summarize this post, seek first to understand your spouse, before attempting to change them or before attempting to be understood yourself. I provide 2 quick fixes on how to do that above. The best solution in the long term is identifying and aligning on what you want to save towards or spend towards.
Gaining this level of clarity through the exercises above might feel like you are tearing off that ‘short term solution’ band-aid, and yes, it can hurt. But I promise you, the clarity helps, and with the truth now on our side, spendthrift spouses and savings troubles don’t stand a chance of derailing your money plans.
P.P.S. If you haven’t already, sign up for my upcoming Frugality and Savings Workshop, 100% FREE if you’re on the list below.
If you’re already on the list, then thank you. I’ve been on the phone with a handful of those on the list, along with plenty of lengthy email exchanges — all with the sole purpose of creating the best possible product on Frugality and Savings. The success of that list is based on your success, so feel free to sign up and let me know what you need covered in the course.