It’s a recurring scenario in the FI community: one partner discovers FI and has an ‘awakening’. They get fully immersed, then decide it’s time to help their partner to also see the light. They eagerly approach their other half, bubbling over with FI info:
- “We could retire in our 40s! We just have to save 60% of our income.”
- “If we moved to a cheaper city, we could retire NOW!”
- “If you rode a bike to work, do you know how much that could save us?!”
Caught off-guard and thrust into a world completely alien to them, the unwitting partner gets defensive. The FI enthusiast, hoping for excitement and passion, is instead faced with skepticism and reluctance.
The FI dream seems to be dead in the water… or is it?
The scenario I opened with was our FI story. I was overly enthusiastic, went in a little too heavy-handed, and spooked my husband. While M appreciated the concept of FI, he wasn’t sure if it could work for us. He had lots of hesitations and doubts.
Looking back, M’s reaction makes sense. While we’d always been on the same page with finances, FI was utterly foreign to him. Both of us had been raised with the standard belief of ‘work hard, save hard, then retire in your 60s’. That was our programming. There was no one in our lives that lived much differently than that.
M also had his own hopes for the future—an even bigger, nicer house; his dream car (a totally non-Mustachian Shelby Mustang); and lots of travel. To him, choosing FI meant possibly giving up these things, and that was a no-go.
I understood M’s hesitations, and knew I couldn’t drag him into FI. He needed to find his why for FI and see its value for himself. So I backed off and gave him time to let things sink in.
Patience is a virtue…
When I get obsessed with something, I want to get going on it and reach my goal ASAP. I struggled to exercise patience while M slowly got comfortable with FI. So I coped with it the best way I knew how: distracting myself by getting productive.
I dove in and did all the things to get our financial house in order. I learned to DIY invest, got myself on YNAB, and trimmed the fat from our expenses. I started putting real numbers into our FI plan. I tallied our assets, calculated our FI number, and figured out how we’d get there. I also continued taking in all the FI knowledge I could through podcasts, blogs, and books.
Related: FI School—The Ultimate Guide to FI
I’m sure my brain neurons 10x’d in that time!
As I went along, I kept M updated on what I was doing. I showed him our numbers, and helped him visualize our progress using the Networthify calculator and FI Laboratory. When I learned interesting and inspiring things from my favourite FI podcasts and blogs, I’d mention them to M.
Slowly, I noticed he was starting to see how FI could really fit into our lives.
The turning point
Near the end of 2017, we hired a financial advisor to do a financial plan for us. And I’m so thankful we did. I give our advisor Ed all the credit for finally getting M fully on board with FI.
The day Ed presented our financial plan to us, M seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. It was like a weight lifted, and he finally felt free to dream about life post-FI.
Ed helped prove to both of us that our FI plan would work. We’d have enough and then some—somewhere between FIRE and Fat FIRE. M would get his Shelby Mustang. We’d get to travel more than we already do. And we’d have enough to be a bit more frivolous with our spending.
Since that time, M’s undergone a transformation. He’s happier and more at peace with life. Lots of things, both subtle and surprising, have shifted in him:
- He actually wondered aloud if we should get a camper van instead of his dream Mustang! [note]To honest, I think this was just a random thought. Last summer, we saw lots of Sprinter camper vans on our summer roadtrip through the Rockies (they’re very cool). It’s hard not to have #vanenvy when you see those amazing marvels of engineering! In the end, I’m sure M will still choose a Mustang.[/note]
- He’s even more conscious (than he already was) about saving money by buying less and DIYing more.
- He weighs discretionary expenditures against reaching our number sooner—and usually chooses FI.
- He tells others about our FI journey.
- He was already happy, but he’s even happier at work because there’s a ‘why’ to all this money he’s earning.
- He has a greater appreciation for his job and company because of the huge role they’ve played in getting us to FI.
- He spends less time thinking about what he’ll move away from in retirement. Instead, he talks about all the fun, enjoyable things he’ll move towards. (Like restoring old knives and axe heads and giving them away as gifts.)
M’s always self-identified as a glass half empty kinda guy. So watching him become a happier version of himself is unexpected and wonderful. He may never become a card-carrying member of the FI community like me, but he’s already come a lot further than I could’ve imagined.
What I’ve learned
While our financial advisor Ed finally got M fully on board with FI, you don’t need an advisor for this! I could’ve done a lot more myself… here’s what I learned from my experience:
1. Talk about it
One of the most important things Ed did was get us to talk about what we wanted out of financial independence. He asked us to visualize what our lives would look like after: what we’d do, who we’d spend time with, what would be meaningful.
What I did wrong: Thinking back, I did a lot of telling M what I thought our life should look like post-FI. I didn’t spend enough time asking him what he wanted. That was so wrong of me!
If I were to do it over: I’d talk about FI with M more often, but not with the goal of ‘converting’ him. Rather, I’d work on helping him to dream and explore, and find his own why for FI. This is what finally gave him the motivation and interest to get on the FI path with me.
2. Be inclusive
M’s frugal like me, and I definitely wouldn’t classify him as spendy. But he’s more willing than I to trade frugality for a little more time or fun. Eating out more, travelling more, and being a little looser with the purse strings are all very important to him. He also didn’t want to give up his dream of owning a Shelby Mustang. So Ed included all that in our plan and made it work.
What I did wrong: I tried to ignore the things M wanted. I’d hoped that those wants would melt away as we went along in our FI journey. Some of them did (like wanting a bigger house), but the truly important ones (rightfully so) didn’t.
If I were to do it over: I’d temper my drive to achieve FI, and balance it by including M’s needs and wants. My vision for FI worked for me, but didn’t include enough for M, so he had no motivation to get there. Once his needs and wants were taken into account, he didn’t have to resist FI anymore.
3. Have trust
I realize now that I didn’t have trust in M when I discussed FI with him. I didn’t trust that he’d ‘get’ the FI mindset, or be willing to make the necessary trade-offs to reach FI.
What I did wrong: Instead of talking to M about our FI plan, I made the plan on my own. I figured I knew best, and once he saw the light, he’d come around to my way of thinking.
If I were to do it over: I would’ve trusted in M, and given him equal say in our FI plan right from the start. (Even if it meant including things I didn’t necessarily agree with.) When I finally trusted M and included him in the planning, it freed him to make his own decisions about how to reach FI. And he’s made all the ‘right’ decisions since!
The best way to get your partner on board with FI is to help them find their why. You can do this by:
- Talking to each other about your dreams and aspirations.
- Including your partner and their needs and wants in the FI plan.
- Trusting that they’ll make the right decisions to move both of you towards FI.
Reluctant spouses are common in the FI community! Naturally, other bloggers and podcasters have put out content to help with this tricky issue. Here are some of my favourite podcasts and articles on the topic:
- When your spouse isn’t on board
Chrissy’s note: This is a completely different, but very positive approach to dealing with a spouse who isn’t (and may never be) on board with FI.
Mr. Money Mustache
What about you?
Do you have your own story to share? Why was your partner reluctant to share your FI vision? Can you identify what helped get them involved?
I’d love to hear your stories and help others with their FI-nervous partners!
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