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When your spouse isn’t on board

My husband doesn’t care about retiring early. When I first tried to talk to him about getting our savings rate up to 400% or whatever, I expected his eyes to glaze over, but it was worse: he said, “why would we do that?” Not in the sense of “hey I’d like you to explain this to me,” but like “who the fuck did I marry?”

In some pretty major ways, we agree about money. For example, we’d like to have lots of it, because having lots of money is cooler than having none of it. But, obviously, it goes beyond cool.

I want ten trillion dollars in the bank because that would make me feel secure. Secure about my options in day-to-day choices, secure about what I will do in retirement, secure about what might happen if I get in a catastrophic car accident.

He wants ten trillion dollars in his pocket because that would make him feel secure. Secure about food – he grew up food insecure and it is baked into his very brain cells that scarcity is a thing and deprivation isn’t fun, it’s dangerous. To him, being able to go out to lunch feels like security. Secure about comfort – feeling materially comfortable is something that he never had, and something that he values. Secure about being warm – in his childhood, “put on an extra blanket” was a sign that illness, one that could not be controlled, could be around the corner. He has no interest in keeping the house at 61 degrees.

I want to say no to daily comforts so that we can live better later. His dad died before he was 40. What if there is no later?

I want to invest money and see the beauty of compound interest unfold before my eyes. When the Soviet Union fell, and the economy went into a nosedive, his family lost everything they had in savings. Both of his grandfathers, who helped to raise my husband, ended up committing suicide. What if there is no such thing as “it’s always grown so it will always grow”?

We agree: more money is better. We disagree: scrimp and save now to reap the rewards later or live in more relative comfort now.

The thing is, neither one of us is wrong. I would love it if he would prioritize being a cheap-ass like I do, and he would love it if I would loosen up just a bit around nickels and dimes. He’s not on board with FI, I’m not on board with living for now.

There are all sorts of ideas about how to get your spouse into the movement, but here’s a radical idea: how about no?

How about different value systems are neither right nor wrong?

How about “I don’t agree with your point of view but it’s valid, and I can understand it”?

We could, easily, get in screaming fights over this. I could, easily, try to manipulate him into being on my side, just as he could, easily, try to manipulate me. I could build resentment toward him as our portfolio grows and he still doesn’t pack a lunch, and he could build resentment toward me as I try to snatch up his hard-earned money and move it to a place where he can’t use it.

But we don’t. Instead, we look at what we do have in common: more money is good. He is driven by the desire to be able to not stress about money constantly, and that drive has pushed him to ask for raises, to say yes to side hustles. He wants to be able to spend $150 a month in lunches or whatever, and so he works harder; his salary has gone up by $20K per year in the past three years, not counting overtime or side projects (and he’s on his way up). Talk about ROI. As for me, I’m driven by the desire to get us out of debt, to invest in retirement accounts, and that is what pushed me to make almost $50K in side hustles last year. We have different reasons for pursuing higher earnings, but in the end, we both win.

So how do you get your spouse on board with FI? For us, the answer is: you don’t. Maybe it’ll push back our financial independence date by a few years, but maybe also we will save ourselves a ton of stress, resentment, and judgment. I don’t want to constantly be needling him to stop spending the money he earned on things that make him feel good, even if they seem frivolous to me.

Now, if anybody has any good ideas about how to get your spouse on board when it comes to folding laundry, that’s a topic that I’m ready to fight for.

Recommended reading, for another viewpoint, same topic: “How I got my reluctant husband on board with FI”

5 thoughts on “When your spouse isn’t on board”

  1. I’ve been married to a wonderful woman for over 40 years and counting. I have come to understand she is right way more than she is wrong and if she has any concerns about doing something we don’t do it. If she wants us to do it, even if it isn’t financially optimal but makes her feel secure, we do it. That’s why she has term life insurance on me and we both have long term care insurance even though we could move into the most expensive facility in the world tomorrow and our net worth would still grow every year due to the compounding of our substantial investments. What is money for except to reduce risk? And reducing the risk of her worrying about money makes those great investments in my mind.

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  2. I feel you. My husband was born the first year South Korea’s GDP was higher than North Korea’s (1974, if you were wondering). He grew up middle class surrounded by poverty, then was plunged into poverty when his dad had a stroke. I cannot ever get him to embrace minimalism or extreme FIRE–but that’s cool. I love HIM for who he is. I sometimes get jealous of couples that are completely in agreement about a philosophy I’m drawn to, but then I come back to reality: my husband is awesome just the way he is.

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  3. SO MUCH THIS. Thank you for sharing – I’ve kind of talked about something similar. My spouse and I generally share similar spending patterns and basic values about money (i.e. live below our means, avoid debt, etc.) but he is 0% interested in FIRE itself, and that’s OK too. I’m so glad to see others talking about that being OK, instead of a holier than thou attitude about how FIRE is the *only* way!

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