Discussing the Escape Plan with your Significant Other

escape plan

 

One of the interesting things when discussing financial independence (FI) is hearing other people’s rationalisations why it’s not possible for them.

One that often comes up is the spouse that is not on board with the programme:

Yeah, all that freedom sounds very nice Mr TEA, but my situation is different.  You see my wife would never agree to cutting our spending and pursuing financial independence…

Possibly because The Escape Artist is a bloke, I hear this more frequently from guys than I do from women.  But it can definitely cut both ways – there are plenty of frugal girls and spendy guys out there.

This week’s article is going to stray onto the subject of relationships,  which is ironic as The Escape Artist has never been accused of being an expert on relationships. Quite the contrary.  But, whilst there may be several billion people better at relationship stuff than me,  very few of those write entertaining English language blogs about financial independence. So here we go.

I advise putting FI on the table as early as possible in your relationship.  If you are single and looking for a partner, when you meet someone new you want them to know asap that you are not a consumerist muppet and why.

Remember debt is invisible.  You can’t see a prospective partner’s overdraft or County Court Judgements in a nightclub, but you can see their bling. So idiot spenders can sometimes enjoy a temporary unfair advantage in the mating market.

In contrast, you are an enlightened person that wants potential partners to judge you by your character, intelligence and values, not by your clothing logos or car badge. So explain your values to potential mates early.  I know…duh!

If you are already in a longer term relationship, then you may have had a spendy past but now want to change and head towards FI.   I call this lifestyle disinflation – the process by which you squeeze out your more wasteful spending habits whilst improving your life at the same time.

I originally met my wife at University.  At the time I lived in a student house that was a downmarket version of the house in The Young Ones.   If you met your wife in these circumstances, you can be confident that she is not a gold digger. Back then my only assets were good legs (from rowing), a schoolboy sense of humour and an absence of STDs.

Time passed, we got jobs and moved to London where spendy consumerism can creep up on you imperceptibly, like a frog being boiled in a pan.  Our lifestyle inflated and outgoings ratcheted up.  My favourite example of our spending in London was when our cat seemed unhappy, we got an animal pyschologist to visit our house and diagnose the issues from her kittenhood.  It was about this time that I realised there was probably some scope to cut back our spending.

lovemuffinYou can reverse the ratchet and implement lifestyle disinflation. You can also take your Special Love Muffin (SLM) with you on this journey but its important to communicate as early, deeply and often as possible on this stuff.

Do not assume that they will magically “get it” by process of osmosis.  Remember you are up against the most powerful pressures in the world – the combined forces of peer pressure and global capitalism.

You need to be clear and upfront on why you are cutting spending and what the advantages will be for them.  Aim high: you don’t just want their grudging tolerance (although that would be a good first step) you will be wanting their full support and love.  You will need to win hearts as well as minds to co-opt them onto your Escape Committee.

So, without further ado, here is The Escape Artist’s easy to follow guide to getting the approval of your Escape Committee:

1. What’s the worst that can happen?

The reason most people fail is that they don’t even try.  When guys say: “My wife would never agree” they are revealing that they haven’t ever had the conversation. As Steve Biddulph says in Manhood, too many guys do all their fighting in the office. Stressed and tired by commuting and office politics, they can’t face the prospect of more arguments at home about money.

Ask yourself: what’s the worst that can happen?  The unspoken fear is that their partner will dump / divorce them and they will then be forced to live alone in a bedsit eating Pedigree Chum on special occasions and roughing it the rest of the time. This is unrealistic.

Give them some credit – after all, they chose you.  The worst that should happen is that you don’t agree immediately. You can always try again later.  Like they say in the self-help books: not asking is an automatic No!

2. Do your homework

Before I told my wife I was going to quit work, I had been reading FI books and blogs and listening to podcasts for several months.  Do your homework.  If your idea of research is typing: “How do I get Rich Quick?” into Google, you are not trying hard enough.

Prepare for The Talk with at least as much commitment as you would prepare for a major presentation at work.  You’d never go into an important work negotiation without having defined your own objectives, done your background reading, put yourself into the shoes of your counterparty and worked out what you are going to say.  So why would you do any less before The Talk? Details matter: pick a time and venue that gives you the space to talk freely when you wont be interrupted by children / email / whatever.

3. Start with your own actions

You don’t need to wait for your spouses consent to change your own spending decisions.   We should always start by improving the things we can control: ourselves.

In relationships, that means getting your own shit together and leading by example before you can persuade your SLM to make changes. Why should Imelda ease back on the shoes if you are still pissing away money on golf bats, loud chequered trousers and SUVs?

If your partner sees you cut out spending on things they know you previously valued, they know this is an honest signal and this is not just some trick to deprive them of goodies.

4. They did it…why cant we?

Show your SLM some examples they can relate to.  Find examples of FI amongst people that seem comparable in terms of age, geography, values, family set up etc.

I knew that my wife would ignore any lifestyle example that didnt include raising a young family.  So I got my wife to read Mrs Money Mustache’s articles on the MMM blog. These were harder to ignore…these people seemed like good parents and they’d made FI work.

Its not just a guy thing.  Show your (female) SLM, the great female FI bloggers out there.    Check out Afford Anything or Free to Pursue as just two examples.

5. Understand their perspective

As it says in The Seven Habits: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes and focus on what is important to them. Only after your partner feels they have been listened to and understood will they be receptive to listening to your proposed changes.

If family and children are the most important thing for your partner, then focus on the upsides of FI that matter to her: no money worries when raising children, more of your time, help and parenting input because you will no longer have to split your time four ways between home, commuting, cubicle and business travel.  Who wouldn’t welcome having a partner that is not grumpy from their job?

I used to wonder why my wife cared more than I did about what other people around us thought.  A little bit of evolutionary pyschology is helpful here.  In pre-history, women probably needed support from the rest of the tribe more than men.  It takes a village to raise a child and sensible women would have formed a network of close relationships to support them during the inevitable hard times that could strike at any time.  Particularly if your idiot husband got himself killed showing off hunting.

6. Explain the higher purpose

One of the (many) mistakes I made was not communicating clearly enough the purpose of saving and my frugality.  My wife used to ask…what is the point of all this saving? This is not an unreasonable question. For many years I didn’t have a clear enough answer for her. I hadn’t seen anyone else around me achieve FI so I wasn’t sure it was even possible and I didn’t want to sound like an unrealistic idiot.

It should be obvious that saving a few quid on the groceries each week is not an end in itself.  It is the accumulation of those savings, invested and compounded, that allows you to achieve freedom and spend time with the people you love, doing things that make you happy.  Think about what lies at the top of the pyramid of financial independence.

Be ready to explain the difference between frugality and cheapness.   Buying Christmas decorations once and re-using them each year is being frugal.   Buying a Poppy once and then re-using it each year is being cheap.

7. Agree what you can agree

Rome was not built in a day and you are never going to cover everything in a single conversation.  FI cuts across all aspects of life(house, car, job, children, schools) so don’t try to deal with everything  at once.

Be calm, be persistent, show them you mean business and are prepared to be patient.  When you seem like you are at an impasse, try not to get too frustrated. Bank the areas of agreement and come back to the other points at a later date. Be like the water that eventually wears down the stone.

Its helpful to start by finding some quick and easy wins that you can both get behind. This starts the process of co-operation and helps you away from arguing about how to split the cake and towards co-operating to make the cake bigger.

And that’s pretty much all there is to it.

It turns out this relationship stuff is actually not as hard as I’d thought!  Believe me, if The Escape Artist can do this, you can too.  What’s next? Perhaps we can get David Beckham to blog about how to solve thermodynamics equations?

10 comments

  1. Interesting timing! I’m just reading ‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck, about to read the chapter on relationships!

  2. Great article. In my opinion it’s absolutely crucial to have you love muffin on the same page as you. When I met my wife 10 years ago she was a spendaholic and for a while my lifestyle inflated too. Thankfully the financial crisis was a big wake up call for me (seeing many friends get made redundant instantly).

    Since then our path has moved towards frugalism/FI, slowly at first, faster as time passes. I think what has made it easy (to date) is that we both work and our earning power is pretty even and all our earnings/assets are pooled. This means that any sacrifices are equal and are made for the common goal of reaching FI asap!

    1. UTMT – you are indeed blessed….a high earning and non-spendy SLM on board with the programme….remember to pinch yourself every day

  3. Nice one TEA.

    The key mistake I made (and will probably continue to make… I’m a slow learner with this sort of thing) is expecting things to move quickly in the direction I wanted. It takes time for people to adjust, as you say consumerism and peer pressure are powerful forces!

    We are slowly getting there, myself included in that as well.

    Putting myself in Mrs TFS’s shoes (not literally, there are far too many of them 😉 ) seems like a hard thing to do for me, I just don’t understand spending a lot of money on clothes, haircuts and so on, so that part of spending was dumped without fuss for me. However she thinks golf is a waste of money. Petty arguments are hard to avoid at the start. We worked out a system (will be writing a post on this soon) and it’s been going since September and after a few months of getting used to it, I think we’ve both finally turned a corner, especially in the light of my recent expenses report. That was a big wake up call to both of us. I’m lucky that Mrs TFS is open minded, is quite frugal at heart, and usually comes round to my crazy schemes after much persuasion. I’ve definitely struck gold on that account 🙂

    Anyway all of this is to say that explaining the benefits of FI to your partner is the easy part. I think you’d have to be a very close minded individual to not agree with the idea in principle! The proof as they say, is in the pudding!

    1. Ha-ha! What is it about shoes?

  4. Great article, I think this is a huge issue as the transition to frugality is usually quite uneven in most relationships.

    I have taken the approach of agreeing what you can agree and otherwise “being the change that you want to see in others”.

    It takes time but if you are patient you should be able to bring your spouse on the journey with you. The rewards are certainly worth it, it might just take a while for them to see it clearly!

  5. I don’t recall ever having ‘the talk’ with my better half, we were skint when we met and didn’t really do any significant lifestyle inflation thereafter.
    I think the only discussion we had along the way was agreeing how much house was enough. I agued vociferously and wrongly that our (paid off) 2 up 2 down was enough, SLM with bun number 2 cooking dug her heels in and said no. Took us a good couple of years to settle back down after that one, mostly because I so bitterly resented giving up ‘my’ debt freedom and the consequent reliance on employers in a flaky industry (which did come back to bite me).
    So even though we share the same values sometimes I have been overly cautious rather than SLM being overly spendy, which is an angle you don’t often see discussed.

    Oh and cat psychologist FFS, our’s have a cat flap which they are free to use anytime they feel they would be happier elsewhere. Which is what I’m going to tell the kids when they get to 16 🙂

    1. Brilliant…love the child flap gag, Nathan!

  6. Cracking stuff TEA.

    I actually brought the question up last week, I’ve been reading a lot about all you frugal legends out there and was armed to the fucking teeth for the conversation.

    “So, I’ve been reading a log of personal finance blogs. We’re both saving over 50% and I’ve run some numbers. Fancy trying to retire around 40?”

    My laptop was primed with The Numbers.

    “Hmmm ok then. As long as we don’t become weirdos”

    Result! It helps that were both accountants I guess.

    Roll on becoming weirdos.

    You’re right though. Properly understanding what it’s all about before ploughing on with The Conversation is a good thing. The next thing. How do you reveal you are a nutter with a blog 🙂

    Mr Z

  7. thedoffer · · Reply

    As you can tell I’m still making my way through your archives…

    Resonating very much with me at the minute, this one. I’ve started all my plans without specifically talking to the other half about them in depth. All our finances are separate, even though we have been together 10+ years and living together 5+ years. I’m open with her about what I spend and what I save but more along the lines is that it is all for us and our future. Spending on her side has cut down hugely from when we first met, and she is OK with saving a few quid here and there and certainly doesn’t overspend on useless ‘stuff’. We talk more now about what makes us happy and the things that means the most to us. We are nearly at the point of a happy medium in spending vs happiness and it’s starting to feel like all the dots are joining.

    I’m currently reading an interesting book on happiness and linked to your point above about people focusing on how they THINK things will play out ie how the other will react. We are often wrong in our imagination about these things. Maybe I need to take that on.

    Great post, as always.

    The Doffer

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