Why cutting spending won’t harm your love life

FI CoupleYou needn’t worry that pursuing Financial Independence and cutting your spending will stop you attracting the opposite sex. Here’s why:

I’ve heard lots of different objections to pursuing financial freedom. Most of these objections are regularly discussed in other FI blogs.

But one that I’ve not seen covered in any depth is the fear that as a result of cutting our spending, the opposite sex might perceive us as cheap / mean and therefore unattractive.

I can only write from a male perspective but it seems to me that us guys might have a bigger problem than women with misconceptions in this area.  This is because a lot of us men are idiots who, egged on by advertising, have picked up ridiculous notions about what women value in men.

The concern for single guys might be:

If I pursue FI and slash my spending, might I become unattractive to women? Don’t I need to be an economic provider? An alpha male? Does George Clooney talk earnestly about frugality on first dates? And does he fret about turning up the thermostat in his Man Cave when he takes a supermodel back and its a bit nippy? What if frugality is a deal-breaker for women?

The concern for guys who are married or in a long term relationship might be:

If I pursue FI and cut my spending, might that mean my Special Love Muffin will resent the fall in their “lifestyle”, stop loving me and run off with the bloke next door with his executive kettle and the ride on mower with go-fast stripes? What if she divorces me? What if she gets the goldmine and I get the shaft?

OK, so most men don’t actually put it in those terms.  But The Escape Artist knows the male mind and the misconceptions that many have.

This is an area that’s quite tricky to talk about. We live in a politically correct age where lots of men shy away from anything to do with male / female relations. There is a terror of saying anything that might be construed as sexist. This makes it a perfect subject for The Escape Artist, who doesn’t mind cracking a few jokes in questionable taste and can not be fired by his Boss or Editor.

Men are simple creatures.  Let’s face it…many of us never take the time to learn to understand how the opposite sex thinks and feels. This is why men often “joke” about women being a mystery and impossible to understand.

But when we avoid thinking for ourselves, we tend to end up following other people’s agendas.  In consumerist capitalism, that means the agenda of large companies who spend billions on advertising and marketing . Those companies don’t spend billions because they enjoy creating amusing adverts. No, they spend that money because advertising works.

Consumerism does not want us to be happy. Consumerism wants us to buy shit in an ultimately futile attempt to feel better.  So advertising aims to make us dissatisfied with our looks, possessions and partners and to want more, more, more.

How else are we to explain adverts like this?:

The advertisers want to persuade us that we can spend our way to attractiveness: that a deodorant can bump us up from a “7” to a “9”.  We have been marinaded in advertising sauce all our lives and these ideas eventually get absorbed into our sub-conscious.

As a result, many of us guys have been tricked into the notion that by spending money we will become more attractive to women.  This helps explain how many guys end up over time turning into Walking Wallets who think their only role in life is to pay the bills.

The truth is that women are perfectly capable of earning themselves and providing for their own economic future.  Women do better in school, university and enter the higher paying professions in equal or greater number than men.  Women often have better social skills, a more collaborative approach and better emotional intelligence. These are important traits in the modern workplace.

The advertising and marketing industries know that males aged 18 – 30 are perhaps the most easily manipulated segment.  It is young males who are most willing to blow their money in pursuit of their mating goals.  It is during these early years that guys get habituated to ridiculous spending (e.g. nightclub entry, booze, cars etc) picking up bad habits which they often then keep for the rest of their lives as wage slaves. Guys need to remember that it is high spending plus debt obligations which keep them on the treadmill.

I can’t prove this but I’m pretty sure that a lot of guys piss all their money away during their teens and twenties because those are the years in which most men’s functional intelligence is overwhelmed by their sex drive. Its a bit like expecting hungry dogs to save a juicy steak for the future.

I am not saying that all spendy guys are consciously trying to show off to women.  But my theory is that a lot of them are doing so whether consciously or sub-consciously.  In practice, its hard to determine where spending to impress same sex friends stops and spending to attract the opposite sex starts. It all just looks like what rappers call “fronting and maxxing”.

Personally, I don’t think most women are all that impressed with money: its not their main criterion for mate selection.  If that were the case, then The Escape Artist would be unable to leave the house without being mobbed by screaming Surrey housewives (a bit like Take That back in the day). I can assure you that’s not the case. I’d have noticed.

The evidence from academic studies in evolutionary psychology suggests that money ranks way below kindness, intelligence, humour as well as physical looks in terms of what women look for in men. Those men that think all women are primarily looking for money are mistaken and this can skew their world view and make them unnecessarily cynical.

Confusion may arise because effectiveness, ambition and good people skills are traits that most women value…and that also tend to correlate with higher income.  But it’s easy to see this in practice and assume wrongly that women are attracted by a guy’s high income…whereas in fact they are attracted to the underlying character traits.

Being single has pros and cons just as being married has pros and cons.  I am not going to pronounce on which is “better” because who am I to say what’s best for everyone else?

But from the (admittedly somewhat narrow) perspective of pursuing financial independence, being single means you can run your own world like a benign dictator.  You have complete freedom to go for extreme frugality with no messy compromises necessary. If you combine this with a decent paying job, then boom! suddenly savings rates of 66 – 75% start to look easy.  At a 75% savings rate, it takes just 7 or 8 years to get to FI. If The Escape Artist had been single then, with hindsight, I could have made it to financial independence in my early 30s.

On the other hand, being married can also be a fantastic state in which to pursue FI.  The evidence suggests that being in a happy marriage gives people a secure emotional base that allows them to focus on crushing it at work and maximising income.  But this only works if you are clear on your own objectives and you have The Talk and discuss your Escape Plan with your partner.

So I think that you can successfully pursue FI whether you are single or paired up.

But single guys have to remember that extreme frugality can (if done wrong) look a lot like poverty to the opposite sex.  What you wear, your flat / house and how you live all send signals to others whether you like it or not. Because no one can see the balance on your brokerage or bank account, other people instinctively look for clues in your external appearance.

To solve this “problem” just requires a bit of thought and hardly any money at all.  If you are a single guy, just invest in some decent clothes, shoes, new bedsheets and then make sure both you and your flat / house are clean and tidy.  If you have a clean and well managed fridge with some decent food and wine in it, you are now way ahead of many (most?) single guys.  Cutting spending and attracting women are similar in that both are easily learnable skills which just require a bit of thought, attention and changing a few bad habits.

I think the worst possible strategy for guys is to get married but then carry on spending as if they are single and showing off to others.  What exactly is the point of competing with The Joneses in a married, suburban arms race?

The hilariously funny thing about spending in an attempt to attract women is not that it’s immoral (although you can make that argument if you want).  It’s that it’s mostly ineffective.

When I worked in the Prison Camp, I saw plenty of people that earned lots of money and spent like drunken sailors on shore leave. But, unlike drunken sailors on shore leave, I suspect that many of them weren’t getting much sex.

For anyone interested in more on this subject, I recommend listening to this podcast:

Image credit: Flickr

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22 comments

  1. Hi TEA, I often think that in the same way women dress to impress other women, men often spend to impress other men. I always remember at work, when I had the chance to upgrade my company car by putting money towards it, I fretted for weeks over doing so. Nobody I knew contributed anything, and they all had much flashier cars than me. Eventually I went to HR and sheepishly told them I was willing to put in £40 a month in order to get the model I wanted. “Is that all?”, the HR manager asked. He went on to say “Every bloke in the company is contributing, Some are putting in £200 a month. You’re the lowest so far.” And all those guys did was brag to other guys about how they’d never contribute, the insinuation being their salaries must be much higher. If companies ever put transparency into remuneration packages, business would collapse overnight along with egos.

    1. Yes, people themselves often don’t really know why they spend money….impressing the same sex and the opposite sex are probably often conflated. Full marks for honesty re the car top up payments Jim!!

  2. John of Hampton · · Reply

    Another great article. I really liked the idea of how to avoid looking poor while being frugal. I found a number of ways to do it when I was working to get myself into my current position, of which my favourite was to buy my silk ties in the local charity shops.

    Even now, I find ways of doing it. The main trick is to apply extremely frugality when it affects only me. That way, I have plenty of “spare” money when I need to look rich, or at least avoid the appearance of looking mean, when I am with others…

  3. Fantastic article, close to my heart! I’m in a situation where I both earn and have saved up more money than my SO, however whenever I try to discuss finances she can become quite defensive and accuse me of not needing to bother, due to being “so rich”. (I’m not, for what it’s worth.) It is as though I come across as preachy, despite my best efforts.

    Unfortunately this means I’m not able to share my love for the PF community with her, and indeed annoy her when I try, so it is harmful in a small way. We do keep our finances separate though so it is not that much of an issue, just a shame that I cannot discuss ideas with her.

    1. London Rob · · Reply

      Hi Jason,

      I can sympathise with your situation as its fairly similar to mine. I’ve taken the approach slowly – its taken 7 years to get an ISA set up in her name (to which I mostly contribute!), and in the next year or two I plan to have another chat. I have tried to get her to just note what she is spending money on, not even change habits, but that keeps faltering. My last call will be along the lines of “Well, I will be able to stop work at 55/57, whereas you will need to keep working until 65. I want us to spend more time together earlier when we can both retire, so why not..” – but who knows how that will happen.

      Good luck!

      1. Francesco · ·

        With all respect, why don’t you sit down with your partners and explain that they don’t really have a choice and that you require their support in your goal to become a free man. Don’t be afraid to put your balls on the floor.

  4. If I might dare to add a controversial comment to an article on a controversial subject…. I suspect if you flash the cash and spend to impress then you’re also going to attract the wrong kind of woman. Not one who will be happy to prioritise freedom over brands and luxuries as you try to win your independence before you’ve wasted your whole life working.

    1. David…I agree. If you spend just to impress, there are 2 possible outcomes. 1) It doesn’t work or 2) it does work and you are then going to have to deal with the consequences…I’m not sure which is worse 😉

  5. @David – absolutely – you get what you pay for – if it’s all/only money you’re offering, it’s going to end up wrong anyway & a guy’s probably arrogant &/or stupid to think otherwise…….equally, if a guy divorces his wife to marry his PA for example, [an historical paradigm] then the PA should realise she hasn’t ‘won’, she’s just created a vacancy.

    @TEA – I think you’re right that when guys are young, there are just so many hormones flooding their system, that it has to impair their judgement – they may cover it up better, but they’re no better than dogs who’re indiscriminate with any passing leg. There are 3 kinds of men, those who admit it, those who don’t & those who really weren’t overwhelmed – now they’re the ones who scare me. [in a ‘We need to talk about Kevin’ way]

    Being exactly your age, I was initially saved by the timing of going to Varsity just when the AIDS epidemic took off – doing a degree covering virology didn’t help with denial – those pictures in the literature were so off-putting. Being human, I made up for it later though, by falling for the charms of a raging narcisist, [it’s not outwardly noticeable in the beginning] who by definition could only survive through the validation/approval of strangers – in the age of rampant consumerism, that is opposite to frugality, so were were like oil & water.

    Anyone wanting to be frugal if they don’t have massive earning power will put off even reasonable partners who not knowing them initially could suspect they are just cheap. {just not that into you}

    I suppose you just have to accept that & see the good side in that it is a filter too, so if you are a guy, a good woman once you have earned her trust & she gets to know you [caveat alert – if she is of like mind in valuing freedom above all else] will hear you out & watch the evidence …..& she will be worth the wait & effort. 🙂

    1. Thanks Survivor….until recently, I didn’t really know what a raging narcisist actually meant…but I recently heard an interesting podcast that explained it and how to deal with those people (short version: avoid!)….you might find it interesting given your ex!….email me if you’d like the link

  6. as a women reading this it makes intresting and humorous reading.
    im not attracted to men who waste their money , id think you silly fool . like wise, some who comes across as a miser would be a turn off . but if a man explained to me why he was being sensible with his dosh to get to FI id be really impressed! thats proberbly because im sensible with my money .
    so id say .tell them what your doing if they not impressed they the wrong women for you,
    but like you suggested dont ‘look poor’ .invest in ‘some’ nice clothes [dont have to be designer].haircut. aftershave etc and clean tidy appartment [ women will think, i wont have to clean up after him!!!]

    1. Thanks, appreciate the female input Dawn

    2. Yeah, things like keeping a tidy home go a looooong way with me, much more important than income level. You couldn’t pay me to live with someone I’d have to clean up after on a regular basis, who doesn’t pitch in without being nagged – I’ve had roommates like that. Never again. And I thought that long before FI was a glimmer of a goal in my life, when I was much less frugal (and more normal, heh).

      Major bonus points for a dude who is not only decent at housekeeping, but can also cook! (I can do these things. But it needs to be a partnership – I don’t want to wind up being the one who’s primarily responsible for these things, like my mother, like my sister, like some of my friends – gender roles are so not dead. I think this issue looms larger for many women than men sometimes realize.)

      1. SkyDustGold · ·

        Re: cooking…

        the other benefit, during the romancing phases of one’s life, of being able to cook is that the distance from dining table to bedroom is much less if you’ve entertained at home!

  7. Always thought Eddie Murphy’s film “Coming to America” had a deep message 😉 .

    Maybe you could compile “Films of FI”.

  8. “fronting and maxxing” lmao 🙂

  9. Being frugal can be very sexy 🙂

  10. Great post hit the nail on the head

  11. Hi TEA, another great article.

    I like your quote:

    “Consumerism does not want us to be happy. Consumerism wants us to buy shit in an ultimately futile attempt to feel better.”

    It all boils down to the myth that money buys you happiness but as we all find out, it’s a lie. Buy THIS, it will make you feel great; next quarter, here’s the latest version of THIS and it’s much better than the old one and will really make you feel even better; and so it goes on and on….

    “Women often have better social skills, a more collaborative approach and better emotional intelligence. These are important traits in the modern workplace.”

    I like the collaborative approach bit, that maybe why I detest the workplace at the moment. The last place I worked in was’ dog-eat-dog’ and if you tried to be ‘collaborative’ which boils down to sharing and team work, you were attacked viciously – then that is something that is lacking in the modern workplaces I have experienced recently.

    I have seen job descriptions about collaborative working. But what happens when you get there, you find a silo culture full of people so worried about job security they bicker and attack each other, not a collaborative environment in my books? I guess that is why the description I found for a recent job contains: “Requires a determined and tenacious individual … capable of anticipate points of resistance and develop plans to mitigate”.

    Back to life stages: It seems to be part of the twenties stage of life. You are expected to spend your money and make your mark and compete with the other twenties males and it is about ego and status, preening your feathers by way of bling and excessive spending and hopefully attracting a good female mate in the process.

    Based on comparison with some of my female friends, some are attracted and seek out the rich male because they cannot (don’t want to) work and earn well themselves. They seek out the walking wallet to support them so they can keep up with their status hungry female friends (who have better jobs, etc.) I have a friend who is always telling me I should find a rich man to look after me so I don’t need to work. Ha, Ha, I find more self-worth by achieving that by myself. Having had a previous relationship with a guy who seemed to think money grew on trees, always in debt. Always asking for bail outs from his parents. The relationship didn’t last long!

    It cuts both ways, women can exhibit alpha traits. They look for males to make their lives look good and show their female friends that they can ‘bag a rich guy’ who will support them so they don’t need to work and can enjoy a luxury lifestyle of holidays and status symbol bling. In the same way that you will find frugal females out there, who don’t dress up and preen themselves for the guys.

    I laughed at your comment on carrying on the spending for The Jones suburban arms race…As I look out my window I can see that my neighbour has bought a new car (he normally keeps his car in the garage – A Lexus executive mode…need I say more) – but just to let everyone know he has a new one “Look at me”, he has left it out on the drive for all the neighbours to see for the weekend! How sad.

    1. Thank you for the full and thoughtful comment SB. Please pass on my commiserations to your neighbour 😉

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