Marital Harmony And A Financially Independent Life
Marriage. Even in the best of times marriage isn’t easy. With divorce statistics in the U.S. stating that 41% of first marriages and 60% of second marriages end in divorce, the prospect of financial destruction due to divorce is a very real risk for those on the path to Financial Independence. Even for couples that have already reached FI.
Forget about market crashes. The real financial risk is divorce. Frankly, the risk of the 4% rule not working out pales in comparison to the financial destruction a divorce would bring. After splitting assets, paying the massive lawyer bills, alimony, and maybe even child support, the likelihood of maintaining financial independence after a divorce is minuscule.
Xrayvsn, (a regular reader of this blog) has been chronicling the cost of his divorce over on his blog and the numbers are frightening. The cost? — Over a million dollars to separate from his wife. That number is shockingly huge!
Basically, divorce is going to be a financial independence killer for most couples. Maybe even a retirement killer. So it makes perfect sense that (if possible) a couple should work hard to keep their marriage functioning properly.
While we’re no picture of perfection, I think it’s high-time I write a post about our marriage, between Mrs. Tako and myself.
Mrs. Tako and I have been married for 13 years. We got married in a local courthouse way back in 2005. There wasn’t a big wedding or a wedding party. We kept things simple.
Before that, we dated for a couple years and then lived together for another two years before we tied the knot. In total, we’ve been together for 17 years.
Most of those years have been really good. Lots of fun, laughter, and good times. But I’m not going to lie and tell you it’s all been the perfect picture of marital bliss. It hasn’t been perfect. We’ve had our share of disagreements We argue sometimes.
Through it all, we’ve always been able to apologize and forgive one another. Despite the differences we might have, we’ve always found a way to compromise, communicate, and work through our differences. We love, respect, and trust each other (and our kids!), despite the occasional disagreements.
Mrs. Tako really is my other half. The puzzle piece that fits me perfectly, and fills out the areas I have missing.
I certainly would never claim to be a marriage expert and neither do I think we have some secret sauce to a perfect marriage.
So how do we keep things running smoothly?
We certainly didn’t buy it…
Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness
Arguing over money has been cited as the number one reasons for divorce. It goes without saying that finding a way to handle money without hating each other, is super-super important.
When we first started dating, one of the first things Mrs. Tako and I agreed on is that Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness.
Fancy brands, foreign cars, or exotic luxury vacations are not going to make a marriage happy for long. There might be a few fleeting moments of joy when these things are newly experience, but they lead to much longer periods of pain when those debts must be paid.
Finding fiscal compatibility between two people is ultra important. If one person in the relationship is extremely frugal and the other is a big spender, then things are probably not going to work out very well.
Oil and water don’t mix. Someone who needs to derive continuous pleasure through spending isn’t going to enjoy living with someone who wears thrift store clothes and frugals like mad. They would drive each other crazy.
Money is something a couple needs to be completely on board about TOGETHER. You absolutely need to have common goals around spending and saving to reach a mega-goal like Financial Independence. And the only way to do that, is by talking about it.
For Mrs. Tako and I, we knew early on that both of us wanted to build wealth and stability in our lives. Thrift and Investing are how this is done, and we both decided on our plan together.
Between the two of us, I’m probably the most frugal. She’s the slightly bigger spender. But we’re not oil and water. We’re more like water and fruit juice — Similar enough that we can ‘mix’ and find a middle ground that works.
It takes compromise, and a willingness to not “get your way” completely. I might try to pinch a few more pennies, and she might buy a drink from Starbucks occasionally, but we both agreed that we needed to be saving over 50% of our income.
It was Mrs. Tako that taught me the important life lesson that stressing over little purchases isn’t nearly as important as getting the percentage of savings right. Whether it’s 51% or 52%, it doesn’t really matter a whole lot.
The Play Money System
Another way Mrs. Tako and I really helped our marriage succeed was the financial freedom we gave each other. When we first got married we instituted a system we call “Play Money”. The idea is simple — Every month we deposit a small amount of money (say $100-200 each) into two accounts. Her play money account, and my play money account. That’s our money to spend on whatever we want — Lunches out, clothes, video games, stupid purchases, charity giving, hobby items, whatever!
And here’s the most important part — We both agreed that we wouldn’t say anything about how that money was spent. Not. A. Single. Word. No discussion, no questions, you shut your mouth about it.
(Note: For the record, I have no idea how much money is in Mrs. Tako’s play money account. I don’t include it in our net worth numbers.)
You wouldn’t believe how well this system has worked for us — and the number of arguments this system has helped us avoid over the years. Hundreds of arguments avoided. It gives us the personal flexibility to spend however we want, absent from any kind of marital discussion, compromise, or fight.
It’s a limited form of financial freedom, and it’s been a real marriage saver.
For everything else, our finances are commingled — Our home, food, vacations, medical bills, etc. And we actively discuss how each dollar is going to be spent in those commingled accounts.
But the play money remains in 100% individually controlled accounts. I don’t even know which bank Mrs. Tako keeps hers at.
It’s Not 1918
Here’s the section of the post target mainly at the 60% of men that read this bog. Guys — it’s not 1918 anymore. This is 2018. Your wife is NOT going to be working a 40 hour workweek AND doing all the housework too.
If you’d like to stay married you’re going to have to step-up. More so than your father or grandfather. It’s absolutely important that you make a MAJOR contribution to both housework and childcare.
Think greater than 50% of the housework, because I can almost guarantee your wife is doing some household chore your mind can barely fathom right now.
(Like cleaning behind the microwave. That’s a “thing” in our household.)
In case you’re confused about those two strange words (housework and childcare) — They mean cooking, cleaning, changing dirty diapers, washing the dishes, doing the laundry, taking care of the kids, and cleaning up the vomit puddle your toddler just made in the corner.
Most men probably grew up with their mom doing most of the cooking and cleaning, so this is going to sound entirely foreign to many … but I guarantee if guys put in a serious effort their spouse will be A LOT happier.
It’s worth noting that many couples now hire out a lot of the household work. In my neighborhood alone, I can think of at least 5 households that hire maids, gardeners, and nanny’s to do a lot of this household work. That’s certainly one solution to the problem, but it’s going to cost a lot more than doing it yourself.
Lower Your Expectations
If there’s one thing Mrs. Tako and I agree on about our marriage, it’s that we shouldn’t set high expectations or make unrealistic comparisons.
Our life is imperfect, and we happen to like imperfect. It’s when people start making comparisons that they find themselves becoming unhappy with life. Whether it’s your home, your car, your salary, or your spouse — Don’t make comparisons. Just don’t. You’ll be a lot happier.
It doesn’t matter how the neighbors live, or your internal dream of what life is supposed to look like. Life is always going to be imperfect. You might as well just get used to it.
Whoever said a marriage is hard work wasn’t kidding. It is hard work. Compromising can often feel like losing. But there are significant benefits to marriage too — For one, I get to spend every day with my best friend. Supposedly men who are married live longer, and I imagine a lot of that comes from having a loving companion.
For two, a marriage can turbo charge your savings rate on the road to financial independence. You’ll reach financial independence that much faster and enjoy a higher standard of living when you’re both working and saving together.
The risk of course is that a couple could end-up going too fast, and derail the relationship in their rush to reach financial independence.
That financial train-wreck is worth trying to avoid. Slow down if you need to, but remember to focus on getting there in one piece.
31 thoughts on “Marital Harmony And A Financially Independent Life”
Thank you for sharing my awful story regarding my divorce. It was definitely one for the ages and was the lowest point of my life financially and emotionally.
You are absolutely correct that there is so much talk about saving and investing for people interested in FIRE that they neglect the one thing that could be the most devastating and dangerous to their finances and that is the potential of a divorce.
You need to invest in a marriage and making it work even more than investing in the market.
You are very fortunate that you found a compatible partner. Love the water and fruit juice analogy. I would go so far as to say it is more like orange juice concentrate and water that describes you as you need each other to make a product better than its individual components (rather than diluting in your example).
Great point Xrayvsn! Thanks for sharing your story with us!
Great, honest post, Mr. Tako! I’ve been with my wife for 18 years (married for 12). Like you, we’re mostly on the same page with some disagreements along the way. The good news is that once she was on board with FIRE, we went full steam ahead.
It’s actually been a little tougher because of lack of time together over the past year with some of the side hustles getting more time intensive. But we talked about it and decided to push our way forward. And because of that, I’ll be leaving my job in just over three weeks and we’ll have a lot more time to focus on spending more time together.
I think it’s great that you guys are so on the same page. Many couples can barely decide what color of carpet to get together. 😉
Congrats on finding the right partner. That’s not easy at all. It sounds like you guys are doing very well. The spending account sounds like a good idea too. We haven’t done it because we’re both equally frugal. Actually, Mrs. RB40 doesn’t mind spending as much, but she’s really picky. It’s very difficult for her to find the right dress or shoes. That naturally cap the spending.
However, I disagree with your opening. Marriage should be easy in the best of times. Life has been up and down for us this year, but our marriage is still easy. It’s a refuge when things inevitably go wrong. We’ve been married for almost 20 years and the last few years have been really good. You can get through a lot with the right partner.
I guess that could have been confusing. By “the best of times”, I meant when the economy was good and everyone was suitably employed. Even when couples are flush with cash, marriage can be a challenged.
It’s heartwarming especially during these colder months to hear these stories. No partnership is ever perfect. I’ve heard way too many stories of marriages splitting up after a former breadwinner loses a job (often husband), decides to try being his own boss, losing more money along the way, and with all the added stress, the employed wife eventually figures out one day she’d still be better off raising the kids on her own after splitting up the house 50-50.
But you’ve showed even after being unemployed to stay useful in the home, and taking up more domestic responsibilities, and I think that’s essential for alleviating lost income to the household. It makes the one working outside feel like she/he has a partner and not an added liability on top of reduced income.
Congrats on the 13 yrs!
Funny thing, my loud boisterous coworker was boasting her 20 yr wedding anniversary last night @ the Xmas party in her drunkenness, and the whole table let her have it, because it really isn’t easy!
My aunt+uncle celebrated 40 yr anniversary a few years ago! They met in elementary school! I think part of the secret sauce is because he’s been living in another country half the year for the past 30 yrs. HAHA
Haha, living in different countries hardly counts as being married! 😉
I’m gonna suggest that ‘play money’ concept tonight to the DW. Great Idea.
It’s certainly worked very well for us over the years! Hope it works for you!
Divorce really can hurt financially, I have friends who have split their net worth twice or more and they ended up working past seventy while I’ve been my wife’s starter husband for 40 years and counting and got to retire early. But oddly I have several friends who have gotten wealthy via divorce as well. All three of these women were wonderful people who had ended up with bad first husbands, or bad fits anyway. After the divorce they remarried to fairly affluent men and their net worth’s are much higher now than before they split with their former husbands. They have all retired early as well. I guess since it is a zero sum game that for everyone that loses money in a divorce followed by a remarriage there is probably someone else that gains assets. Other than the cost of the divorce lawyers and court fees the total amount of money doesn’t really change and if everyone remarries then the cost of living doesn’t change either. But at the end of the day the emotional cost can be devastating to all involved.
Lawyer fees and court fees are not insignificant, don’t discount it. The average divorce takes a year to complete. That’s a very long time to be paying a lawyer.
Question free spending money really is the way to go. My husband and I started using cash to control our (usually my) out of control fun money and eating out spending. Depending on our budget for the month, I dole out $25-50 in cash each week to each of us and then we can spend to our hearts’ content. I can’t complain about his occasional McD’s habit and he can’t say a word about my Joann Fabric spending (not that he ever did before anyway) because we don’t see where the money goes. Getting a weekly hit helps because we don’t feel deprived or run out of money immediately (which admittedly happens more in my case than in his). We are nowhere near FI, but I’ll count NNAMD (not nagging about McD’s) as a big financial and marital win on that pathway. Marriage is a lot of work, but it’s worth it to me because the ROI is so high… but I also married a total babe who is very patient and makes incredible pizza.
Total babe who makes incredible pizza? Are you sure you’re not describing me Bec? 😉
“Water and fruit juice”!
Haha. That is the best line I have read this week!
Thanks local Joe!
Thanks for sharing the thoughts about what can go wrong on zhe journey.
The idea of isolated play money accounts is really good.
When it comes to a speed comparison how fast we can reach FI with or without marriage, I think we are on a level playground.
Couples can throw their income together and share utilities, which can propel their savings rate to higher levels. On the other hand most couples spend more money on lifestyle in general. So in the end I think the financial difference between single and couple households are small.
I’m not certain if I agree. There’s economies of scale that come from co-habitation. For example, we spend $500/month on food for four people.
It’s highly unlikely that as a single person I could spend $125 on food in a month.
I didn’t realize you guys use the play money idea too. Finding the right partner can go a long way for sure. When both of you are on the same page financially it’s amazing what kind of stuff you can accomplish.
And totally agree on your last point. Both partners need to pitch in on housework and childcare. It’s not just one partner’s job!
Yup Yup! Pitching in and trying to do more than 50% goes a long ways!
Yeah, it seems that divorce is the one event from which it’s almost impossible to fully recover. If only people put as much effort into vetting their spouse as they do houses, cars, cell phones, etc.!
So true Paul! I’ve seen people spend more time on their cellphone than they do their marriage!
So much to agree with in this post. I remember when we got married an old man said to us that the key to happy marriage was that you should both aim to do 60%. It’s a partnership. Neither of you should go into it expecting either yourself or your spouse to do everything. But if you both aim to do a bit more than half then you’ll end up in a good place.
Being ‘money compatible’ with your spouse is key. While I don’t think that you need to have the same views as your spouse on everything I think there are few areas where you need to be on the same page. Money is one. Others for me include whether you want kids and where you want to live long term.
Otherwise completely agree that while marriage needs hard work, it’s worth the effort!
Thanks for your thoughts Caveman! And welcome! 🙂
Yes, yes, yes. Mr. ThreeYear and I have both grown and stretched each other when it comes to finances. It took us awhile, but we did eventually get to the same page about where we’d like to go financially. Because we grew up in such different circumstances, he had different expectations than I did, and different wants, about where we’d live, what we’d spend on, etc. But after years of talking it out and compromising, we ended up somewhere in the middle. I like your point about imperfect lives. I get too caught up in trying to make our house look perfect, what are other people doing with their kids?, are we doing enough?, and the reality is our kids love their lives and their house. Comparison really is a terrible thief of joy. And it can suck away your financial stability if you let it. Mr. ThreeYear helps me remember that we’re all good a lot.
“Guys — it’s not 1918 anymore. This is 2018. Your wife is NOT going to be working a 40 hour workweek AND doing all the housework too.
If you’d like to stay married you’re going to have to step-up”
Preach it, Mr. Tako! I’m totally with you on this. As women, we’re expected to work, take care of kids (for those who have them), AND do all the house work. How the hell are you supposed to be a perfect wife, mother, AND be a badass performer at work too! That’s asking way to much.
The key to a good marriage is compromise, forgiveness, and having values that are aligned (especially when it comes to finances). Looks like yours has withstood the test of time (wow! 17 years! Wanderer and I have been going strong for 15 years, so we’re almost there). Congrats!
I enjoyed reading this post, even though I’ve been divorced for over 20 years.
The ‘play money’ idea is crucial, I think. It gives the nod to the fact that you’re both adults who deserve a little bit of independence. Only children need someone looking over their shoulder 24/7 to see what they’re doing.
I agree that the separate accounts and “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is a good idea.
However, both of you should be aware of the other spouse’s account number & bank. Each spouse should also be a co-owner on the other spouse’s account in case something happens to one of you. To make life simpler, you should also have on-line access but maybe that would cross the line in terms of privacy.
This may seem like a trivial matter but after spouse dies or becomes incapacitated, there are a lot of trivial & not-so-trivial matters to deal with and proper planning can reduce much of that work. When you are grieving, you don’t want to have to deal with death certificates and letters of attestation. After watching my father deal with the minutiae of issues after my mother’s death and then experiencing similar tasks after my father died, I am an adherent of getting your ducks in a row so as to make life easier for those who will have to deal with your estate after you are gone.
Since FIREing our marriage has been in better shape. I was definitely worried that by spending more time together there would be issues, but it hasn’t worked out that way.
It absolutely helps to both be pulling in the same direction.
I especially liked the bit about the guys stepping up. In Australia a recurrent household work survey shows men don’t do more than 20 hours a week of housework even if they are the stay at home parent and the wife works full time. They simply cannot bring themselves to do more. This includes all backyard work as well. The full time working wives still do 40 hours a week of housework. If the man becomes a single father his hours of housework increase presumably because his wife is not picking up the slack. If the woman becomes a single mother her hours of housework go down ….. hmmm husband actually makes more work for her or maybe she gives up and let’s standards slip.
Since you know about the men living longer if they are married then you probably know about women dying earlier if they are married.
What’s that about? Working and doing all the housework? Stress? The stress of having to nag a husband to go to the doctor, eat better, exercise, drink less etc. helps him but does it help her?
Also interesting is children correlate with men living longer but not for women. Probably similar to having a wife with the nagging to see the Doctor, care for themselves etc. In the third world having sons has a negative effect on a woman’s survival. ? More sacrifice to encourage sons success, higher protein requirements in household, less help in the home.
Interesting the comments about divorce and the effect on net wealth. In the millionaire next door men who stayed with the same wife had higher net wealth. In the version for female millionaires ( can’t remember the title) women who divorced often went on to greater success as their spendthrift husbands were holding them back. So the advice was different for women. Maybe this is partly due to how the courts may view alimony and a male spouse in the US so you are not saddled with them for years like you might be an ex wife.
I did like your play money idea. All our expenses are open to scrutiny which has helped us as most of the time our gentle ribbing moves things in the right direction. ‘You spend how much on beer a year?’ (Flavoured water). ‘ You paid $100 for sheets! ‘. I don’t mind this and a lot of the time we have come closer and closer to what we value together through our discussions.
I like the play money idea, just like lot’s of other readers…I think both people in the relationship should have some money for interest and hobbies that they want to pursue. I know a couple, where the wife is very controlling of the finances and the husband has to basically ask for money for any expenditure. I can see it creates a lot of tension and has damaged their marriage.