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.