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Why Married Early Retirees Should See Our Marriages As Our Most Important Investments

we’re total romantics, you guys. we love talking about love. and today we’re back on that favorite subject of ours, through a personal finance lens: love and money. couples planning for early retirement seem to talk about money a lot. we know we do. and we wonder: do all couples talk about the love part of the equation just as much? and why does it matter?

because the truth is: for early retirees, if our marriages don’t work out, there’s a high likelihood that our early retirements will fail as well. we have every possible reason to want our marriages to thrive and flourish. that’s why we should invest as much in our marriages as we do in our index funds or our dividend stock accounts — maybe more. we should see our marriages as our most important investments, and nurture them accordingly.

here’s how we view our situation, in the most unromantic terms possible: the amount of money that we’re saving for retirement should be more than enough to support our retired selves for a good long time, so long as we stay together. but if we were to split, we’d be in some pretty deep financial trouble. sure, we could sell our house and split those proceeds, but where we live, a small house costs much more than half what a big house costs, so we for sure couldn’t each buy our own small house. we maybe couldn’t even buy two condos with the proceeds. that would be the first problem. the second problem would be the cash. while our planned stockpile will be enough to support us together, there are a ton of efficiencies you gain as a couple. one set of utilities, one property tax bill, shared health insurance, shared car insurance, built in social interaction (meaning no need to go out to bars or restaurants), shared travel expenses, and on and on. splitting our funds in half would put us each in a pretty tight spot.

splitting up causes lots of financial difficulties for any couple, but for those who have retired early, there is a rather enormous added complication: the difficulty of finding a new job to solve some of these money woes. by removing ourselves from the workforce, the simple fact is that we’re going to make it much harder to ever find well-paid jobs again in the future. we know lots of very smart, talented, well-educated people who did some part-time consulting for a few years and are now finding it extremely difficult to get interviews for full-time positions. and they have no gap in their work experience, like we most certainly would. this should be a serious wake-up call to anyone out there who thinks we can just quit our jobs, be retired for a while, and then go back to the same kind of gig if we get bored or mismanage our money. so before quitting that job, we should all make sure we’re completely certain, not just that our account balances are where we need them to be, but that we’ve invested properly in our relationships, and we have a plan to keep them strong, just as we plan to keep our portfolios strong.

the old stat about half of all marriages failing is outdated and no longer true (see this recent breakdown from the new york times if you’re dubious), so the odds are already on any couple’s side. the odds are even more in your favor if you are college educated. but as any married person knows, there is work that goes along with being married, and that work is important. we won’t schmoop out and talk about how happily married we are (you can read about our origins here, if you’re interested), but we will share that we’ve put in the work to get to this point — and we expect to keep putting in the work for the rest of our lives. before we got married, we went to couples’ counseling, to help give us tools to resolve conflicts and to understand what each of us needs from one another. that was one of our best investments, and if you find you and your partner having the same fight over and over again, we say: do the counseling. it’s worth the money. just go with a truly open mind, not with a view that this will fix the other person. sadly, couples’ counseling has the reputation in our society of being something people only do when their marriage is already on the verge of failure, and that’s so unfortunate. how great would it be if people instead viewed it as a way to touch up relationships, to make them even better? we know it made us better.

aside from counseling, it’s so important to check in with your partner on a regular basis. to make sure you really know how they’re doing emotionally. to make sure they’re getting what they need, and feel listened to and validated. to talk about your goals for the future together, to ensure your visions for early retirement or whatever else you’re planning for are at least similar, if not the same. we definitely know how easy it is to get carried away with the early retirement fantasy, and realize only later that we’ve each developed fairly divergent pictures of what we want our future to look like. fortunately we figured that out well before pulling the ripcord, and we’re now back on the same page.

love is wonderful. but, contrary to what our beloved beatles might tell us, love isn’t all you need. strong marriages need care and attention, too. but that care and attention will pay off with a lifetime of dividends.

how do you and your partner invest in your relationship? any great tips for staying on the same page about your money and your day-to-day life goals? single folks — does thinking about early retirement shape decisions you make around who to date or whether to pursue a relationship? we’d love to hear from you!

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64 replies »

  1. What a romantic post :) I love the idea that you should “invest” in your marriage … you can really expand that to all your relationships. We are made to believe by the media that if there’s “true love,” everything else will come naturally and easy. Now I don’t have that much experience, but I know that’s not true! You have to work on your relationships just like you would at your job, practicing problem solving/ conflict resolution, creativity, and time managment.

    • You’re so right — we should invest in all of our important relationships (and drop the toxic ones — but that’s a different subject!). And YES, we are so sick of hearing from the media that true love will make everything else easy. We had love at first sight, for god sakes, but we still had to figure out the best ways to communicate with each other (with outside help), and will always need to keep checking in with each other to make sure we’re both being good partners (which we’re not perfect at, especially with all the work travel — we’re hoping that will get easier in retirement!).

  2. I agree investing in your marriage is the way to go. When I started in Oil and Gas, one of my first mentors told me, “Best way to not lose your retirement, don’t get divorced!” He’s on his third marriage and 3rd go around of rebuilding his 401k…
    Adding kids in the mix can also makes it a challenge because the whole dynamic is thrown out of whack even more. It is difficult and takes more energy to keep the relationship going. We have read a fair number of books on how to deal with different marriage issues and even a book on how kids affect your marriage. Our biggest item we work on is communication, because if that isn’t there everything else is “lost in translation”. It takes mindfulness, work, and respect for each other, and while it’s not always easy, it’s definitely worth the energy to work on.

    • Great point that kids add an additional challenge (though I’m sure you’d say they also add a lot of joy!). How great that you guys focus on communication and have read books to make your relationship as strong as it can be — I love that! Sometimes people are so stubborn, and think they can figure things out on their own, that they shut off potentially good sources of advice. Good for you for being willing to go there!

  3. I think this is a topic that gets much too LITTLE play in early retirement, so this is an awesome post (then again, all of your posts are awesome). It’s true that if my wife and I were to split up after retirement, we’d face the very same dilemmas that you would. The fact is a healthy relationship is just as important as a healthy bank account, budget or savings schedule.

    My wife and I do a few things that I find helps to relax us both and keep each of us smiling every day. First, we take walks, often with our dogs. During these walks we talk about anything and everything, including early retirement but certainly not always. It’s a way for us to get out of our house and our familiar surroundings and eliminate distractions. It works for us.

    Every once in a while we’ll do things like attend a wine festival, which we did last weekend. We “invested” $50 for the experience, including food, but sometimes a little investment in doing happy and healthy things together is well worth the cost that we may not otherwise have spent.

    We also go to the gym together. Though after a long day of work it can feel like a chore, I still believe it’s helpful in keeping us focused on bettering ourselves, together.

    Post retirement, we will probably take our walking up a notch, as that will be our main form of fitness and exercise. Hiking will be another. Bike rides, same thing.

    Awesome topic, and one that all married [future] early retirees should keep in mind. Nurture your investments for sure, but don’t forget about nurturing your relationship with your spouse as well. That’s definitely money well spent.

    • Thanks, Steve! We agree — we haven’t seen this talked about much, and it seems like the single quickest way to sink a couple’s well-laid retirement plans. (Plus, it’s well-documented that divorce rates are high right after retiring — though we doubt that that rule holds true for early retirees the same way.) All the stuff you guys do together is great, and I especially love that you have your nightly walks to talk about what’s on your minds. And that wine festival sounds like a blast — money well spent, if you ask me. Sometimes investing in our relationships means investing actual money in doing fun things that create great memories. If you can’t do that, then what’s the money for anyway?

  4. Compromise. It’s so cliche, but it’s true. And we try to check in with each other at least once every day. My favorite thing that we’ve been doing for the past year or so is swapping “best thing that happened today” stories right before falling asleep. Love this post!

    • So much yes. Compromise is essential. We find that compromise is much easier, too, if you understand with full empathy where the other person is coming from. Then it doesn’t even feel like compromise — it just feels like taking care of your partner. I love your idea of “best things that happened today” stories at bedtime — that’s so fun, and a great way to stay connected!

  5. My fiance & I work in the same office, which makes synchronization with schedules, feelings, needs, etc. pretty amazing. A lot of people say they couldn’t spend that much time together, but for us we feel we’re partners in everything which makes working together not a hinderance, but benefit to our relationship! The challenging aspect is separating work when we are outside the office (we have different roles, which leads to varying projects & obstacles). One of my favorite things we do is every once in awhile (not just before year end), we’ll sit down and write down our future goals in a journal. We then set that journal somewhere in visible sight (TV stand, night stand, bookshelf or the like). That way, we’ve re-grouped and know the major goals that we are continuously working on in the back of our minds. It’s so wonderful to revisit these goals! We pulled a timeline we wrote out from last year where we made separate goals (for ex: I wanted to dance again, he wanted to play in a city league basketball team), and joint goals (at the time: find a new place to live, and work towards saving for a home downpayment). It was incredible how many goals were accomplished in a short amount of time, without continuously stressing about them!

    • We don’t work for the same companies, but since we both work at home, we can relate to your “same office” feeling. And like you guys, we love it! A big part of why we want to retire early is to have more time together, so we’ll take every moment we can get. Glad you can relate! I love your journal idea, too — maybe we’ll need to steal that. ;-)

  6. I was just thinking about this last night. The main reason we want to early retire is so we can spend more of our time together. It is so important to make sure you focus on your best investment, one another. We save money so we can save time, we save time so we can spend it with each other. Sharing household tasks is also a big thing in our house. Since we both work the household chores are shared. I can’t say I love my time with the vacuum cleaner, but as the band 10cc says “the things we do for love” .

    Happy Monday
    Andrew & Vee

    • Happy Monday back at ya! We’re in the same boat as you guys — we can’t wait to have more time together, even though we already both work from home. That’s what makes it all worth it. :-) We didn’t mention chores in this post, but you’re so right! It’s hugely important for both partners to share in that work so that neither one gets resentful. The way you feel about the vacuum is how I feel scrubbing the toilets. :-)

  7. Wow, that’s a topic I never even considered… divorce. Not something I really want to ever think about, but I guess I probably better know that there’s always that possibility. Guess it’s back to the drawing board for me! ;) Just kidding, but that is something I’ll need to consider both financially and emotionally.

    I actually already have a draft post about being too focused on early retirement and hopefully not neglecting both her and her dreams. Now I have a little more to think about!

    — Jim

    • Hi Jim. Glad we could spur some different thinking! We haven’t seen this topic discussed much, so wanted to raise it. It’s great you’re thinking about your wife’s needs and dreams, too — look forward to reading that post!

  8. Being “in” early retirement (one year!), I was actually surprised how little of the retirement books talked about life as a couple. [Finally located a newer publication on it, which was OK – let me know if you want more info.] I have found that talking about stuff is even more critical now as we are transitioning into this new life stage. For years we had a well established rhythm, which is changing. I am more the emotional thinker and talker, but hubby is willing to actively talk about some things, so I carefully pick my topics of conversation. Location was a “compromise conversation” as we had differing views of our next living space. Time together and time apart (the he/she/we vision) is still a work in progress. And yes, we do like spending time together – It’s now about balancing time together with still some time apart (that is not going to work).

    • We’ve found that, too! (Even though we’re below the target age of most retirement books, we’ve read quite a few of them.) Especially given how high divorce rates are within those first few years of retirement, it signals that lots of people have trouble making the transition — you’d think more authors would address this. BUT, managing finances, and managing messy, complicated emotional relationships, are quite different things. Good for you two for working through some of the challenges that go with the new life stage. He/She/We questions are so important.

  9. Great reminder! I agree that as “investors” we should pay attention to how we allocate all of our resources – including our time and our love.
    As an entrepreneur who works from home, I have found that my schedule of projects can always fill my available time. So I have worked (and continue to work) on prioritizing time with my wife and our kids. For some people this may seem like a little much, but we schedule our time together far in advance, especially our important rituals like date nights each month, exercise together, long weekend trips, family gatherings, etc. If I don’t, other things will get in the way. During less busy times this isn’t as much of an issue, but during the busy times it’s very helpful.
    Thanks for the thought provoking post!

    • Thanks for the comment, Chad! I love that you schedule important time with your wife and kids. Whatever it takes to actually do it is good in my book.

  10. So true, really love this post. We, too, have taken a marriage enrichment course… Not because our marriage was on the brink of failure, but because it was offered on base and it seemed like a really great opportunity (it really helped that it was offered at no cost and they provided dinner and childcare services since it was held on a weekday evening). As mentioned above, the kids definitely add another layer of complexity. There seems to be less alone time, less catching up on our days…because one kid’s crying, or one kid’s finished pooping, or one kid needs to finish homework, etc etc etc. the truth is, regardless of the kids, there should always be time for each other. Since we’re FIRE types and don’t like to go out much for entertainment, that makes dates more rare, as well. Not only do we not want to leave the kiddos, but we don’t necessarily want to go use up gas to drive somewhere and likely pay to be entertained. Thinking about it, maybe we can figure out dates to a park to hike or something. But then I’d feel bad not taking the monkeys.. See, it’s just a struggle sometimes. I think we do well though. If we didn’t have kids we probably would rarely fight. Things that bother him don’t bother me and when my kids gets yelled at for doing something I think is nothing the momma bear claws come out and I just get protective. It’s something I need to work on. We both do. We have different levels of patience and often different tactics and techniques to talk to them, redirect their attention, discipline, etc. that’s probably the biggest “issue” in our marriage. Though it’s probably not as bad as I’m making it sound airing all my dirty laundry out haha. But yes, I tell him all the time, no matter how bitchy I am, he can’t afford to divorce me (or at least it’s not in his ER interests, so he needs to get over it and give me a kiss! lol! :). It’s important to speak each other’s love languages too. We definitely have different love languages. thanks for bringing the topic up, it’s so important!!

    • How cool that you got to take some enrichment courses for free! I wish every couple had that opportunity. Kids for sure complicate things in ways I’m sure we can’t even imagine, though it’s certainly something we see with friends and family. First and foremost, don’t beat yourself up — it sounds like you guys are doing great overall, and some disagreements over parenting style seem to be the norm, especially among people we know! I love that you brought up love languages, too — that’s so important! Mr. ONL likes to be touched a lot (I am a less touchy person), and I like to feel listened to and to be told I’m smart (I’m a gold stars kind of person) — but thank goodness we know this and can act accordingly! :-)

  11. Awesome post! You make some great points. Love the topic of love and money as well!

    For us, we stay on the same page by doing two things: 1) Monthly budget to give us a tangible reminder that there is no “I”, but only “us” now. And 2), to ever once in while discuss our “why” behind managing money. Understanding the backbone behind our decisions makes the un-fun times less miserable.

    • Thanks, Luke! It’s great you guys make such a big effort to communicate and stay on the same page! You’re totally right that focusing only on the money and not on the big life goals — the “why” — kind of misses the point!

  12. Marriage is the biggest investment of your life — you give your heart as well as your money and the heart is the most valuable thing you have. I think love is something you have to constantly work on, which also means talking about it, and whenever I see couples in trouble it’s often rocky in the communications. Someone isn’t up front about something little, seemingly insignificant, but that’s a seed that grows.

    I think it’s great you two talk about it all the time, you never hear of over-communication as being the reason a partnership fails.

  13. I think that our marriage has become even stronger since we decided to pursue our goal of financial semi-independence. We were both getting bogged down with the repetitive monotony of ordinary life. Now, we’re both really excited for the future and working together as a team to get there. While I do agree that failure of the marriage would complicate our financial plans, the goal is to enjoy our new freedom together. To reach that point will be such a joint victory, I don’t know how we could just give up on each other.

    • That’s so great! I definitely think that getting excited about a common goal can bring a couple together and give you the impetus to strengthen that relationship. We love the Ernie Zelinski advice of making sure you retire TO something, not just FROM something, so that’s given us the added motivation to be sure we love our relationship today, and not just the IDEA of it in the future. :-)

  14. I’m not hitched, but my gf and I are open about goals, money, and the like. She knows I’m a FI, investing nut. She’s catching on to the idea and thinks it’s great that I’m so serious about it. I think she’ll catch on more once she’s been at her job a few more years :) But being open about all this is the best way – no surprises. Only surprises I want are in the form of cash inflows.

    • Totally with you on that — FI is such a huge part of who you are, and what you’re aiming for, that you can’t keep that a secret! Openness is everything.

  15. This post just gave me all the feels. How someone can make retirement sound so romantic I’ll never know, but I guess that means you’re winning! Sending to my fiancé right now.

    Thanks for writing this.

  16. “We should all make sure we’re completely certain, not just that our account balances are where we need them to be, but that we’ve invested properly in our relationships.” This is officially my quote of the day. I agree 100% with everything you said in this post and hope everyone who is on their way towards financial security reads your outlook on this topic. It’s so very important and vastly overlooked in most PF articles I’ve read.

    Mr. FI and I have always been very open with our opinions and feels, so we’re constantly checking in with one another about where we stand with not only money, but each other. We, too, took marriage/couples counseling before we got married and found that it was both a helpful and enlightening experience. It was actually during said counseling that we learned we both excelled at communicating and, being people that take what we’re good at and run with it, we’ve been making sure to keep that communication trait strong in our marriage ever since. I highly recommend people do this before getting married if at all possible.

    Again, great post and congrats on your investment triumphs!

    • Aw, thanks! ;-) I love that you guys did pre-marriage counseling, too. How great that you guys are so naturally compatible and so good at communicating — something tons of people struggle with. And even better that you are aware of the potential pitfalls, so you can keep your marriage in tip-top shape for many years to come!

  17. We have discussed finances openly from the very beginning and believe that communication is the answer to a successful marriage. Twenty five years later and a wedding anniversary celebrated just yesterday, we are proof that having common goals with one another works!

  18. I think marriage (and relationships more generally) are the wisest time investment that we can make. Of course, a network of strong and weak ties has economic payoff, but money is not the point of life. It’s only necessary, but relationships are both necessary and important.

  19. Wow, this is super interesting. There’s definitely a message floating around out there in our culture that marriage is only about love, and so therefore money doesn’t matter. While I can appreciate the thinking and sentiments behind this message, I think it’s also true that money does make a difference in our lives and can’t be ignored when thinking about long-term partnerships.

    • So true! And in the PF blogosphere, it’s almost the opposite — money seems to be the ONLY thing that matters. In fact, way too many people writing about financial independence who are clearly married use all “I” statements and very few “we” statements, which begs the question: Is your spouse on board with this? Is this your joint plan, or just YOUR plan? So in PF land, it seems like more people need to focus more on the love part, less on the money part, or at the very least make sure the two line up with each other. :-) Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • Ha! Being new to PF land, I can’t say that I was even fully aware of that! Both perspectives make sense, but, like you say, ideally they would line up with one another. :)

      • In PF land generally, there are a ton of women writing, and they seem to be more on board with the “we” statements, or are single and don’t have to worry about someone else. :-) But in the early retirement sphere, there are a lot more men writing, and that’s where you see a lot more “I” statements. Just to clarify that it’s not everyone. :-) And it’s not all the men, either!

  20. I LOVE this, and I think it’s so important to take an “unromantic” approach to marriage sometimes. In fact, I’d argue that failing to take a practical approach to marriage is what gets so many people into trouble in the first place. My husband and I have only been married for two years, but we’ve been together for eight, and I think one of the things that has made our relationship stick is that we communicate and stay on the same page about the practical stuff.

  21. Hi, new here. Found this from MillennialMoola, and frankly, I think I’ll check back!

    I just wanted to mention, though, that I definitely intend to steal this idea. I happen to be an attorney – a divorce attorney – so I may have a unique perspective to offer here. And I am also probably going to be reaching FI (possibly retiring, but definitely cutting back dramatically from my current 80-hour weeks!) in my 30s alongside my fiancée. We discuss this all the time, and it never occurred to me that this would be one of the most valuable topics to post about…now it just seems so obvious!