we've learned

When We’re Not on the Same Page About Money

we’ve shared once or twice on the blog that, before we got engaged, we did some couples’ counseling to learn some tools to make our relationship stronger, like improved communication, better understanding of each other’s point of view, and — of special importance here — how to manage our finances jointly. we have always been glad we did that counseling (even mr. onl! maybe especially mr. onl!), and come back to those tools time and time again. (we also both read a great book on thinking about our finances as a couple, called couples & money, and highly recommend it. it’s now out of print, so you can get it for the bargain price of 1 cent, which at amazon means $4.)

related: why married early retirees should see our marriages as our most important investments

while it’s easy to paint a pretty picture here in blogland, the truth is that, despite all that counseling, and reading that book and others, and even despite being in complete and total lockstep with regard to our early retirement and life goals, we aren’t always on the same page about every aspect of our finances. we think it’s important to acknowledge that. maybe there’s a lesson in here somewhere, or maybe not. but we suspect these kinds of things are common, and worth being open about.

none of what we’re currently disagreeing about is a deal breaker. it’s not that one of us wants to go blow our retirement stockpile in vegas, or invest in some oceanfront property in mongolia, or that the other wants to take out a heloc against our house to finance a beanie baby empire. we are finding ourselves in a completely legitimate but also frustrating (to both of us) disagreement over how to view our spending in our last year or two before retirement.

the current disagreement

here’s the basic background: while we’ve curbed our spending hugely from our baller days, we still spend a bit more capriciously now than we’ll be able to spend when we’re retired. while this more capricious spending doesn’t actually work out to a big difference in terms of dollars, we do allow a looser approach to spending currently in reaction to our high-stress jobs, and two main corollaries of that:

  1. our desire to spend a little bit of money on convenience now while we’re short on time and long on cash, knowing that we won’t pay for convenience once our time vs. cash ratio is reversed
  2. our desire to spend a little more on activities to blow off steam to cope with the job stress, which we once again won’t spend on once we’re retired

and here’s where we disagree: (we are not looking for folks to take sides in the comments, so i’m keeping it neutral as to who holds each opinion.)

spouse 1 holds the view that we need an extended “dress rehearsal” for our retirement years and retirement budget. the view that, before we pull the plug on our stressful but extremely cushy jobs, we should be 100 percent sure that we can truly live on the budget we’ve set, and therefore we should be transitioning to that budget now, since we’re only a year or two (probably two, if the markets have anything to say about it) away from retiring. this means that paid entertainment and paid travel would become more rare, like they will be in retirement, but in return would ensure that our retirement budget is realistic and that we can truly stick to it long term.

spouse 2 holds the view that some dress rehearsal is necessary, but not an extended one, and that we should not make our last year or two of work more stressful than necessary by forcing ourselves into a spending approach that feels too restrictive. we have very limited free time now, and we shouldn’t feel like we have no options during that free time, especially since it’s often at times when there are fewer free options for entertainment (e.g. it’s dark, so we can’t take a hike or go for a bike ride). if we want to go out and have a glass of wine with friends, that shouldn’t be a big issue, but rather should be a reward for how hard we work. if we constrain ourselves too much for too long, we might unnecessarily grow to resent the budget that will be easier to adhere to in retirement. instead, we should do the dress rehearsal once we’re in the final glide path to retirement.

both views are legitimate and rational, so it really is a simple difference of opinion. the spending difference that we’re talking about is small enough that it won’t meaningfully change our retirement date. and yet we get frustrated whenever we discuss this topic. not because of the dollars involved, which aren’t significant (we’re talking about the difference of about two glasses of wine and one takeout meal a month, and maybe two airline tickets this year). but because of what these money views represent.

what’s underneath it all

one of the best things we learned in counseling and in that book are that money decisions are never just about numbers. they represent a huge range of feelings and past experiences and insecurities. they represent patterns we learned in childhood, and they can also represent ways in which we rebel against our upbringing. talking about all of that stuff helped us understand the “why” behind a lot of our money disagreements in those early days and now. and you can see that, embedded in each of our views, there is a heavy dose of the scarcity mentality. one spouse is afraid of not having enough time, so wants to spend out now to maximize that time. and the other is afraid of not having enough money in retirement, so wants to take steps now to ensure that we will have enough. by understanding that and reminding ourselves of it, we can be compassionate to one another instead of assuming something idiotic (but easy to do) like that the other person is disagreeing out of spite, or is invalidating the other’s feelings.

no resolution is sometimes a good resolution

while we’d absolutely be pushing for resolution if this were a big issue, like needing to tackle credit card debt, or get our spending under control, or having vastly different life goals, we know that this is a small potatoes disagreement. it sometimes feels bigger than that since we’re so focused on our early retirement goals, which means focusing on all things financial. but the reality is that pushing for one approach or the other would mean that one of us would feel hurt that we didn’t get our way, and so we’re okay not actually resolving this one (and tamping down the occasional frustration when it comes up).

we know that it is the cornerstone of couples’ wisdom that you should never go to bed angry, but we’ve actually learned that — for us, at least — that’s not always the best advice. sometimes you get yourselves worked up, and you’re angrier than an issue really deserves, and the best thing to do is sleep on it and get a little perspective. if it’s still an issue, you’ll know, and you can discuss it in the morning. and if not, then you can move on without wasting life force debating something dumb and building up resentment over something unimportant. it’s the same for this disagreement. it has a natural expiration date (when we retire), and we’re pretty sure this one will get buried in the sands of time. i feel 100 percent certain that i wouldn’t have been able to say any of this when we first got married, or even a year or two into marriage, but we’ve found that sometimes leaving minor disagreements unresolved is actually the right choice.

we know there’s a lot in here that folks might disagree with, and we’re curious! anyone else out there believe in leaving things unresolved sometimes, for the good of the relationship? or do you stick closely to the “don’t go to bed angry” rule? have you had any light bulb moments in dealing with financial disagreements that helped you move forward? any other brilliant wisdom to share? lay it on us!

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91 replies »

  1. Thought-provoking post. Both viewpoints you shared are completely understandable and reasonable; I’ve gone through the same debate internally and with my partner, and I still don’t know that there’s a right answer (and, of course, the “right” answer would be different for different people).

    I agree with your assessment that it’s okay to leave some things (particularly relatively small disagreements like this one) unresolved. You’ll never have 100% alignment on everything; that give-and-take is just part of being in a relationship. I always liked columnist Dan Savage’s term for this: “the price of admission.” There are so many great benefits of a healthy long-term relationship, and a few minor disagreements and flaws are just the price we pay for all the good things. Framed like that, that occasional glass of wine or plane ticket hopefully isn’t a big deal — whether purchased or not.

    • Amen on the “price of admission”! And yeah, we feel like we lucked out and got the best seats in the house for a Groupon price, so we really can’t complain at all about these little disagreements. I think the real growth for us has been figuring out that not every disagreement needs to be resolved, and that we can actually be at peace with disagreement. I’m sure folks who are wiser or have been married longer don’t see anything magical in that realization, but for us, it was a big deal! :-)

  2. One thing that Rob and I have adopted in our marriage is that compromise isn’t always the best solution. Frequently, when we disagree we choose to make a decision that one of us doesn’t love, but we agree to support that decision.

    In cases like this, the issue is far from resolved, but we have a plan for navigating daily life without constant bickering. These types of decisions are the most likely to be rehashed, but not every day or even all that frequently. That would get old quickly.

    • Good for you guys for finding an approach that works for you, and for being able to support each other even if you don’t agree with a decision. That’s awesome! And yeah, you have to find a way not to keep having the same argument — that can be so toxic. We are getting better at not rehashing the same topics, and just saying “we agree to disagree on that one” and moving on. But it’s tough! :-)

  3. When you get there and are retired, that in an of itself is a huge shock. I just spoke to a woman a few days ago who retired from a high stress job and her first month she did nothing at all but sleep 16-18 a day. Most people I have talked to will tell you you need six months to a year just to wrap your head around the fact that you are retired. Also as a money responsible kind of person we tend to spend until we have hit our budget and then we clamp down and quit spending when we’ve reached the limit. I don’t see that a prolonged dress rehearsal is going to help because when you are in it, i.e. retired, there is a huge psychological adjustment so your dress rehearsal is not likely to be very useful IMHO.

    • I could definitely see us doing the massive sleep catch-up for a month or two after we quit — we need that! :-) But thank you for weighing in with that perspective from the “other side” — it’s a good reminder that we can’t rehearse the psychological side, and that’s probably the much bigger deal than the budget itself. You’ve given us a lot to think about!

  4. I could see us having a similar argument. We’ve found trying to resolve disagreements late at night is fruitless, and thus sometimes it’s best to sleep on it and talk when you’re rested. I agree this is the type of thing you can agree to disagree on and make practical judgments as situations arise.

    • Thanks for backing us up that others sleep on an argument! Rest can make all the difference. :-) And that’s pretty much what we’re doing — agreeing to disagree, and figuring things out day by day. (It’s truly a minor difference in terms of actual spending, so it doesn’t come up often!)

  5. There are quite a few things that Mr. P and I differ on financially. I’m not sure we’ll ever be 100% on the same page. I know a lot of people think that means we’re destined to fail (and money can be VERY stressful!). But I think that by not being a facsimile of one another brings us great financial joy. Combining the two perspectives makes for a really nice balance. Granted, we aren’t pursuing early retirement, but we are working to pay off our mortgage and pursue more FI. In situations like the one you illustrated, it almost seems like it’s hard to know what the best approach is until you try one.

    • I love that you guys see the joy in disagreeing. That’s how we feel about a lot of our disagreements in other areas — they push us each to think differently and try things outside of our own comfort zones. We wouldn’t mind agreeing 100% on money, though. ;-) But I agree with you — doing so doesn’t destine us to fail. It’s about how we deal with those disagreements that actually matters, not whether we disagree. And as for which approach is best, I think you’re right that we have to try one or the other. By default, we’re doing the more capricious model at the moment, and so far, so good. :-)

      • There are things I’d never experience were it not for our disagreements. I’m so stubborn and set on debt payoff, I think I’d just skip most everything else. Hubs, on the other hand, didn’t travel really at all growing up and wants to seize those opportunities now. In times like this, I’m glad we can bring two different perspectives to one situation (i.e. summer break).

      • Amen to all of that! We have definitely had those moments in our relationship. Now if only our lawmakers could adopt this same attitude of different perspectives being valuable! :-)

  6. I used to want to fight it all out, but I’m coming around to letting it go. It helps that Hubs has to get up really early so I have to make the conscious choice : Do I want to get into this now and he’ll stay up late, get a crappy night sleep and have a rough day tomorrow? Or can it wait? I may fume about it overnight, but typically by the time I see him again after work, I’m okay and he’s okay. We’ll calmly chat for 5 min about it and it’s all fine.
    As for your situation, have you thought about a split approach? Spend for the next year and then tighten down as you finish off your nest egg. I’d expect your spending to naturally turn down as you get close.

    • I’m positive I was well into my 30s before I realized that we didn’t have to resolve everything right away, so you’re definitely ahead of me/us. :-) I think a split approach is more likely, but the retirees who’ve weighed in on this post have shared that a dress rehearsal won’t help anything or prevent the shock of actual retirement. So maybe we need to rethink our paradigm entirely!

  7. First off, I like the idea of blowing the retirement stockpile in Vegas – that would make for one phenomenal trip!! Ok, the days AFTER that trip would probably suck though… unless you happened to come back with more than you started with! You gotta spend money to make money, right?! ;-)

    Realistically though – I think every couple disagrees somewhat about money. If I had my way, we’d save and invest every penny (with the exception of a cruise every now and again), whereas my wife tends to think toward the “you only live once” mantra. We tend to both give a little – Ok a lot – to find the middle ground.

    Now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t think we’ve really had any financial disagreements about money that have lasted more than an hour or so. We might have a quick discussion about money but we tend to figure them out pretty quickly. Don’t worry, we’re not that couple who doesn’t disagree on anything… it just seems money might not be one of our issues. I didn’t really realize that until just now – thanks!!

    Good luck on your disagreement – I have my opinion, but I’m going to keep that one to myself so I can stay in both of your good graces!!

    — Jim

    • Haha — I think Mr. ONL would enjoy that Vegas trip, and I would be curled up in a ball whimpering. :-) Of course we’d both hate the aftermath!

      That’s pretty incredible that you guys agree so perfectly on money. No need to stir the pot if you just naturally align on that stuff — I’m sure you have other areas where you disagree. :-) And yeah, we’ll figure it out — this one is not a big deal, and gave us a good excuse to talk about how to tackle disagreements generally here on the blog. :-)

  8. I’m still stuck on “no beanie baby empire”… say it isn’t so!!! :lol: In all seriousness, no two people are going to agree on everything and how boring would that be anyway. A dress rehearsal might sound nice, but IMHO it won’t lesson the shock once you’re in the real deal. I still struggle with the lack of the big numbers going into accounts, my husband, not so much.

    • Haha! And yeah, 100% agreement *does* sound boring! :-) Thanks so much for weighing in on the dress rehearsal idea — you certainly would know better than we would what it’s like on the “other side,” and perhaps we should be bracing for the shock instead of rehearsing for the best case scenario. Thanks for the great input!

  9. OMG, do you guys have our house bugged, and listen to our conversations?! Seriously, we have been having this exact same conversation and are in the exact same positions as far as spending being a bit more than it will be in “retirement” and whether or not we need a dress rehearsal, even while we’re still making good salaries. Like you pointed out, it’s not about money as much as the emotional connection we each have to it and learning how to deal with that.

    For me, I’m way more of a hoarder – money, money, money, mine, mine, mine! type of mentality since I grew up poor and we never had money. As soon as things get stressful and money is tight, it’s super easy for me to turn into a non-rational, stress ball and it all stems from those feelings associated with that when I was younger. Worrying about whether the lights would stay on, how are we going to get the water back on, why are there no groceries around? Even though I was too young to be able to help at all, I still could feel those emotions and even now, I have a sick feeling in my stomach just writing about it.

    We’ll probably end up in a compromise with a pseudo dress rehearsal, or maybe even a forced dress rehearsal. Actually, we’ll be figuring this one out later in the year when Mrs. SSC may quit if she can’t figure out how to get laid off… :) In any event, we’ll probably enter our last year or maybe two with just one salary, so it will be a great “trial run” of sorts. Tracking our budget as tight as we have shows us it can be done, it just doesn’t feel as “authentic” since we have a huge buffer of cash influx right now.

    Ultimately, I think until all of us are “out of work” and practicing our “ER”, FFLC, what have you, we won’t know how it’s going to feel and what issues will pop up. We’re just as worried as you guys about how to practice until we get there though.

    • It doesn’t surprise me at all to know that you’re thinking along the same lines, especially given that you guys are considering going down to one income. And the upbringing stuff — yeah, that stuff is so powerful! I will spare you my own baggage, but it’s just as immediate in certain moments. :-) If it’s any comfort, read the comments here that Ingrid and Tumbleweeds left — they basically said the dress rehearsal is pointless because retirement is going to be a huge shock no matter what. And they are both retired, so would know! So maybe we resolve the disagreement by just not worrying about it. :-)

      • I would agree with them, in that what I’ve heard and read is that it is a big shock. Living A FI has had some hilarious posts about it, and he said it took about 6 months to adjust and get into a routine due to the shock factor. We’re seriously considering moving to somewhere “impractical” like a mountain town near a ski resort, and just rent for 2-3 years to get it out of our system, and figure out if we want to just stay there. Talk about exciting new prospects!!
        I think we should be aware now, but enjoy it while we have a little freedom and don’t have to stress so much when unexpected things do show up.

  10. When we find we disagree, money or otherwise, we focus on where we align. So sometimes we try things one way and then switch it up to try the other person’s ideas on for size–you never know what you learn until you try! We figure we’ll be fine regardless because it’s more important that we continue to share the larger vision of FIRE. :)

  11. This disagreement about length of dress rehearsal makes a lot of sense to me — I mean, both perspectives seem very logical.

    But regarding what you’re actually talking about in the post, I think that’s very wise to recognize that this may just be an area of ongoing negotiation in your relationship. Some of the biggest relationship problems I’ve encountered in my own life have arisen as a result of one person disagreeing with the other about something in the relationship…but choosing not to voice their disagreement. That is never a good thing, because it’s inevitably going to come out in some way, sooner or later, and “later” can cause major issues. So to me, being open about a disagreement, i.e., acknowledging that there IS in fact a disagreement, is a super important and super healthy way to approach things.

    Not that I’m some kind of relationship guru (on the contrary…). I just admire couples who are able to disagree openly.

    • Oh, we have no trouble disagreeing. :-) I think it’s just a chance temperament thing, that we’re both very opinionated, and also fairly outspoken, so this is our particular dynamic. And it’s taken years to be able to disagree and let that be okay, instead of where we started, feeling like any disagreement was toxic, and we had to try to resolve it. But again, that’s just us and our dynamic, and might not be the best approach for everyone!

  12. My favorite part about this blog post is that you both make such valid points, and that you’re both clearly level-headed enough to see the light on one anothers’ points. I think that’s the greatest take away. Although I am one who would vouch for the extended dress rehearsal, I completely agree that with added stress you should spend time/possibly money to ensure you’re feeling healthy and happy. However, there are a lot of great stress kickers that are low-cost!

    Thanks for sharing this story, it is one I’ll certainly share with my fiance.

  13. This is excellent. Mr. T is way better at thinking about now and enjoying the moments we have now and I’m the one with the big future plans. Sometimes those things don’t agree with eachother and we’re constantly trying to find a good way to balance both for our family. As far as the “don’t go to bed angry” advice… rubbish. I am a very emotional person and if I bring up what I’m mad about right away, it’s worse. I need to silently brood for a day and then I can bring it up rationally, at which point Mr. T (who obviously had no idea) apologizes profusely, and everything is fine. We’ve literally never had a fight and it’s all because Mr. T is rational and sane and doesn’t fly off the handle (like me *ahem*).

    • We might both be rational (most of the time…), but we’re also way too stubborn to just apologize like Mr. T does — that’s impressive! :-) But glad you guys agree that sometimes going to bed angry is the best course!

  14. We’ve had some similar disagreements. It really frustrates me that my boyfriend spends a good chunk more than me, like on the order of an extra $1,000/month. Yes it’s his money now, but if we get married some day and it becomes our money, that is a decent chunk less for savings and we all know how much I love savings ;)

    I would like to take a bit of a sabbatical from paid work soon for a couple of years and that worries him because I don’t have enough saved to have luxuries like travel in that time period. So I don’t know how exactly we are going to reconcile that. Conversations!

    • If you haven’t already done it, I definitely recommend taking a couples and money course, or reading a book together, or something that gets at the underlying reasons *why* we hold our money views. That really helped us empathize more with the other’s point of view, and made some of those tough but totally normal disagreements more manageable. :-)

  15. Hmmm…we do tend to the “don’t go to bed angry” rule. Although, I like the way you guys have decided sometimes it’s best to just sleep on it to cool off. I, on the other hand, do not sleep well at all if we have an argument that isn’t somewhat resolved. Even if the “resolution” is to discuss it more the next day. Mr. MMM and I are still in the process of trying to get all of our financial ducks in the same pond, since we’re still newlyweds. I would say it’s ok to have minor things like this that never get a full resolution. After all, despite being married, we are still two different people. :)

    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

    • We fully recognize that what works for us may not work for other people, so we’re definitely not saying the “don’t go to bed angry” rule is crap. :-) If it works for you, great! We definitely used to follow it, and just found that we don’t need to discuss or resolve everything. But that’s just us!

  16. I think it depends on the situation. Sometimes compromise is great! Other times you need to pick one or the other, but as a couple realize that the decision isn’t life or death (hopefully). I’ve been trying to get better at letting the little things go and not trying to win every battle as the big picture is what counts the most.

    • That’s great that you see progress on yourself on this front. I know we’ve all heard the expression “marriage is work,” and I often think much of that work is within ourselves, learning to grow up and stop having to be right (or maybe that’s just me!). :-)

  17. I know that I’m in the minority with this one, but I take a very, very hands off approach to a lot of things in life. I’m one of those people who generally only picks battles when I feel it’s absolutely, positively necessary. That means we I get angry or upset over something, my wife knows that I’m SERIOUSLY upset. Otherwise, I personally let things go.

    My view is simple: To accomplish a particular goal – whether financial or otherwise, there are multiple tracks in order to get there. I might have a particular track in mind, but other people might have a different track. I could argue my point in the hopes of getting the other party to agree with me, but honestly, my priority is accomplishing the goal. Whether we use my way or their way, it really doesn’t matter to me. As long as we get to the finish line, I’m happy.

    So more times than not, I don’t argue because I just don’t let myself have an emotional stake in the game. I just want to win, and however we accomplish that goal, I’m happy. I just try to enjoy the journey along the way.

    • I think this is such a good mindset to have. I try, but I tend to be stuck in my way or the highway :P
      Props to you!

    • Know thyself, right? If that works for you, awesome. I am not good at keeping my feelings out of things, so this would never work for me. :-) I do love that you say you focus on the end goal and care less about what route you take to get there — that sounds super smart.

  18. What a thought-provoking post! No matter what the resolution is (if any, like you mentioned), it seems that you’re both able to reasonably and rationally communicate your feelings and opinions sans high emotions (which is truly the battle a lot of couples face).

    It seems like you could compromise, and just do a 30-day practice run/dress rehearsal of the retirement spending. Live like you would during retirement but only that month. You could probably work out any minor kinks and get a feel for what it’ll be like before you’re right about to retire and don’t have the time or resources to make the necessary adjustments. Then after the 30-days, enjoy the rest of your pre-retirement days as you were before the month long dress rehearsal. Best of both worlds. Bada-bing.

    Again, great post!

    • Thanks, SMD! And we don’t mean to give some false impression here that we’re perfectly rational beings — we still get stubborn and emotional plenty of the time. :-) But we try hard to see what’s behind our feelings and reactions, and that helps! Your advice is great — unfortunately our spending is highly variable month-to-month, and we’re already on track in terms of annual spending. But we want to spend that money differently when we retire, which is the trick. But I’m sure we’ll figure something out that makes us both feel like we’ve done our due diligence. :-)

  19. Honestly, if the difference in the budget is as little as you say it is, I would just let it go and not worry about it.
    If anything, I would just wait until you have a fixed retirement date that you’ve chosen and do a mini trial run closer to that date. Or alternatively, ease your way into that budget by cutting it gradually.

    • Yes, the dollar amounts involved make it easy to just not worry about this, which is what we’re doing. But it’s amazing how sometimes those tiny disagreements over mind differences can still push the buttons! That’s what we’re getting better at making peace with. :-)

  20. We (ok, I) tracked all our expenses minutely for a year before retirement. That way, we knew exactly how much we were spending on fixed expenses and how much on variables; turned out our fixed plus the ‘necessary variables” (e.g. food, clothes, car expenses) came out to just about 2/3 of what our pension incomes would be. Which left us 1/3 for ‘frivolous variables’ like eating out and travel. It was a lot of work to track every expense for a year but it gave us a much better idea of what our real retirement budget was going to look like. Helped, of course, by employer pensions which meant we knew exactly how much money would come in and would be unaffected by market forces….we have to factor in inflation a bit, but not worry about investments.

    • I’m sure doing that tracking was comforting, so you knew what you were working with. We have some added complications in our current spending in that I’m gone a lot for work, so we suspect our grocery bill is lower than it will be, but don’t know how much, and we have our cell phone and internet paid for. We *do* already know that our spending fits within our retirement constraints generally, but we do hope to travel a lot more when we have more time for that, which we know will add on some hard-to-forecast amount. But still so helpful to hear from those who’ve been through the transition and to know what worked well for you! :-)

  21. But choosing no resolution is actually the same as doing what spouse 2 wants to do isn’t it? :-). I think both sides have good points. I guess if you don’t do a long dress rehearsal and find that you can’t live within the retirement budget, you can always just earn some more money while you’re retired. Just don’t let any retirement police find out.

    • Haha — Yeah, it kind of is. :-) But it’s more of a “one day at a time,” case-by-case approach. And so true — we can always earn more if we need it. In truth, we feel fine with the budget, just not with the approach to spending, which will have to change. :-)

  22. i love when people get into personal and not just financial details! i find this kind of relationship downright aspirational and i think you’re handling it well. this isn’t a make or break thing- either way you’ll end up in early retirement. as long as you can get through the day to day and no one is building resentment silently, i think it will even itself out over the next 1-2 years.

    • You’re completely right — this is not make or break! In the scheme of things, it’s not a big deal at all, but we wanted to share it because even little conflicts can become big sources of tension or resentment. So that’s our goal now: no resentment! :-)

  23. Interesting. I will have to visit this topic myself at some point.

    I’m of the ‘resolve what you can, how you can, with objective data/numbers’ camp. My wife and I are in broad agreement that we want FI, but differ even after many years about how important it is relative to other priorities in life.

    I took a six-month break to explore what FI life might be like. Pretirement, mini-retirement, time off, sabbatical, self-paid leave, whachamacallit. I loved it in the main — got caught up on much of the vacations I missed over my career so far, proved out many of my expense projections, began inserting some aspects of FI life into my current life. My wife hated it — one less income coming in, it differed from what she was doing and thus wasn’t what she supposed I should to be doing, it was a CHANGE ohgod ohgod ohgod. My only reservation was my wife being unready, unwilling, and seemingly unable to handle the concept of “early retirement” even after much discussion and reassurance. I could have easily continued my “sabbaticalia” another eighteen months on the cache I’d set aside. I cut it short: I learned what I needed. She needs far more gradual exposure to the idea and far greater reserves set aside than I expected from our conversations. (And I’d already doubled it from what most folks would consider prudent, plus backed them with income-generating assets!)

    Meantime, money which should be going into her retirement accounts and our investments is instead supporting her mother and niece in a secondary household far off across the continent. After running the numbers, I find I can actually tolerate this! Yes, I’m annoyed that she’s delayed us both (again!), that she won’t be ready to transition with me, and that she risks not being able to retire at all. My projections are validated; she can no longer prevent me from reaching FI. Knowing that lets me let go all the drama fabricated around dealing with her family, and how that knocks on into our household’s finances.

    • That’s a tough spot to be in, to have a pretty major financial disagreement. You mentioned that you tend to be very numbers-focused in all of it. It could definitely be worth exploring the feelings side of things. Surely there’s something that makes her feel uncomfortable about FI that isn’t about whether the numbers pencil out or not, and that’s probably worth some compassionate exploration. :-)

  24. I can only speak for myself, and from my experience one year into early retirement. Nothing Mr. AR and I would have done to attempt to duplicate our retirement lifestyle (financially or otherwise) while still working could have even approximated what actually ended up happening. There are just way too many shifted realities. We went from a first and second mortgage to no mortgage, from employer paid “Cadillac” medical/dental/optical coverage at no cost to us to self paid/Medicare medical only coverage with deductibles, co-pays and very expensive monthly premiums, a high cost of living area with huge property value appreciation and associated expenses to a slower paced, Sierra lifestyle with lower property values and a lower cost of living, amongst many other changes. The original and multiple modified budgets I prepared in anticipation of retirement were based upon what I knew (or thought I knew) then rather than the reality of what I live with now. I was WAY off on a lot of things (medical out of pocket, vet bills, fuel costs) to the bad, but also to the good (water, groceries, utilities). I have much more time to hang the laundry on a sunny day, or whip up batches of homemade soup stock, or make my own laundry detergent and fabric softener. A lot of the little, day to day money saving tricks I’ve implemented never occurred to me while working because it simply wasn’t my reality at the time. In some cases, I just flat had no real awareness of how much more expensive things get with time (six aging pets in a rural environment cost much more than they did when they were younger and lived in suburbia), and in some cases I was just dead wrong (cheaper to keep two paid off gas guzzlers than to purchase a new, hybrid at zero percent? Wrong). The truth is, I did the best I could to project the people we were then into the fixed monthly budget we live with now, but everything, including us, changed. If someone told me a year ago that I would refuse to use a clothes dryer because it’s expensive, shortens the life of clothing, heats up the house and wrinkles the clothes, I would have said they didn’t know anything about me. The surprise in retirement is how little I knew about myself.

    • You’re echoing what a few others have chimed in to say, essentially that there are no dress rehearsals, and that we’re going to just have to face the shock of retirement when we get to that point. I think our experience will mirror yours in many ways, in that we’ll do a lot more things the slow, DIY way once we have more time on our hands, and so much will change that we can’t even really approximate how we might spend in retirement, or at least we can’t really spend that way before it’s really our reality. So there goes that idea! :-)

  25. We are completely okay with some points of going to bed with things unresolved – and here’s why! I used to call this process “marinating” (that sounds weird, right?). Whenever I would learn something strenuous, challenging, or that left me incredibly tired in high school in college – I would always go to bed without feeling ‘finished.’ The next day, I would wake up refreshed after the ideas “marinated” in my head over night. Suddenly, things would become more clear, I could nail them down faster, I understood better (this was especially true for learning new dance choreography). I would go to bed completely distraught that I wasn’t getting the counts, or the parts correctly. Go to bed, sleep on it, and all of the sudden I had the choreography nailed! SO after this long-winded story, my fiance & I will sometimes take on unresolved issues in this manner. Also – I am quick to formulate & express my feelings (something my family practiced while I was growing up), while on the other hand – my fiance is very methodical about word-choice & how he chooses to express his feelings. Waking up the next day to approach the issue at hand always tends to be a bit more positive & effective towards resolution! I think the differences between your thought processes while going into retirement will allow you to create a balanced approach. I am really grateful that you brought this up, because often it is not always black & white in decision making towards financial matters (just like you mentioned in your comment earlier!) and it shows the realness in decision making.

    • I love your marinating idea. I often find that my subconscious mind is working away on things, even when I’m not aware of it, and often I’ll just have some solution to something pop into my mind, after I stopped consciously thinking about it. So I totally know what you’re talking about! (Though hadn’t thought about it before for choreography — makes sense!) And yeah — finance is almost never black or white, though it sure would be easier if it was! :-)

  26. I think a 1-2 year dress rehearsal is too long and probably not very beneficial, especially since you stressed how little it actually affects the numbers side of things. Retirement will be retirement, no need to speed up the budget part without the extra time part :) But I can definitely see both sides!

    • I think the retirees who commented would totally agree with you — and in fact they all say no dress rehearsal could ever be remotely realistic. So we might need to rethink the whole strategy!

      • I was wondering if the Mrs was going to comment on this as I read the other comments. My personal opinion is that if you’re the type that can retire in your upper 30s to low 40s, you’ll most likely make some additional side cash in retirement without really trying so running out of money shouldn’t be much of an issue.

        As far as resolving disagreements, I’m pretty chill and would let it work itself out. Meanwhile, the wife has to get everything resolved or else she’ll be stewing in bed and won’t let herself sleep. I prefer the marinate method mentioned above. I’d rather get some sleep and talk about it the next day with level heads and less emotion.

  27. I completely agree with you! Usually when people say “let’s agree to disagree” they don’t reallllly mean it. They still harbor some resentment or bring it up, but sometimes it’s just not worth it. It’s kind of like investing. If you look at your stats every day sometimes you’ll see a downturn. If you freak out and pull out your money you’ll end up regretting it. Sometimes you just have to ride it out! Being on the same page with major life stuff is important but little things that are time limited aren’t usual worth fussing over.

    • Amen to all of that! If only it was as easy as just saying “it doesn’t mean to argue,” and move on — but of course there are feelings involved, so it’s complicated. But we’re getting better at just not worrying about this little stuff. :-)

  28. After ten years of marriage, I agree that it’s not always bad to go to bed angry. We get in arguments about stupid stuff all of the time. There is no need to keep pushing each other’s buttons until you start getting mean or saying things that you later regret. Go to bed. Emotions will calm. Then, you might be able to have a productive conversation or you’ll realize it doesn’t even matter.

    Mr. Smith and I are pretty much on the same track when it comes to money these days: PAY OFF DEBT. However, we do have disagreements about certain expenses here and there. We usually try to compromise.

    • Amen to all of that! It rarely has to be resolved that day, and can usually wait until you can wake up with a cooler head in the morning… or, as you said, just drop it altogether! And it sounds like you have disagreements akin to ours, where you’re on the same big page, but maybe disagree about some of the wording. :-)

  29. This is an incredible article and I completely agree with all of it, I’m not sure I would be able to come to a real resolution if the situation was more serious. I love that you brought up scarcity! It something that I’ll look at for myself.

    • Thanks, Katie! And yeah — we see scarcity behind a lot of our money tensions (and non-money tensions! like how to spend our time), so it’s a recurring theme for us. :-)

  30. Im not married yet, in fact im single! Very insightful advice, i need to find a woman that is going to think about money and investments like I do, that means she better be frugal and conscience of spending!

    • Don’t write off the ones who don’t seem immediately frugal — I sure wasn’t at first! I just had to connect my values (experiences over things) to my money behaviors. :-)

  31. This is so interesting to talk about! I honestly think that romantic relationships and money are NEVER talked about enough, so I love that you two always openly tackle it. I completely agree that sometimes the best decision is no decision and I love how you handled this disagreement. (Also, you are both so logical and level-headed! It’s so impressive)

    With me and my partner, we disagree about financial things a lot, but at our core, we share the same beliefs, so it’s never a huge issue. In fact, I LIKE that we disagree and that the other person is allowed to disagree without it being a huge deal. It makes me feel autonomous and respected. So right on, Mr. and Ms. ONL! :)

    • Thanks, Taylor! We are definitely not logical and level-headed *all* the time, but we’re getting better. :-) It seems like you have a super positive and healthy view on things, and we would totally agree — some difference is a good thing for a lot of reasons, and love the big one you cite. Feeling autonomous and respected is so important!

  32. Interesting debate that you have ongoing in the onl household. i ma curious to see what you settle on… I keep my opinion for me… :-)

    At the amber household, we try to clear out any “fights” and “angry thoughts” before we go to bed. That being said,a good night of sleep often adds insights to the debate for the next morning.

    On the FIRE topic, we have had some good talks and debates, especially on the fine line between frugal and being cheap. We now get along fine on that. Budget wise, we also are slowly getting into sync.

    As our FIRE date is still far away, We do not discuss this yet. I hope to learn a lot from your story


    • After we posted this, several retired people commented that a dress rehearsal won’t teach us a lot, so now we’re rethinking that whole plan! We’ll give an update sometime soon. :-)

  33. Very interesting post and I love the way you two have worked to really understand where the other is coming from. Being retired myself, I would recommend thinking about how you’ll spend that excess of time and whether that lower budget is realistic (whether you try a dress rehearsal or not). It may very well be, but having too much time is can sometimes be most costly than not having enough time. As tumbleweedstumbling pointed out, it can be a huge psychological adjustment. For me, I think it took almost a year.

    As for leaving issues unresolved, sometimes that works very well for us, and other times not so much. One of us likes immediate resolution while the other is more suited to sleep on it, so that in itself can be a challenge. But I’d like to think that overall we do our best to see each other’s point of view and come to a decision together.

    • Thanks for weighing in, Gary! We think it’s SO helpful when people who are retired comment here and help us rethink things — we’re only speculating about what retirement will be like, after all, and are certainly having to make some guesses! I think your point is a good one that some of our spending will go up when we’re retired, and we’re planning for that. Other types of spending will go down, and we’ll have other potential income streams to offset the increases (namely, renting our home when we travel). But as many retired folks have commented here, it’s pretty hard to “rehearse” that since the adjustment to retirement living is so huge regardless.

      And same for us on disagreements — sometimes we DO feel like we need to resolve things that day, but we’re getting better at letting more things go, which often means not pressing for any sort of resolution. :-)

    • Hey, if that approach works for you guys, great! I think that’s actually the secret of adulthood: it’s about making your own way, and deciding which conventional wisdom to live by, and which to toss out, based on your own preferences. :-)

  34. Not sure I have any input on whether or not all issues need to get resolved as it is very individual and personal to your situation. However, I do have a pretty strong opinion on what is driving this disagreement.

    We had a similar divide when we started getting serious about ER. We mutually agreed that one of the things that has made our marriage successful was that we have never had a fight or even substantial disagreement about money. We have always spent on what we wanted, traveling, gear, food, etc. We agreed that we don’t want to introduce that potential stress into our relationship. We never have and really don’t want to ever follow a strict budget. We therefore plan to incorporate some work into the early years of our FI so that we will always have some margin for error, while gradually transitioning to a more traditional retirement. It is more conservative than most seeking ER, including you two, but it is a trade off we’re willing to make. Just my $.02 for what it’s worth.

    • It’s funny — I don’t think I articulated it well in this post, but the disagreement over whether to do a dress rehearsal on our retirement spending (which, btw, several retirees who wrote in are now making us reconsider entirely) isn’t actually about the budget or the cushion at all. We’re actually way on the conservative side for saving, and will have an oversized cushion, giving us much more than we really need and/or enough to ride out major market f fluctuations, and our spending now is even down to a point where we don’t have to change much going into retirement. So the disagreement isn’t about spending at all, it’s just about changing our approach TO spending. Like whether we plan out expenses in advance and think through how we want to spend our slush fund dollars, or if we keep spending in a more spur-of-the-moment (but still frugal) way, which is what we do now. But, because this is a disagreement on approach, not really on significant dollars, it just doesn’t feel urgent to us to resolve. :-)

  35. This discussion does not sound like an item that could be settle before bed and that’s okay. I agree with understanding the “why” behind the reason for a spouse wanting to lean in a certain direction on a decision. Having that reasoning/ feeling avoids just the “I want it” argument which can be very frustrating. That level headed discussion typically brings a couple closer together too.

    • Thanks, Brian. Yeah, we agree — seeing the “why” behind a disagreement is always a good thing, but it’s harder work to get to that understanding. Worth it, though! :-)

  36. Hi, i didn’t read all the comments, but needed to let you know – Money habits you have before retirement will still be the same after. I am the saver, he is the spender. How I managed to get him to save (FI) is we just had money removed from his paycheck before he saw it. He never spent more than he had (he’s not a buy on credit guy, thank goodness!). I also did the same – money went into savings first. Now I have realized that my focus on saving meant I put off a lot of things for “someday”. We have the money to do the things we want (i.e. travel), but the habits of not-spending are ingrained in me. We also have a long-standing difference on “hoarding”…. he firmly believes he with the most toys at the end wins. I still “limit” his monthly allowance to avoid too many big toys (and he know it, too).

    • You got right to the heart of this post! It’s far less about the dollars (we’re fine there), and more about being conscious about our spending behaviors and habits. And we do have different approaches there that I expect will continue to be our habits, but we just need to be a smidge more mindful about them. :-) And we fully expect to hide money from ourselves the way you do from your husband! We’re all about the allowance each month, since we’re good at constraining our spending to a set amount. :-)