we've learned

How We’ve Grown Up Together Financially

happy monday, friends! here in the u.s., it’s the presidents’ day holiday, which we’re convinced is just an excuse to have a long weekend for skiing in february. but if you’re off today, hope you’re getting some extra time to relax!

in honor of valentine’s day yesterday (which we didn’t celebrate with chocolates or gifts or a fancy dinner out — not because we’re holier than thou about valentine’s spending — just because we never think of such things), we got to talking about how we’ve grown up together over the years. and, as often happens these days, we talked specifically about how we’ve grown up in our views around money. we’ve talked about parts of this before, like how we went from ballers to savers. but to us, it’s more than just a question of changing our habits — it’s really about evolving together as a couple.

we met when we were 24 and 27 (we’re now 36 and 39), which seems both like a lifetime ago, and like it was just yesterday. at those ages, there was already a lot we knew about ourselves, and our values were pretty much identical to what they are now: we both wanted to do good in the world, and we wanted to live lives of adventure and creativity. we didn’t have a lot of the particulars envisioned yet, in terms of where we wanted our lives to go, but we already knew what we stood for, what we believed in, what was important to us.

related: what do you want your tombstone to say? // defining our purpose

what was less formed about us — what carl sagan might have called our financial primordial soup — was our behavior around money. take me, for example. i had been promoted once or twice but was still earning essentially an entry-level salary. despite that, i had $12,000 in credit card debt, a $16,000 car loan, and most of my $10,000 in student loans still to pay off. i had no emergency fund, and lived paycheck-to-paycheck. solidly in negative net worth territory. and yet i regularly shopped for clothes and shoes, which i justified as needing so that i could project a certain image at work. (can we all please recognize what negative spending habits are reinforced by the mantra, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have”?) then there was mr. onl, who had been promoted several times, had already paid off his credit card debt, had a good start on his 401(k), but was definitely living a bachelor lifestyle — fancy home theater, fast car, new year’s trips to exotic locales with the guys.

in short: neither of us was anything close to a financial role model.

we’ve gotten the question several times in comments and via email about what advice we’d give for how to choose a frugal life partner. and we couldn’t tell you, because neither of us has ever done that. if either of us had decided that bad financial habits were a relationship deal-breaker, we wouldn’t be together today. and that would for sure have ended up being the biggest mistake we ever made.

this is of course something we can only see in hindsight, but it’s clear that we based our decision to stay together on the important stuff: our core values. and on those, we’ve always aligned pretty close to 100 percent. we are both honest with each other, we value people and experiences over things, we don’t care about status (ahem, airline status notwithstanding), and we enjoy spending time together more than anything. we seemed to know intrinsically that all of that was the important foundation, and that the money piece could grow out of that. that we didn’t need to be fully formed adults on the money part, and could grow up together on all things financial. and that’s exactly what has happened. but — and we think this is super important — we knew we could figure the rest out because our relationship has always inspired both of us to be better. that goes for everything — being better partners, being better in our careers, getting better at adulting, you name it.

one of the things we also talked about yesterday was ends versus means. we’re convinced that some people find the means satisfying. people who truly love running, and would do it even if they weren’t training for a marathon. people who love being frugal for its own sake, whether or not they have some bold financial goal. but that’s never been us. we are all about the ends. we need goals. and early on, we opened up about our finances, and decided that resolving my debt was our first joint financial goal, and spent two years totally focused on that. mr. onl paid the rent and most expenses, and i paid off debt. (this was before we were married, so we hadn’t combined our finances, but we still approached our money as a team sport.) though we didn’t realize it at the time, it was the first time either of us stayed focused on a financial goal for an extended period, and the fact that we did it together certainly boded well for our future trip down the early retirement path. but we weren’t magically transformed at that point — our highest spending years were still ahead of us.

after dispatching the debt, we had a few years of mediocre saving, because we didn’t have any big goals in our minds. it was in the mid-2000s, before the end of the housing bubble was in sight, and it was feeling like we’d never be able to afford to buy a home. so instead of saving for a home, we traveled and dined out a ton. we still don’t regret those years, because we’ll always have the memories from them (to maggie’s dismay, we ate gold, more than once!), but they’re a reminder to us of what happens when we don’t have goals, or maybe instead what happens if our goals are purely present-focused (because on some level we very deliberately chose to live that type of lifestyle, and to spend our money that way).

some of the gold leaf that snuck onto our desserts during our most recent trip to london

fortunately, it wasn’t long before we decided that we wanted to save for a home, and that new goal gave us purpose in saving money. and since that day, we’ve never stopped saving, we’ve only accelerated our saving, thanks to a succession of new goals that we’ve formulated and committed to together. first we saved to buy our first home, and then we kept on saving to pay for improvements to it, and then to buy our “forever home,” and then to begin funding our early retirement accounts. that last goal marked a turning point, because, prior to starting to save for early retirement, all of our goals were short-term, something we’d focus on for at most a year or two. but as we got stronger at envisioning goals and achieving them, our focus started to shift from the present to the near-term and finally to the long-term. our goals now stretch out 50+ years in front of us, which is a far cry from where we started 12 years ago. and we hope to have many more years in front of us than we have behind us, and it’s exciting to know that we’re going to grow a lot more together in that time.

so in the end, it’s probably not so surprising that we’d say our view on relationships is a lot like our view on life generally: focus on values first, and let the money follow. in life, figure out what’s most important to you, and spend accordingly. in relationships, make sure you are with a partner who shares your values and vision, and — assuming you have a solid foundation of openness and trust — it’s okay to let the money stuff evolve over time. you certainly do not have to have it all figured out — or be perfect adults! — from day one. we sure didn’t.

we’d love to hear from you guys! do you see bad financial habits as a deal-breaker? anyone else had a great experience of growing together with a partner and putting bad habits behind you, like we did? please share in the comments!

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57 replies »

  1. We are in a very different, yet also very similar, place to you guys. My wife and I don’t have near the history together that you guys do. We met three years ago and got married a year after that. We were both mediocre with money, but neither of us carried much in the way of debt. I didn’t enjoy my job very much and the wife liked the idea of spending the rest of her life travel and exploring rather than sitting in an office. Based on our personalities, this whole thing is working.

    At the time, bad financial habits wouldn’t be a deal-breaker. I would like to think that they still wouldn’t be if I were still single and saving for early retirement, but honestly, I can’t really answer that question with any degree of accuracy because the circumstances would be radically different.

    For us, we haven’t been together long enough to develop bad habits to put behind us. Virtually from the instant we said our “I dos”, we were already onboard to quit the rat race as soon as humanly possible. We have leaned out our budget more and more over the months, but that’s really it.

    Boring, I know. :)

    • I don’t think I knew that about you guys, that you each brought half of the FIRE equation to the relationship — you the desire to stop working, and Courtney the thirst for adventure. What a nice partnership. :-) And yeah, same here in terms of being unconcerned with each other’s financial habits back in the day, but seeing it so differently now. If somehow either of us was single, we would for sure view potential suitors very differently now than we once might have!

  2. I’ve always marveled when folks think that they’re fully formed at any age, let alone in their 20s or even 30s. We grow so much and you just have to look back to 10 years ago to realize that! My wife and I have grown up together on so many different levels and it’s made for a much stronger partnership and marriage. We’ve been together for 13+ years and that growth has had some bumpy times but they’ve been worth it. :)

    • Haha — well, yeah, there’s that! We are a stone’s throw from 40, and still think of ourselves as children, albeit children with our financial house in order. :-) Love that you said that the bumpy times have been worth it for you and your wife… we completely agree.

  3. Bad financial habits aren’t a deal breaker but a stubbornness and being unwilling to change, for anything including money, is. Your priorities shift and change so you have to learn to adapt and grow both individually and as a couple. Yalls transformation is inspiring. You didn’t just flip on a switch and go to FIRE mode, it took several smaller steps/goals to get get yall to where you’re at now. Now you think decades ahead instead of just weeks/months.

    • Well said! Stubbornness and unwillingness to change would for sure be deal breakers. Being able to grow together in all things is essential for a successful relationship, not just on the money side, so we’re glad to feel like we’ve gotten good at that. :-) And you’re so right — there was never a single switch that flipped. It was more about little things over time that added up to something bigger.

  4. You’ve shared a lovely story here! Ours isn’t quite so lovely. It involves some real episodes of financial regret and stress, but despite that fact, we’ve moved on to chapter in which we are on the same page and heading in the right direction. Definite goals, a strong but flexible strategy, and a foundation upon values – these are the elements of a winning plot-line.

    • It’s so great to hear that you’re on the same page now, even if you didn’t start out there. (I think victory ultimately tastes sweeter if you had to work harder to earn it — so no shame in having to work your way to being on the same page!) And so important to have the foundation of values, as you said. :-)

  5. I think it would depend on a lot of things. If it led to really destructive behavior then I would probably consider it a deal breaker. Debt alone is not a deal breaker because it needs to be put into context of the situation and person.

    • I love how you put it! Debt itself has context around it, and it’s important to understand that. But the destructive behavior, or not taking debt seriously, would be a major red flag!

  6. This is something that i struggle with (obviously). I met someone the other day…from an early retirement forum…and she had mentioned that only recently her brother had explained how credit cards worked. Prior to that, she was paying interest up the wazoo, that credit card money was “fake money”, and she didn’t want to spend the “real money” that was sitting in her account. Nobody had explained to her how it works.

    That conversation was enough to tell me that there is a wide range of exposure to financial literacy out there and what is common sense to me isn’t necessarily common sense to everybody else.

    I want to say that I don’t see “bad financial habits” as some sort of deal breaker, but not having that situation right in front of me, it’s really hard to know. I think that like any other trait, I like the idea of taking someone as they are, but we all have our preferences certainly. The woman who has already gone through her “baller phase”, as it were is probably most appealing me. That being said, I’d still much rather baller it up with someone who shares my values of people and experiences than sit at home with someone who is super frugal, but never wants to experience anything in life. Because…I’d rather experience the experiences that I want to experience, at the cost of working longer vs sitting around for the rest of my life.

    So I feel like when I analyze this deeply…am I really looking for someone who spends money exactly the same way that I would, and if so, isn’t that the equivalent looking for a unicorn? I think I just haven’t found the balance between looking for something very specific and taking whatever I can get. Hopefully I’ll get there. LOL.

    • Reflecting on this a bit further, I think my difficulty is really that a lot of people tend to associate hard work and a fulfilling life with reaching big scary financial accomplishments (owning a nice car, a big house, showing off large bling), so when I am 30 and talk about not being interested in the rat race and throwing it away for a life of adventure or wanting to position myself to have a slower paced life somewhere else and reject those normal life stages, I think the women hear “cynical” “lazy” or “cheap” or “boring” . My online dating profile tends to attract for whatever reason, the type who has a rags to riches stories where they are busting their butts to become doctors or lawyers or phama sales road warriors or whatever it is. I think their success in their career contributes a lot to their identity and they find it difficult to relate to me who grew up in a relatively successful household and isn’t as motivated by $$. I don’t have that level of drive in me, and I think they see me as a bum and I see them as major workaholics, whereas I probably could be okay with someone like that if I was less stubborn about “not being materialistic”. On the other side of the $$ scale though, the grocery store baggers and pet groomers and what have you have never left this state and feel like people who have international travel photos on their profile are bragging/flaunting. I try to make dating entirely not about money, but women inevitably ask what my goals are and what my job is. it’s a struggle and I haven’t figured out the best way to tackle it. Sometimes i feel like I’m stuck in no man’s land in between the high earner who is ballering and the low earner who lives a modest life (but out of necessity, not choice) Its almost like at some point I am going to have to pick one or the other. Yeah, I kind of hate dating. :)

      • Glad you wrote this follow-up comment! This helped us better understand what you’re experiencing, and what you’re looking for. At the risk of sounding like an advice column (ha!), we both wondered if online dating profiles complicate this question unnecessarily these days. So a few thoughts for you: How about if you talk about what you’re seeking as financial independence instead of making it sound like dirtbag adventure hour? We’ve heard from some early retirees that when they say they’re retired, people assume they’re lazy, but when they talk about FI instead, people are impressed. That might just help ease the conversation so women don’t automatically assume “lazy.” Another thought is to focus more on meeting people when you’re actually out doing the things you love, instead of online, where your pool of potential dates includes such a high percentage of people who have such drastically different ideals and values from you. Or maybe your million dollar idea is to start an FI version of match.com to answer this unmet need in the marketplace. :-) But at a minimum, it seems like answering the job and goals question in terms of FI instead of quitting could help things. Just a thought — let us know if that’s helpful at all, or is the worst advice ever. :-) (Or you could always move to a less status-focused part of the world… We have never regretted moving to the mountains where people don’t care one lick what you do or how much you make!)

    • Seeing people’s comments on this post and responding to them helped us clarify that we see bad financial habits in two camps: there’s the stuff that’s easily fixable (like low financial literacy, like in your example, or even debt so long as the person takes debt seriously), and then there’s the stuff that points to bigger issues (like having bad credit and not being concerned about that, not taking debt seriously, not acting like an adult, mooching off of others, being super materialistic, etc.). So we’d say that the things in the first category aren’t deal breakers to us anyway, but the second category is all red flags. And yeah, it’s tough to find the perfect partner. I think focusing first on finding someone who shares your values and wants to do the types of things you want to do is much more likely to lead to compatibility on financial issues (thinking specifically about avoiding the blatant materialists or the sit-at-home types) than starting with finances first.

      • First, I agree 100% with you in terms of what is a deal breaker and what is not.

        I’ve enjoyed reading the other comments (and your responses) and what you said about single people sizing people up for loan evaluation is exactly my concern about bringing up finances too early with somebody new. I honestly don’t know why the women I meet (and probably some men) do this…I’m trying to feel somebody out on non-financial issues well before I would think the finances are relevant. My fear is that that’s exactly what their reaction would be: that I’d be sizing them up on their finances….but when they point blank ask me on the first date, “well what do you want to do with your life?” or “where do you see yourself in five years?” or some variation thereof, well, let’s just say dodging the questions has not been an effective strategy, but neither has opening up and being 100% honest. I hesitate to say that I’m saving for FI because of the woman who told me about the guy she dated who was so focused on money that he didn’t think replacing worn out shoes or birthday cards were a worthwhile expense…so there might be some second guessing of what is okay to reveal which probably leads to revealing not much at all.

        I think part of the difficulty is because, as I’ve mentioned before on other topics, I don’t have a crystal clear picture of what my FIRE life looks like because it is relatively far out (and the uncertainty of whether I’ll be doing this alone, teaming up with someone or possibly even needing to support someone – and even if it started out through one of those three, it very well could be completely different down the road), so what is reality is you have what is presumably a decent enough looking guy, who not unlike the two of you, is not restricted by a budget and who “buys whatever he wants” (which arguably is less than most people, but probably still a bit more than some of the people commenting here) but who who still managed to save 60% after tax in January, but because I have to answer these financially related questions when it’s way too early to actually be talking numbers and habits, my suspicion is that what they might seeing is a lack of life purpose/clarity, a lack of specific goals, possibly even signs of lack of commitment. I definitely have my own issues to sort through in all this, but it definitely doesn’t help that I’m trying to do this path in a region that values status symbols moreso than many others….

        …which is why I really like the idea that you mentioned of meeting people when I’m out doing stuff (easier said than done, one of my friends finds always seems to find dudes at the grocery store!) , because it all happens more organically and those awkward premature financial-ish conversations tend to not happen the first time you’re staring at someone across the table.

        i think my environment is absolutely influencing my perception here. Growing up in SoCal and never living anywhere else….despite being well traveled, traveling is different. I think this is absolutely part of it.

        There is definitely a part of me that doesn’t mind at some point packing the car up and going across the country to a smaller beach town on the other coast which has the dreaded humidity and is less populated and might be less status-focused than the beach towns here, but that also runs the risk of having a larger shortage of compatible (or even available) women. (A quick match.com search for one particular coastal town in North Carolina suggested drastically lower salaries….but at least the rent was drastically lower also). Only one way to find out though! I’ll definitely let you know what happens. Hell, I’ll probably start a blog if I go the spontaneous relocation route.

      • Sending lots of good vibes your way as you sort this stuff out! :-) I think you can’t go wrong talking about things you’re excited about when asked about your interests and vision for the future — I’m sure your passion will come through and show lots of direction.

      • Thanks for the well wishes, and my apologies for grafitti-ing up this inspirational post with my dating frustration rambles. :D

  7. YAY for gold food pictures! You guys are so accommodating! I think about how Mr. T and I grew up financially together as well… but your story is more dynamic. We were married very young (20 and 22) and started out as poor college students together. I attribute those years of figuring out shared finances on a tiny budget to our current abilities to save as much as we do. I think it helped us immensely to figure it out together during school, our ten months of unemployment, and then living on a real paycheck.

    • Haha — Glad I could finally find some gold pics. They aren’t great ones, but you just see that little glint. :-) I think the way you guys started has undoubtedly put you on a faster track to savings than we’ve been on — we met later, and decided to save with intention much much later. But we also have the benefit of high earnings to make up for some of that lost time. But it seems like you guys have built a really solid foundation for yourselves in terms of how you deal with money together, and that has got to give you tons of peace of mind!

      • That, or we’ve been together so long, we enable each other’s minor bad financial habits. :) I can see how that could be a possibility as well, but I think we’re doing pretty well.

  8. The funny thing about our bad financial habits is that they didn’t start out that way–we assigned that value later. Had one of us (or both of us) assigned such value earlier, perhaps before our relationship began, the outcomes could have been quite different!

    • What an interesting way to put it! And what I also wonder is: Given how much all of us in this PF community focus on making ideal decisions, are our “bad decisions” even truly bad in the scheme of things, or are they actually pretty normal? :-)

      • It’s all normal at the time of the decision. Ha! We enjoy the privilege of hindsight, so now I’m wondering, how can we (collectively) better demonstrate the emotionality of financial decisions to help others avoid the pitfalls they may later regret?

  9. Bad money habits are a deal breaker for me. Though it only breaks the deal if I want it to be long term. My ex before Hubs was pretty bad with money. It annoyed me but I didn’t fight it because I wasn’t in it for the long haul. Hubs, on the other hand, I knew was someone special from the beginning. I started a huge fight about money within our first month together. I may have overreacted to the situation that caused the fight, but I’m thankful I did. It set us up for where we are today :)

    • Now I’m super curious how you’d define “bad money habits,” and whether we would have qualified. Because we also both had excellent credit, never missed payments, generally weren’t deadbeats, had high earnings potential in good career paths, etc., etc., etc. But maybe I’m viewing it all through rose colored glasses because it’s my own nostalgia — ha! I feel like I’d draw the line at bad credit or not taking debt seriously, or not attempting to hold down a job… those kinds of things would clearly be deal breakers. But the stuff that we did, like just not having tackled all my debt yet, or not yet decided to save a ton, seem more forgivable, because you can easily change those things — and thank goodness for that! But I’d love to know more about your definition if you feel like weighing back in. :-)

      • The fight with Hubs was about him checking his bank balance before we went out. We were going out constantly because the relationship was fun and new, but I didn’t want to build our relationship on a foundation of dates that were unsustainable. Basically, don’t wine and dine me if that’s not a lifestyle you can support. We hadn’t revealed our financial footing at that point. Turns out he had just gotten himself out of major debt and was still getting a handle on budgeting. Either way, I’m glad shut it down and shifted us into the life we have today.
        My ex was a bucket of bad money habits. He had to buy stuff if it was a good deal, even if he didn’t want or need it. He had credit card debt and student loans (which you didn’t need to get through school in England). He didn’t have career aspirations. Thank God he’s out of the picture. I fell for the accent in a far away land! Ha!

      • So unromantic, shutting down his overtures! :-p Just kidding — we spent So. Much. Freaking. Money. our first year together (we were dating cross country, so there were a LOT of flights and many hotel nights and restaurants). And while neither of us would trade the outcome, we sure wish we had paid just a little more attention to the price of it all. So props to you for making that point early on and setting you guys up for a life of financial strength. And props for escaping that money counterfeiting criminal! ;-)

  10. What a lovely progression/evolution of your relationship! You pose a really great question here…there was another post I read recently about how to find a frugal partner, and I was a bit dumbfounded. I realized that my mind frame at the time (about 4 years ago), was ‘decent’ with money – but it certainly wasn’t that financial habits with a partner was the first thing on my list. I did value finding someone who was hard working, and had a vision of where they would like to head in life. Sometimes that includes positive financial habits, but there are also other people who pose to have it all figured out even when they have destructive financial habits. When my fiance & I met, I had a lump sum of student loan debt, no consumer debt, and a meager 401(k)/savings account. My fiance had zero consumer debt, a large retirement account, and keen money management skills (when I finally learned his Dad worked at a local credit union for over 30 years and got him started with great personal finance skills)! Both of us were very fortunate to start at this point in time in our lives, but we also met in our late 20’s with a few years of a career behind us. It wasn’t until about a year in when I somehow got struck by the personal finance bug (thank you, books!) that we were able to take financial habits to the next level! From there, we had the curiosity to change and progress some of our habits – approach it from a viewpoint of “How can we make this better?” That led us to downsizing/decreasing our rent in turn to increase savings, focus on a few key savings goals, evaluate all spending expenditures and determine if it aligns with our values. The incredible thing is that 4 years ago, maybe poor financial habits wouldn’t have been a deal breaker. But with all that we have been through and all I have learned of in our growth – I think it would be a considerable deal breaker!

    • It sounds like you’ve both been a great influence on each other, which is so fortunate — and rare! Your natural curiosity and focus on optimizing your finances have clearly paid off in lots of big ways. And it’s funny — if somehow either of us were single again, bad financial habits would be a deal breaker for sure, just like you said! But we’re glad that neither of us had that criteria in the beginning. :-)

  11. Great story. Mrs. T and I have only known each other for 6 years so not nearly as long as you guys. We didn’t start focusing on our finances until like 2 years after we got married. It’s amazing that how laser focused we are when it comes to finances as we have pretty good financial habits to start with.

    • That’s so great that you were able to get so focused so quickly after you set your goals! And I’m sure it helped that you started with good habits. :-)

  12. We were quite young when we met–17 and 19–and so we’ve done almost all our financial growing up together. While we both tend toward the “saver” side, I learned to be more mindful about unnecessary spending, and I tend to initiate the research about investing, and then we talk it over. I think there are some financial deal-breakers, but it’s more if the person is irresponsible and unwilling to change. People deserve 2nd chances; no one gets everything about money right the first time!

    • Totally agree with you that the deal breakers are more about unwillingness to change or compromise — but that goes for all matters, not just financial ones! And love your attitude about second chances — that’s so non-judgmental and admirable!

  13. We met in college and married before either of us was making much money. Fortunately we had similar values toward money. My wife worked at a bank for 4-5 years and that also ensured that she was mindful of the value of money. They say that money is one of the top reasons people argue/divorce, so you can underestimate the importance of being aligned on your approach to it.

    • That’s great you were able to grow in sync into your money views! For sure money is a huge source of relationship tension — I tend to be in the camp that thinks money is more a symptom of problems than a cause (like trust issues, control issues, etc.), but either way, it’s super important to make sure you’re in sync. But that doesn’t mean you have to have everything figured out and perfect before you get together, as you guys prove! You don’t mention any challenges along the way, but you were so young that you couldn’t have had all the answers just yet. :-)

  14. We’ve definitely grown together financially, and if bad finances were a deal breaker, I wouldn’t be married to Mrs. SSC… Because I suck at money, not her. 😄 I was more like you in that I had credit card debt, no car loan, but about $64k of student loans, and yet I still went shopping and ate out, and all that stuff I shouldn’t have done. Funny side note, when we were getting approved for the mortgage on our first house together, I didn’t get included on it because my credit was so bad. 6 yrs later it’s rocking, but that was where we came from. Meanwhile Mrs. SSC was more fiscally minded and thank goodness too or I’d be in serious debt right now.
    Life’s funny how it works out sometimes.

    • Thank goodness Mrs. SSC was willing to take a chance on a credit risk! :-) Sometimes I hear single people talking about potential partners as though they are evaluating them for a loan, and it makes me cringe! Thank you for providing another great example of a relationship where one of you not having things totally together hasn’t hurt you on the path to FIRE!

  15. Money wise, we have been more or less aligned all the time. In the relation it is me that manages and tracks the money and spending. I am open with my wife on this point. We have discussed together our goals and how to achieve them. In the discussions, we have learned from each other.
    There are many other ares where we bring the other person to the next level. Or where we complement each other and do what the other is really bad at.

    One question: what is it like to eat gold?

    • How fortunate that you are both so easily compatible on all things financial. That’s lucky that it’s not something you have to work at. As for eating gold, we didn’t eat enough of it to tell you what it tastes like — the tiny bits of gold leaf that served as garnish pretty much tasted like nothing. :-)

  16. I actually discovered FIRE about 2 years ago right around the time I met my girlfriend. Therefore as I spent time devouring blogs about FIRE, I’d bounce ideas and plans off her. She was decently frugal, but didn’t really know how to handle money besides let it sit in her savings account. I taught her about compound interest and index funds, and the rest is history! I’m glad I found FIRE around the time I met her because it allowed us to grow and evolve our financial lives together.

  17. Mr. AR and I have been together since 1981, and I think I can say with a fair amount of certainty we’ve made just about every bad financial decision a couple could possibly make during the ensuing years. Whether it was borrowing against retirement funds, or buying overpriced RV’s (yes, more than one) and financing them, or carrying IRS debt, or living beyond our means, we have been there/done that in spades. To this day I look back on some of our terrible financial decisions and just shake my head in dismay. If we were to choose our life partners based on fiscal responsibility we certainly would have failed the test. We’ve learned together, through all these years, to value money and treat it with respect, to spend wisely and save where we can, to avoid debt and live within our means, but it hasn’t been easy and we haven’t always been on the same page (or even reading the same book). Our financial relationship has evolved, and we frequently comment that we are now more in sync on financial issues than we’ve ever been. I don’t know if that’s attributable to the time we’ve had together, general maturing, or living on a fixed income while trying to preserve assets (maybe all of the above), but I’ll say this: mistakes and all, it’s nice to look back on our financial past and see how far we’ve come and much progress we’ve made. There’s always room for improvement but we’ve done remarkably well given where we started, and I can’t imagine anyone I’d rather have had with me on this journey.

    • I love your story! It’s so encouraging to know that it’s possible to end up in a great place financially as a couple, in terms of being on the same page, even after sometimes being out of alignment, making mistakes, and having years of water under the bridge. I love that you recognize the progress you’ve made together and can enjoy looking back on the meandering journey!

  18. Thanks for sharing. Even though I’ve been with my now husband for over 20 years (I was a teenager when we started dating), for me the attraction was shared values, I certainly wasn’t thinking of looking for a frugal partner. If you have shared values, then decisions about how you spend your money, time, even how you parent, will be easier (not necessary easy – we still have ‘robust discussions’!
    I also think shared long term goals engender a sense of trust which is probably the foundation of any relationship. Implicitly you are saying to each other: I am committed to you over the long term. Since we’ve been together and been through so many life changes and achieved so many joint goals, that gives me confidence we can achieve future goals together.
    Happy belated Valentines Day to you both!

    • Couldn’t agree more with every word of this — trust is the most important thing, much more important than inherent frugality. So often money issues are really trust issues, but knowing that you’re really in it together, and share values about what’s important to you both, is really the key to success. Happy Valentine’s Day to you too! :-)

  19. I would say that most people, at some point in their early life, practice at least SOME bad financial habits. Unfortunately, understanding how to handle money by the time one enters the World of Adulthood isn’t something that a lot of young people have the privilege of learning (not everyone grows up with parents like MMM!), so mistakes are bound to be made. Because of this, seeing someone with bad habits would not have been a deal breaker for me when I was dating. The deal breaker would have been if the person with said bad habits was not willing to talk about the habits and have honest discussions about our future with money.

    Mr. FI and I both had our own bad habits when we started our relationship that were, luckily, on the less extreme side of the spectrum. So while neither of us had mountains of debt staring us in the face when we entered our marriage, we did face the reality of not being able to reach our goals based on the salaries we were making and how we spent/saved our money. We weren’t and aren’t money experts, but we have always been skilled communicators, especially with one another. Just because we didn’t start with a concrete plan and didn’t always agree on issues of money, didn’t mean we were doomed to fail. Talking about money was always on the table, and that talking led to solutions and more developed plans that enabled us to grow financially TOGETHER over the years. So for those who are still looking for Mr (or Mrs) Right, I would say to be careful making bad financial habits a deal-breaker. Habits can be changed (even though it may not be easy) but finding someone with your same values and priorities is a whole other ball game.

    • Love this! And selfishly, I agree, since my debt could have been a deal-breaker to someone less awesome than Mr. ONL, even though it was totally fixable. What mattered for us was that we were and are willing to communicate openly about this stuff and look at the big picture — so great that you guys are the same that way. I do remember being a bit taken aback when Mr. ONL asked how much I made on like the second date (I think his point was actually that he made lots more and so I should insist on going dutch all the time), but it for sure set the stage for financial openness from day one. :-)

  20. My wife and I were very similar. We didn’t live super baller lifestyles, but we spent money on whatever we wanted and didn’t really focus on saving. My wife used to get frustrated with me because I didn’t care about finances one way or the other, putting all the pressure on her to handle our finances. Fortunately for me, my wife loved me enough to stick with me even though I was a financial mess :)

    It wasn’t until our daughter was born that everything finally clicked. We looked into the long term future for the first time – retirement, college savings, paying off our home. Our focus is now on making sure our family is always taken care of.

    • I love that it was your daughter being born that made things click for you — that’s so sweet. :-) And yeah, thank goodness for (future) spouses who are patient enough to let us get our acts together — LOL.