Why married early retirees should have a pre-FIRE agreement, prenup for early retirement, prenup for financial independencethe process

More Than a Prenup, You Need a Pre-FIRE Agreement

Mr. ONL and I got married at a point in our financial lives when we didn’t have a whole lot to lose, and as a result, we didn’t even consider doing a prenup. I think my net worth had only recently crossed over from negative to positive, and while he had a little head start in his 401(k), neither of us had any sizable assets to protect, no business interests, and no expectation of some massive inheritance down the line. We don’t regret not doing a prenup, especially considering our belief that completely combined finances have helped us get to early retirement faster.

If we were only now getting married, with our assets where they are (a kind of ridiculous hypothetical to even pretend to consider, given that it’s our work together as a couple that’s gotten us where we are), we might consider doing a prenup to protect our separate funds in the event of divorce, but that’s neither here nor there.

We’re now at a very different type of precipice, though, one with its own set of enormous risks, as we embark on our early retirement. And it’s a good time to take a big step back, just as we might if we were considering merging our finances now, to decide what terms we may wish to set.

If you know us, you may already know a few key beliefs that we have:

  1. We see our marriage as our most important investment, both as the thing that has allowed us to save like crazy and as the support structure that has allowed us to even consider choosing this alternative life path. Note we say investment (something that needs tending), not asset (something we take for granted).
  2. We think it’s a bad idea to assume we can “just go back to work” if our finances get super tight in early retirement. (We’d tend to need more money when the markets are doing poorly, and that’s exactly when unemployment rises, lots of people need work, and companies are less interested in spending money on consultants and freelancers to boot.)
  3. We know we can live more efficiently (read: more cheaply) as a couple than we could if we lived separately. Economies of scale and all.

All of this adds up to one pretty clear conclusion in our minds:

Once we quit our jobs, we can’t afford to get divorced

That might sound like an overly dramatic statement, but in our minds, it’s the absolute truth. Or at the very least, we need to act as though it’s true, because it very well could be.

Consider this scenario:

We quit our jobs, a few years pass during which we become obsolete in our fields and have a sizable resume gap on top of that, and now all of a sudden we decide we want to split up, here’s what we’d each have:

  • Equity equal to one half of a paid-off house, which is not enough to buy a house half as big, or likely even a condo, in our area.
  • Assets able to cover half of our collective spending, but probably only two-thirds of what it would cost each of us to live separately. (Goodbye, economy of scale.)
  • A really hard time finding employment anything like what we left behind years earlier.

Our only options at that point would be to:

Move away from the mountains (separately) to areas with dramatically lower cost of living.

Cut out a big chunk of spending (separately) — in other words, all the fun stuff — to make the assets cover the essentials.

Hustle like crazy to earn income (separately) to make up some of that budget gap, probably equating to more than full-time work.


Choose not to get divorced.

Why married early retirees should have a pre-FIRE agreement, prenup for early retirement, prenup for financial independence

Deciding What’s Worth It to You

We’ve always said that we’d rather work just a little longer in stressful jobs than risk being likely to need to work later at a far lower rate. That’s why we didn’t retire at the end of last year, or retire even sooner into some kind of part-time work. We still think it’s likely we’ll earn some money in retirement, but we don’t want to have to rely on that. And to put it even more bluntly, here’s what we truly think:

Needing to work in retirement would be a failure of planning.

Whether that’s true or not, it feels true for us. And the same is true in a way with regard to our relationship. We’d rather suck it up through tough times but find a way to make it work than find ourselves needing to work in retirement, especially in menial or low-paid jobs, so that we could go our separate ways. To us, the latter isn’t worth it, but the former is. For other couples, it might be a totally different calculus or conclusion, and that’s something we all get to decide for ourselves.

Consider Making Partnership a Stated Goal

We feel super grateful to have a strong marriage, and to know that we have worked through rough patches together and come out better for it. We’ve built up good communication skills along the way, thanks in large part to counseling before we got married (we think it’s a mistake to think of counseling as being only for relationships on the brink of failure). While we are each far from perfect as human beings, we’re mostly compatible in our flaws. And, we believe that most of the stress in our marriage thus far has been work-related, which will disappear soon. Not that we expect only rainbows and powder days after we quit, but we do think we’ll have fewer external stressors intruding on things.

All of that is to say: We think we have the potential to go the distance, if we stay committed to making it work.

So instead of just assuming that we’ll always be married and will always want to be married to each other, we’re making it an explicit, stated goal, just like any other major life goal:

We will stay married.

That makes our master goal list look something like this:

  • We will retire early.
  • We will manage our finances conservatively so that we never run out of money.
  • We will not try to spend down our money, and will be happy if we get to the end of life and still have assets leftover to leave a charitable legacy.
  • We will stay married, happily married for as much of our time as possible.
  • We will seek adventure at every stage of life.

Our pre-FIRE agreement is based on that goal.

Our Pre-FIRE Agreement

The idea of taking something based on love, and making it purely rational is deeply unromantic, we know. I’m sure that thinking was in part why we didn’t even consider a prenup, because who needs to get lawyers involved when you’re in love? But the stakes are too high not to make sure we agree on our goals and possible plans of action. If we decide several years down the road that we don’t want to stay together, we’d each be looking at possible financial ruin. No thanks.

So with that stated goal — stay married! — we’ve made the following agreement with each other in advance of retiring early later this year. This isn’t a binding legal document, and of course if things truly got that bad that we felt we couldn’t stay together, we’d figure it out. But we’re putting every intention into following this agreement:

We both agree to:

Remember whenever things get tough that we both intend to stay married and work things out.

Commit to getting relationship counseling every few years as “preventive maintenance,” whether it feels necessary at that time or not.

Commit to seeking out counseling in tough times if we aren’t making headway on our own, before things feel unsalvageable.

Commit to listening more whenever it’s clear that we aren’t seeing eye to eye.

Accept that there will be times that are tougher than others, and think long term rather than giving up on each other or the marriage.

Do everything possible to reach our goal together of staying married.

The Other Option: Don’t Retire Early

As unromantic as our agreement may seem, we think it’s far romantic than our other option: Keep working to allow the possibility of splitting up in the future.

Because if we didn’t have this agreement — fundamentally an agreement that we won’t get divorced after we pull the plug on our careers — we’d both feel the need to keep that option available, which would mean working longer to create a bigger cushion. Again, no thanks. But that’s just us, and others might decide that they want to keep that option open.

Either way, it’s essential to talk this stuff through at length and many times to ensure that both partners are in total agreement. The worst choice would be build a financial plan that assumes you’ll always be with a partner (and which essentially excludes the possibility of splitting up) but not commit explicitly to making the partnership a goal on equal par with other major life and financial goals.

Do You Have a Pre-FIRE Agreement?

As always, we’d love to hear from you guys: Have any of you done something similar, and agreed that by leaving your careers, you’re also agreeing not to split up from your partner? Anyone considering doing this? Swayed to do it by this post? Anyone think this is unromantic overkill? Or take your pre-FIRE agreement in a totally different direction, to talk about distribution of assets and all that other legal/financial stuff? Let’s talk about all of it in the comments!

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69 replies »

  1. Huh, interesting!

    When I first read the title, I thought a pre-FIRE agreement would be something else. Since life before FIRE would be very different from life after FIRE, a “pre-FIRE” agreement could help each partner get on the same page in terms of distribution of labor, travel, and lifestyle in general.

    • I think all of that stuff makes tons of sense, too! Definitely important to get to a common vision on the stuff that makes up so much of life. But nope, I was going way more elemental here. ;-)

  2. Never have I thought about this… I like the 2 options: never divorce or never retire early… stated like that, there is no fun in it.

    Reading that you can discuss these things and write them down is really strong.

    We did once shortly discussed the impact on my wife her career now that she works 80pct. We stopped the discussion when we found out that the rules she uses now does not impact pension or pension build up rights.

    And I think this unromantic discussion is a must do. It might be one of the ultimate proofs of the love you have for each other

    • I agree if you put it that way — no divorce or no early retirement — it sounds like no fun But if you put it in positive terms — greater guarantee of long-term financial security — it’s much more fun! ;-) Knowing that you are both THAT committed to each other is very fun and romantic. :-D

  3. Real eye-opener here. We are actually getting married next year, and do take a prenup. We both own every financial asset together, currently. But by taking a prenup we have the possibility to add alterations in the future. Going forward, this will also serve as a our pre-FIRE agreement.

    Never thought of it in the way of not being able to split up, or to retire later in order to calculate that risk. Of course we are in the full conviction that we will never divorce. But, we have still many many years to go.

    And yes, it sure is unromantic… But also very important to have all the financial stuff in order. So definitely not an overkill.

    • Or maybe it’s the MOST romantic, because it’s reaffirming the commitment! ;-) Congrats to you two for talking through so much of this in advance of getting married. And it IS super important to know the terms of embarking on early retirement together, because it does increase your risk if you later decide to split. It sounds like you have plenty in front of you right now, so need to go into the pre-FIRE agreement in detail now, just some time before you actually pull the plug!

      • True, it’s very important to both of us. And a reflection of taking on the next step together. We still have one year from now till the wedding, but we are pretty close to how we want to plan it. Even sticking together in the journey towards FIRE has proven to be a very good aspect in our relationship. So, I’m sure everything will work out fine :)

      • That’s all awesome to hear. Having a FIRE plan before you even get married will surely lead to lots of positive money and life goal conversations!

  4. I think true commitment is the ultimate romance, so I think your agreement to work on your relationship proactively is beautiful as well as rational. Our minister who performed our wedding ceremony (and premarital counseling) shocked a few people by bringing up the divorce rate during the wedding ceremony. The point: you can’t assume success unless you’re willing to commit to it and learn skills to make marriage work. I think the fact that you’re talking about this is wise, and also the fact that you’ve worked hard together on this big goal is a great sign of a healthy marriage.

    • Thanks, Kalie! I think commitment is deeply romantic, too. :-) It’s pretty funny, when you think about it, that we believe success takes work in all other areas of life EXCEPT for maybe the most important one! We have this ridiculous notion that marriage should be easy, and if there’s every friction, it means you’re not compatible, not just that you need to do a little work. I know plenty of us have been disavowed of this idea, but I wish it wasn’t so darn persistent, especially among younger people. I can’t help but think that if everyone went into marriage understanding what it truly is and that it requires something big of each partner, we’d have lower divorce rates overall. But maybe that’s just me. ;-)

  5. We don’t have a prenup (or a postnup). One day, I’ll blog about it. It was probably a stupid gamble on my part, but call it love or hubris. We went all in. It’s the least romantic thing ever, but for every stage in our relationship, we’ve talked about what divorce would cost or look like. It was one of the first conversations we had when Half Penny actually became a reality. What a story to tell the kid one day, right? But I really believe that the more we talk about it, the less likely we are to try to use it as an option. All that to say, I love this post, I love you two as a couple. Thanks for sharing!

    • I admit it — I find it DEEPLY unromantic to do a prenup or postnup. I totally get all the rational reasons, and I also think every relationship is different, but the whole idea assumes in my mind that you plan to split up at some point. (I know it’s not true. Just coming clean on my emotional bias here.) And I also admit that I wonder why people who keep finances totally separate even bother getting married, because there’s really no need to if you aren’t interested in the “business merger,” especially with more states adopting domestic partner laws that provide for hospital visitation rights, etc. At least in our case, having no agreement meant a different level of commitment — as you said, going all in — that makes us each interested in the total financial good of the partnership, not just what’s best for one or the other of us. (If we were focused on that, we NEVER would have moved to the career-ending mountains!) So I’m super glad, and not at all surprised, that you guys talk about this stuff, especially with HP on the way! I agree wholeheartedly that talking about the option makes you less likely to use it than if you try to keep your head in the sand! <3

  6. As someone who is single and pursuing FIRE, I often wondered what would happen to couples if they ended up getting divorced after “retiring.” It may take me longer to get there on my own, but at least I know that I’m not somewhat dependent on another person’s income/investments.

    Thanks for providing some insight into how you and your husband have been approaching this. I like how you look at FIRE from all angles, and not just the financial, to ensure that you’re ready.

    • Ditto to Kate’s response. In many ways, FIRE is easier to reach as a couple, but there’s additional risk in getting there together if somehow you can’t stay together.
      Being perpetually single, I’ll only need to worry about my own stupid choices/mistakes bringing me down ;)

      • So true! Easier to get to FIRE, but huge risk if you split. And yeah, there is a sort of comfort in knowing that your own choices only affect you. ;-)

    • I know it makes the timeline longer, but there the definite upside to pursuing ER as a single person that you don’t have to stay committed to a person to be able to stay retired! ;-) (And there’s no risk that your partner could turn out to be a con artist who absconds with all your money. Ha!) I do think there is something comforting about knowing you only have to manage your own finances.

  7. I do agree with your premise, needing to work for money in retirement, beyond pre-planned levels, is failure to plan. We don’t have such an agreement but my wife also doesn’t really believe in divorce except if a spouse is violent. I’m also unlikely to go there. The most stressful time for us to date is marriage with kids. If we can survive that we can survive anything.

    • It’s great you guys have proof of survivability. ;-) I’d still argue that it’s worth having this discussion and understanding. I’m sure you know the stats, but divorce rates skyrocket after kids leave home and again at retirement, as people realize they’ve built their whole relationship around something (kids, work) that is now gone. So just being able to survive kids doesn’t necessarily keep you together over the long haul.

  8. Interesting! I like that you’re treating your marriage as an investment, because it really is. Mr. Picky Pincher and I are much, much stronger as a team, both financially and in everyday life. That’s why it’s SO important to make sure you’re married to the right person when you’re pursuing such a big goal.

    • The funny thing is that we didn’t totally know that we were those “right people” when we got married. Obviously we had shared values and a shared sense of what we wanted out of life. But we certainly hadn’t made a FIRE plan, and had really only begun to save money together. I’m a big believer as a result that total financial compatibility isn’t necessary, so long as you share a vision for what’s important and are willing to communicate and compromise. :-)

  9. This is something that I occasionally think about as well. Not that I’m anticipating divorce, but it’s still something to consider. If things go south, FIRE goes out the window.

    I like your solution… now I just need to figure out a way to sit down with my wife to discuss it without possibly striking the wrong chord. :-)

    — Jim

    • Well if it helps, you can blame my post as the reason you bring it up with your wife! “Well this overthinky lady on the internet says every couple needs to have this conversation. Weird, huh?” LOLOLOL ;-)

  10. When I used to work in nursing home finance, I discussed asset recovery and who paid us private pay. I was told the people with the most assets and money were married couples. This always stuck with me, single people getting old were more likely to be poor and not have assets.

    My own experience is being married has helped both of us get rich. Heck, I would even add that having kids has helped immensely in getting to FIRE.

    • Marriage has definitely helped us make better financial choices, so in our sample size of one, I’d affirm what you heard. ;-)

  11. Hahahaha, “Um, I’d like to retire early, but then, um… that kind of shuts the door on divorce later on. I’m not sure I can commit to that…” Interesting take on marriage and FIRE.

    We’ve thought about that aspect of it as well, not as us contemplating divorce, but more of a “Yeah, this is all well and good for a couple but if we were single, we’d still need just about the same pile of money.” Economies of scale and all. :)

    My first mentor in O&G told me, “Best thing you can do for your retirement is not get divorced. I’ve rebuilt my 401k twice now…” A solid relationship is one of the most important financial investments you can make, provided you’ve got all the real financial stuff worked out already.

    • Funny thing…I actually had a dream about four nights ago that Mr SSC and I got divorced and I was all pissed off mostly because I had to keep working and it ruined our FIRE plans. Can’t recall though why we got divorced…

      • Hahahahahaha — what timing! And sounds like he’s done something truly terrible and needs to make it up to you big time. ;-)

    • Old guys on planes have told me similar things about how expensive divorce is… but they also tell me how expensive kids are and how I am making the best financial decision not having them. Hahahahaha. I know it can be weird to have this divorce vs. ER conversation, but better than NOT having it! ;-)

  12. Great post and I come at this from a different angle, I’m still single (mid-40’s) and fully FI. I’m not “RE” due to family members with poor health and the knowledge that I’ll need to help them financially in the future. But I’m padding my stash like mad this year.

    I’ve had such a hard time finding “the one” all these years, and now that I’m FI I think it’ll be harder. Heck, I’m “loaded” by most folks standards and I don’t want my wealth to influence the decision of any potential wife. But how could I truly fall in love with someone enough to marry them without being FULLY open and honest? I can only imagine falling in love deep enough to want to pop the question, then after hearing a “yes”, a few days later also tell her “oh yeah, one more thing, I’m independently wealthy and am close to my second million…”. I’m sure potential wife would be either even MORE excited or pissed that I didn’t fully share my secret. On the other hand, being fully open prior to getting married would always have me questioning if they might have secret Anna-Nicole smith intentions.

    Oh well, life is till good I guess but would be better with a partner, so Mrs. ONL I’m very jealous of you and your seemingly amazing marriage – cheers!

    • My net worth isn’t as high as yours but I’ve had the same thoughts. I would only consider marriage if I could find someone I was compatible with financially. This is part of the reason I see myself being single forever — the pool of potential mates has become that much smaller, and it’s already pretty limited by your 40s (I’m almost 41 and should have enough to retire by 50).

      And if I ever did find someone, a pre-nup would be a must!

      • I definitely think a prenup would be a must in your situation! Like if I was theoretically single now and considering combining assets? Totally a different story from when Mr. ONL and I got married.

      • Yes, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that a pre-nup would be essential. My last girlfriend had her act together financially in a big way, not quite a FIRE proponent but she had over 500K of savings and made a big salary. I was hoping we could hold it together because we were so compatible that way but alas, the ways of love confounded me again. To me, money is easy, relationships are hard. Way hard.

      • You are not alone in that. ;-) Money is easier than ANYTHING involving feelings, especially something huge and amorphous like love!

      • I’m thankful every time I think about it that being financially solid was not a big criterion for Mr. ONL when we started dating, or he would have passed right over me! ;-) Negative net worth, ill-advised spending, no plan to address my debt proactively, etc. BUT, that was also in our 20s, and if I was looking for a partner now, I would have VERY different criteria because it might be fine to grow up together financially in your 20s, but it becomes less and less charming with each successive decade! I definitely think you’re right to keep financial compatibility high on your list, to insist on a prenup if you partner up with someone, and also not to place marriage on a pedestal. ;-) It can be a perfectly lovely way to go through life, but be highly skeptical of anyone who tells you that it’s the only way to be happy, or that not being married is in any way less than.

  13. The best financial advice I’ve received is to have “one house, one spouse.” Here’s hoping that we’ll be able to stick to it for the next 50+ years.

    • Is there a snazzy rhyme addressing car purchase that could add on to that? ;-)

  14. We’ve actually considered rewriting our postnup when and if we retire early to allow ourselves to use our investments in the way most advantageous to us as a whole rather than separately. For example, my husband will turn 59.5 two years before me but he has less in his retirement accounts than I do.

    We did some financial projections out five years on the weekend and it looks like as a couple, we should hit FI within the next five years! Of course, that all depends on how much we want to spend in retirement how far away that number is. Over time of me showing him those numbers and of his net worth growing (he’s super excited for the milestone he will hit this year!), he’s slowly starting to believe me that financial independence is real. But he still thinks not needing to work just sounds bananas.

    • I love that you guys are talking about being flexible and adjusting your agreement if need be. And I’m super happy for you that he’s coming around on FI! And hey, if he wants to keep working while you quit, that’s not the absolute worst thing that could happen. ;-)

  15. Incredibly interesting!

    Courtney and I didn’t specifically spell out these things, but we both understand that, if things don’t work out from a marriage perspective, both of us are probably going back to work. That doesn’t mean that we’d continue to endure an unhealthy marriage just for the sake of early retirement, but we both understand the deal whether we say it or not.

    Having children, by the way, would be very similar. Children are definitely NOT in the plans. They would drastically alter our lifestyle in a way that we certainly don’t want, so that’s something we both agreed on. Thankfully, neither of us were all that hard-up on birthing kids.

    For us, the other dynamic involves our living arrangement – literally. We’re in a 200 square foot Airstream. We live in very close quarters. We learned quickly how to make this work for us, where we stay out of each other’s way and be judicious in the space that we consider our own. I’ve pretty much taken over the desk (that used to be the dinette), and my wife has a monopoly on the left hand side of the couch. I think our little dog has claimed the other side, by the way. :)

    Cool topic!

    • Thanks, Steve! Our canine family members need their own space, too! ;-) It’s good you guys are clear-eyed about the reality of having to go back to work if you split up. Of course none of us want to think about that, but it’s important to know what all the terms are, so to speak. ;-)

  16. Love the idea to commit to couples counseling every few years regardless of whether it seems needed at that time. I don’t think I’ve ever thought of that – but it does seem like a healthy preventative measure and could address some little things that could later turn into big ugly things!

    • Yeah, we totally recommend it! Or even if you don’t want to pay for a counselor, at least devoting several sessions together to working through the little stuff before it gets big.

  17. Echoing Kate’s comment above, I’m currently pursuing FI as a single person, but certainly open to incorporating a partner in future. It sounds like you and Mr. ONL have a great approach to coupled-up finances. I sometimes wonder, if after having got there (or at least partially there) on my own, how I’d feel about combining finances with someone else. To me it seems like the ultimate statement of trust to let someone into your finances, which actually seems really romantic!

    • I think you are facing a SUPER different decision than the one we made, since you’re already part-way to FIRE, while we got together with only slightly more than nothing. So I think it’s important if you do couple up financially to make sure you’re not putting your own financial future at risk in doing so. Though the romantic in me also thinks, “What’s the good in having this money if you don’t share it with your life partner?!” ;-) I think, for me, I’d probably go into it willing to share while together, but determined to get my own money back out if we split. But that’s just me!

  18. Great post and absolutely not the direction I thought you would take with the title! I have a theory and, of course, no data to back it up, but in my theory I believe that folks who pursue FI (and the RE perhaps), have more open methods of communication with money, which we all know can be one of the major root causes of relationship issues and eventually may lead to divorce. Even for couples who do not seem destined for divorce (and I can think of a few really good examples right now), I see folks who don’t have good communication habits when it comes to money and see the types of strains it creates as well as some precarious financial choices.

    As a person with one failed marriage who spent lots of time and effort in therapy post divorce, I decided that when I did start dating again being open and honest about finances was one of the qualities I wanted in a partner (there were a whole litany of others). I didn’t discuss net worth or debt/income ratios on any first dates but once my now partner and I started to get more serious, I put all my financial cards on the table as well as my philosophy on personal finances (this was while I was still clueless about FIRE). I figured I might scare him off completely – which was fine since I didn’t want to waste time with someone who wasn’t on the same page as I was, but it was worth the risk. I’ve felt that always being honest about finances, though it sounds very unromantic, has helped us to be decent communicators about a wide variety of subjects!

    • I totally agree that bad communication around finances is both its own stressor and a HUGE indicator of other communications problems. I think it’s definitely true that FIRE folks tend to be more clear-eyed about finances, BUT I’ve seen enough people write questions about getting their spouse on board that it’s clear to me not everyone goes into this on the same page. Plenty of couples have one partner go gung-ho toward it while the other has no desire to retire early or to live that frugally. So I don’t think we are some community immune to bad money communication! And in your case, kudos for being open and honest early on, and having that pay off with your partner! :-D

      • Yes… I have the benefit of “starting over” and the 2nd time being really clear about my own personal financial philosophy and putting it out there. I see couples not being on the same page in the non, FIRE realm all the time, but I’m sure you are correct that there are probably plenty of examples where FIRE inclined folks are also not on the same page. Since, other than online, I know 0 other people in the FIRE tribe, I don’t have a clue on the true pulse of things, lol. I just hope that with all the thinking and philosophizing, etc. in his community that communication about finances is hopefully happening in healthier ways than the general population.

      • I’m sure you’re right that, overall, there is more financial communication in this tribe!

  19. We haven’t talked about this. Everything is going well so we don’t even want to think about the possibility.
    Personally, I think it will be easier to stay on FIRE if I’m single. I can be as cheap as I want and don’t have to make concessions. I’d definitely move to a cheaper area and eat more frugally.
    Getting to FI is definitely easier as a couple, but once you’re there, I don’t think it makes much of a difference.

    • I definitely understand the desire NOT to talk about this stuff, but it’s important to discuss it before both partners leave careers behind! I could see how in your case you could live more cheaply, though you would likely have to hand over some of your assets plus pay child support — so it’s not a desirable outcome on any level! ;-)

  20. I love that you and Mr. ONL talk about this stuff. My husband and I do, too, though we’re a long ways from FIRE. My personal belief is that it’s really healthy to take on the taboo topics, acknowledge that they exist, and use them to strengthen the future that you both want together. By talking about divorce, it seems like you reaffirmed your commitment to marriage, to each other, and to all your goals that stem from staying married. Kudos! =)

    • Thanks, Mollie! That’s awesome that you guys talk about this stuff, too, well in advance of FIRE. It’s absolutely healthy to take on the taboo topics (and inversely, unhealthy not to!) and to stay focused on the same or similar life goals together. By just assuming things will work out and not making it a stated goal, a couple might retain a feeling of more romance (though I think it’s romantic to be able to take this stuff on!), but trade a huge opportunity for communications and growth!

  21. I’ve found the most difficult times for us have been times of transition. More communication is always better and clearly defining marriage goals as you embark on this major change is brilliant!

    The great thing is you’ll have more time to do things together. Our love language is quality time (reference Gretchen Rubin for details) so my retirement and Mr.’s semi retirement have brought us closer.

    • I think times of transition (and too much work!) have been hardest for us too. But yeah, I think it only makes sense to agree in advance to work through stuff together. Quality time is totally our love language, too, which explains a lot of why we’re so dead set on retiring at the same time even though we don’t earn equal amounts and I could theoretically quit and let Mr. ONL finish out the home stretch. ;-)

  22. I think this is great. Y’all are setting expectations now, which will minimize the ambiguity when you transition or hit rough patches. Have you found that talking about marriage this way has lessened the fun of it? I think there’s a chance it could make it more black and white, where marriage is typically more gray. But, overall, it’s encouraging to see y’all set expectations and actually talk about the tough issues that could arise beforehand!

    • So we can only know the answer from where we are, which is about 9 years into marriage. Would it be less fun to talk about this as newlyweds? Maybe! We’ve covered a lot of ground by now, though — helping out relatives, estate planning, deciding how much we are willing to help out aging parents when the time comes, etc. So saying, “Hey, you know once we pull the plug we can’t afford to get divorced, right?” wasn’t too big a deal. ;-) (It also helps that we have zero intention of getting divorced, so having that discussion doesn’t feel too emotionally loaded as I imagine it would if divorce was actually something either party was contemplating!) Overall it makes us feel good about the strength of our marriage to be able to talk about challenging stuff, so I think it actually feels more fun in a weird way to know we can handle this conversation. ;-)

  23. Ms. ONL,

    This post is awesome and once again shows you to be way wiser than your years!

    I’m quite a few years older than you and have almost 2 decades of marriage under my belt, with an additional decade as a couple before marriage. We’ve been together more than half our lives, and we’re still going strong because of many of the things you wrote above (we didn’t write them down, but we did talk about every single one of them along the way). The first decade was a great time to make sure we were on the same page about marriage, commitment, family, finances, life goals, dreams, aspirations, and enough frustrations to know what we were getting into … forever. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that everyone spend a decade with a partner before getting married, but like you … I think it’s very important to be crystal clear with each other about expectations in each major stage of life, and even though the topic seems very “un-romatic”, it is the best thing you can do to keep your marriage strong and solid (communicate, communicate, communicate). We have great role models too, so that helps alot (both sets of parents have been married > 60 years each). And each set of parents were conservative financially while raising families as middle class, so that is another great example that helped us on our FIRE journey.

    I didn’t know about the FIRE community until less than a year ago, and have been catching up “fast and furious”-ly. This blog post is perfect timing because it reminds me that we probably need a check up, and I didn’t realize it until I read this today. As mentioned in a previous chat, hubby is retired and I’m < 4 years from RE. I've been dying "to leave earlier than our agreed up RE date" and it's put a bit of a strain on things. We're FI, but I originally committed to work until the kids leave for college. Now I find myself wanting to renege on that agreement because I'm so envious of those who are already FIRE or so close now like you. Oh sigh, patience was never my strong suit. Since my marriage is so important to me, I'm sucking it up to keep the agreement … unless/until I can convince him that we're way beyond ENOUGH already, so let's get this party started earlier. Keep your fingers crossed for me, maybe I'll be announcing a FIRE date in 2018 (instead of 2021).

    No matter what, divorce and going back to work are NOT options in our RE plan.

    Keep up these posts, love it that you consider a 360 view of FIRE.


    • Thanks for your nice note! And congrats on a long and healthy marriage! I definitely understand the tension in wanting to hold up your end of a bargain, but it sure seems like there must be a compromise in there — working for another four years when you’re already ready to be done (mentally and financially) seems like a recipe for pent-up resentment… or at least it would be if it was me! ;-) (Plus, doesn’t he want you retired already, too?! Longer vacations for him!) I’ll for sure keep fingers crossed for you! :-D

  24. This is an interesting topic, I don’t recall having read a similar one before! Also, very honest, as always. I guess I’ve always assumed that couples who pursue FIRE have their relationships/marriages in order, because, really, FIRE is hard work and requires a lot of compromise. I don’t think couples who are not getting along well will even consider it as an option. But now that you’ve written about it, I realised that it is still a possibility and definitely something to consider. I really enjoyed reading this – admittedly more on the relationship part of it than the FIRE. You have some solid relationship ‘advice’ there. Thanks for sharing! (And, hi!)

    • Hi!!!! :-D I’ve been super intrigued to see over the years now how many people write to ask how they can get their spouse on board with their FIRE plan… that tells me that lots of FIRErs are NOT on the same page with money, life goals, priorities, etc. I think we’re far more likely as a community to discuss this stuff, but we’re all still imperfect humans, and FIRE isn’t a magic marriage bullet. ;-) (Not to mention that divorce rates skyrocket at retirement, something no one in FI land is talking about either!)

  25. Wow, good post! It’s nice to know that I am not the only one who thinks about relationships / marriage like something you have to actively choose to stay in and spend time and energy working on – as you might surmise by now, I am single. In fact, one of the reasons my last ex and me broke up was because he was of the ‘everything should be spontaneous and will work out itself’ school and I am decidedly not. Also, I am not enough like his mother :). Personally, I think the romantic Hollywood ideas of things like love at first sight, love that just lasts and romantic weddings have done a LOT of damage to society. Not so very long ago, marriage was NOT seen as a romantic thing at all: it was first and foremost a business-like deal where you merge assets etc. Legally speaking, that is still what it is, no more and no less. In order to promise somebody to stay together forever, you do not need to marry them. You could even make that promise in public, with a ceremony, and still not marry. The only things that change when you do marry are all very unromantic things like: your assets now belong to both of you, you get some tax breaks, obligation to pay alimony may arise upon divorce etc. So from that perspective, a pre-nup or post-nup are not unromantic at all: they are only variations on the marriage contract that you sign anyway, tailored to your specific circumstances. In fact, I would argue that getting a contract specifically suited to you two might be more romantic than just settling for the generic version (i.e. marriage without pre/post-nup) :). In case you were wondering: I went to law school, and volunteered for the university’s legal aid clinic as a student. I helped one guy settle a disagreement over his pension with his ex (in the Netherlands, your ex is intitled to a share of your pension even after your divorce if you do not have a pre-nup) and saw a few custody problems pass my desk. Believe me, nothing is a better cure for having a romantic view of marriage than that. That’s why I’ve known for years that for me, getting married would involve a prenup – unless we are so similar in assets, pension claims etc. that having one makes no sense.

    • In the Netherlands, do you have common law marriage? It doesn’t apply in every state in the U.S., but does in many of them, and even if you choose not to get married and just ignore your finances, your partner could make a common law marriage claim and end up with half of your assets! So it’s best to be aware of this stuff.

      I definitely think there’s room for romance and realism. It’s fine to go with the romance in those early days, but at some point you have to be realistic and make sure you’re open about all of this stuff. As we all know, if you’re not compatible on money, your marriage is likely doomed anyway. So why NOT discuss this stuff and have a plan, whether it’s legally binding or not.

  26. Great idea. I absolutely love the concept of a couple setting up an agreement on their FIRE future as well as committing to continue to work on their relationship. In order to stay married it takes spouses who both want to stay married to each other.

    But people change over time and a pre FIRE agreement made rationally can’t prevent a spouse from spiraling down a drug problem they refuse to get help for so I’m not sure I am willing to stay married just for the money. If the circumstances were dire enough working is not so bad. Boy do I hope that’s not necessary!

    • Thanks! And of course we’d say this is all within reason. If Mr. ONL turns into a mass murderer or something, I’m not going to stick it out just for the money. ;-) But I do think that making staying together a stated goal makes us much more likely to work through things as much as we can rather than bailing. (It’s so funny to write all of this, because so far that stuff seems far from necessary. But glad we’ve discussed it all in any case!) ;-)

  27. I love the idea of couple’s therapy as preventative maintenance for your relationship. (No pre-nup, because we don’t live together and aren’t married.)

    • I am a true believer in this. We have such weird views about romantic love in our society, and it’s beyond idiotic that we expect marriage to be perfect and easy all the time, and view it as a failure to visit professionals to fine-tune things. In literally everything else we do, it’s considered a positive to build our skills and get other perspectives, so I wish more people would do this with their relationships.