OurNextLife.com // In a Couple? Aim for Real Financial Independence, Not Financial Dependence, Especially If You Want to Retire Early!we've learned

In a Couple? Aim for Real Financial Independence, Not Financial Dependence

I’d like to share something I’ve never talked about here before, about when I really felt financially independent.

It wasn’t when we hit “technical FI,” it wasn’t when we hit our original magic number, it wasn’t when we paid off the house and it wasn’t even when we said goodbye to our careers.

It was when I realized that we had enough saved that, if we had to split things up, my share would make me financial independent on my own, and Mark’s would make him FI on his own.

I hadn’t realized it before then, but up until that point, I wasn’t actually financially independent, I was financially dependent. So was Mark. We were both financially dependent on the marriage. We were FI together, but not separately, and that’s a very different thing.

Psst. UPDATED details on the New York City meetup THIS SATURDAY at the bottom of the post! (And details on all planned meetups always live in the sidebar.)

OurNextLife.com // In a Couple? Aim for Real Financial Independence, Not Financial Dependence, Especially If You Want to Retire Early!

As a couple we had been FI for a while. The home stretch of our journey was mostly about padding our numbers to insulate us against sequence risk, because we always planned to work until the end of 2017, and we just happened to get ahead of schedule on saving thanks to market tailwinds and more aggressive saving on our part.

But it’s like any stress you only realize you’d been carrying around after you feel it lifting: I think I’d always been a tiny bit anxious about walking away from a great career knowing that what Mark and I were doing was a little like roping together to climb up a glaciated peak without fixed anchors. In other words: If one person falls, you both fall. Mountaineers call that style of travel a suicide pact. That’s unnecessarily morbid for what we’re talking about here, but it felt naïve not to recognize that there was at least some element of mutually assured destruction in retiring early in a state of coupled financial dependence rather than true financial independence.

Think about all the worst case scenarios that most of us on the FIRE path plan for. We’re all thinking ahead to massive health care inflation, parents are having similar thoughts but around the cost of college, we’re building in contingencies for natural disasters or extended periods of stagflation, and we’re diversifying our assets and building up cash cushions to ride out proverbial storms.

Related post: Death and Divorce and Unhappiness, Oh My! Might Early Retirement Actually Be Bad for Us?!

But how many of us are planning for what we’ll do if our marriage or partnership dissolves? And even though divorce rates for those married in the 2000s are trending below rates for those married in the 1990s and earlier, divorce is still happening to more than a third of all marriages.

Put another way, if you’re married, it’s more likely that you’ll get divorced than that you’ll need to trigger your contingency plans. It’s way more likely that you’ll get divorced than that we’ll have a lost decade of stagflation.

Before we hit the point that put us at true, independent financial independence, I had an answer for this: make a pact that we won’t get divorced. And not that we think that’s even a possibility. Mark and I feel lucky to have a strong marriage, and we work hard to be good communicators with and partners to each other. Thinking about the possibility of divorce doesn’t mean we think it’s likely. We just know the odds and don’t want there to be a massive, willful blind spot in our financial plan.

My most recent post about all of this, from almost a year ago, was about couples creating a pre-FIRE agreement, in essence a set of things you agree to do together to keep your relationship strong and healthy, so that divorce doesn’t even begin to look like the best option. On our list were action steps like:

  • 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.

And we’re still 100 percent committed to all of that. We believe marriage is an investment that you must tend, and while cutting out all the job stress and constant work travel certainly makes that tending easier, it doesn’t eliminate the task altogether. Nor does doing those things guarantee that a marriage will last forever. It’s a lot like health: we can do everything right and increase our odds of good outcomes, but ultimately it’s not entirely within our control.

But I wrote all of that before we shed our financial dependence on each other and realized that, even with that pre-FIRE agreement made, I still had a tiny bit of lingering stress from knowing that we could end up in a bad spot financially if we split up. My parents divorced and it caused definite financial anxiety for me and my dad, so I knew exactly where this fear came from, but that didn’t make it any less real.

Now, having been on the other side of it, of knowing that I’ll be okay whether it’s with Mark or solo, I have to say that this version of financial independence feels way better. Much freer, but in a totally relationship-affirming way. It’s sort of like work after you become financially independent: you know it’s work you’re 100 percent choosing to do, and not work you’re doing even just a little bit because you need the money. We no longer need each other financially, and we’ll never even have to entertain the thought of whether we’re just staying together because we can’t afford to split up. We know that we’re here entirely by choice, which is so freaking romantic. What an incredible privilege, not to mention what a huge weight off our marriage!

Ways Couples Can Be Fully Financially Independent

If you’ve just gone through the trauma of a divorce, the last thing you’re going to want to have to do is try to scrape your way back into the job market after years or even decades of absence, because your finances no longer work with the economies of scale you enjoyed as a couple suddenly gone. Or, perhaps worse, to stay in a marriage that can’t be repaired because you can’t afford to split up.

So build this as a contingency into your plan. If you’re retiring early as a part of a couple, do everything you possibly can to keep that partnership strong and fun, but also make sure you’d both be okay if things don’t work out between you.

That can take several different forms:

Save enough to be independently financially independent – This is the highest bar, requiring the couple to save what might amount to significantly more than they need together. For financially conservative or money-fearful folks, this is the most reassuring option, but it almost certainly means working longer than you might otherwise need to, which will be a deal-breaker for plenty of other folks. Fortunately, it’s not the only option.

Make sure you both maintain marketable skills and job market connections – The tale of the older woman trying to find a minimum wage job after getting divorced is well worn at this point, because it’s so common, especially among Boomers and Gen X couples in which the wife in a hetero couple stayed home with the kids while the husband worked to support the family. The model might have worked great for them while they were together, but when they split, one of them is much more likely to be okay financially than the other one is. If you’re a couple going into early retirement with some financial dependence on one another, make sure you both have job skills you can market so that you’ll both be okay if you need to find work in the future, and maintain some lines of communication to people who could help you get back into the game, should it ever come to that.

Build your own retirement side hustles – If you have stayed home with kids, for example, or just have no desire to maintain your skills in your old career field, another option is for both partners to build side hustles in retirement, even tiny ones, that could be scaled up if you really needed to make some money. You’re going to have much more free time in retirement anyway, along with the urge to fill it with meaningful projects, and figuring out how you could make even a little money from one of those projects becomes a lot more fun once you don’t need it. But use the knowledge that you might one day need to motivate you to get that side hustle going so it’s there if you ever need to depend on it.

Map out a backup location – If you’re retiring in the U.S., Canada, Australia or Europe, there are plenty of places in the world that have a lower cost of living than where you live now. If your joint assets split in half wouldn’t be enough to keep you financially independent where you are now, figure out where they would be enough. And then ask yourself, honestly: Would you be happy relocating there, far from friends and family and all the things you’re used to? If yes, great. You’ve got your backup plan. If no, then reread the three options above and build at least one of them into your retirement plans.

Don’t Let Superstition Get the Best of You

If you heard me on the BiggerPockets Money podcast (#mouseonesie) a few months ago, you might have heard me talk about the superstition that lingers around divorce. Some people seem to think that acknowledging the existence of divorce or discussing it with your spouse makes it more likely to happen. I think exactly the opposite is true: talking about the possibility of divorce means that you are communicating openly and honestly as a couple, which makes you far less likely to end up divorced.

So if all of this feels icky to you or too hard to talk about with your partner, don’t let the superstition win. Send them to this post and tell them I made you bring it up if you have to! ;-) But you both owe it to yourselves to make sure you’ll be okay no matter what. And the best part of all is that it feels absolutely amazing when you know you’re set even if things don’t go to plan.

Your Turn!

For folks who are married or financially intermingled, do you and your partner talk about what would happen if you split up? Do you have a financial backup plan in the event of a split? Is there anything you’ve done personally, if not with your partner, to make sure you’ll be okay no matter what? If this isn’t something you’ve talked about or planned for with your partner, what encouragement do you need to broach the subject? What concerns do you have? This community always has great insights, so throw those comments and questions out, and let’s discuss!

New York Meetup!

Mark and I are all kinds of stoked to meet some of you guys in Manhattan at this Saturday’s meetup! Here are all the details:

  • Saturday, May 5, 2018
  • 2 PM – 4ish ET
  • UPDATED LOCATION: Fat Cat, 75 Christopher St. in the West Village (possible $3-5 cash cover charge)

I have pink/purple hair at the moment, and Mark will be in an ONL shirt like one of the ones below, so we should be easy to spot. ;-) Drop a comment here to let us know you’re coming so we know about how big a group to expect. 


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54 replies »

  1. I am single (and always will be) but I think this is important to think about, you never know what can happen especially after a major life change like retiring early the last thing you want is to feel stuck after you worked hard to retire early

  2. Well I was excited for Monday morning – something that is easier now that I’m retired…Starting week 5 today. Then I saw the topic of your post. Tanja…a downer girl a real downer :) Not to say that it isn’t an important topic to discuss. I too have read that the rate of divorce for those over 50 is climbing rapidly. Being married for 33 years and now empty nesters the importance to focus on our relationship has become a major change for us. Wife become moms, dad become breadwinners and we get so busy sometimes that we don’t make time for ourselves or our relationships.

    One of my retirement goals/objectives was to spend considerable time getting the balance, romance and spontaneity back that was much easier pre-kids. Great post, but still a bit of a Monday morning downer.

    • Congrats Keith on your retirement.

      I’m still a 9 – 5 ‘er, but like you, one of the things I look forward to most about Monday mornings is Tanja’s post. Today’s was thought provoking as usual … and as always, it was interesting to read the replies We all have different stories that frame our thinking. For me though, and I gather from your reply you felt the same, I found the topic tough to connect with.

      I was 19½ when my wife and I began dating on 11/26/1990. Today…. 27+ years together… 23+ years of marriage… we are now more than ever… and will always be… ONE. I couldn’t even fathom thinking about planning for FI from the standpoint as having enough for each of us separately. The ONLY reason I have for wanting to achieve early FI is to spend more time with my wife.

      We’re in the 11th hour of the critical “Mom” and “Dad” phase of our life with 3 boys in high school… and we’re loving (as much as two tired parents can) every minute of it. We’re 3+ years away from FI. I’m so looking forward to our next phase of life and having the time FI buys to spend with the love of my life.

      • Congrats on 23+ years of marriage and rapidly approaching FI. Both are big accomplishments. We have 4 kids – all grown now and it is crazy how busy we were with all of the school and after school activities. I’m glad you are finding enjoyment in the craziness of having 3 boys in high school.

        Removing the demands and stress from work has been a real pleasure. We just got back from a morning drive and doing some simple errands such as returning a moving, getting gas and picking up dry cleaning (still have to dress up for church :) ) and we were talking and singing along with the CD that my wife play just a bit too loud. Having time to enjoy these simple pleasures has been a blessing.

  3. We keep our money completely separate so we needed to be independently financially independent (boy that’s hard to type!) before we retired. It would have been much harder to quit my job as a single person.

    His net worth is another fallback plan for this girl who needs lots of fallback plans. He has more than me but his money is also more accessible. He has a lot of cash and investments outside of retirement plans. If my seven years of cash runs out in a down market, I’ll probably seek a loan from him until a market recovery. Not a likely scenario but still one that reduces my anxiety. It may make sense to use his money rather than sell investments that trigger capital gains and put our Obamacare subsidy at risk.

    We haven’t discussed divorce but I’m glad you recommend that conversation. You’re right, it’s more likely to happen than many things we overplan for.

  4. Great post Tanja! This is one of the big reasons I’m still in the work force, even though it would make so much sense for me to quit. Juggling two kids and a full time job is hard when you have to. When you are pretty close to FI, with a partner who makes quite a bit more and wants to keep working, there are a lot of good reasons to get out. But I couldn’t maintain our current standard of living on one half of our current stash if I wasn’t working. So I’ll stay in the work force for a few more years.

    I also really appreciate your commitments to a strong marriage. Wish my own DH was more willing to try counseling–our communication skills could use a little extra practice! Always good to see how other couples manage the rough times. Marriage is not all wine and roses, and getting through the rough patches takes work.

  5. This is a big deal. Divorce rates HAVE gone down (and I think they’re lower for people without kids, FWIW — I have theories on that.) But at the same time — there are outliers, people I know who I am really surprised to see divorcing. Not a lot, but a few. So I think it’s wise to plan for the worst, financially speaking, because you just never know. (One of the benefits of being eternally single, I think, is that I never thought I could depend on someone else financially. Not that I couldn’t get help from friends and family, but that’s different.)

  6. Great post. This is something we definitely need to talk more about in the FIRE community. Personally my partner and I are never getting married and keep our finances separate. We also plan and save for retirement separately. My savings goals are based around what I would need to live my life without him (not splitting bills etc) instead of the other way around. I believe this approach has led to a lot less stress in my life.

  7. I was just looking at our photos of all the attendees at our wedding 20 + years ago and was thoughtful to see the attendees who were no longer with their spouse! It happens!!

    I am very impressed you brought up this subject. Marriage is hard, and (I admit it) there are times when I fantasize about bailing and doing whatever I want. It is very, very hard to always stay on the same page (or even in the same book!!) about large and small goals, like where to vacation, decision making around kids, etc etc. I have some fear about exactly what you wrote about–what if it all goes sideways, how do we manage financially? Your post made me think about it more. It is a bit of the elephant in the room!!!

    We are technically financially independent, we actually have 2-3X the amount that is commonly mentioned as a stretch goal for folks, but with two kids nearing college and all the financial uncertainties with that and health care, it is hard to imagine no more paycheck. I think at this point we would still both be OK if we split, but we would definitely move from “fatFIRE” which is likely where we are heading (and yes, I do have aspirations to travel to places like Antarctica in my new leisure time) to leanFIRE. I wonder if what I need is to really figure out exactly how we would divide up the assets and where I would live if we were to split, in order to fully feel comfortable about letting go of work.

    I realized that although I have been working towards FIRE for several years now, I am really only beginning my MENTAL journey to FIRE. As much as I wish I had my freedom, I do think at this point work is a security blanket which is hard and scary to give up. With so many unknowns, with work, at least I do know that I will be receiving $X in my checking account every two weeks.

  8. As someone whose Mom has always been financially dependent on the men in her life, I’ve witnessed a lot of the harder side of this topic. I never, ever want to have to stay in a relationship because I can’t afford to leave.

  9. We actually talk about one of us dying more often than we talk about getting divorced, good food for thought!

  10. While it might indeed seem like something of a downer, this is an important topic that you brought up and one which should be addressed openly.

    After I turn 55 (not there for a while!), my husband and I will both be eligible for health insurance benefits through my pension at work, and we realize how lucky we are to have that… In any case, that means that until he becomes Medicare-eligible, more affordable “early” retirement health benefits will come through our staying married. Fortunately, that’s not an issue for us thus far, but it is something that we plan for with our savings and investments–by making sure that health insurance can be taken care of for both of us, regardless of what happens with our relationship.

    As for the statistically scary number about divorce, I think it’s important that you point out ways to keep our marriages strong. After all, we might have less control over freaky events like disastrous sequence of returns risk or with whether or not we win the health lottery, but we can exert a bit more control over how much we work on our relationships.

    Thanks for digging into such tricky subjects!

  11. What an important post. And you’re right that it is so much like the freedom of working if you don’t need the money. I would never want to feel stuck in my marriage because of finances or any other reason other than wanting to be there.

  12. You make an excellent point, Tanja. I was married for 25 years to my first wife when things started to go wrong. I didn’t want a divorce, but in the end, that’s what happened anyway. Not only was I emotionally distraught but I was financially devastated. Divorce is an important contingency to plan for no matter how strong your marriage is right now.

  13. I am a single parent and I’ve often thought how much easier reaching FI must be for couples. I don’t imagine I will ever couple-up again, so it’s not wistful thinking at all, just observation. But after reading your post, I think that actually it wouldn’t make a difference to my timeline even if I was in a couple because I agree with you, I would always want to know that I was independently FI.

    To all the people who are happily married, I am very happy for you and mean no offence, but in my opinion, being dependent on a partner for money is like being dependent on a job. The rug could be whipped from under you at any time at a moment’s notice. Better to be prepared.

  14. Such an important topic Tanja! Being financially dependent, whether on a job or a spouse, can lead to resentment. When you are together by choice instead of financial dependence it leads to the freedom to be your true self. I was very fortunate to be raised by progressive parents that believed all their children needed to develop a career path to self reliance regardless of gender. My focus in the last few years of my career is to make sure that I will be independently financially independent.

  15. You are not a statistic. The facts about average divorce rates may or may not apply to your situation. Don’t make the mistake of assuming those statistics do apply.

  16. This is a topic I unfortunately know firsthand, but fortunately, took mistakes and lessons from the first time around and when things started to get serious the 2nd time around, communicated clearly and unequivocally about my financial needs/rules from my partner. For women in general, I think this can be a hard topic to discuss especially if you are not the higher earning piece of the couple. My first marriage was a $%^tshow financially for a lot of reasons – I was a high earner and my partner was just getting started in his career and I took all the financial burdens of the relationship which also unfortunately caused a dynamic where I also had to bear the emotional labor for every financial decision coming our way. Our marriage was fraught with problems and I made the mistake of throwing money at nearly all the problems encountered which just served to delay the eventual end of our relationship.

    I spent a lot of time personally and in therapy working through the emotional devastation of the divorce and through the process gained a lot of clarity on a lot of topics, one of which happened to be money. I fired my financial planner, took control of my own stuff, and laid down my own financial goals which I had done previously but once coupled, I somehow forgot to check in on my progress. Post divorce, I got in the habit of checking in quarterly and tracking my progress (I had yet to discover FI in any meaningful way, just thought it was a pipe dream, lol).

    Fast forward a few years and I start dating the dude whom eventually I married… At an early point in our relationship, I laid out my financial goals, which didn’t correspond with going out for drinks and eating expensive sushi once a week. I also communicated that I planned to keep my finances separate from whatever future partner I had. He moved in with my daughter and me after we had been together awhile and we have always kept our finances separate though we split the cost of living expenses (I pay for my daughter’s stuff). When we finally did get married, it was because we were totally ready to be married (he was ready before I was, but was patient with me taking my time) and there was no financial pressure to do so. It sounds so unromantic but we discuss money easily and have few disagreements about finances. He understands now I don’t have much wiggle room in my monthly budget anymore and we are even more mindful of our expenses.

    Once I discovered that FI was within my reach, he supported my decision to quit working though he is not FI yet. He is working towards FI but doesn’t foresee ever stopping work altogether since the type of work he does has a lot of flexibility and gives him a sense of meaning. I will say that I do access very affordable and excellent health insurance through his employer, which would be more expensive if I were accessing on a healthcare exchange. And given the continual upward pressures on healthcare costs, I have some backup plans to gaining health care coverage should something go sideways (death or divorce can both result in the loss of health care!) including but not limited to working again (if it were to come to that, hopefully only part-time). There are a few other contingency plans I would employ before that point.

    And I think your bigger point is extremely important. When you make important life decisions, making them from a position of strength rather than vulnerability makes the choice better in the long run – even if you are choosing to end a relationship.

    • I hear this loud and clear! We went through a separation a couple of years ago because I was just d.o.n.e with the burden and stress of supporting us both, financially and otherwise. I felt terrible walking away at that point when he honestly had nothing, but I knew I couldn’t continue down the same path or I would wind up completely draining myself dry as well (and us separating would entitle him to unemployment, and I planned to keep paying the essentials until that kicked in – it’s not like I was going to cut him off and let him starve). It was a dark, dark time for us both and while (amazingly, surprisingly) we came through it, it’s taken so long to heal and I know I will never stand to let things get to that point again.

  17. Great post and discussion. When deciding upon how much to save for retirement (whether married or single), one should keep in mind the potential cost of long term care. We are currently assisting close family members to locate and move into a quality assisted living facility. The husband has been able to care of his wife (who was diagnosed 4 years ago with Alzheimer’s) in their home. He is now suffering from various ailments and mobility issues. The cost of her memory care will start at $80,000 per year, his cost for assisted living will start at $60,000 per year. Medicare does not cover the cost of memory care or assisted living. And as a side note, Medicaid will pay for some of the care, but only after you have spent down most of your joint assets. And the facilities that Medicaid will pay for, are not very attractive. Her Doctors say she is in great physical shape, and may live for another 5 to 8 years. In-home dementia care is even more expensive, than in a quality facility. A potential lower cost way to address these expense, is to move into a continuing care or lifetime care community prior to needing assisted or memory care. In this scenario, you pay an upfront entry fee and then a monthly fee, which is somewhat set for the remainder of your life.

  18. Hah my parents have been joking that since they couldn’t ever afford a divorce, now that they’re empty nesters there’d be no need for them to get divorced. Mom already sleeps upstairs in “their” bedroom and now that my brother’s gone, my dad’s sleeping in his room downstairs because it’s generally cooler down there, plus they go to bed at different times, prefer different mattress firmness, and would keep each other awake with their snoring. It’s a split-level house so they’d just have to share the kitchen (and the dog haha). In some ways that’s super comforting as their kid. But it also reaffirms to me that I NEVER want to feel like I have to stay in a relationship for financial reasons. And I can imagine how fantastic it must feel to both be FI and know that you’re both in the relationship because you want to be!

  19. Honestly I’ve always focused more on depth of a spouse. That being said in either case our fire should be far enough it won’t matter. Still I can’t think of us separately given the amount intertwined.

  20. Another very thought-provoking post, thank you. Being happily married almost 28 years…..we often remark how strong communication is very important to our relationship. I am early retired while my husband is still working full-time. We have always had combined finances….however both of us would be fine financially separately if/when divorce or death knocks….of course emotionally will be tough.

  21. Definitely a topic to ponder, but the only possible way to make FI together or apart is with a post-nup, and we have no interest in going down that road.

    The problem, as I learned from family lawyer iVigilante, is that alimony is based not on a couple’s annual spending, but on the higher earner’s annual income. So we might be living happily on $60,000 or $70,000 a year, but if we split, alimony alone could be double that. Then there would be child support and the obvious cost of maintaining two households.

    We might have enough to cover two households and separate living expenses, but not nearly enough for me to pay the alimony based on my full-time salary. I suppose it would be less now that I’m working part-time. And I imagine that danger goes away when I fully retire.

    I was surprised as anyone to know that our current spending probably wouldn’t matter much in divorce court, but that’s what I found out in the vigilante’s scary but hilarious guest post (https://www.physicianonfire.com/divorcecourt/).

    Time to take the wife and kids out for a seaside happy hour and dinner. Gotta keep everybody happy. :)

    Cheers from Roatan!

  22. I worry about this, too. Even though I’m not in a current position for this to impact my life other than how I navigate dating. I’m glad you have enough for both of your to be fine. Folks change all the time. It’s better to be well-equipped.

    And I love the preventative relationship counseling. That’s a great investment in healthy love.

  23. I feel like you read my mind with this post. I have often asked this question but been too scared to do it publicly. I am currently going through a divorce and I’m with a man now that I am 100% financially dependent on. Its scary as hell! We are in a strong relationship but I will feel much better when I know I could support myself if I had too.

  24. My husband and I will see you on Saturday! I noticed that Houston Hall says it’s closed for a private event all day on Saturday. Did you rent it out?!? :)

  25. Your logic here is sound, but I would like to present another side of the financial independence/dependence argument in the context of marriage.

    Many married people (and well unmarried people too, but this is about marriage) want children, and have some desire to stay home with the kids when they are young. To me, I think it is generally worth the risk of financial ruin later on to gain the chance to be with children now. If you don’t stay home with kids when you have them, you simply can’t do it later. In almost 100% of cases, allowing one parent to stay home with kids involves almost complete financial dependence on the spouse. It’s a high risk scenario for sure, but one that I think carries high rewards.

    Basically, financial dependence can help you achieve your most important priorities, so I don’t want to mitigate the importance of “dependence” by saying that “double FI” is better. (personally, I call this interdependence rather to differentiate from weird codependence or domineering dependence, but I forgot to introduce that earlier in the comment, so whatever).

  26. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I really hated how controlling my parents were when they financially supported me through college and after that, I resolved to never be that dependent on someone else financially again. That’s part of why my husband and I initially planned to keep mostly separate finances. Things have evolved more now and I’m really thankful that we didn’t have to make drastic changes to live on his one (though very solid) income. However, he’s now of the mind that long-term we’ll probably combine everything anyway and I’m of the mind that I’m okay with combining things going forward, but I still want to have my own separate nest egg of money I already have and my retirement accounts are very much mine, just as his are his.

    On that note, my husband doesn’t care if I go back to work and he feels I’ve already contributed enough. We have far more income than his parents have ever made combined and still have a very, very healthy savings rate with just his income. I’m not comfortable, however, with the level of dependence on him that I would have if I don’t go back to work for at least another few years. My share of the assets is about halfway from my “single FI” number, which is still a decent ways and not close enough to be comfortable calling it quits. I’ve started making a to do list that I want to accomplish before I look for work again and to figure out what that will look like. This time has shown me though some of the pros/cons of not working for me, which I think are really important to understand and plan for!

  27. I was a little surprised to see this post! I think one of the most common reasons that couples get divorced is because of money. Money trouble is a huge stressor that puts a giant strain on a marriage. I figured that being FI meant that with money troubles eliminated, there would be less reason for divorce. Plus couples who reach FI have also demonstrated that they work well together towards a common goal. Personally, individual FI is not something we are striving for. It would suck if that were to happen but you can’t plan for every possible contingency in life or you will be working forever and never getting to enjoy your life!

  28. Isn’t the opposite also a potential challenge to plan for? The FIREr who had planned to be single but accidentally falls in love, or meets someone with children? I’d want to make room for that possibility if I weren’t in an FI relationship. Locking yourself into solitude solely for financial reasons can’t be much fun, either.

  29. This is an important topic to think about. Breakups can and do happen, and so does death. My husband and I have been together for ten years, and it is a second marriage for both of us. My husband went through a divorce, and it was both financially and emotionally devastating for him. When his first wife left him, he did not see it coming. My first husband passed away at an early age, leaving me with young children and a precarious financial position. When my current husband and I met, we had both been single for a number of years. Although we have different approaches to money (he spends what he has, whereas I save) and we maintain separate finances, we are both in agreement about each of us being able to independently support ourselves should we find ourselves in the position of being single again for whatever reason.

  30. Do you guys try to divide your portfolio somewhat evenly so that you each own half the assets? Or is the asset ownership lopsided, and you’re assuming based on the law that it’ll get split evenly in the case of divorce? Or do you have a pre or post nuptial agreement that states that the assets will be evenly divided?

  31. My husband and I divorced last year just months shy of our fatfire retirement goal. Finances and retirement plans aligned perfectly, but there were problems with addiction (behavioral stuff – different definitions of monogamy) that kept being uncovered even though I kept hoping that each time was really “the last time.” It put me in the position of having to choose between a) retire in a few months to a great condo in a ski town and live on $100k per year with a husband who I can’t entirely trust or b) get divorced, work 4 more years to reach my independent FI goal (and possibly be alone for the rest of my life.) I got divorced. It was hard to give up the fatfire dream after working towards it for 13 years, but I am thankful I found out what was (still) going on before I quit my good paying job. If you’re not yet independently FI, it’s better to be heartbroken and employed than heart broken and unemployed.

  32. Depressing post. Marriage is a sacrament. You need to be all-in. No separation of finances. It will have some hard times.

  33. I found this post super helpful! My girlfriend and I have recently started the conversation about possibly merging some of our financial accounts once we get married. However, we do not really have a sound reason for doing this other than it just seems like that is normally what married people do. I don’t think you explicitly state in this article, but it seems like you are making a strong argument to keep your finances separate, this it is easier to see the income and expenses both of us have separately. Then combined expenses such as housing payment, utilities, etc can simply just be added to each individual’s expenses in order to determine to determine the total monthly costs if we were to break up. This was great insight into a rarely talked about issue!

  34. This is why we are working and saving beyond the bare bones definition of FI (well, and we like our jobs and feel we have a lot left to give before pulling the plug). A lot can happen over the next 4-5 decades of our life expectancy, and changes in family structure or needs is a huge one that is often ignored. Talking numbers and spreadsheets is a lot more concrete and less scary. :) Sure divorce is a big one, but so is death. Either of those could be followed by remarriage which could dramatically alter lifestyle, location or family structure. Also disability can strike you or a family member, causing expenses to soar. Then there’s pregnancy or the decision to adopt or foster a child later in life.

    With regard to divorce specifically, even though our marriage is strong and fun and great now (4 years in), it’s honestly hard to imagine staying married for many decades – especially if we never have kids and are financially independent. I can’t imagine a dramatic breakup, but I can imagine us choosing thoughtfully to close this chapter and go our separate ways 10 or 20 years from now. Maybe it’s just my super conservative side coming out, but I’m not quitting my career until we have enough together to BOTH have tons of options whether we stay together or not.