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Frugal Compromise

Finding Your Frugal Compromise Without Destroying Your Relationship

“You spent how much?”  Does this sound familiar?  So often I have read about how we über frugal early retirement weirdos are supposed to somehow magically, perhaps via telepathy, in-grain in our spouse our love for frugality that comes naturally to us.

Question, how many of you out there have grown up, with identical values, parents, lifestyles, hobbies, as your spouse or partner?  I’m waiting…

Can I be painfully honest here, just for a moment?  Most of us do not have spouses that share the same love/passion/desire for FIRE as we do.  Usually, from what I have read, one person leads the way, and tries to pull the other person along, or ends up dragging them along.  Can we sell them our early retirement dreams?  What if your spouse, like most Americans, isn’t programmed the same way you are?  What if they don’t care how long they work for?

The sales pitch approach

Ahhhh, if only the world was so perfect?  This seems to be the approach I read about most often on financial independence blogs.  It’s the, “hey, just talk your spouse into early retirement.”  Let’s explore this for a moment, shall we?  Everything your spouse knows and has ever known, about work-life and retirement, has been ingrained since birth.

Early retirement is not like selling bottled water to a parched marathon runner.  This is a lifestyle pitch, a complete and total change of ones expected course.  It is like a fish trying to swim upstream.


It is very likely that your spouse is frugal and a saver in ways that you are not.  Respect your differences.  It may be that what’s important to them is ignored by YOU.  Yes, you, the one staring at the screen now completely entranced by this phenomenal topic.  You might get defensive at questions such as, “what do I get out of early retirement?”  Even worse, you may be drilled with such sincere inquiries as, “you sound like you just don’t want to work.”

Newsflash: if you wanted to live a conventional life, such as working for the man or a soulless corporation, early retirement wouldn’t be on your radar screen.  As a reader of the Finance Patriot, you are the 1%; the risk takers, the dreamers, the lovers of life.  So step one is admitting what’s obvious, “yes, I don’t want to work forever.”  That’s OK.  Conventional norms of working a normal career, with fixed pay, don’t appeal to you.

Share the dream instead

The happiest place on Earth
Your partner may have different dreams than you do.  Perhaps they want to travel the world and you don’t.  I think it’s important to explore what the other person wants out of life and then try to find a compromise that will make both happy.  For example, your spouse doesn’t want to quit working ever, but wants to travel the world.  You could say, “imagine if you had all the time in the world to book trips for cheaper prices and more often once you retire?”

Now, instead of it just being your dream, you are attempting to get your spouse to share the dream.  Perhaps your spouse wants to volunteer more at the school or spend more time with the kids.  Early retirement is a perfect vehicle to spend more time on ANYTHING.

Do you view spending money on vacations as delaying your FI date?  This is a dangerous path to go down, as you may end up resenting your spouse for this.  Instead, your travel compromise can be “travel hacking.”  The internet defines travel hacking as:

Travel hacking is the art of collecting frequent flyer miles and points to travel for free. The best part is the majority of miles are earned without ever stepping foot on a plane.

(My credit card page has some useful credit card links to start your travel hacking)

You don’t want to spend money traveling, but your spouse does.  You learn how to travel hack, and sign up for multiple credit card bonus offers in order to travel for less, or even better, for free.  This is the best of both worlds, and one that myself and my spouse enjoy.  We are now flying our entire family next month to Puerto Rico due to this frugal compromise.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

It’s very easy to want your spouse to dream about early retirement like you do. However, realize that your spouse isn’t going to share your dream over night.  It will likely take months, if not years, to persuade them to see the endless vat of benefits of financial independence.  Your job is tall, as they are trying to unlearn everything they have ever seen around them in their lives.

Empathize with your spouse. They may have fears of no health insurance, running out of money if they retire too early, and what your new normal will look like.  Be sure to explore and find out what their fears are.  It’s entirely possible that their fears are based on not having the same understanding of how money works as you do.  Do not downgrade their fears; they might be unfounded fears, but they are still very real.  View yourself as a learner and educator, someone who is on your partner’s side and not against them.

Livin’ La Vida Frugal-  or lead by frugal example

I am not going to lie to you and say that getting your spendy spouse to change is going to be easy.  It’s going to be hard, and that is why some stealthy strategies are going to be necessary.  One important thing you need to do is always be frugal, and discuss your frugal strategies with your spouse.  If you have some bad spending habits, give them up and really be the change you want to see.

Fact: Frugality can and will lead to wealth
Perhaps you still buy lunch at work, if so, read my article about packing a work lunch instead. Calculate how much changing cell plans has saved you each month/year, and share your excitement with your spouse.  Praise your spouse for frugal changes that he/she has made.  For myself, I am very happy that my wife suggested that my son and I share a birthday cake (our birthdays are five days apart).  In prior years, I had always wanted a carrot cake on my birthday.  However, what a silly waste it is to insist on a carrot cake, when half of my son’s chocolate birthday cake is still in our freezer!  Small wins are important, celebrate your partner’s frugal ideas and wins.

My actual birthday cake, complete with Pokemon figures and shared with my six year old son.
What not to do

Do not put down your partner.  This is very hard to do, when benefits of FIRE are so painfully obvious to you. Here are some important things not to say:

“You spent how much?  Are you out of your mind?

“Buying those golf clubs can only be described as CRAY-CRAY.”

“A penny saved is a penny earned, but being with you is only seeing pennies burned.”

“Are you bad at math?”

Can you see where this may not lead your spouse to be persuaded, and me even draw your spouse into rebellion?  This is not an enviable spot to be in.  It’s best to avoid knee jerk reactions and, instead, talk about these topics when we are well rested and calm instead.


Anything worth doing in life is hard.  This is the harsh reality of life.  Therefore, the longer you persist in following the steps above such as; leading a frugal example, sharing your same early retirement dreams, compromising on your obsession with intense frugality, will lead to more successes.  Remember, you married this person because you enjoy their company and have things in common.  Focus on the good, and don’t let petty differences get in the way of your financial independence dreams.  It’s possible you may learn to want the same things and you will need to compromise to find your common goals.

Measure your success in baby steps, and not in leaps.  As with everything in marriage and love, keep the expectations low.  That’s the only way to be happy in a relationship.

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