Live It, Don’t Preach It: Getting Your Partner to Embrace FI

Change - Cashflow Cop Police Financial Independence

 

(no. 008)

Contain Your Excitement

If you’re still hanging around here, then perhaps you’re mildly intrigued by the possibilities of FI or dare I say, even excited.  If you’re feeling the urge to tell everyone you meet about this new found power of yours, then might I suggest you finish reading this post first.  Although the title suggests this post is targeted to those who are in a relationship, I think some of the concepts might be useful for those who are single because they can be applied to other aspects of life.  I’ll give you some of my own observations and personal experience on this with a bit of research in psychology thrown in.  The main thing to remember is that any form of change takes time, especially if you’re talking about someone’s mindset.  It is also about learning to accept the possibility that your partner might not want to pursue FI.

 

I am very fortunate…

The first victim to suffer your new found enthusiasm for this strange thing called FI is likely to be your partner.  If you’re single, then it might be a close friend or a work colleague.  I was extremely lucky to have a wife who totally get this and 100% on board without any need for convincing.  She has always been careful with her money.  She’s not as interested in the finer details such as asset allocation or tax legislation, but she still asks questions about how such things can help us achieve FI sooner.  Once she saw what was possible with FI, for her to accept the how was easy. 

I know from listening to and reading about other people’s experiences that this is not the norm and I feel extremely fortunate.  Usually, there will be resistance.  After all, you’re effectively saying to your partner that the way you’re spending money needs to change.  They would automatically be on the defensive.  They would be thinking that their living standards would change for the worse and that is something they did not sign up for when the two of you got together.  Heck, they may even pretend to go along with it just to shut you up, but secretly still continue to spend at the same rate behind your back or tell little white lies about how much something cost.

One of my brothers is going through a similar experience where his wife is accustomed to a certain level of expenditure which their household budget cannot sustain in the long term.  He has tried talking to her about their finances, showed her the bank statements and even introduced FI, but if anything, she has only put up more barriers.  He has come to learn that this preaching approach will just not work for her, and I would guess it will be the same for most.  I hate being preached at.  In fact, if I’m not ready for change, then it doesn’t matter how rational an argument is, I won’t change.  Try preaching to me and I will only go out of my way to find research to confirm my own flawed bias.

 

The Initial Approach

Temper your excitement and think about how you approach this with your partner.  In my opinion, the first conversation should not even mention anything about finance or money.  This will be difficult.  I know I wanted to blurt our safe withdrawal rates, savings rates and index investing when I first discovered FI.  Instead, talk about what you both want in life and what you each value.  Spend time discussing and finding out what you both hope your lives will be like in the future.  If you have children, try to picture in detail how you want them to grow up and the type of people they will become as adults.  Notice I’m not talking about what they want to be (i.e. what job they want to do). 

It’s so important to align your hopes and dreams.  Equally important is to recognise where you differ.  Just because there are differences does not mean it’s a bad thing.  Mrs. CC, for example, cares about how she dresses whereas I am one of those guys who wear shorts and t-shirt all year round (even during the recent Spring snow).  Learn where there can be compromises.  Where there can’t be any compromises, accept it and focus on something else.  Don’t let the differences be the reason preventing you moving forward together.  This step could be a simple conversation, but it could be a number of conversations because it is actually the first time you’ve both thought about this.  Don’t force it.  Take your time.  It could take months or in my brother’s case, years and still be a work in progress. 

snow-guy-in-shorts - Cashflow Cop Police Financial Independence
Photos like this have been sent to me on more than one occasion…
ice-man-climbed-everest-in-shorts - Cashflow Cop Police Financial Independence
A man apparently climbed Mt. Everest in shorts (something I’d be stupid enough to do)

Be patient.  People learn (or in most cases, don’t learn) how to use money from a very young age.  Even bad habits take time to break.  What we are talking about here is something much more than a habit.  It is about changing someone’s mindset which they have formed throughout their lifetime on strong beliefs and convictions on how best for them to operate in this world.  After all, they have survived this long, why risk changing things?  For this reason, trying to change someone’s mind to become more positive towards FI will be difficult.  Expect this and plan for it.  

 

Explanatory Coherence Theory (the psychology bit) 

Psychologists have studied the idea of changing someone’s mind for a long time.  First of all, I’m not a psychologist so there is a good chance that I’m totally messing this up and completely misunderstood the research.  In any case, here is my interpretation of a theory by Paul Thagard (1989) called the Explanatory Coherence Theory (ECT).  It sees our beliefs as a network of consistent (coherent) concepts which determines how we interact with the world.  When we are presented with information which is inconsistent with our beliefs and interferes with our network of concepts, the immediate reaction is to discount it.  ECT states that to change someone’s mind, you must undermine the coherence of the things that they do believe and develop counter-arguments to the most significant sources of their belief, i.e. to slowly break down their network of concepts one by one until a new belief takes its place.  According to the research, you will also need to provide information from multiple sources and of equal importance, to address any emotional attachment which might be causing them to hold on to their old beliefs. 

To start with, ECT expects your argument to be ignored.  However, over time, by following the above suggestions, the glue holding their network of concepts and forming their beliefs would erode and collapse.  The process can be extremely slow for some but fast for others.  It might take a long time but then all of a sudden they change their mind overnight.  The theory suggests that it is not one piece of information which results in this drastic shift in mindset, but the combined pieces of information you have provided them over time.  The length of time it takes is dependant on the strength of their network of concepts.  The alternative position you are proposing is likely to take time for it to make sense in their mind even if it makes perfect logical sense in your own mind.  Again, be patient.  

Let’s run through an example of how ECT might work.  Someone might believe that buying a new car using a loan is a good financial decision.  Their network of concepts tell them that a new car means less risk of breaking down, lower cost of maintenance, comes with a warranty, allows them to spread the cost, it’s on a good deal, it gives them street cred to show (give the illusion?) to friends and family you’re “successful’ and most importantly it feels good with the dopamine hit.  When they look around, they see everyone else buying a new car and advertisements showing them the promise of a new lifestyle a flashy car provides.  This only serves to reinforce the existing network supporting their current beliefs.  If you were to sit down and show them the maths to prove that this is not a financially sensible decision, this new piece of information would be inconsistent with their beliefs.  This would make them uncomfortable  so they would have two options to alleviate this cognitive discomfort: 1) decrease the strength of their current belief that buying a car on finance is a good thing (thereby slowly allowing a new belief to form); or 2) dismiss the value of your mathematical wizardry so that their current belief remains intact (continue to bury their head in the sand – the path of least resistance).   Most will take option two until such a time that they come to accept that their current beliefs are no longer reliable, for example, facing a real threat of bankruptcy.  

 

It might never be…

When I approached this subject with Mrs. CC at the very start, I had in the back of my mind that as unlikely as it may be, she might just not get it and won’t be interested.  I think it is important to be prepared for the fact that no matter how much emotional energy you invest in hoping that your partner will be as excited as you are on your journey towards FI, it might never happen.  Learning to continue to grow and be happy together after this realisation would be a very difficult task (I can only imagine.  Getting Mrs. CC to watch Sci-Fi Movies with me and actually enjoy it is an impossible task!).  I can only see four main options in such a scenario: 1) break up; 2) accept it, but live together not quite happy as you want to be; 3) accept it whilst learning to adapt and live an equally happy life; and 4) continue the internal struggle and the false belief that one day he/she might change and end up being disappointed.  For me, I was mentally prepared for option 3.  

The pursuit of early FI, especially if it is extreme will require changes to how someone has traditionally viewed money and consumption.  Unless these difficult conversations occur prior to a relationship becoming serious, I personally feel it is unfair to suddenly drop this idea on someone you’ve been with for a while expecting them to embrace it.  

 

No Quick Solution

This process is more than a “5 Step Plan” quick fix.  Anyone who claims there is a quick fix is simply deluded or lying through a click-bait title to get hits on their site.  My view is simply to continue to learn, focus on your own behaviour, try to communicate with your partner and over time, your partner would hopefully be interested enough to ask questions and join you on the journey.  If you try to preach, nag or force FI onto them, it will only be counter-productive.  Finally, don’t even try to convert friends and family.  From my experience, it just doesn’t work.  My younger brother has absolutely no interest in it whatsoever.  By all means, signpost or give them an introduction.  This alone worked on my younger sister.  If you go at it hard, you risk being viewed as being judgemental.  They will come to you when they are truly ready for a change.  

Back to my older brother.  Recently, his wife had wanted to get a new car on finance because it was a good deal.  In all honesty, it wasn’t a bad deal.  But at the end of the day, was it a need or a want?  She surprised me by asking for my opinion whilst we had a family get-together at my place.  My dad was in the room and said to her “look around, you know what he will say” (we live with relatively few things in our life, still more than we would like though).  I said to her that if it was me, the question is not if you can afford, but what could the money be better used for?  She replied, “it all adds up doesn’t it?”.  I agreed.  She then turned around to my brother and said, “let’s not get that new car”.  To get this far, they have been married for at least 15 years and together longer than that.  I think it might not have taken this long to get here if my brother had conversations about their values and goals sooner.  Mrs. CC has suggested that perhaps she was just tempering her response to me because she knows what I’m like and that it is possible that the new car on finance is not really off the table.  The optimist in me is hoping that’s not the case. 

I’m sorry that I haven’t really given you an easy answer to winning over your partner.  It is still possible to achieve FI without your partner’s support, but it is a hell of a job and bloody impossible if your partner continues to spend more than you earn as a family.  Don’t give up and think about it this way: it is better for only one of you to have bad financial habits instead of the both of you.  That’s ending with a bit of positivity for you.

So what does your partner think about FI?  How long did it take for them to come onboard?

 

Further Reading

Our FI Plan

Our Numbers – from the very beginning…

Living Optimistically Through FI

 

Sources

“What does explanatory coherence explain?” by Paul Thagard.

An extremely short description of explanatory coherence by Changing Minds.

7 thoughts on “Live It, Don’t Preach It: Getting Your Partner to Embrace FI

  1. weenie Reply

    Like most Brits, me and my friends don’t tend to discuss money but after discovering FIRE and making my own plans, I mentioned/blabbed about wanting to retire early (alcohol loosens the tongue!). My friends all scoffed at the idea and I got the usual comments, “Why, are you going to win the lottery?”, “You’re going to be bored”, “I like my job so don’t intend to retire”.
    One of my friends has no pension savings whatsoever. No amount of mentioning the benefits of saving into a pension will change her mind (although she has been overpaying her mortgage) and as you say, the more I mentioned it, the more she convinced herself that they were (in her own words) rubbish.

    I stopped mentioning my plans, I didn’t want to be a pension bore!

    Fast forward 4 years and on a recent outing, the same friends surprised me by turning to the topic of pensions and retirement. The one who loved her job? Wants to leave the rat race and has begun to save properly into an ISA and top up her pension – she asked me how my early retirement plans were coming along… Another friend who had stopped her payments into her company pension has started them up again. The one with no pension savings? She’s not there yet, but mentioned that she’s massively cut down her monthly expenses and is saving the difference, plus overpaying more of her mortgage.

    Perhaps they did listen to me after all or just seen how I live my life, but I’ll only talk about retirement if they mention it first!

    My family? I reckon my siblings are all sorted financially well enough to retire early, it’s whether they want to or not.

    I’m currently single so I hope that when I do end up with someone, they will have a similar outlook. Your are fortunate that Mrs CFC got it and jumped on board right away.

    PS – those pics made me shiver!

    • Cashflow Cop Post authorReply

      Thanks for sharing your experience Weenie. I find it really difficult to bite my tongue sometimes when I hear friends and family moan about money or their job, but at the same time taking no action to change things and I see how much excess consumption (in my opinion) is in their lives. I just want to tell them that there is another way! I have mentioned early retirement a few times and somehow just feel a little judged, or that they might think I am judging them, or worried that I might come across as showing-off or something. I just try my best not to talk about money, but it’s really difficult at times; hence this blog!

      How have your siblings managed to be in positions to retire early? Did they follow the FI path of extreme savings?

      • weenie Reply

        My siblings are high earners living in a country with low tax (15%) and have invested prudently, predominantly in property. They’re not frugal as I would say they very much enjoy spending money on things they enjoy but all within their means, which is the main thing.

  2. FU MON CHU Reply

    I think in general people are only now becoming interested in pensions and investments because there seems to be more awareness due to things like auto enrolment etc. The Fi community is also growing as blogs and podcasts become more popular

    • Cashflow Cop Post authorReply

      I completely agree. These are very interesting times and the internet has been so important to distil financial knowledge which up to now has mainly been reserved for those born into affluence. I still think even with all this free knowledge now, most will still choose the “Poor Dad” way of thinking, which isn’t entirely a bad thing because we need those people for society as we currently know it function.

  3. Meine finanzielle Freiheit Reply

    Great article, I very much enjoyed the read! Thanks.
    It confirms my thinking that it is impossible to fundamentally change someone, especially not your significant other. Believes and habits about money are deeply rooted in our way of thinking, so taking a realistic approach towards FIRE with your significant other is great advice.

    • Cashflow Cop Post authorReply

      Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say. I stopped by your site and although I can’t speak German, I thought your site was very well laid out and professional looking. Yes, from my observations (albeit from a very small sample) of people, I find that those who have a more realistic approach are much happier than those with high expectations of changing their parter’s mind.

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