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Why an Awesome Spouse Helps You in Personal Finance and Life

DE Landscape 08: Tiergarten Old Couple
One of my goals in life!

“Look your best — who said love is blind?”
–Mae West

“Some people ask the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight, dinner, soft music and dancing. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays.”
–Henny Youngman

Today is my anniversary. Lucky #13.

It’s possible to rock your financial world and be single. But, today’s not the day to talk about that.

I’m going to talk about how having an awesome spouse helped me be better, both as a person and with money.

An Ode That Won’t Cause Shakespeare to Quake in His Boots Anytime Soon

No sonnets. No poems. Not even a haiku.

OK, maybe a haiku at the end.

When I first met my then wife-to-be, my personal finances were a mess. She had her financial life in order. I was embarrassed.

A spouse brings accountability

Up until that point, I’d not been responsible financially for anyone but myself. I made poor decisions, but I was the one who had to deal with the (terrible) results. Once we started getting serious, I had to think about someone outside of my own skin who would have to deal with the consequences of whatever I did with my money.

I suddenly got religion. Whereas previously, the credit card had been a tool for me to overextend myself and pay for current wants with future slavery sacrifice, it now was only to be used in an emergency. The credit card balance was all I could think of, and the Zeigarnik Effect held onto me until the balance was $0.

Later on, particularly during business school, I had a lot of entrepreneurial ideas. Most of them were, let’s face it, terrible. I was the type who could be tempted by the newest shiny object and think that [PORK SNOUT FUTURES/LINT FACTORY/MOONWALKING KITS] was a fantastic idea.

My wife was always the one who would say some version of

Are you sure about that idea?

That would put the brakes on my harebrained ideas.

She told me that she felt guilty, like she was the one who was putting a damper on my enthusiasm.

I’m glad that I had a governor on my engine. Who knows what sort of scheme would have invariably chewed up my dollars and spat out pennies?

But, there was a flip side to that governor.

A spouse gives you room to chase your dreams

I was the one in the relationship with the crazy entrepreneurial dreams. She has an awesome job with great people and has no desire professionally to do anything but keep working for them. Therefore, when the opportunity arose for me and a couple of friends to start a company, it was her steady, consistent paycheck that bought us enough time for the company to actually take off.

We like to make the analogy that if our finances represent a glass, she’s the water, and I’m the ice cubes. She constantly fills, and I try to make big splashes (without splashing the water out of the glass).

She also provided accountability for the entrepreneurial venture. She wasn’t on the board and didn’t make any decisions, but she also would press, gently, on things like when we’d actually start to see paychecks from the venture and when we were going to make go/no-go decisions on moving forward. She also served as a sounding board when we had challenges, and her advice was almost always spot on.

Were I single, there’s no way I would have taken on an entrepreneurial venture like what I did. Yes, some people say that the best time to be an entrepreneur is when you’re young and single, but having no safety net causes you to make decisions that can be borne of desperation. We had the flexibility to play the long game (and avoid taking outside money) in building our business.

A spouse enables you to live on one income

Yes, there was a time when I earned nothing and she carried the water. But, even when the company started paying the founders regular salaries, we were still able to live on one salary. That helped us to advance our financial goals. It’s a simple equation: the more you earn, the more you can save.

We are not parents, but I have several clients who have elected to have a stay at home parent. Again, the flexibility of the spouse working has enabled them to make that decision.

A spouse helps you understand what’s important in life

You can do all of the planning you want, financial or not, but if that planning does not align with your personal values, then you’re not going to implement the plan. If you do, and there’s no alignment, then you’re not going to be happy, as your life or your spending will create cognitive dissonance. You’ll tell yourself that you believe one thing, but your actions will tell another story, and that will create conflict within your mind and decrease your happiness.

All of those long dog walks with my wife have really caused me to think deeply about what we wanted out of life and how we wanted to achieve our goals. I can certainly say that I am a much different person now than I was 14 ½ years ago when we met each other. Some of it is because of life experiences that have come my way, but a lot of it is because I had a wife who challenged me and made me actually think about things rather than simply taking life as it came.

So, I am where I am predominantly because of my wife. Sure, I pitched in a little too, but she created the conditions for our success. Occasionally I think about what might have happened if I were still single, and then I shudder. Who would protect me from me?

The haiku I promised!

My wife helps us be
The couple that neither of
Us would be alone

By

Jason Hull, CFP®, was the co-founder of Broadtree Partners, a firm that acquires $1-5MM EBITDA companies. He also was the co-founder of open source search consultancy OpenSource Connections, a premier Solr and ElasticSearch firm. He and his wife FIREd (financial independence retire early) at 46 and 45, respectively. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and a MBA from the University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business.

You can read more about him in the About Page.

4 replies on “Why an Awesome Spouse Helps You in Personal Finance and Life”

Love the haiku at the end! =)

And while I have known financial independence as a single person when you’re in a relationship and become dual-income no kids (DINKs) it makes a huge difference in making dreams (savings, travel, etc) come true.

When we got married, I was in grad school, so we weren’t DINKs at the time. When I graduated and got a well-paying job, there was a strong temptation to ramp up the lifestyle, since we’d lived in el cheapo apartment land and had a somewhat sere lifestyle while I was in school. We did increase it some, but did not, fortunately, bump up our lifestyle to match our income.

Your comment was wise: the extra income should go towards making dreams come true, not towards making wants come true.

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