The importance of your spouse in achieving financial independence

I read a very enlightening finance book a long time ago, and while it has sat on the bookshelf for some time I took it out again today as I was sure it would be very helpful in writing this post.

Many of you may have heard of it, but from my discussions with colleagues at work I get the impression that most people have not actually read The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko.

This book doesn’t tell you how to become a millionaire, it instead gives you information about people that are millionaires.This includes things like how much they earn, how much they save, what sort of cars they drive, how much they spend on housing, how many children they have and whether they send their kids to private schools. It really is an enlightening read, and I recommend that you get your hands on a copy from your local library, or if you would like to own it then buy a second-hand copy online.

While the book covers a huge range of characteristics of “millionaires” (which meant more in 1996 when it was published than it does today, but the message is still the relevant regardless of the dollar amount), I am most interested for this post in the characteristics of spouses in accumulating wealth.

Key takeaways of this book in relation to couples

Some of the key points that I took out of the book in this area included:

  1. The typical millionaire is married (and has been for the bulk of their adult life) with children.
  2. Nearly 95% of millionaire households are married couples, and nearly 80% of millionaire households have the wife working part time.
  3. In 70% of these households the male contributes at least 80% of the income.
  4. Most people will never become wealthy in one generation if they are married to people who are wasteful.
  5. The female spouse, while not usually earning the bulk of the income, often has a significant effect on how the family budget is determined.
  6. People who are married tend to accumulate more wealth than those who are single or divorced.

Obviously this book was written nearly 20 years ago and the roles of women in society have evolved quite a bit since then, but the importance of your spouse (no matter who is the higher income earner) in achieving financial independence just cannot be ignored.

I would consider myself to be more frugal and more career-driven than my wife, but both of us have a solid understanding of our financial position and are working towards goals that we have set together.

People obviously change quite a bit over the course of a relationship, and both of us have certainly evolved financially in the time that we have been together. Navigating this change hasn’t always been easy, but I firmly believe that working openly on achieving set goals can be a great strengthener of relationships, even if you may disagree at times.

How to encourage your spouse to make change in finances (or any area)

For those that are struggling to navigate this change with their spouse, I believe that a quote from Mahatma Gandhi is quite appropriate:

Gandhi

“Be the change you wish to see” – Mahatma Gandhi

At times I have asked my wife to make financial changes and perhaps not gone about it in the most effective way, but the approach that I have usually found to be most effective is exactly as Gandhi said – to make the change yourself. Others will see the change, and once they realise that it really isn’t that bad/difficult/time-consuming they will follow suit. This is especially true for people that resist being told what to do, as they will be choosing to do something rather than being asked/told to do it.

Learning to work with your spouse on your finances (no matter what role you fill in the financial picture) is a critical skill for anyone wanting to achieve FI or early retirement. If you are unable to get it right then you will never become wealthy, and it is also far less likely that your relationship will last.

Divorce and finances

As an accountant I deal with many divorced couples, acting as an expert witness when valuing businesses that are to be sold/allocated as part of marriage settlements. I will go into more detail on this topic another time, but divorce is just about always devastating (not just emotionally, but financially as well) for both spouses, and so working together as a team on your finances and putting effort into your relationship will have enormous payoffs in terms of happiness and dollars.

Obviously if the relationship has completely broken down then staying together for financial reasons probably isn’t the right thing to do, but if people work to keep their relationship strong they greatly increase their chances of achieving financial freedom.

So how do you handle finances in your relationship?

Are you surprised by the findings of the Millionaire Next Door book?

IA

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  1. Pingback: Divorce: One of the biggest threats to achieving Financial Independence | The Insider Accountant

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