By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch
I’m on FIRE! I am a 34-year-old from Connecticut and have been dating my girlfriend, whom I love, for two years. I am considering getting married, but I have financial concerns.
I have been participating in the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) movement since I was 23 years old. I want to be able to retire by the time I am 40, and hope to do so by earning $80,000 to $100,000 per year. I have been buying investment property and saving aggressively since I joined the FIRE movement.
I currently have investment properties that generate $60,000 per year of income, about $200,000 in a 401(k) and another $250,000 in personal investments. I plan on paying off debt and purchasing more properties to reach my income goal by 40.
My girlfriend, who is 32, does not share the same financial goals. She is not bad with money (no debt besides a car loan), but despite being a successful and hard-working woman, she is not a saver. She just started contributing to a retirement account last year and has very little savings and no investments.
She also enjoys spending money on non-essential items — that is, she recently bought a $37,000 Mercedes despite my efforts to get her to buy a more practical vehicle. Neither one of us currently has children, but we would like to have kids someday.
Whenever we discuss my potential early retirement she asserts that she should be retiring with me, despite not really saving for it. She tells me that my retirement income should be to support my (future) family. I actually agree: When I started participating in FIRE, I did assume this money would be used to support my family during my early retirement.
I also assumed my future wife would participate in the saving phase, not just the spending phase. I respond by telling her that if she plans on retiring early as well, then she should start saving toward that goal. If she does not want to retire early (and start saving), then she should plan on just continuing to work. My biggest concern is if she does not contribute to the saving phase, she will not have any appreciation for the early retirement and, ultimately, spend us back into employment.
I love my girlfriend very much and can definitely see a future together. However, I have always been very prudent with my money habits, and she has not. These financial discussions are becoming redundant, and we never can get to place where we see eye to eye. This is causing strain in our relationship and pushing “happily ever after” farther away.
I want to get on the same page as her so we can move forward with our relationship. I am hesitant to propose with these money issues lingering. Am I being overly protective of my financial goals, or is she out of line for expecting to enjoy the benefits without making the sacrifices?
Concerned and In Love
I take heart from your nom de plume: “Concerned and In Love” rather than “Concerned but In Love.”
When I was an advice columnist on Irish radio many years ago, I used to receive letters from people in relationships who put up with all manner of malfeasance and skullduggery — financial misdeeds, infidelity, physical and emotional abuse — and they would sometimes end their letter, “... but we are in love, so please don’t ask me to break up with him/her.” I also take heart from your description of your girlfriend as “successful and hardworking.” There is hope. It may take some realistic planning.
Your letter is far less serious than many I receive, mostly because you (a) are dealing head-on with the issue now and (b) don’t expect your girlfriend to have the same amount of savings as you. However, it’s not unreasonable to expect her to make an effort to contribute, even if she’s not in a position to catch up. If she did want to join you on your life of hard-won leisure as a fellow FIRE aficionado, she should at least contribute something. I agree. It’s not a lot to ask.
You may want to consider a prenuptial agreement, and consider the importance of your wife continuing to work, assuming you are financially independent by the time you reach your 40s, especially given the cost of health insurance. Your wife’s employer health-insurance plan could help save your family thousands of dollars. Annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage increased by 5% to $20,576 in 2019, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.
Go through the hard, cold facts together. That should act as a wake-up call to your girlfriend. You might even want to go through your accounts with a big red pen and subtract $37,000 here for a car and there for a clothes budget or high-flying social life that you have had to forgo in order to help you reach your goal by 40. It may bring home the stark reality that you are making sacrifices. It’s obviously difficult to make an inventory of possessions that you have chosen not to purchase!
You may be destined to be together, or you may not. When couples get together, life can get very unromantic fast when you don’t share the same goals and values. Love is respect. Without respect, it’s near impossible to find or feel the love. If your partner in life is willing to allow you to do all the heavy lifting to prepare for your life together, that suggests a lack of respect for you, whether or not she perceives it that way. It may be that she’s a good person who lacks financial maturity.
One line from your letter jumped out at me for its clarity and succinctness: “I also assumed my future wife would participate in the saving phase, not just the spending phase.” That one sentence sums up the imbalance in your relationship. If you suspect that she has other priorities now, and refuses to give up anything because she believes you will pick up the slack later on, it’s highly likely that this scenario will repeat itself in all sorts of ways over the years.
Your girlfriend may not want to curtail her spending or sacrifice vacations or nice cars, and retire by 40, and that’s her prerogative. You may find it difficult to meet someone who is ready to travel the world or lead a hard-earned life of leisure and relaxation at that age. My concern is that her actions don’t match her words. She either wants to retire and would need to change her behavior, or you would need to change your plan. I see the former as unlikely and the latter as inadvisable.
More Americans look for financial security in a relationship, found this survey by Merrill Edge, a division of Bank of America Merrill Lynch /zigman2/quotes/200894270/composite BAC -2.75% . Ideally, it’s better to have both. Seeking one of these things, if the other is also important to you, will not lead to an easy life. Your future wife may participate in saving, but it may be another future wife. Seek a couples counselor and/or a financial therapist. Like many dilemmas involving finance and romance, the answer will reveal itself.
All you have to do is listen.
(This story was originally published on Feb. 11.)
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