If you've been following this blog for a while, you've no doubt heard me mention ‘The Wife' on numerous occasions. The ying to my yang, The Wife is my level-headed better half, the one who keeps me balanced and grounded, not only financially, but in all areas of life. I've wanted to interview my partner in crime here on the blog for months now, but thus far she's preferred to stay out of the spotlight, only providing her influence behind the scenes. But as our following has grown, more and more readers have requested to hear her side of the story!
I think this interview is particularly interesting because we don't actually see eye to eye on the topic of money. You might think that since we're on the journey to FIRE together we'd have the same opinions on all things financial, but this simply isn't the case! This isn't a bad thing… in fact, our differences may be an essential ingredient to the balance that has fueled our financial successes thus far. Without further ado, I present, The Wife!
Joel: Hello Wife!
The Wife: Hi!
Joel: OK, to start things off, let's talk about your alias. Here on the blog, I've always referred to you as ‘The Wife', with a capital definite article, as in ‘The Boss' or ‘The One and Only.' Recently though I've been getting feedback from readers saying this could be misconstrued as objectifying or demeaning to women, which is obviously not my intention. How do you feel about the alias ‘The Wife'?
The Wife: I didn't know it had a negative connotation… I look at it more like ‘The Godfather.' Then again, I have been known to use phrases incorrectly, so there's that. ‘The Wife' is OK… as long as you don't start calling me ‘your old lady‘, I think we're fine. Maybe I can just be a symbol like Prince was? Next question.
Joel: OK. Our financial ‘habits' have been a roller coaster over the years. I've always considered you to be the more moderate one in our relationship; when I was super spendy, you were cautious, and when I went on to extreme savings, you pushed back quite a bit. What does this look like from your perspective?
The Wife: I think if you were to graph our spending over time, mine would be a much smoother, less volatile curve. It definitely feels like you ping-pong sometimes. I'm no Jacob from ERE, but I was able to do some of the more ‘extreme' savings stints with you because they were time bound. It's like they say in my spin class: “You can do anything for a minute, just keep those RPMs above 100!” You can do anything for a minute in the same way you can do some really extreme frugality for a short amount of time to kickstart your savings, but it can take a toll after a while. There's some point where you want to back off a little bit and find where your comfort zone is when you're not pushing yourself to the extreme. I feel like we're still working on that.
Joel: I remember when we first met back in high school, you had a pretty sizable savings account (which I quickly depleted with restaurant spending – I'm not proud of this). Have you always been a saver? Did your parents instill the value of saving money in you from an early age?
The Wife: I've always been more on the savings side, but I wouldn't say I've been miserly or anything like that. I opened my first savings account with my dad when I was around seven or eight years old, and I'd been saving a lot of my birthday money since then. That's why I had a little bit of play money saved up when I got to college.
Joel: From my perspective, it was a lot of money. As a teenager in a household that really didn't save much, I had never seen four figures before, and had no sense of how much money that actually was, other than ‘a lot'.
The Wife: Savings was just something we did in my family. At the same time, I wasn't a penny pincher – I still spent money on things I liked, not just things I needed. I wasn't afraid to use my money to buy things I enjoyed. More people in my family have been savers over the years as well. You know, my grandmother's a depression baby, born in the 1920s, and saving has always been very important to her. Not just money, saving ‘things' as well – ‘You never know when this will be rationed‘ she says. It sounds a little crazy today, but yeah, that's how I was raised. And my dad, he's always been a big saver as well.
Joel: He was a banker for some time, and dealt with finance quite a bit, so to me it sounds like maybe your family has always valued saving money, whereas my family never really saved much. Everything that was earned was spent… as soon as it came in, it went out. Now to be fair, my dad was self-employed with his own home repair business, and never really made more than $30k a year, so there wasn't much extra to save in the first place. But, if he had a good month and made a little extra, he'd take us out for ice cream and McDonalds and bowling and such.
The Wife: Ha! Oh that is so different from my family. “No” was a word my parents used very liberally. While I did get some nice treats for Christmas and birthday presents, the majority of the time it was always like “No, why do you need that? You don't need that. Put it back.”
Joel: Well, mine too, but out of necessity, not out of self-control or financial discipline. I think this is a huge distinction, the difference between saying no out of necessity vs. saying it with the intention to deliberately prioritize savings. Now I should give my parents a little bit more credit… while they weren't very good at saving money for themselves, they were still able to pre-pay my college education, which was awesome. When I was young my mom worked a night job to help make that happen, and I'm grateful for it. So I think it was just a difference in upbringing, and very different levels of experience with money. I was also the first in my family to ever go to college, while you come from college-educated parents.
The Wife: Yeah, from a very early age I heard “If you spend all your money on X, Y, and Z, you won't have any money left over for later.” I can see how things would be different if I never had that foundation.
Joel: So I'm curious, where do you think our philosophies on money align? Where do they differ most?
The Wife: I think we really align in areas like avoidance of debt, looking for value, stuff like that for sure. We both like looking for a good deal for example.
Joel: I feel like you don't have the fear of ‘sticker shock' the way that I do when it comes to large purchases. House shopping, car shopping, any big ticket items, I think you adapt to large numbers easier than I do. You can see the value and be OK with it, whereas I tend to get stuck.
The Wife: It's not that I'm immune to sticker shock, trust me, I still get it too, but it's more like being able to understand what you want, and what the market price is. I think I'm more easily able to rectify that and accept “This is what the market is commanding”, and either buy it or move on. Once you get over that hurdle it can be a lot easier to make financial decisions.
Joel: Another area we differ is in terms of patience and planning. I've always been a more impulsive person; If I see something I want at what seems like a good price, I'll pull the purchase trigger that same day, regardless if that item is a television or a car. Once I've convinced myself, which usually only takes a few hours of research, I'm excited to jump. You've always been significantly more cautious though, taking weeks or months to research larger purchases. What are your views here?
The Wife: I've always believed in waiting at least 24 hours before making any large purchase. Sometimes you can take it to the extreme and say “if I wait long enough, maybe I won't even want or need this item anymore!”. But yeah, I like to do the homework, I like to understand price history and trends, etc.
Joel: Yeah for a larger purchase, you are definitely the one in the relationship who could pull off a strategic long play. I'm … still working on this. I'm usually just too impatient. Do you think we balance each other well, or would you prefer if I were a bit less impulsive?
The Wife: I would probably prefer a little less, but then again, your impulsiveness has opened up a lot of adventures, and it can help me make a move in situations where I might be stuck, and I think that yeah, that's a good thing. I sometimes have a way of just swirling around, and thrashing in decision making, and get stuck in the ‘what if I could somehow get this for cheaper' game. Sometimes you just have to say ‘OK, I've done enough homework, I'm confident, let's do this.'
Joel: OK next question… Early on in our FI journey, I saw FIRE as the answer to all my problems. To me, FI was the golden ticket, at least at some unconscious level. You knew better and warned me that any issues I had pre-FI wouldn't magically resolve once I quit my job. Sure, leaving a job you hate can do wonders for your stress levels, but it's not the answer to everything. In fact, most of the ‘revelations' I've had about myself and life post FI, you saw coming. Do you think this plays into our differing philosophies?
The Wife: Well it's easier for me observing from a distance; I'm not clouded by the stressful job like you were. I think sometimes you can be short-sighted about what you're really getting. Maybe this speaks to the difference between financial knowledge, and financial wisdom… having the knowledge is one thing. The wisdom is where you reflect on your history to know how to respond in the future. You know the side effects and context. It's hard to have that wisdom if you've never done something before. You can try to learn from others but sometimes it's not the same.
Joel: So… Hindsight is obviously 20/20, and we've made a lot of mistakes on our path to financial independence. If you could go back and do some things differently, what would they be?
The Wife: I would tell myself to speak up a little bit louder when I knew something wasn't right. We could have avoided buying that house in 2007… but then again, if we didn't work through those mistakes, we probably wouldn't be the people we are today. I think if I could go back and cement a FI philosophy a little earlier, that would have been nice though. I would take more of a Simple Path To Wealth approach… save half my income, go a little slower than we did, enjoy the journey, get there when we get there. More of a ‘slow and steady' works better for me… the thought of working 40 or 50 years doesn't sound great, but the thought of working like 20 years is OK if I can live a little along the way.
Joel: You've said numerous times that you think that my desire to race to the finish line was influenced by the fact that I was on a horrible program at work.
The Wife: Yeah, I think that's a difference between us; I experienced a terrible work program very early in my career, before the concept of FI had solidified for me. I was working third shift, overtime, missed vacations, etc. So in comparison to that program, basically everything work-wise has been improving for me. I like my current job.
Joel: Whereas my very last job was a horrible one, so it's tainted my views of work a little bit. Going out on that job, finishing my career in software on that note, it's left a bad taste in my mouth.
The Wife: Yeah I see that, but I also have a bit more of the ‘this too shall pass' philosophy. You're not going to be in one job or one program forever. It doesn't need to be so polarized where it's “I'm going to quit my job forever”, or “oh I need to keep slogging through this because there are no other options.” Being closer to FI doesn't solve all your problems for you, but it does give you options. For example looking back, knowing what I know now, I would definitely tell myself to go on that winter vacation I skipped for work!
Joel: Oh that's right – I forgot you missed the whole Canada trip because your program was on mandatory overtime back then.
The Wife: Yeah, it's a balance. I don't want to leave my teammates hanging, but at the same time, you do have to look out for yourself. FI makes it a little easier to do that.
Joel: OK, next question, I think our journey to FI has brought us closer in many ways… but I also realize it's been the source of numerous arguments and disagreements between us. What advice would you give other couples who are just starting on the journey?
The Wife: It's good to give anything a try, at least once. If one person in the couple wants to test out FI, why not keep an open mind and give it the old college try? If you try it for a few months and it's not working out for you, you have to speak up though. It helps to define your terms, thresholds, and tolerances on things.
Joel: Spoken like a true engineer.
The Wife: Well it's true, you need to define things up front so you're both on the same page. What are your long-term goals? Where do you want to be after FI? I also initially got caught up in the “Oh I'm gonna quit work forever and it's going to be great!” but I realize now there are things I really do like about work. Sometimes it's the actual work, but sometimes it's the socialization. I like to see people in my day.
Joel: I do miss that about the office. Coffee breaks with friends, discussing the latest pop culture, all that good stuff. I underestimated the importance of the social aspects of work.
The Wife: Yeah. As you get older, work can become your primary source of socialization. But getting back to the couple question: each side needs to be able to discuss things openly and be OK with where the other person is coming from, and what they are really looking for. What is your life actually going to look like post FI? Be realistic.
Joel: The idea of retiring TO something instead of retiring FROM something?
The Wife: Maybe. I don't know. Sometimes I do align with the Internet Retirement Police; sometimes I'm like “doing nothing in retirement sounds really good, actually”! I want the ability to do nothing if and when I want, and not be criticized for it. I don't have as many passion projects as you do, and I don't know that I'm as self-motivated, so if I want to do nothing then that is OK with me.
Joel: I think another thing people should realize is that as a couple you aren't going to agree on everything. You're not going to see eye to eye on everything, and that's OK. Everyone has different points of view and different comfort zones. Because FI is challenging; going on this journey isn't easy and everyone has different areas where they feel more pressure, everyone has different breaking points.
The Wife: Yeah. I think another thing couples forget is that people can change, but really slowly, over time. So don't bet on changing the other person overnight. After we started going ‘pedal to the metal' for a few years, my views on all of this have changed a bit.
Joel: So how do you feel about continuing to work after FI, and the whole ‘FI without RE' subset of the community? What does FI bring to the table for you, if you keep working?
The Wife: My personal preference is to lean towards continuing to work if you enjoy it. This is especially true now, at our point in the journey, because our FI numbers don't match up. Maybe my opinion will change when I've gone way past the number in my head. But I'll probably always keep doing some base level of work, because it helps me stay challenged and social. But as soon as it's no longer fun, I can switch to something else with no need to think about the financial implications. I could potentially change careers or do something completely different with none of the financial stress you'd normally encounter. Money becomes one less thing to worry about, so I can focus on life instead.
Joel: OK next question: I look at you as the more traditionally frugal one, whereas I tend to fall towards what some people might consider ‘cheap'. Where do you stand on the ‘Frugal vs. Cheap' line?
The Wife: Hmmmm. It's a spectrum. I think everyone has places where they are cheap. You can't really just say a person is cheap, it's too simplistic. I view myself as more of a what Brad on ChooseFI called a ‘valuist‘, someone who doesn't mind spending money on something if it brings them value. Think back to that Harmony remote we bought like eight years ago. It was expensive, but it replaced like ten remotes, and it does its job very well. I look at that as a good purchase.
Joel: That remote was $300 though. The new me, post our financial 180, looks at that number and says “That's way too expensive. Who pays hundreds of dollars to change the channel on their television?!” If that remote broke tomorrow, I don't know if I'd have the stomach to replace it with another one.
The Wife: But it does everything we want it to do, and we still use it, almost a decade later. How many $25 remotes did we buy that were all slightly annoying, that never really solved the problem? I enjoy the value we get out of that remote. You're on the other swing of the pendulum now. Before our 180, you would have purchased that remote on a whim, and thrown in a new TV with it because, why not, we had the money. Now you're far on the other side. I think you'll be less conflicted closer to the middle. Not everything in life is solved with some purchase (if you're solving all of life's issues with a credit card, you have a problem). But at the same time, when you do encounter something that will actually improve your quality of life, something that solves a real problem, buy it. That's what money is for!
Joel: Next question. Are there any areas of FI you struggle with?
The Wife: This might be my confessional time, but sometimes I struggle with the thought of being judged by the FI community. It feels like there are rules about what I can and can't buy, like “Oh you can't be part of the FI community if you're buying a $200 backpack.” That's something I kind of struggle with. What if I buy a new car one day? Or a nicer house? Does frugality mean I can't enjoy expensive things ever again? But then I think to myself, who cares? If you can save enough money to reach FI, and you're happy with your savings rate, do what you want. Buy what you want. Enjoy the ride. Don't worry about what others think! Though I do worry sometimes that I might over evangelize, or oversimplify things because I've had a relatively smooth journey to FI for the most part.
Joel: Well, smooth because we had a financial goal and achieved it in a relatively short amount of time; not because we avoided mistakes along the way. We did so many things wrong, and from that perspective, the journey was quite… bumpy.
The Wife: Yeah, we made a lot of bad decisions early on, and I think we've gained our financial wisdom through those mistakes. Going back to other things I struggle with: trying to always score a good deal, and settling for certain things in order to save money. It gets tiring. I feel like that was more important earlier in the wealth accumulation phase, but now that we've come so far, maybe I don't need to over-optimize every small purchase, especially the ones that are a small fraction of a percentage of our net worth.
Joel: Yeah, finding the right balance is a moving target. You don't want to make it rain every time you go shopping, but you also don't want every single purchase to cause you analysis paralysis.
The Wife: Exactly. Either extreme is dangerous. You don't want to spend all your time calculating if you should drive an extra four miles out of the way to save six cents per gallon on gas or something like that. You don't want to over optimize to the point of diminishing returns. Optimize the big stuff, use heuristics on the smaller stuff, and don't freak out about every purchase. Especially once the big stuff is on autopilot.
Joel: OK one last question: are there any areas you wish got more coverage in the FI community?
The Wife: I feel like elderly care, caring for aging parents, caring for people with special needs, these are areas that haven't received much attention in the FIRE space. I have a sister with special needs, and of course, my parents aren't getting any younger, so I need to factor some of that into my long-term FI plans. It's another reason my FI number is different than yours. I think these are important topics, and I haven't seen a lot of coverage in the FIRE community.
Joel: It's like another stage post FI; where you've got yourself and your immediate family taken care of, but maybe not your parents, or some family that might need extra help. It's like another chapter of the journey. I think a lot of times what we focus on in the blogging community is the theory, the idealized case, the proof on paper; but in real life, you have a lot of variables, like family members who can't take care of themselves.
The Wife: Yes! I would love to see more written about that.
Joel: Well thank you, The Wife, for finally sitting down and doing the interview! I think this went really well- I have like a dozen new blog post ideas from this one conversation! Where can people find you if they want to chat?
So there you have it! At long last, after many reader requests, ‘The Wife' shares her two cents. If you have more questions for her, leave them in the comments below and I'll pester her until she replies 🙂