There is never a wrong time for a great idea. The trouble is, great ideas usually come across as bad ideas. This is why most people will make incremental changes - or none at all - at crisis points, even when a radical change is the only real solution to the problem.
Example: evacuation. Nobody ever *wants* to evacuate. Even though we all know what wildfires and hurricanes and floods are, we don’t want to believe that this is our movie now. There are always stubborn holdouts, and then there are the last of the procrastinators who always think we have more time than we do. Groups with different motives and different emotional reactions can still wind up with the same sad outcomes.
Making decisions is hard. There are consequences for being wrong that tend to look more likely than the consequences of what probably feels unrealistic. (The category five storm, the ashes that used to be a house, the empty retirement account, the foreclosure, whatever is the name of the new living nightmare). Not me, nope! Not going to happen!
This is why it’s easier to plan for these eventualities, game them out and prepare. Then it doesn’t feel as much like a ‘decision’ as simply following a policy.
This is why we have go bags, and it’s why we have emergency savings, and it’s why we have advance care directives, and it’s why we occasionally do a bit of theoretical modeling of threat scenarios. Put a plan in place, and those couple of hours of forecasting can translate to peace of mind that lasts for years.
Ironically, we worry more when we have no plan than we do in the process of making a plan.
Some of the toughest plans to make are the financial plans. It’s not uncommon for a couple to know exactly who they would want to take their kids if something happened to both of them. That is an incredibly depressing scenario! Yet everyone involved feels better if there’s a plan, because those kids really, really matter.
Why and how would it be scarier or more depressing to talk about various financial outcomes than it would the prospect of orphaned children?
Simple: The orphan scenario will probably never happen, but the financial situation is happening right now.
Troubleshooting is a process of root cause analysis. Without professional training, it can feel like someone is looking for someone else to blame. Default reaction here is always going to be defensiveness. “Me?!? What about YOU?!?”
That’s the thing about radical change, though. It doesn’t matter what happened before. What matters is that from now on, the entire nature of the game is going to be different. We’re just starting fresh.
We’re going to sit together, and we’re going to learn what we don’t know, and we’re going to figure out a plan that actually works.
No matter what anybody else thinks.
My husband and I are living a radical lifestyle that is wildly divergent from the values we were both taught as kids, which are basically:
Live near where you grew up, where you know everyone and you have a network of people to trade favors. Buy a house there so it will grow in value. Have two cars for maximum freedom.
Neither of us has any plans to do any of these things, and we’ve had to explain ourselves to family, friends, and colleagues several times. My husband will even get out a calculator and go through the math to show that we’ve done our due diligence. Our financial policy is pretty unpopular.
Buying a house is a bad idea in many cities, and it’s always a bad idea if you live there less than five years. Owning one car (much less two or more) is unnecessary, expensive, and even dangerous. Relocate strategically for your career. Live on only half your income at most.
Granted, most couples are not going to do what we do, and that’s perfectly fine. Be normal, be happy. You do you.
Just because you don’t want to do what we’re doing, though, doesn’t mean that your current plan is working for you. It’s not an either/or choice. It’s a false dilemma to hold up something extreme as the only possible alternative to what you’re doing now.
The questions are:
Is your current plan working for everyone involved?
What does everyone involved want to be doing in five years, and do you have a plan to get there?
“Working” means that it’s sustainable indefinitely. The schedule is manageable, everyone involved carries a fair load and has high quality leisure time, everyone involved is living their most cherished values and working toward their purpose. Income is higher than expenses. If there is debt, it’s trending downward, not plateauing or increasing.
Note that this probably does not describe the majority of American households.
The way to initiate a radical reassessment conversation with your partner is to be willing to go first. Come to the table with some ideas of what you specifically want - that helps - but also try to outline something that your partner wants. If you lead with how making a change will help get them what they want, you can start the conversation on a high note and skip right past all the blame and recriminations.
It can really help to bring a story, an example of someone else who has done what you want to do. Fortunately, there are couples in the FIRE community of all ages who share their personal stories of financial independence. You can share ours:
We radically downsized to 1/4 the living space and got rid of over 80% of our stuff. Now we live in a nice apartment less than a mile from the beach, working our dream jobs, and we invest over half our income. We’re debt-free, of course - we don’t even have a mortgage. We haven’t argued about money for many years.
It’s a pretty basic formula. If you’re in financial trouble, you can either increase your income, cut your living expenses, or both. You can make a temporary change, like moving to a much cheaper home or selling a vehicle, and agree to reinflate your lifestyle at a designated point. You can choose to approach your situation with good humor and excitement at how relieved you will be when all this stress is gone.
Look each other in the eye and commit: We’re a team. We can do this together.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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