Well this was a big surprise.
About a month ago, I was working on a Mad Fientist article one evening when my wife (who, let me remind you, is not a fientist…or so I thought) said she was going to bed. As she said goodnight, she mentioned that she had something for me to read on her computer. She didn’t say what it was about though and instead just kissed me and went to bed.
I tried to continue what I was doing but curiosity very quickly got the better of me. What I found surprised me, to say the least.
After a month of attempting to persuade her to let me publish what she wrote, she finally agreed. I have added links and made other minor changes to convert what she wrote into a blog post but all the words are her own (British spelling and all).
This is what I found on her computer after she went to bed that evening…
I have always been someone who enjoyed spending money. Sometimes it didn’t even matter what I bought, it was the act of spending it that brought me joy. Or at least I thought it did. As my Mother would put it, money always seemed to be burning a hole in my pocket. In the past few months my feelings towards spending vs. saving money have dramatically changed. So what brought about this sudden change after all these years? Is it because I married the Mad Fientist 9 months ago and he has forced me to change my spending habits? No. One thing about my husband is that although we have always had very different views on money management, he has never tried to control how much I spend or what I do with my own money and this has not changed now that we are married. So although we may have had some minor disagreements over the years, we have never argued about money or found that it negatively affected our relationship.
I have always known that my husband gains no pleasure from spending money and instead enjoys saving it and watching it grow. I have also learned in the past couple of years of his goal to save enough to be able to quit his job and pursue his own interests. Although I understood the benefit of this for him, I had no desire to follow in his footsteps. If I left my job what would I do? I enjoy my work and I enjoy having money to spend on the things I want. If I left my job so young, surely I would be bored for the rest of my life and would not have the money to go out and do fun things. I would feel like a completely useless, unproductive member of society. What would be the point in my existence?
The first thing that began to change my way of thinking was the Mad Fientist blog. I was one of those people (along with his own family) who would often ask him “why do you deprive yourself of the things you really want?” and “why can’t you just learn to relax and spend money without worrying?” When I read his article, Triple Value of Income, it made me realize that he really doesn’t feel like he is depriving himself of anything. He just doesn’t feel the need to have a lot of things. I started thinking about the things I like to spend money on and wondered if I would be any less happy without them. Maybe I could even be happier if I stopped wanting material things and could be satisfied with what I already have (or even much less). But this still didn’t make me want to save enough to quit my job. I still thought that I’d be happier working full time and enjoying the benefits of having that regular cash flow.
However, my outlook was significantly changed when we were on our honeymoon and one day my husband asked me “what would be your perfect life?” Now for me this was actually a difficult question to answer. I have sometimes fantasized about what it would be like if I won the lottery and had endless amounts of money and could do whatever I wanted. But to actually visualize a realistic version of that dream was much more difficult for me. I suppose I still believed, as a lot of people do, that we do not have that many choices in life. So we discussed what the most important things in our lives are and we eventually came up with our Perfect Life.
Now that I could picture the benefits of not having to work full time, I was starting to come on board with the idea of financial independence. However, I still did not want to stop working completely. So maybe I could just work for half of the year. I was slightly hesitant about taking all that time off though. In the past, long periods away from work tend to leave me feeling restless. Even if we planned to travel to new and exciting parts of the world, how would I keep my mind stimulated? Then I started thinking about all the exciting opportunities out there that I could take advantage of if I wasn’t working. I could volunteer my time to help others. And better yet, I could possibly even pick up some new skills along the way.
All it took for me to be 100% onboard with my husband’s plan was to be able to visualize all the exciting opportunities out there in the world that we can take advantage of if we are not tied down to living and working in one place. I have already lost a lot of the desire to spend money just by having a definite goal for the future. I think that once I get used to this new mentality of not feeling like I need to spend money on material things, I will ultimately be a happier person.
I have also come to understand that financial independence is not the same as early retirement, as I used to think. For one person FI may mean being able to quit their job and never having to work again. In my husband’s case, it will mean being able to stop working for someone else but continue to work on things that he finds interesting and challenging. For someone else it may mean having enough money to give them the courage to leave one job in order to pursue a better one. For me I think it would mean being able to continue doing what I do because I really do like my job, but would allow me to work less, spend more time with loved ones, travel more and hopefully pick up new knowledge and skills along the way. Once I have cleared my current student debt, I will be more likely to save as much as I can and enjoy this newfound freedom with fewer possessions and hopefully even more happiness.
My husband realised that his own motivation for being financially independent is not necessarily what would motivate me to change my spending habits. So instead he encouraged me to re-assess my life and my goals and in the process we came up with some pretty exciting alternatives to our current situation. Trying to persuade me to change my spending without this goal would probably not have worked (it hasn’t worked up until now).
And so after more than 10 years together, I am finally coming around to my husband’s way of thinking. Something I don’t think either of us ever expected.
When I started this site, my goal was to develop strategies and tactics to help people (myself included) reach financial independence as quickly and efficiently as possible. If what I wrote helped convince people that FI is a worthwhile goal, great, but that was never my primary objective. The fact that my articles, and those written by Jim Collins and Mr. Money Mustache (she’s an avid reader of both of those blogs now), have helped change my wife’s mindset is something I never anticipated.
She was mortified when I first asked if I could publish what she wrote but since I think it perfectly captures the epiphany that each of us probably had at some point, and also highlights the importance of letting your loved ones follow their own financial paths, I thought it was too good not to share so I’m thankful she finally let me publish it.
The Monkey Trap
I recently read a interesting book by Benjamin Barber called Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole. In it, he provides a very fitting analogy for the state of the modern consumer:
“There is a fiendishly simple method of trapping monkeys in Africa that suggests the paradoxes that confront ‘choice’ in our era of global consumerism. A small box containing a large nut is affixed to a well-anchored post. The nut can be accessed only through a single, small hole in the box designed to accommodate an outstretched monkey’s grasping paw. Easy enough for the monkey to reach into, but when it makes a fist to clasp the nut, impossible for the monkey to withdraw. Of course it is immediately evident to everyone (except the monkey) that all the creature need to do to free itself is to let go of its prize. Clever hunters have discovered, however, that they can secure their prey hours or even days later, because the monkey – driven by desire – will not relinquish the nut. It will die first (and often does)” (Barber 52).
I’m very happy that my wife made the decision to let go of the prize inside the trap. There is an amazing world out there full of possibilities and I am excited that we are now going to be able to explore it together.