[Editor's Note: Today's guest post was submitted by a regular reader and Anesthesiologist from Newport Beach, CA that wishes to remain anonymous. I applaud her patience and persistence in a difficult situation as well as her willingness to look at her own relationship with money. We have no financial relationship.]
Can you achieve financial security when your partner is not on the same “spiritual” path?
Becoming a successful White Coat Investor (WCI) requires planning, dedication, and commitment. Is it realistic, however, to attain financial independence when your spouse does not subscribe to the same philosophy?
Financial Goals Incongruity
Since 1999, I have been a pseudo-WCI, trying to convince my significant other to save 20% of our gross income, adhere to a reasonable budget, and establish financial security for our family.
I have memories of yellow legal pads outlining our income, expenses, and budget as early as 2003, the year I began my first attending job. I even invested in a dry-erase board and Expo markers, hoping to have monthly family “budget meetings”. We tried the all-cash spending method, having no credit cards, and solicited help from several certified financial planners. Unfortunately, at the time, many of these advisors were untrustworthy and simply wanted to sell us expensive funds. We even tried a one-year moratorium on all spending except food, gas, medical, and housing. Nevertheless, these plans all fizzled within 3–6 months, leaving me frustrated and my spouse feeling guilty and ashamed.
Psychology Behind Financial Habits
My husband enjoyed eating at fancy restaurants, ordering wine we had no business drinking, purchasing designer clothing, and investing top dollar into seemingly whimsical hobbies as he navigated life. He had $22,000 in credit card debt when I met him, despite a fully funded education provided by his father. The feeling he had when “depriving” himself of these niceties was hard for him. The retail “therapy” continued for years, despite countless interventions and arguments.
To be fair, I must confess my own financial shortcomings. I have a fear of scarcity despite always having had enough money growing up. I worry about money far more than I should and realize that my worry has turned into an unhealthy obsession. For instance, I take our retirement account losses personally, which causes me more stress and anxiety. My mood fluctuates with the stock market, and in downtimes, I find myself resenting my spouse for his purchases. Even worse, I am jealous of his capacity for generosity and his joyful feelings when engaging in his own “lavish” hobbies. Why can’t I find happiness in these activities? Are saving money and planning for the future my only interests? If my joy is often tied to a future event or accomplishment, then perhaps I am the one missing out on “the good life”.
Financial Relationship Survival Tactics
To mend our financial differences and reduce marital tension, we made the following agreement. I would handle all the finances, including maximizing our 401(k)s, protecting our assets with insurance, opening a Fidelity brokerage account, and starting state-sponsored 529s for our kids. As for my spouse, we decided his spending would have limited restrictions. While we had to discuss and agree upon large purchases, such as homes, cars, and private schools, anything less than $1,000 needed no prior approval. I assumed we would never share similar financial goals and hoped this compromise would ease the strain on our relationship. Since we made a healthy income as two physicians with no student loans, I rationalized that we could absorb this extravagance and be “happy”.
In 2011, my spouse experienced a sort of midlife crisis that helped him reset his life and future goals. Only after this “awakening” did he understand the origins of his large spending habits. My husband was obviously compensating for other deficiencies and feelings of inadequacy, most likely stemming from his childhood.
Goal Alignment Success
After five years of psychoanalysis, we started seeing eye to eye on our future plans and financial goals. Our financial consensus only took 20 years of marriage and what felt like the squandering of a small fortune to get there. A year ago, my husband asked me how much we had saved up for retirement and was shocked with my meager response. He could not believe our retirement savings was so low despite enjoying very high dual incomes for the past 15 years. While I am proud of what we were able to save, I still feel regretful that we could have done better. In fact, I have lived with this shame for many years.
Nonetheless, joining the WCI in 2020 helped me appreciate that it was not too late to improve our financial plan and work toward a much richer future together. Thankfully, we both love our jobs and hope to work for another 15–20 years. I only share our story to help other WCI members who struggle with resolving their individual or couples-based money issues.
Our personal money habits, like any other behavior, are often shaped by our childhood experiences. My spouse had significant family neglect issues growing up, and money was often used to make him feel better and worthy. Trying to understand your spouse’s needs and recognizing where their behaviors arise from may save you years of financial frustration.
To relieve my own financial stress and anxiety during the pandemic, I completed this Sounds True workshop. This program really helped me understand my own money biases and personal habits. Combining the psychology behind my money behaviors with Jim Dahle’s White Coat Investor series has allowed me to feel secure and confident about our financial future.
After 20 years of financial disagreements, poor investments, and missed opportunities, I can honestly say we are in a much better place in both our personal and financial lives. Together, we learned to appreciate each other’s attitudes toward money and its true place in life. It is often hard to plan for the future while remaining mindful and in the present. I am grateful to my husband for showing me the joy in everyday activities, and I know he appreciates the financial security I have planned for our family.
How have you navigated a partnership that has different financial goals than you have? What advice do you have for couples in this situation? Comment below!
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