I’ve read a couple of financial bloggers promoting the idea that you sit with your spouse and have “The Talk” when a new financial direction is being embarked upon. Usually, however, this concerns the financial side of reducing debt or perhaps working together to a joint end objective for (early) retirement that could require some significant belt tightening. It’s seen as important that couples share roughly similar spend and save priorities or, if they don’t, that they communicate and understand what is financially expected of each other. Which is extremely sensible advice. If you haven’t told your partner that your dream of the future is jacking in the job, selling the house, moving to a caravan and living off lentils and beans for the next fifty years while reading books and taking nature walks, well, you might be in for a bumpy ride when you try to do it. Especially if your other half spends a lot of time reading “Hello” magazine and buying shoes and handbags (even if they’re a woman.)
So far, so much common sense you’d think, although generally I’d guess that one half of a partnership will take more interest in the household finances, savings and budget than the other. This won’t be too much of a hassle as long as things are financially stable and, even if they’re not, it’s always a good idea to have clear communication and understanding on money matters between one another.
However, there’s another part of “The Talk” that needs to take place reference FIRE and that concerns the last two letters of the acronym: Retiring Early. I don’t think I’ve read many blogs where you have “The Talk” with your significant other about what you do in retirement together. For a start, there seems to be an assumption that a couple’s retirement will happen simultaneously, whether it’s early or not. Next, the vision is that a retired couple will be so comfortable with one another that they’ll just carry on as they have for the previous decades that they’ve spent together. Okay, there may be an initial adjustment period as they have to come to terms with having each other around all day, but that will pass as joint pastimes are discovered. At the same time, a mutual independence is also encouraged. You can’t live in one another’s pockets, but there could an opportunity for spur of the moment holidays, impromptu city breaks and a chance to rediscover one another now that the kids have grown and the office no longer calls. It’s a geriatric Mills and Boon. Or, in other words, a work of fiction loosely based on real life.
Fair enough, and good luck to you if that’s how joint retired life turns out. But what if you don’t retire together and one of you continues to work? I’ve read blogs for Early Retirees that try to address how you individually answer the perennial small talk question of “What do you do for a living?” once you’ve quit the world of work. You have quite a few options here and fortunately you can speak for yourself. But what is your partner to say about you? Especially if they haven’t retired and are still working? Have you discussed this subject together? What will your response be if you overhear your other half talking about you “lazing around”, “putting on your pipe and slippers” or “knitting cardigans”, while they continue to bring home the bacon? Did you note a tone of pity in their voice as they try to explain why you couldn’t sustain the pace of the working life any longer? Were you really so unhappy in your job that you just couldn’t take it any more? Or were you fired? Made redundant?
After all, who’s in the position these days to just voluntarily give up work and income? I bet you know very few who are even planning to do it, never mind taking concrete steps toward it. Will anyone really believe that you’ve got that option? (Will your partner even believe it?!) And, if it’s true for you, how come it’s not true for your other half?
People love a bit of unsubstantiated gossip and, if you’re a British male, you’d rather stick needles into your testicles than discuss your financial situation with good friends. Explaining your exact situation with credibility and good grace could be challenging. Why haven’t you both retired together? Is it for financial reasons? Social? Psychological? Psycho-sexual? (don’t worry, you’ll never be asked these questions directly. Rest assured though, those questions are being asked.) You can try to explain until you’re blue in the face that your partner really likes their work, but nobody is going to believe this. Not when “never needs to work again” seems to be an option for only one of you in the relationship.
You may surmise from these ruminations that I’m speaking from bitter experience here, and you’d be half right. Certainly, in my head I often wonder what people are thinking about my singular Early Retirement and therefore that’s my “experience”. Fortunately, however, it’s not been all that “bitter” because retiring early was never the dream of my Darling Other Half. While there’s no way that she’s skipping in to work every day, she’s not quite ready to throw the towel in yet (possibly because she’s in a rewarding job on a part time basis). Or that’s what she’s telling me anyway. Heretofore, her comments such as “Why don’t you just go and marry Mr Money Moustache?” let me know that she well knew where my ambitions lay.
So, for the moment, we’re both happy enough with our respective situations, but we do acknowledge that this could change at any time for either of us: she might come in tomorrow and announce “That’s it, I’ve had enough of this, I’m giving up work”, whereas I might come in and announce “That’s it, I’ve had enough of this, I’m going back to work”. Either way, hopefully we’ll be discussing our thinking with one another before we take such a big step into the future. Because although retirement might feel like a step you’re ultimately taking for yourself, it seldom is.