Have you heard of Spouse FI? If not, that’s because it doesn’t really exist—yet. I intend to change that with this post!
For those who are new to the term “FI”, it stands for Financial Independence. To learn more about FI, check out my free FI School series.
This may be a sensitive topic
Before we get into the post, I’d like to acknowledge that Spouse FI may be a sensitive, emotionally-charged topic for some. Additionally:
- I recognize that I’m privileged to have the option to be a stay-at-home mom.
- I pass no judgement on others and equally support and cheer on working and at-home spouses; single and dual-income households.
- If Spouse FI isn’t an option for you, know that it’s not a reflection of your abilities and efforts. We all face unique circumstances that are beyond our control. They can both help or hinder our options—whether we do all the ‘right’ things or not.
- Spouse FI isn’t for everyone. There’s no right or wrong. It’s a personal decision that every couple needs to make for themselves.
How Spouse FI started
Spouse FI began as a term that Money Mechanic (my podcast co-host) made up. It was meant to be a silly, self-deprecating joke on both of us. We often tease each other by referring to the other as being ‘Spouse FI’.
However, I started giving Spouse FI more thought and realized: it’s actually a legitimate lifestyle option. In addition, we’re not the only ones who embrace it. There are other FIRE seekers who, like us, also pursue Spouse FI.
This isn’t surprising. Spouse FI offers many benefits to both partners (and, if they have kids, the entire family).
It’s time for Spouse FI to become a ‘thing’
I decided it was time to share our made-up term and legitimize it. After all—other couples could very well be in a position to pursue Spouse FI. But, because it’s never been framed in this way, they’ve never considered it.
I hope this post helps you discover (or clarify) what a Spouse FI lifestyle entails. It may just be the nudge you need to consider it as an option for you and your partner.
Spouse FI isn’t only for parents!
Note that Spouse FI isn’t just for couples with kids! Sometimes, Spouse FI may be a choice of necessity (due to health issues and other life circumstances).
However, it can also be a conscious decision to allow the couple to slow down and make the journey to FI more sustainable and enjoyable—whether they have kids or not.
What this post will cover
To help you get fully acquainted with Spouse FI, I’ll discuss the definition, benefits, downsides, and actionable steps to pursue Spouse FI.
Plus, as an added bonus, I’ve included mini-interviews with other Spouse FI couples. They’ll tell us why they chose the Spouse FI lifestyle and how it works for them. In addition, they’ll share their best advice for those who are interested in pursuing Spouse FI.
I hope you enjoy the post and find it useful. Feel free to leave a comment if there’s anything you’d like more info on.
What is Spouse FI?
After some back and forth with Money Mechanic and my Spouse FI interviewees, I honed down the definition of Spouse FI to this:
Spouse FI is a lifestyle option where one partner’s income covers all or most of the expenses and savings. The other partner can then explore options such as part-time work or stay-at-home parenting. This allows the couple to gain many financial and lifestyle benefits—even before reaching full financial independence.
In summary, Spouse FI can help couples and their families achieve varying degrees of freedom—all along the FI journey. Yes, it does mean slowing down the progress to financial independence. But the benefits are so valuable that, for many, it’s worth the trade-off.
What are the benefits of Spouse FI?
In 2019, I wrote an epic guest post for my friend, Bob (aka Tawcan): How Much Does It Cost to Be a Stay-at-Home Parent? A financial cost analysis. In the post, Bob and I broke down the estimated cost of having one parent stay at home to raise the kids.
I encourage you to check out that post for all the details and numbers (so many glorious numbers)! In this post, I’ll share a similar list of benefits, but tailored for Spouse FI.
Spouse FI benefits fall into two main categories: financial and lifestyle. I’ll start by examining the financial benefits.
Financial benefits of Spouse FI
The financial benefits of Spouse FI can significantly decrease the impact of giving up most or all of one partner’s income. Here are some ways Spouse FI can financially benefit couples:
By choosing the Spouse FI lifestyle, one parent has the option to stay at home and care for the kids. Since childcare costs are right up there with the ‘big three’ expenses, the cost savings can be huge.
Related: On my podcast, interviewee Réjean’s single largest expense was childcare. He and his wife erased this expense by both reaching FI before 30!
As FI seekers, we’re well aware that the best way to save money on food is to cook most meals at home. However, when both partners work full-time, this can be very challenging. This results in more takeout and convenience foods—just to preserve the couple’s sanity!
By shifting to a Spouse FI lifestyle, one or both partners have more time to meal plan, shop, prep and cook. This can lead to massive savings (and delicious, healthier meals).
Related: To learn how my family saves on food and other essential spending, read my interview of myself, “How Much Does it Cost to Live the FIRE Life in Vancouver? (As a Family of Four)”.
With one spouse working less (or not at all) the couple could go down to one car, or, at the very least, drive the second car much less. This means decreased insurance, gas and maintenance costs.
In a high-cost city like Vancouver, the savings can make an enormous difference (and lighten the impact on the Earth).
Related: Check out my How Much Does it Cost to Live the FIRE Life series to learn about vehicle expenses all around the world (along with other essential expenses)!
Tax credits and government benefits
This section is based on my knowledge of the Canadian tax system. I encourage you to find out if your country offers similar credits and benefits.
In Canada, there’s a non-refundable tax credit called the spouse or common-law partner amount. The higher-earning spouse can claim this on their tax return and decrease their taxes owing.
However, every dollar the lower-earning spouse earns is subtracted from this credit. Therefore, the more the lower-earning spouse earns, the less credit the higher-earning spouse receives.
In addition, the Canadian government pays families with children under 18 a benefit called the Canada Child Benefit. The CCB is based on annual family income. Therefore, the more income a couple earns, the less CCB they receive.
Now—I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing for both spouses to work and earn an income. More income and working at an enjoyable job are, of course, good and encouraged!
However, these factors should be taken into account when considering Spouse FI. Once you factor in the tax credit and/or CCB, it could become an easy decision for one spouse to scale back their hours or quit completely.
Dealing with investments is one task that tends to fall to the wayside when couples are busy and stressed. This could result in their money being invested sub-optimally, with high-fee funds and/or advisors.
Spouse FI could allow the part-time or at-home spouse to take on this task. Alternatively, they can take on other household chores to free up time for the working spouse to handle the investments.
In either case, this can allow the couple to manage their investments more effectively—thereby saving them money with reduced fees. (And potentially netting them higher gains as well.)
Related: Learn how to save on investment fees by DIY investing—I’ve shared lots of resources to teach you how in FI School Lesson 6: Index investing.
After a long day of work, one of the last things most of us want to deal with is recurring bills. (Or, more specifically—regularly research, call around for, and negotiate better rates.)
Spouse FI can give one or both partners more time for this important task. It’s one of the best and easiest ways to save a lot of money—month after month, year after year.
Credit card rewards
Credit card rewards could mean free (or almost free) travel and other valuable rewards for a couple or family. Yes, it does take time to learn the ropes and maintain the system, but Spouse FI could free up enough time for one or both partners to do it!
Busy couples tend to spend more on discretionary spending because they have less time to:
- Shop around for the best prices.
- Wait for deals.
- Research the best options.
- Contact manufacturers for replacements or repairs.
Having time to deal with these tasks can reap major savings—around $1,000 per year for my family!
When one partner no longer needs as much (or any) professional clothing, that can save hundreds of dollars per year. In addition, they may be able to earn a bit of extra income by selling their no-longer-needed work clothes.
Spouse FI could give one or both partners more time to shop for the family’s clothing on sale, at thrift stores, or through online marketplaces like Craigslist and Poshmark. This can save hundreds per year.
If you download the Poshmark app and enter my referral code, VANCITYCHRISSY, we’ll each receive a $15 credit!
Lifestyle benefits of Spouse FI
Okay, we’ve covered the many financial benefits of Spouse FI. Now it’s time to get to the lifestyle benefits. In my opinion, this is where Spouse FI really shines. Here are some of the key lifestyle benefits that Spouse FI can offer:
For most of us, the true goal of reaching FI is to gain more time freedom. With Spouse FI, one partner can access this freedom earlier on in the journey. But, what’s wonderful about this is that the other partner (or the entire family) also benefit.
That’s because the Spouse FI partner can take care of appointments, chores and other tasks on weekdays—instead of on evenings and weekends. Having an overall freer schedule gives both partners (and the kids) more free time to enjoy as they wish.
A slower pace of life
For me, the most luxurious benefit of Spouse FI is the slower pace of life. It’s a much-needed antidote to the frenetic, hamster wheel lifestyle most of us are used to.
Spouse FI gives couples and families time to embrace slow living. When one partner can slow down, so too can the other partner and, if they have them, the kids.
This is so important (necessary, even) for everyone—working or not, grown-up or kid. If stress and anxiety run high in your house, a slower, Spouse FI life may be the solution you’ve been searching for.
Someone’s (almost) always available
Whether it’s a burst pipe, sick child, or school closure, Spouse FI couples can more easily weather these unexpected events. With their flexible schedule, the Spouse FI partner is available to manage the situation. This greatly decreases household stress and saves the working partner from having to take time off.
For parents, there’s also a more aspirational side to this benefit: Spouse FI allows one parent to be there for most or all of their child(ren)’s milestones and school events. And, by capturing these moments on camera, the working parent can also experience them and not miss out.
The above benefits compound on each other and contribute to decreased stress for everyone. Slowing down the pace of life leads to a calmer and happier household. As a result, everyone gains improved mental and physical health, more energy, and a host of other benefits.
When a couple chooses Spouse FI, direct and indirect benefits can help one (or both) spouses grow their careers. For example: if the Spouse FI partner completely stops working, the couple can then put their shared time and energy into nurturing the working partner’s career.
As a result, the working partner may achieve greater success in the form of promotions and more income. In turn, both partners (and the kids, if they have them) benefit.
Alternatively, the Spouse FI partner may choose to continue working, but shift from full-time to part-time. In this case, both partners gain career benefits. The extra time freedom means both spouses can be more focused and effective in their careers.
You could take this both ways: Spouse FI can increase environmental sustainability and/or the sustainability of your FI journey. The environmental aspect comes from the decreased need to consume, thanks to the FI journey and living a slower, Spouse FI lifestyle.
But Spouse FI can also help to sustain your energy and motivation throughout your FI journey. The lifestyle benefits of Spouse FI are particularly important here. They can be what keeps you or your spouse ‘in the game’, so to speak.
Living the Spouse FI lifestyle can help to make the journey to FI that much more enjoyable and sustainable.
More involvement at home
Spouse FI can allow one or both partners to focus more of their time and energy at home. This means they can run the household more effectively, get to chores that keep being put off, or take on tasks they previously outsourced.
If the couple has children, the Spouse FI partner can devote more time and energy to homework help, emotional support, or simply being more present and available. All of this pays dividends in the form of a more peaceful, happy household—another priceless benefit from Spouse FI!
More involvement in the community
Spouse FI can allow one or both partners to get more involved in the community. This could mean volunteering in their child(ren)’s school or giving back to the community in other ways.
Building these local connections leads to a greater sense of purpose and belonging as well as a stronger, healthier community. In this way, Spouse FI ripples out and benefits many more people than just the couple or their family.
Spouse FI benefits summary
As you can see, there are many benefits to the Spouse FI lifestyle. The financial benefits can help to offset the loss in income while the lifestyle benefits can immeasurably improve your and your partner’s life. (And that of your whole family, if you have children).
What are the downsides of Spouse FI?
As enticing as Spouse FI’s benefits may be, some downsides must be taken into consideration. These downsides fall into two main categories: financial and psychological. I’ll start by examining the financial downsides.
Financial downsides of Spouse FI
The financial downsides of Spouse FI can be substantial. Any one of them could make or break your decision to pursue Spouse FI (or not).
Loss of income
This is probably the biggest downside. If losing part or all of one partner’s income means you won’t be able to cover all your expenses and savings, Spouse FI won’t be a feasible option.
It’s critical to take the time to add up the cost savings from the benefits listed above, then weigh it against the loss in income. This will show you the true cost of choosing the Spouse FI lifestyle.
If you’d like some sample numbers to estimate the true cost of Spouse FI, see my detailed guest post for Bob at Tawcan.
Loss of workplace benefits
This may be another dealbreaker. For some couples, losing workplace benefits could be catastrophic. This is particularly true in the case of health benefits—even for Canadians. While we’re fortunate in Canada to have universal healthcare, it doesn’t cover everything.
If you or your partner (or any of your children) are covered for expensive prescriptions or other costly medical expenses, losing your health benefits could be an enormous financial burden.
Keep in mind too that health benefits are only part of the equation. Other benefits may also be lost when quitting or scaling back to part-time. This may include life and disability insurance, a company car, phone plan, meals, and other high-value benefits.
As you consider Spouse FI, don’t forget to factor in the cost of replacing these benefits.
Loss of government benefits
Since most of us in the FI community are decades away from collecting government retirement benefits, we tend to disregard this income. Some of us believe the benefits won’t be there, while others believe they will—but at a greatly-reduced amount.
Whatever you believe, chances are you’ll still receive something. Since some government benefits are based on years worked and income earned, you stand to lose a lot of that income by choosing to scale back or quit your job.
When considering Spouse FI, it’s worth calculating how much you stand to lose in government retirement benefits. It may be more than you expect!
When giving up most or all of one partner’s income, that’s only part of the financial picture. You must also take into account what that lost income could’ve done for you if it were invested. This is what’s known as opportunity cost.
Opportunity cost is one financial factor that’s easily overlooked. That’s because it’s ‘invisible’—you won’t see it on a bill or statement. Opportunity cost can only be estimated and you must do the calculation yourself.
In my previously-mentioned guest post for Bob at Tawcan, I listed the factors to take into account when calculating your opportunity cost. They include lost income, benefits, and other perks and discounts. These factors could add up to a lot of extra income—income that could help you reach full financial independence that much sooner.
A slower path to FI
All the previously-listed financial downsides contribute to this financial downside: a slower path to financial independence. Losing some or all of one partner’s income could delay full FI significantly. Consider if this is something you and your partner are willing to accept.
It may be that you’re more than happy to make this trade-off, if it means accessing a more balanced lifestyle now. Only you and your partner can make that decision—after lots of open, honest discussion.
Relying heavily or fully on a partner’s income could leave a Spouse FI partner financially vulnerable. This is especially the case if the right precautions are not put in place. For example:
- Getting the Spouse FI partner financially educated.
- Regularly communicating about the finances.
- Sharing a detailed record of where the money is and how to access it.
- Keeping beneficiary designations up-to-date.
- Proper estate planning.
- Purchasing a life insurance policy (if needed).
- Naming both partners jointly on all assets.
- Ensuring each partner builds their own credit history and rating.
There must also be A LOT of open dialogue and transparent sharing of financial information between partners. Spouse FI should not be considered unless all of the above are in place.
Psychological downsides of Spouse FI
As if the financial downsides weren’t enough, there are also psychological downsides to think about. Give these factors some serious thought—they could play a huge (and possibly bigger) role for you than the financial factors.
Loss of security
Some of us take a lot of comfort from being in control of our finances and future. Giving up or scaling down our careers and relying on another person can be anxiety-provoking and even terrifying.
If this is a factor for you, Spouse FI may not be the right choice. However, that’s not to say this issue can’t be overcome. If you have all the right precautions in place (see Financial vulnerability above) counselling and frequent, open discussions with your partner may help.
Loss of identity
If much of your identity is tied to your career, you may experience a profound loss when you scale back or stop working. You may feel adrift or purposeless, unable to find a new path in life.
Before you pull the trigger on Spouse FI, consider the life you’re heading towards. (Just as people nearing FI are advised to do.) Think about the new activities and roles you’ll take on and how they’ll fulfill you. Will they be enough to keep you happy and satisfied?
Spouse FI could resolve some of the conflicts you currently have with your partner. However, it could also exacerbate conflicts or create new ones. Consider if this could be the case for you. Some potential areas of conflict include:
- Division of chores and childcare.
- Differing opinions on financial issues.
- Needs and expectations.
- Maintaining equality and autonomy.
There are likely many more areas—consider all the possibilities. Think them through on your own, then discuss them with your partner. Having a plan in place and talking through issues is crucial if you’re considering Spouse FI.
If the above areas of potential conflict are not properly planned for and discussed, resentment is likely to take hold. If left to fester, it can drive a couple apart. Obviously, this would obliterate any good that Spouse FI might bring.
Carefully monitor your relationship for brewing conflicts and work through them early on with your partner. Doing so can prevent resentment and keep your relationship happy and intact—allowing both of you to enjoy the fruits of the Spouse FI lifestyle.
Judgement from others
Since dual-income households are currently the norm, a Spouse FI couple may be seen as odd, privileged, undeserving, or any number of unflattering characterizations. Additionally, the Spouse FI partner may be accused of being spoiled, lazy, or scheming.
Family, friends, and even strangers may feel the need to share these hurtful and inaccurate assumptions with you and your partner. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about others’ opinions. However, you can mentally prepare so that their judgements don’t bother you as much.
Knowing your ‘why’ can help you persevere—even amidst the criticism and jealousy. And, if there’s ever an opening, you can share your ‘whys’ with the naysayers. Perhaps you’ll even convince them to give Spouse FI a chance!
Spouse FI downsides summary
The good news is there are far more benefits to Spouse FI than there are downsides. However, some of the downsides could have a much larger impact on a couple or family’s well-being. For example—the loss of income and benefits could be financially devastating.
The downsides cannot be ignored in the decision to choose the Spouse FI lifestyle. Carefully consider each point and discuss them with your partner as you make this big decision.
How can a couple pursue Spouse FI?
So, you’ve weighed the pros and cons of Spouse FI and have decided it’s the right fit for you and your spouse. What now? How exactly do you get started? Below is a list of actionable steps you can take to move towards Spouse FI.
1. Consider the benefits
Go through the list of Spouse FI financial and lifestyle benefits I’ve listed above. Do any resonate with you? Have I missed any benefits? Start your own list of benefits and arrange them in order of priority.
This list will be important when you get to step #4 and introduce Spouse FI to your partner. These benefits will be your list of ‘whys’—the specific, meaningful things that make Spouse FI worth pursuing.
2. Consider the risks and downsides
As excited as you may be, you also need to be realistic about Spouse FI. How will you mitigate the downsides? Will you truly be able to manage the psychological concerns? Spend a good amount of time thinking over these issues.
They’re possibly more important than the benefits (which largely speak for themselves). If you don’t plan adequately for the downsides, Spouse FI could be disastrous for your finances and relationship. Don’t skip over this step!
3. Do the math
It’s time to do the math. In this step, you’ll figure out if you really can afford to pursue Spouse FI. To do this, take your lists of financial benefits and downsides and add your numbers.
If you’d like to start with rough numbers just for a quick estimate, see my guest post at Tawcan.com. Using these general numbers can help you decide if it’s worth getting more detailed with the math.
If you see that it’s worth going ahead, start inputting your numbers, based on your location and situation. Remember: the more detailed and accurate you are with the math, the more confident you can be that you’re making the right decision. So take your time with this step!
4. Talk about it
Now that you’re fully armed with detailed, accurate info, it’s time to share it with your partner! I’d suggest approaching this conversation much like how you’d bring up FI—by starting with the ‘whys’.
I made the mistake of bombarding my husband with my enthusiasm for FI. I ignored the whys and dove right into the ‘hows’. He was totally overwhelmed and decided he wanted nothing to do with FI.
I eventually realized I needed to back off and approach it in a more measured, inclusive way. This meant starting with his whys and hearing him out when his dreams for the future differed from mine.
This same approach can also be applied to the Spouse FI conversation. I wrote about this process in detail in my post, How I Got My Reluctant Husband on Board with FI. In the post, I shared how I eventually brought my husband over to FI.
I also included a fantastic list of posts from other bloggers on this topic. Give them a read—I hope they help you successfully discuss Spouse FI with your partner!
5. Formulate your transition plan
If you’ve moved on to this step, congratulations! You’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting and got your partner on board with Spouse FI. Now it’s time to work out the details and make your Spouse FI dreams a reality.
As you work out your transition plan, here are some things to consider:
- When to give notice to your employer.
- Upcoming events that could be a natural transition date (for example: a final bonus, the end of the fiscal year, or a planned organizational change).
- How to hand off projects and tasks at work.
- Who to train or brief to take over your position.
- What to do with your pension (if you have one).
- How to cover your expenses and savings on a reduced income.
- What your new budget will look like.
- Spending categories that will need to increase or decrease.
- A new emergency plan.
- Mortgages, loans and credit cards you’d like to refinance or apply for while still employed.
- When to give notice to your childcare facility.
- The new division of labour in your household.
- How or if your kids’ routines will change.
- How to discuss the upcoming changes with your kids.
- How to break the news to family and friends.
I’m sure there are many more points to add to this list—please share your ideas in the comments and I’ll add them in.
Making a checklist or plan will help you decide on the best time to transition into Spouse FI. It’ll also help you stay organized as you work your way towards Spouse FI.
6. Test the waters
Some of you may be fortunate enough to have options to test out Spouse FI before making a final decision. This could include taking a sabbatical, parental leave, leave of absence, or using all of your rolled-over vacation days at once.
If any of these options are open to you, take them! Avoid giving your final notice until you’ve had a good Spouse FI practice run (the longer, the better). Then, if it doesn’t work out, you’ll still have a job to go back to.
7. Take the leap
Hooray—you’ve completed all the previous steps! Now it’s time to take the big leap. Whether you’re nervous, excited, or both, take a step back and appreciate all that you and your partner have done to reach this milestone.
It took a lot of hard work and planning to get here. Celebrate your accomplishments and look forward to all that lays ahead. To help you picture your new life and get started on the right foot, I’ll close off this post with some Spouse FI mini-interviews…
Spouse FI mini-interviews
As a FI blogger and podcaster, I’m very fortunate to have met and connected with many amazing people in the financial independence community. Within that group, I’ve discovered other couples who also chose to pursue Spouse FI.
I reached out and asked them to share their stories and best advice for other couples who are considering Spouse FI. I hope you find them inspiring and helpful!
Note: I’d like to include more Spouse FI mini-interviews—especially with couples who don’t have kids (and non-Canadians too). If you’re living the Spouse FI lifestyle, please contact me!
Bob and his wife from Vancouver, BC
Bob’s Spouse FI story
Currently, I work full-time at a high-tech firm while my wife stays at home to look after the kids when they are not at school. We are fortunate to be able to live off the income from my job. My wife and I have our own side hustles and the incomes are invested 100% to expedite our financial independence journey.
We are doing this approach because my wife came to Canada as an exchange student. When we met and eventually got married, we knew we could live off of my income so there was no pressure for her to find a full-time job.
She started a few side hustles, including recently her holistic doula business. With two young kids at home, we think this is the perfect approach for us. I may eventually decide to retire early from my job and my wife may decide to turn her doula business into a full-time job one day. We are being very flexible with this “Spouse FI” approach.
Bob’s Spouse FI advice
The couple needs to sit down and discuss if Spouse FI would work or not. Make sure you run through the numbers and go through the different scenarios. If Spouse FI is a good approach, the spouse that’s not working full-time shouldn’t feel the pressure or the need to make money.
This spouse also shouldn’t feel ‘guilty’ when they have to spend the money. From our personal experience, we have found that having a stay-at-home spouse actually saved us a lot of money. Our kids also get to spend more time with their parents, rather than spending time at child care.
Staying at home to look after the kids is a lot of work and is definitely not easy. Therefore, it is also vitally important for the working spouse to recognize all the hard work the stay-at-home spouse is doing.
You can connect with Bob and learn more about him at his blog, Tawcan.
Carol and her husband from Toronto, ON
Carol’s Spouse FI story
After I became a mother, I found myself reluctant to put my son in full-time daycare when it came time to return to work. Firstly, I hated the Hunger Games of trying to get a spot (year-long waitlists in Toronto were not uncommon and part-time options elusive) plus it was expensive. Hardest of all, my heart wasn’t in it.
So we started looking for alternatives. After my first maternity leave ended, I reduced my work week to four days, and my mom took care of our son one day a week. For the remaining three days, Ben brought our baby to a friend in my mother’s group in the late morning and then went to work. Six hours or so later, I’d pick him up. This was the best we could arrange at the time, and it worked out reasonably well.
Once we had two kids, we hit Spouse FI in full stride. Ben quit his job and stayed home with the kids while I went back to work.
We thought we would stick with this arrangement when baby three came along. But midway through my third maternity leave, Ben caught wind of a job that he was really excited about. So he went back to work while I took a four-year unpaid leave of absence and took care of the three kids.
Kids are so cute and all-embracing where they’re wee. Those early years weren’t always easy, but I have so much peace about the choice to spend as much time at home as I did. The fact that time was working in the background towards FI while we splashed at the waterpark and painted egg cartons was the ultimate cherry on top.
After four years, Ben needed a change, so he quit his job and I returned to my law career. He has been effectively ‘retired’ since then, apart from some part-time coaching that he does mostly for pleasure, and stock options trading in the last year and a half. I recently FIRE’d—in October 2020.
Although this slower path to financial independence probably took longer than it would have had we both kept working full-time, it wasn’t particularly slow. I worked for about 11 years spread over 19 years, and the benefit of that additional time is that it gave our assets—especially the real estate—more time to grow. Sometimes I think ‘Slow FI‘ should be renamed ‘Spread Out FI’ except that moniker is terrible. But you know what I mean.
Carol’s Spouse FI advice
For the tag-teaming that Ben and I did, you’d need a specific skill set that’s in demand along with a tolerance for uncertainty during unemployment (Ben’s situation) or a flexible workplace that values employee retention (my situation).
Another fortunate aspect of our work was that we were able to move in and out of the workforce without a lot of financial penalty. While I forewent promotions at work (which I did not want anyway) I always re-entered at the same level. Also, our salaries were high enough that we were able to survive on either one (we got rid of our mortgage after six years, so that helped a lot).
Our specific flavour of Spouse FI might not work for you. But lateral thinking and a willingness to experiment usually opens up more options than first meets the eye. We picked the ones that worked best for us, but could also imagine contract work, side hustles, online employment, and much more.
You can connect with Carol and learn more about her at her blog, A Life of FI.
Court and her wife from near Calgary, AB
Court’s Spouse FI story
My wife, Nic, decided to be a stay-at-home mom after taking 18 months of parental leave when our now-three-year-old was born. The original intention was that she would return to work for a few years and we would both quit at the same time.
But when we ran some numbers, it made more sense (both financially and emotionally as Nic did not enjoy her job) for her not to return to work as we had reached our FI number as a family of three when our daughter was born.
When she turned one, I decided to shift from full-time work to a part-time role as a slow transition into early retirement. When our second child arrives in a few months, we will be very close to our Fat FIRE goal and I’ll be taking 61 weeks of parental leave as a test to the start of the FIRE life (which will allow us some time to determine if I want to return to a part-time role or not).
Our motivation at the start of our FIRE journey was to be able to travel as much as possible. Once we had a kid, our ‘why’ changed to be able to spend as much time together as a family. We highly value these early formative years and being able to experience the world through the lens of a child. It’s incredibly fascinating, challenging, and rewarding.
Court’s Spouse FI advice
The best advice for those younger readers interested in Spouse FI is to start working on your FI plans as early as possible so once kids enter the picture (assuming that’s part of your plans) you already feel financially comfortable to be able to reduce your family income as you shift to Spouse FI.
Make sure you’re both in alignment with the plans so that each partner understands how the other is contributing as money is definitely not the only contributing factor in a happy and healthy relationship.
The first few years of your kid’s life are likely the years where they will be home the most (before school kicks in) and actually want to hang out with you, so cherish those hours spent with them. Being able to be a direct role model for our kids is well worth the lower figure in our portfolio. And of course, as they get older, you can always ramp up your earnings if you’d like.
Pursuing FI is unconventional as-is, and taking it one step further to Spouse FI should be celebrated rather than viewed as a ‘step back’. Unfortunately, in this consumer-driven world, many find it hard to imagine that a family could drop from dual earners down to one, as lifestyle creep likely enters over the years.
That fact that you COULD shift down to a single income should be applauded as that means your savings rate as dual earners must have been quite high—to suddenly lose an income and still live comfortably on that reduced family income. To that end, FIRE is not a race. Whether you get there at 35, 45, or 55 it doesn’t really matter. What matters most is designing a happy life along the way.
You can connect with Court and learn more about her at her blog, Modern FImily.
Money Mechanic and his wife from Victoria, BC
Money Mechanic’s Spouse FI story
I reluctantly associate with Spouse FI and prefer to refer to myself as Coast FI. But the truth is, my spouse continues to work her full-time job, while I am only part time, at best.
This was a mutual decision and we’re both happy with our current setup. Her full-time income is enough to cover our household expenses. Fortunately, she is close to Coast FI also, so we don’t need to maintain a high savings rate.
We also have created enough passive income to replace my contribution to ‘half’ our expenses. Our roles could definitely be reversed if she wanted to take a year off, or go part time.
I find that as a ‘stay-at-home-spouse’, I’m always busy with projects and have the time freedom that we all are looking for with Financial Independence.
Money Mechanic’s Spouse FI advice
Spouse FI is a discussion and an understanding. Once you have mastered the financial journey as a couple and are working towards a common goal, you can investigate Spouse FI.
At no time should one partner not working increase the stress, pressure or expectations within your relationship. Your happiness together is far more important than one of you working less.
Mr. Dreamer and His Wife from Gatineau, QC
Mr. Dreamer’s Spouse FI Story
Our story goes back to when we immigrated to Canada in 2010. We are both engineers who met in university. We both used to work full-time, but circumstances have changed drastically since then.
After moving to Canada, as we were establishing our new life (which started from zero, far from family and friends) we decided to finally grow our family. So, I started working full-time while my wife started working triple-full-time carrying our child for nine tough months. At that point, I was still working part-time jobs with no real reliable source of income, so life was tough.
Have you heard of kids bring wealth when they arrive? That’s exactly what happened to us. I got my first full-time job as soon as our daughter was born. And as new parents in a new country all by ourselves, the focus wasn’t to find a second source of income but to have a happy, healthy family. When our daughter was one year old, my wife started English school, and we sent our daughter to daycare.
My wife got her IELTS (International English Language Testing System) in about a year, but we realized our daughter started to only speak English too—the daycare influence. The fact of not speaking our native language, plus the very high cost of daycare made us make the decision to keep our daughter at home while my wife tried to find a job.
We used to live in Nova Scotia and the job market wasn’t great at all. (My full-time job was paying me $16/hour.) My wife could have worked minimum wage (below $10/hour) but after counting everything including the emotional impact of not being with our daughter almost all day, staying at home was a much better option.
Then came our second daughter, and it started all over again. The kids are now in school, but we made the decision that the flexibility of having my wife at home is much more valuable than a paid job. (Unless they hire her as the CEO of Apple or something, then I will stay at home. Mr. Dreamer dreams.)
She is also a writer with more than dozens of published e-books. Sadly, this income is almost negligible. The reason is mostly because her audience is in the Middle East with a much lower income, so her books sell for pennies in our Canadian dollar. But it is a hobby that she can spend time on, and she was the one who kept pushing me to make a blog!
Regarding our FIWOOT (Financial Independence Work On Own Term) journey, it started just months ago, honestly. I never really paid attention to dividends or savings returns as a stable source of a passive income. However, since I started this journey and documenting it monthly, I can see that it can be a very reliable source, if done properly with some planning and consistency. (Kill those emotions while playing in the market.)
Mr. Dreamer’s Spouse FI Advice
Honestly, the best piece of advice I can give is to be flexible and understanding. If you are the working spouse, don’t ever make your significant other feel bad or guilty about not working. After all, s/he is working by providing to the family—just in a different way.
What’s better than having peace of mind that there is someone there whenever kids need something? Or never have to buy food from outside? Or, if you are like me and have to switch jobs, including moving from one province to another—no need to go through some kind of complication to see if your spouse can find a job in the new place or not.
Bottom line, everyone’s situation is different but have an open mind when it comes to discussing this subject. I always laugh when people with two high incomes say they are living month-to-month. We are living on only one five-figure income happily and we do travel a lot.
Before Covid, we used to travel,on average, twice internationally (outside the US, Canada, or the Caribbean) every year. Yet we are still saving a lot by living a frugal life. I don’t even call it frugal but wise. Just need to learn how to spend less without sacrificing anything. Like how we pay only $20 per month for three phone lines (two mobile and one landline) or save on insurance, maintenance, clothes, and every other item.
Honestly, I couldn’t have done it if my wife were a spender who likes to just shop in the malls. She is the best, and many times stopped me from spending on unnecessary items. I’d say she is the wise one at home when it comes to how to spend where.
Remember, life is shorter than you think. Kids grow faster than you imagine. Embrace every moment with an open heart and mind and don’t be greedy ever. Just know how much you need to reach FIRE, FIWOOT or any goal in life and run the numbers. You will know what makes more sense and if you need any assistance, feel free to reach out.
You can connect with Mr. Dreamer and learn more about him at his blog, Vibrant Dreamer.
Chrissy and her husband from Vancouver, BC
That’s right—it’s my turn! Here’s my Spouse FI story…
My Spouse FI story
I started my one-year maternity leave about a week before our first son was born. Initially, we weren’t sure if I’d return to work after the year was up. But while I was on mat leave, it became clear that this was the lifestyle we wanted to maintain.
In the early years, my husband’s salary was decent, but not high. We decided to host homestay students to supplement his income. This earned us just enough money to cover all our expenses, with a bit leftover to save and invest.
There was always the possibility that I’d return to work once both our kids were in school. But every time we considered it, we realized the negative impact on our lifestyle would be too great. For us, the extra income wasn’t worth the stress it would put on our family.
We’ve been Spouse FI for almost 16 years now. That’s 16 years of giving up my income—quite a significant cost. Even so, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The lifestyle benefits were and still are priceless and absolutely worth the trade-off.
My Spouse FI advice
Spouse FI is largely a financial decision, but finances aren’t the only factor. Don’t let your relentless pursuit of financial independence get in the way. Remember that life is short; good health doesn’t always last; kids are only little for so long.
Think about what you want to look back on when you’re old and grey: sacrificing everything to reach FI five years earlier? Or reaching FI later—but having more time to enjoy life along the way.
At the end of it all, it won’t be the money, but the memories and experiences that you cherish and remember most. Try to keep that in mind as you work towards FI—whether you decide to pursue Spouse FI or not.
Spouse FI is indeed an amazing lifestyle option, with numerous financial and lifestyle benefits. It can provide a couple with more time freedom—even before they reach FI. However, there are potential downsides which need to be taken into account.
Spouse FI does come at a significant financial cost (though it’s probably less than you think). There are also important psychological hurdles to consider. Even so, for my family and others, the lifestyle gains have been worth the trade-offs.
In the end, it all goes back to your whys. Think beyond the money and your progress to FI. What is it that truly brings happiness and satisfaction in your life? Use those whys (and some solid math!) to guide your Spouse FI decisions.
Got questions or feedback?
I hope this post has helped you decide if Spouse FI is right for you and your partner. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or feedback.
Please also comment if you and your partner decided against Spouse FI and why—I want a balanced discussion on this topic. (But keep it civil and non-judgmental, please!)
Finally, don’t forget to contact me if you’d like to share your Spouse FI story and advice. I’d be happy to add it to this post so that future readers can learn from your experience!
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