In his best-selling book The Millionaire Mind, the late financial guru Thomas Stanley posed the question, “Why are millionaires millionaires?” According to Stanley, their success can be attributed in large part to making the right decisions when it comes to major issues in their life. One the most pivotal of those decisions is choosing the right spouse.
As a matter of fact, nine out of ten married millionaires say their marriage has been a major factor in their success. And why wouldn’t it be? In many ways getting married is a lot like forming a partnership and starting a business. You wouldn’t risk your financial well-being by selecting a business partner who is reckless when it comes to managing money and assets. So why would you jeopardize your lifelong goals and financial security by not being diligent in your search for a future mate?
Millionaires know that who they marry will greatly affect their own success. They know it’s important that they choose their spouse carefully.
But what does it mean to choose the right spouse?
There are countless factors that play into choosing the right person to spend the rest of your life with. But we’re here to talk personal finance, so that’s what I’m going to do.
There’s so much more to marriage than sharing a passion for achieving financial success together. But there’s no doubt in my mind that financial compatibility is a critical element in a long-lasting marriage. Ignoring that component can lead to trouble.
It’s important that we ask the right questions during our search for a potential spouse. Doing so will increase the likelihood that you choose the right partner for financial success. That’s why I want to focus on three important questions that anyone who is looking for a potential mate should consider during their search:
- Does your potential spouse share your vision of success?
- Is your potential spouse willing to take a modest interest in finances?
- Will your potential spouse avoid hyper-consumption habits?
1. What does success mean to you?
Success is one of those vague words that can have a different meaning depending on who you ask. My soon-to-be-wife and I define success as having the financial means to retire in our 40s. We want to accumulate wealth fast enough that we will be able to travel the world while we are still young enough to do it comfortably.
In my mind, if you and your partner haven’t defined what it means to be successful as a couple then it becomes nearly impossible to hold each other accountable for living in a way that is consistent with achieving that goal. If our concept of success remains a mystery to the other, then we are both likely to perceive complaints about our lifestyle and financial decisions as unjustified nagging.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say my partner’s vision of financial success is simply being able to afford monthly car payments and a mortgage. Maybe she thinks true success lies in having extra cash on hand after covering those monthly expenses that we can spend however we please.
There’s nothing wrong with that vision of success.
But does she know that I want us to have the option of retiring in our 40s and living off our investment income? Does she know that I think the only way to achieve that goal is to have a plan for the money we make, even the money left after we’ve repaid our monthly obligations?
If she doesn’t, then she’ll probably be confused when I seem dissatisfied with our financial progress. She’ll wonder I’m second guessing her financial choices even though we are never late on payments and always have extra cash from each paycheck. She’ll think I have unrealistic expectations for our lives and that my questions about her financial choices are unnecessarily harsh.
By her standards we are a highly successful couple when it comes to our finances. But she doesn’t know that I have higher expectations.
And it goes both ways. If I don’t know how my partner defines financial success, then I’ll wonder why she questions my efforts to save and invest. I might even grow to resent her apparent lack of appreciation for the sacrifices I believe I’m making for the sake of our joint success.
If we don’t have a common definition of success – or at the very least share our definition with our partner – then we are bound to experience conflicts and misunderstandings as we both seek to achieve our personal version of success.
Measuring Financial Success
To be as objective as possible with our measuring of success, let’s refer to the Financial Samurai’s graph detailing the average net worth for the “above average” married couple.
As you can see, an above average married couple will have a total net worth of almost $6 million at the normal retirement age.
I’ve calculated that for my partner and I to retire in our 40s, we’ll need to build up almost $8 million before we turn 50 to achieve our goal. Therefore, I have created my own version of this graph to work with our definition of success.
Putting Things Into Perspective
As I write this, my fiancé and I have an annual household income of $110k. We don’t have any car payments or student loan debt. Our monthly rent is a microscopic $850. Because we share the same idea of success, we agreed that paying $850 a month for an older condo is more consistent with our goals than living in the upgraded units a block away for $1,300. Based on our current trajectory, we are several million behind where we need to be. Therefore, we are working on increasing our incomes so we can invest more to someday reach our goals.
The Key Takeaway
If my mate didn’t share my idea of success, then we’d be in for a long dreadful marriage where we’d both be trying to drag the other closer to our personal goals instead of working together to reach a common objective.
2. Does your potential partner take at least a slight interest in finances?
To truly be a team your partner must not only share your definition of success, but they must also understand general financial concepts so you can work toward your goal.
Imagine this: you and your partner have fallen behind on your savings goals. To get you closer to where you want to be, you decide to invest in high-risk/high-reward financial products. Let’s say you invest $100k in small cap mutual funds and emerging market mutual funds. (According to Vanguard, these products generally carry a risk level of 5 out of 5!)
Now, let’s suppose that due to the risky nature of your investment, you and your spouse lose $14,000 of that $100k in less than a year. If your partner sees the steadily declining account balance she might wonder where the heck the money is going. She might also question whether you have any business handling finances for the family.
However, if you both at least had a modest understanding of the risks that associated with these types of accounts before you made the investment, then there is less likelihood that your partner will be on your case about volatility.
The Key Takeaway
Ignorance of financial concepts can lead to fights about money. Nobody wants that. So consider the importance of having a mate who is willing to learn at least a little bit about money.
3. Is your potential partner a hyper-consumer?
Hyper-consumption is one of the leading deterrents of wealth-building. For better or for worse, an individual’s level of hyper-consumption can be heavily influenced by their family upbringing. What is hyper-consumption?
Hyper-consumption is the consumption of goods for non-functional purposes, which is often driven by our modern capitalist society that suggests that our identities are shaped by the goods we possess and consume.
Here are a few real-life examples of behaviors or outlooks that are commonly associated with hyper-consumption:
- Indifference to paying full retail price for goods and services
- Upgrading functional products that haven’t reached the end of their life expectancy
- An aversion to trying to discover discounts for goods and services
- Insisting on acquiring “this year’s model”
- Making impulse purchases with regularity
- Acquiring an excessive amount of belongings
These examples are learned spending habits that can be tactfully guided towards the direction of being a more responsible consumer. The difficult thing is that it takes an openminded and malleable mate to even consider changing these behaviors without becoming defensive.
If you find that you are dating someone who exhibits one or more hyper-consumption habits, then you might ask yourself the following questions:
- Can our household operate efficiently if these habits continue to exist?
- Am I prepared to accept these spending habits for the duration of a marriage?
- Is my mate open to adjusting her spending habits to better our household efficiency?
If the habits you’ve observed are in stark contrast to your financial goals or are a massive deterrent to wealth-building, then you should consider whether you can live with them. If not, you’d be wise to discuss your concerns with your partner.
The Key Takeaway
Determine whether your partner exhibits hyper-consumption habits. If they are present, ask yourself whether you can accept those habits. If you believe the habits will be a source of frustration and detrimental to your overall relationship, discuss the issues with your partner.
A Few Final Thoughts
Your spouse can have a drastic effect on your ability to build wealth. For every 100 millionaires that say that their spouse wasn’t important in accumulating wealth, there are 1,317 that say that their spouse was extremely important. During the dating phase, we need to examine if our ideas of success are at least similar.
There’s nothing wrong with having different definitions of financial success. But it is critical that we share our personal vision with our partner. We need to understand what our potential spouse values, just as they should know what we value. Without a shared vision, we are bound to be at odds with our partner when it comes to our goals and the behaviors it will take to accomplish those objectives.
If we can establish a common mission, we can work together to achieve that vision. We can focus on developing the habits that we know are essential to reaching our goals. We can hold each other accountable and support one another.
If we can’t find a way to get on the same page as our partner now, it will only become more challenging down the road.