A few years ago, I remember looking with envy at women on staff with me who were married. Not because I wanted their husbands (!!) but because I thought that it would be so much easier to get ahead financially with 2 incomes flowing into a household. I looked back at what I’d been able to achieve over the last 10… 15…18 years while raising the four boys and working as a teacher on my own and I’d think, “If I could do all this with one wage, how much more could I have done if there was a partner working alongside me? OMG.”
It’s true… I have been able to make my teacher’s salary stretch. My parents, particularly my Dad, were frugal and kids are sponges. I learned the lessons growing up. My boys have travelled overseas with me 3 times, two of them have travelled to the US with the school band, they’ve all had extracurricular activities while growing up, all the while living in (an eventually) paid-for house in one of the best public school zones in Melbourne. They may have come from a broken home but I was damned if I was going to let it hobble them. I caught the investing bug after paying off the mortgage and started scratching together a small share portfolio. Life was good but I always assumed I’d be working until pension age, which for me is 67.
I’d look across at the multitude of female teachers my age who were able to work part-time because their husbands earned the larger wages in their households. They’d come into work talking about the lunches they’d been on, the tennis they’d played or just the simple luxury of having a morning/day/two days to Get Things Done during the week so their weekends were free to chill with their families. True, for 4 years I worked 4 days a week, but I was working part-time because I had a side hustle that I had to attend meetings for on my day off, so I was still working. The things that my colleagues were talking about seemed to come from another world. A happier world. A cushier, easier world. I wasn’t bitter and twisted about it; after all their lives were a result of the choices they’d made when they were younger, just as mine was. However, it all seemed so different.
Then I discovered the concepts behind FIRE. It was really encouraging because I was already doing most of them.
Reduce expenses? No worries… been living like that for years! I started to smile.
Pay off debt? Done! My wages were all my own to do with as I would. Giggling now… this was looking all too easy.
Start investing in index funds? Well, I didn’t know an index fund from my own left foot, but I could learn. Hey, I already had my shares that were bubbling over nicely, so I had a teeny head start there. Laughing now, mate. Laughing.
Harness the power of compounding? Umm… crap.
I was staring down the barrel of my 50’s, so that magical 30 and 40-year compounding magical money machine was not for me. I looked over at those married people with their married incomes and their married lifestyles of married discretionary spending money and I thought, ‘It must be so EASY for them to get ahead. They must be awash with money and investments and paid-for real estate. Good on them… but how can I get there too?’
But then it occurred to me. I had a huge advantage in doing this thing on my own. Ok, I still had the kids living with me, the minimal child support I’d spasmodically received was now a distant memory so they were still mainly financially dependent on me, but it wasn’t as if the household was run by a financial committee. The Frogdancer household is more like a benevolent dictatorship, where there is only one set of hands on the financial reins. Mine.
When I was getting out of debt by throwing everything I could at the mortgage, I’d listen to Dave Ramsey’s podcast on iTunes. The religion thing definitely isn’t my bag, but I’m not so bigoted that I can’t look past it. What I loved was the motivation I gained from hearing people’s debt-free screams and hearing the sound, sensible, boring steps to making it to Babystep 7… Build wealth and give generously. When he introduced the Millionaire theme hours I was rapt! Ok, most of them were people who got married and stayed married. But there were a few single women in jobs who paid comparable or less than mine who had also made it. This gave me hope that maybe I could do it too. But there was another thing about the people calling in on other sections of the podcast that I couldn’t help noticing.
It seemed like nearly every day there was someone calling in saying, “Dave, how do I get my wife/husband on board? I’m excited about getting out of debt and building a future for my family but s/he’s resisting me every step of the way.” Sometimes it would be a person ringing in and asking for advice on how to deal with a partner who has been hiding substantial debt from them, or who has a gambling problem and raking up huge debt… etc.
It wasn’t just Americans on a podcast. For years I’ve been a member of a site called Simple Savings. It’s a site that is overwhelmingly female, with the number of men who are members being less than you could count on one hand. It was a godsend to me, particularly in the years when we were incredibly hand-to-mouth when the boys were small. This is a site where I’d see frequent posts from Australian women asking about how to stop their husbands from blowing hundreds of dollars a month on fast food, boys’ toys, cigarettes and alcohol. These women were working hard to curb expenses, make their grocery money go further so they could provide extra activities or financial security for their families, only to watch seemingly helplessly as their partners spent all of the gains that the women had so painstakingly built up.
I tell you, these things started to make me feel very glad that I was single!
I may not have the lifelong romance, music playing as I rush heedlessly into my beloved’s arms every time I see him or the joy of reading poetry together in front of an open fire every night as he gives me a foot massage and hands me a single red rose… but I DO have the power of focus.
I set the rules. I decide which goals the Frogdancer finances are going to work towards. I decide which expenses are valuable and which can be cut. I’m the one doing the shopping, paying the bills and planning for the future. That’s an extremely valuable position to be in and every person who is single should relish it.
I don’t care if you have the most harmonious marriage in the world and both parties are working together towards FIRE and any other big goals you have. There’s still going to be expenses and values that each partner has that the other one doesn’t share, and so there has to be that dreaded thing…. compromise. Easier to finance this on two incomes, but when there’s only one? Single people rejoice! We don’t have to keep an expensive cable package because our partner just can’t do without sport. We don’t have to bite our tongues when our partner comes home with bags and bags of clothes that were “such a bargain” because they were “on sale”. We don’t have to smile and feign interest when our partner comes home with yet another watch, handbag or game to add to his or her collection. Our resources may be smaller, but we have total control over how those resources get deployed.
I think this is really powerful. The curse of the single person on the way to FI is that there is no one to blame but yourself if you don’t get there. That’s also the blessing. There’s no one else to blame if money gets wasted, there’s no one else to allow you to shove financial responsibility to one side while they handle it all, and there’s no one else to shelter you from the realities of finances and life in general, which weakens you. The blessing is that we’re empowered to get out there and make it happen, according to our own values and our own desires. It’s a wonderful thing, which historically has happened all too rarely for women.
Mathematically, being single certainly has an effect on how quickly a person can achieve FI. But it certainly has its advantages as well. Enjoy the journey!