Couple Money

ChooseFI: How to Team Up with Financial independence

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How do you get your spouse on board with becoming financially independent? ChooseFI founder and host Brad Barrett shares his journey and some key takeaways!

ChooseFI: How Financial Independence Can Open Up Options

How can you structure your finances so you can have more options and flexibility

One path that’s helped many families is working towards financial independence. For many families, though, it seems like an unrealistic goal. 

They assume that if they’re not making six-figures or if they have kids, they’re unable to achieve it. 

What you might not be aware of is how practical the principles behind FI can be for you. 

By applying the mindset, habits, and strategies you can not only improve your finances but give yourselves more opportunities to build your life around who and what matters to you. 

That’s why I’m excited that today we have Brad Barrett, co-founder of ChooseFI.

Brad Barrett went from being a full-time CPA to retiring with complete financial independence by the age of 35. 

Now, through ChooseFI, he’s empowering others to live more intentionally and get on the path towards financial independence!

In this episode we’re looking at: 

Let’s get started!

Resources to Get on the Path to Financial Independence

Are you two serious about becoming financially independent?

Here are handy resources mentioned in the episode along with extra tools to help you optimize your money together!

And if you want to discuss this more – ask questions, swap ideas, and maybe get a debt-free strategy set up – don’t forget to join us in the Thriving Families group on Facebook.

Our goal is to help one another out. Hope to see you there!

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Financial Independence is About Options, Not Deprivation

Elle Martinez: Since we're talking about financial independence, I want to address a concern that a lot of people have when they hear about it.

Besides having this misconception that you have to have a high income to achieve financial independence, some people think they have to live a life of extreme frugality where they are putting every extra cent towards that goal of being financially independent without having any fun now.

And yes, I've also read those stories that are highlighted about the couples that have saved massive amounts, but it doesn't seem like they're enjoying life. But for many on the path to financial independence, their day to day living looks much differently.

Brad Barrett: It's really been an amazing journey for us. And I think another misconception is that financial independence or the journey to find this path of deprivation where you are right.

Like you see it in in these popular news articles and, you know, eating brown bananas and all this other nonsense of trying to save every penny and scrimp and save and living this what sounds to me like a pretty miserable life for ten or fifteen years, only to get to this, you know, heart of gold under the rainbow.

I think personally, life is too short to wish away any number of years, not less ten to fifteen. Right?

I mean, that's a significant portion of your lifetime. So I don't view it that way at all. I mean, to me, I mean, we have lived this wonderful life of abundance.

Key Expenses to Master to Get Closer to Financial Independence

Elle Martinez: And if you are saving a significant amount towards financial independence, you're going to have to look at your expenses through a different lens.

In particular, there are three major expenses that many families have by reviewing and optimizing each of them. You'll have some significant wins.

Brad Barrett: What we've done on the path to FI is to make structural choices that just simply don't cost that much.

Lose the Car Loans

Brad Barrett: So we've set up a framework of a life where we drive old cars, like if you get these three things right. Yeah, pretty much. You can spend lavishly on everything.

So the three things are we drive old cars. So I haven't had a car payment in 10 plus years. I have a 16-year-old Honda Civic and my wife tells me it doesn't look so great anymore. I still cling to the fact that it does, but it drives wonderfully.

You know that one decision driving old cars is probably going to be mean. The difference between about seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars in net worth when I'm 60.

Like we've done the math. And it's I mean, it sounds ludicrous, but instead of having a car payment every month just driving old cars.

Elle Martinez: Now, for you, if you're in the middle of a car loan and right now you're upside down on your loan, selling the car might not be an option.

What you can do as a couple is come up with a plan to pay off your car loan faster and then going forward, saving up ahead of time for your cars. That's what my husband and I did.

We paid off our Volkswagen Jetta ahead of time. And then even though the car was fine and we didn't need to replace it, every month we set aside some money into the car fund.

And now when we buy a car, we buy it with cash. It gives us options because we're not tied to a loan. It frees up the cash flow.

It also makes us better negotiators when it becomes time to buy a car, which actually happened just earlier this month.

[We had planned] to buy a car for my husband this year, but circumstances moved that up to this month.

Knowing that we had the money in cash, when we went to the dealership we knew the price that we wanted to pay.

We actually got it in under budget. So this might not be an immediate win, but if you can start the process now, it will definitely free up options down the road.

But there's another expense that you guys can look at and get some wins now.

The Art of Being a Frugal Foodie

Brad Barrett: So that's one leg of the stool. Food is the second leg.

My wife is a wonderful cook. Yes, wonderful. She loves it. It's like it's her passion. And she looks at it as a game, which is kind of how we view FIRE.

You know, we've view FI as a game where we can kind of just make these little tweaks and like win at life, we win together. Right.

That's the cool part about it. As a couple, it's brought us closer.

So, you know, what we've figured out about food and about going out to eat is that we don't crave the expensive fancy food or whatever it may be.

We create the time together. Yeah. So for us, it's we don't want to go out to happy hour where it's six dollars for a beer plus tax.

And here we have a happy hour every single day at home at five o'clock. Every time and we put away the phones, the TV is off and we just sit there and we talk, right.

It's a magical time and that's literally one-eighth of what it would cost going out. So again, just little, little things like that. You know, saving on food has been enormous savings.

Elle: So how can you make this a win with your family?

Yes, eating out less can be a significant win. But if you do go out, make sure that you're getting the best deals.

A lot of restaurants have specials at certain times of the day or certain days of the week that you can take advantage of. So you still have those special nights out or days out without having the big bill.

And what's helped us resist those nights where you just want to go through the drive-thru or order delivery is making sure that you have some go-to quick and easy meals that are tasty.

I do have some articles on the site I'll include in the show notes to show you how to be a frugal foodie and how to make some quick, easy dishes that are delicious and just as good as the restaurant but is cheaper.

Keep Your Housing Rightsized

Brad Barrett: Housing is clearly the biggest expense. We just did in about a four-bedroom house in a nice part of town, but we didn't buy a lavish house.

We bought the least expensive house we could find in this one school district. And when we set up that framework, the rest of life just doesn't cost so much.

Elle Martinez: Optimizing your housing definitely will take some work if you are renting currently.

I do have an interview on her YouTube channel with Justin Pogue where we go over some strategies on how you can negotiate a better deal on your rent.

If you have a mortgage, this is another one of those long term strategies. Talk about and decide are you in the right house for your family at this season of life or do you need to right-size into the best house for you and your finances?

If you are considering buying a house, I do have some tips from last year's episode on how to buy a house and still have room for your other money locals.

So you're not going to be going for quick wins in this category, but you are going to be going for some big wins that will have a significant impact on your finances and free up some options for you.

Getting Your Spouse to Team Up with Financial Independence

Elle Martinez: Now, you may be fired up about making all these changes, but what about your spouse?

How do you get them on board with becoming financially independent? Brad has a great suggestion on getting that conversation started.

Brad Barrett: Find what lights them up. You have to meet them where they are. Right.

If you come to them and you say, hey, I just read this Mr. Money Mustache article, I listen to 10 episodes of ChooseFI and we're going to sell our car, sell our house and, you know, everything. It's over. Right.

Like we're gonna save 80 percent of our income. Yeah. That person is going to look at you like you're a crazy person and understandably so.

Like that is not the way you move forward in a relationship generally or on the path to FI. You have to find where they are and what would light them up about this journey to find.

For us, it was gone way back. This is to us when we met, when we were in our mid 20s.

My wife and I knew that, you know, as we were getting married that we were going to want to have kids.

And that living where we were living, which was Long Island, New York, which is a high cost of living here in New York City. Right. That was always going to require a sacrifice.

And whether that was not being able to go on vacations or not being able to save for college or save for retirement, like even though we had good jobs, we were both accountants. We had you know, I mean, starting pay wasn't fantastic yet. The upside potential was decent.

We knew we'd have to give up because we'd always we'd both have to work. And that wasn't good enough.

We didn't want to live our lives for ourselves. Obviously, many people choose to have two two income earners, and I fully respect that.

But, you know, you asked how you get your spouse on board and it's you find what lights them up. So for Laura, it was. She wanted to stay at home with these future fictional kids.

Yeah. You know, and that was really important to her. So what that meant was we needed to move and we actually moved down to Richmond, Virginia.

That's actually where I went to college. So we had some support network here. And you know what, I Richmond is probably about a third as much housing costs as well. And it's crazy and it's a wonderful, wonderful area.

We live in a similar suburban area to Long Island. And, you know, was it tough at first without, you know, our family and all of our friends? Yeah, of course, it was. But it was in service of this larger goal.

It was in service not only of financial independence but really of ‘I want to stay at home with my kids' so that when you have that kind of guiding light, it makes the other choices, even big choices like moving.

And certainly, you do not have to do something as drastic as we did. But that made that decision very easy.

Use Money Dates to Align Your Finances and Lives

Elle Martinez: So if you haven't ready on your next money date, leave out the numbers and talk about what are the big goals that you guys want to achieve in the next three, five years beyond.

Talk about why that's so important. And only will you get an insight to your spouse and what motivates them. You may find that there are ways that you can save now while still having that quality time.

Brad Barrett: Even going back to that silly anecdote about the happy hour. You know, we had someone call into our show a couple of years ago saying their spouse wanted to go out to these lavish dinners all the time. And, you know, there were multiple hundreds of dollars like multiple times per month.

And he went up sitting down with her and saying, like, ‘hey, what do you value out of this experience? ‘

And for her, it was you don't have your phone. You look me in the eye and we talk for an hour. Well, you can do that at home for a ten-dollar dinner. Right.

You don't need to go out to a two hundred dollar fancy restaurant. Right.

And and he was floored. I mean, he just it didn't cost this man because he never had that conversation. Right.

It's so important to understand where your significant other is coming from. Just generally. Right. This might open up lines of communication that you just weren't you would have not even known you would have been blissfully unaware of maybe for decades.

So while some people view this as, oh, financial independence, it must be deprivation like I don't see I view the polar opposite of that.

I think the psychology of this is 90 percent of the battle. Right.

Like once you get the math. Right. I mean, clearly. And it's not hard math. I don't want anybody thinking like you have to do any difficult math.

Clearly, if you're saving nothing or you're going into debt, you have credit card debt and it's getting worse. Financial independence seems very far off.

You have to make changes. And I think that that's an important part of this, is you can take in all the information, you can listen to your podcast or mine or read every blog in the world. But if you don't get up off the couch and take action, nothing's going to get better.

So I think that is the crucial underpinning of all of this. But it's not my place to tell anybody what action they have to take. I frankly don't care.

I just care that maybe for the first time in your life, you take that step back. You have that conversation and you move forward intentionally.

How Financial Independence Opens Up Options

Elle Martinez: The big benefit that we see during our own journey is how as you going through the process step by step, paying off that debt saving or investing towards your long-term goals, that you are freeing yourself and opening up more options and opportunities.

Brad Barrett: It's not binary. This is not zero or one every step along the way. You have more power in your court and it's not like, you know, wielding it like a jerk or anything like that. But you're more confident, right?

You don't go into work thinking like most people do, frankly, that if I get fired today, my life goes down the tubes in two or three months. That's most people.

Most people living paycheck to paycheck who have no money saved up. If they lose their job, they're in deep trouble in one, two or three months.

So even having five thousand, ten thousand, twenty thousand dollars in the bank, like how many people do you know, have $20000 in the bank? You know, in the general population, not that many.

So while the financial independence number might seem really far off, having that $20000 in the bank after a couple of years of saving, whatever it may be, a couple of, you know, six months, 12 months, three years, I don't care what it is.

You have more power, you have more options. You're not living in that. That's stress, that fight or flight all the time.

So it just makes your life better, frankly. So I see no downside at all to following a path of just simply not spending all your money, right? Yes.

Saving and knowing that your life is going to be better when you're not stressed every second about money's going back to the beginning.

Spending on What Matters

Elle Martinez: Well, one of the things we talked about was some people feel like financial independence is about deprivation or extreme frugality.

But you have to understand, it's really about prioritizing your money to go towards what matters to you.

Brad Barrett: Yes, absolutely. And for me, it's it's fitness. So, like, I was never so I guess I played soccer in high school. I was always a pretty good athlete, reasonably fed.

But then my 20s and 30s head and I just kind of became not a couch potato. Certainly. I don't think I would refer to myself as that, but I kind of just stopped focusing on fitness.

I think part of this journey to financial independence has been this overall kind of life optimization, which is I just want to be a little bit better.

I don't want to be crazy about it. I'm not some, like ultra optimizer who's doing like insane stuff, you know, but I'm just trying to get a little bit better every day or week or month or whatever it may be.

Just to be happier and healthier.

So for me, it's about connection and relationships and, you know, even optimizing my sleep a little bit, just like stupid, not like, again, not being a crazy person, but just getting blackout curtains that, you know, costs 50 bucks each, which who cares?

Because that's a third of my life. So, you know, fitness, I actually started going to CrossFit about a year and a half ago.

And I'm not one of these crazy proselytizers very for CrossFit. But yeah, it's just it's a good challenge and it's something I've never done before.

I'd never lifted weights in my entire life. Now, it's something that I'm passionate about and actually my wife Laura started last week.

So it's something we do together now. We go to CrossFit a couple of times a week and it's I mean, it's awesome. It really is awesome.

And that is not cheap at all in any way. But that's something that we are very happy to spend on because, you know, we've seen family members of ours get older and they haven't focused on their health.

And, you know, in my family, there's some, you know, diseases that theoretically I can avoid if I'm healthy. And, yeah, you know, I want to do everything I can to be that grandpa or great-grandpa someday that.

You know, down there playing with the kids, you know, jumping up and down off the floor and like, I don't want to be the decrepit old person. And I'm willing to spend time and energy and money certainly on that.

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Music Credit

Like the music in this episode? Our theme song is by Gentle Regime. Additional music by Lee Rosevere.

This episode was originally released in January 2020. Show notes have been updated in April 2021.

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