Selling the Dream – How to Make your Spouse Love Frugality

Dear Mr. Money Mustache,

I’ve done it! I have lit the fire of Mustachianism in my own heart, and can suddenly see what should have been obvious from the start: the entire basis for most of the modern US lifestyle is complete bullshit, we are all wasting almost all of our money every day, and we could all be vastly better off if we just stopped doing it. I want to be free, and happy, and rich, and I want it NOW!

There’s just one problem. I have a spouse who is still deeply cocooned in the system. He (or she) still loves the fancy shoes, massages at the spa, video game systems, the $2500 bikes, the Apple-brand computers, or the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S minivan  for carrying around our 10-pound baby. I love her, but I can’t seem to get through to her. I’m shouting through the 8-inch-thick foggy shell of hardened Consumer Mucus that has formed over her entire body, and I can see those eyes I fell in love with staring back at me from deep within that shell. But I can’t seem to break her out of it. How can I do it?

Many people are wondering the same thing. I read the question in emails, in the MMM Forums, in newspapers, and I hear the same lament from friends in real life. So I thought this would be a good time to step back and review everything we’ve learned so far, and put it into the form of a strategy for healing those you love from the disease of Consumerism.

This is Part One of a two part series. This first article deals with the preparatory stages of planting a positive idea of frugality, efficiency, and financial independence into the mind of someone who doesn’t yet have it.

Step 1: Realize that your Good News will initially feel like a Punch in the Face

When you’re a Mustachian, you know you’re on to something. All of life’s worst problems have melted away, by the simple act of changing your perspective on life and starting to live it in a better way.

But most people who are still stuck in The System will not see it that way. They have been raised from birth to believe that buying things is the way to solve problems, that buying more expensive things is a source of greater happiness, and that not buying things leads to less happiness. They are taught that there are no consequences to this buying, so the natural response is to maximize the activity: striving to earn more money to be able to buy more. Buying a bigger house to be able to store more of the items. Seeking out the most luxurious experience in every aspect of life. Any unhappiness is assumed to be a byproduct of not having enough money for the right level of luxury purchasing. And any happiness is assumed to be caused by successful purchases that have been made.

When you announce to this person that their entire complete framework for happiness is COMPLETE BULLSHIT, they are bound to feel at least a little annoyed at you. So be sure to break it to them gently, focusing on the positive rather than the negative.

Step 2: Paint a Picture of the Destination

Almost everybody likes the idea of never being forced to work. Either not working at all, or having the freedom to work how, where, and when they choose. But almost nobody currently has this freedom. They work because there are bills to be paid, they commute in the dark at obscene times in the morning because that’s when you’re supposed to get to the office. If you can get this person to imagine their life with a civilized and leisurely breakfast each morning, unlimited time off whenever they feel the need, and bills that automatically pay themselves, you will have found a point of agreement, which is the seed from which any true partnership must grow.

Step 3: Use the Emotions of Child Raising to your Advantage

Not everyone plans to start a family. But everyone who does, wants to do the best job they can of raising their kids. They want happiness and success for their present and future children, and they want fulfillment for themselves from the act of raising them. They are willing to sacrifice almost anything to do what they feel is best.

When people are following the Consumer model described in step 1, the natural response is to maximize the purchasing they do for their kids. But here, the model can easily be flipped on its head, because even consumers still realize that kids benefit from time with their parents. Time to read books, play outside, get tucked in at night by both parents.  Even the traditional notion of successful children – high academic achievement – has been shown to be most strongly influenced by something that costs nothing to do: reading lots of books to your young children – every day.

If you can get across the point that the best thing for kids is time, which costs nothing but requires you to spend a bit less time away from home earning money, a certain level of frugality will start to seem appealing.

Step 4: Show why Money is Even More Useful when you Don’t Spend it

“You only live once, so you might as well spend all your money!”
“You can’t take it with you when you die!”
“What’s the point of money, if you’re not going to spend it on the things you love?”
“I’m a big boy and I work hard, so I deserve to treat myself when I see fit.”

All of those slogans sound so sensible, don’t they? But they only make sense until you know the real value of money.

The slogans above represent the anthems of the poor and middle-class. But the Rich people know that the thing money is most useful for is making more money for you automatically. A rich person never wants to spend money that they actually earned through work. They prefer to wait until their money starts printing more of itself – and that is the cash they spend.

To most consumers, this concept is a vague and fuzzy one. You’re holding up a tablet with Egyptian Hieroglyphics on it, and they are squinting uneasily as they try to read it. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a response such as,

“You mean, like, the stock market and stuff?”

YES!! Like the stock market and stuff! But don’t burden the beginner Mustachian with the specifics at this point. Just point out some very simple rules of thumb. Things like this:

“You can spend $100 right now, and it will be gone forever. Or you can set it aside right now, and it will give you $5 every year, forever.”

Which can be followed up like this:

“If we owned our own house with no mortgage right now, we’d have an extra $1500 per month to keep for ourselves – FOREVER. That’s equivalent to your boss giving you an extra 26 weeks per year of vacation in your job, with no pay cut. Forever.”

If you really want to get advanced, you could say this:

“If we owned the house across the street with no mortgage, we could rent that out, and also get another $1500 per month to keep for ourselves – FOREVER!. You could quit your job entirely, and we could still have the same amount of spending money.”

Whether your eventual cashflow comes from owning houses or owning businesses (stocks) makes no difference. And you don’t have to read a bunch of stock market or real estate books to understand that money pays you money if you don’t spend it. But you must plant the idea that money is something productive that always works for you, until you give it away by spending it. Otherwise your partner will have no reason to want to hold on to those little employees.

 Step 5:  Bust out the Real-World Examples

Before blogs like this one came along, there wasn’t much to aspire to. You’ve got your Michael Jordans and your Julia Robertses, who are rich enough to do whatever they want. Then you’ve got everyone you know in real life: workers who run the 9-to-5-until-65, struggle to stay afloat, and instantly crash and burn the moment the cruel economy does something to them like taking away their jobs. The average person cannot see a connection between these two lifestyles.

But FINALLY, the secret has been broken. A normal man and his wife have retired before even having their first kid – with no basketball skills, unusual good looks, or lottery winnings. They are over six years into the gig and everything is going fine. They’re healthy, happy, and the kid is adorable and bright. And what the hell, they even have a nice house and go on trips? And they are telling us that we can do it too, it’s just a matter of some very simple math?

Since there is at least one person doing it, it must be possible, right? And wait, it turns out there have been people doing it all along without telling us. This old book from 1993 talks about the same thing, this guy did it on a low single income, this other guy is about to do it sometime next year, and most of the millionaires of the world got there by doing the same thing.

There are very few examples of financial independence among average wage earners, and it’s because our culture is built on extracting all of the earnings of the lower class, for the benefit of the upper class. It’s just plain old advertising, and sure, we’re all immune to it, right? But if you’re not yet financially independent, chances are that it is because of the role that advertising has played in sucking away most of what you’ve ever earned, and probably that of your parents as well. Without advertising, we’d still buy food and shelter, but the rest of our cash would tend to just build up and we’d rapidly have enough for retirement. Find those few examples, and learn from them!

We’ve now covered the preparatory stages of the conversion. This is the mental groundwork you lay for a period of several weeks, or even months. Once the person begins to be at least somewhat excited about the financial independence (and an optional early retirement), you’re ready to move on to the next post, where some actual action begins to occur.


  • Matt (Semper Fi) July 30, 2016, 7:25 pm

    Since I started reading this blog a month ago, my life has gotten better and better; the scales have fallen from my eyes! Not that I wasn’t frugal before, nor my wife, but there is much room for improvement. I have been sharing the wisdom of MMM with my wife throughout the month, and I think she was getting tired of hearing his name, hahaha. I wanted to trim the budget even more than it is, but she was very reluctant. Well, I’m not sure what happened, but as we were budgeting this morning, my wife suddenly seemed to get excited about saving more money. Our goal has been to get the house paid off within the next two years, and she just started madly plugging various monetary scenarios into her calculator, and suddenly we are on track to have the mortgage paid off in just six months! She suggested throwing our entire cash emergency fund at the mortgage, and I was actually the one that had to plead with her to let us keep at least 3k in cash, hahaha. She has committed the entirety of her next bonus (about 10k) to the mortgage in February. Amazing! We now seem to be pulling in tandem. It was a complete and total “Holy shit!” moment for me.

  • Be October 3, 2016, 9:51 am

    Thanks for this post. I’m working on demonstrating to my spouse the benefits of saving more. He doesn’t have the incentive to ‘retire’ since he can’t work due to disability so that’s not much of a selling point for him – it just comes across more as me trying to guilt him about being unhappy with my day job. I’m trying to get him into the excitement of investing – once we have enough of a ‘stache I will open up a vanguard account (minimum seems to be $3K) and ask him to manage it. He has expensive hobbies (video games and online gaming which requires expensive high speed internet) that I’m happy to support but I can’t stay on the hamster wheel of living paycheck to paycheck any more.

  • Rachel December 8, 2016, 8:27 pm

    Thank you for this! My husband has always been the “spender” in the relationship. I’ve always been the one handling the finances, budgeting, and retirement planning, which I really enjoy. When I tell him about this blog and what is possible he looks at me like I’m crazy. Unfortunately, he was raised as a cog in the consumerism machine. I grew up poor, so frugality was necessary to live. I so badly want to retire early and I’ve started plating those thoughts in his head too. These steps you’ve shared will help me on this mission!

  • Call Me Cheap January 28, 2018, 4:54 am

    My wife has always been hard working and is quite frugal. (On our second date she took me to her favorite restaurant in an expensive area of town. Oh, oh. Turned out to be a very tasty but cheap Cantonese joint. I thought … “I could get to like this girl…”)

    We are building our assets at a good clip, but for her the concept of “retirement” is old people shuffling down the street, or someone who just wants to sit and do nothing until they die. And “financial independence” just sounds too esoteric.

    So I’ve been trying to sell her the vision:
    Wouldn’t it be nice if during summer vacation we could just put the kids in the car and travel across Canada, going anywhere we want and stopping for as long as we want?

    “Yes, that would be awesome,” she says.

    How about renting an apartment in Rome and spending one summer there?

    “Yes, let’s do that!”

    (Traveling was our hobby before family life)

    So I’m selling her a vision of the “afterlife” without getting into the details of personal finance – yet. Just waiting for her to pop the question … “So how do we actually do that?” Then I’ll explain the numbers to her and how I see it working.

    Until then, building the ‘stache

  • Rebe June 20, 2018, 11:11 am

    Looking forward to trying these strategies on my dad. He’s always got his eye on electric bicycles, new cars, new computers, new smartphones, the sky’s the limit. (And this is after he lost a good chunk of his retirement savings to a bad business venture.) I hate to see him losing all this money he spent decades of his life and a lot of hard work to accumulate.


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