So you have joined the ranks of enlightened people, who want to retire early, move to another country, or redesign their lifestyle, and now you want your spouse or partner to go along with it?

Not so fast! While winning friends is easy, influencing people is a lot harder, but it can be done. I am a little dense when it comes to interpersonal understanding, but I have still learned a thing or two.

The first and most important thing is that a person sounds a whole lot smarter and more intelligent when you agree with what the person is saying(*). Most people listen to other people mainly to confirm what they already know and and be reaffirmed in their beliefs. This is not a very rational thing to do, but most people are like that probably due to humans being social animals. This means that if you suggest something, which is radically different from what they already know, they will think that you are ignorant and an outsider. If you keep pushing they will think you are stupid, a stupid person being an ignorant person who refuses to change his ways.

Therefore only make it known that you posses this information by talking about it once. Let them come to you when they are ready.

(*) If you don’t believe me, try to tune into a election debate. Candidates are very likely equally intelligent, but do they sound that way to you?

Most people (and especially children) will follow your example rather than your suggestions (if they follow at all). Children will follow practically any example (and believe anything you tell them, so be careful there), but adults are calcified already and usually want to follow their own example rather than your example unless it becomes manifestatively clear that your way is better. In other words you must be able to demonstrate a clear difference between your way and their way.

This means you have to build up a visible difference to show that there is an alternative (and build credibility). Once your spouse is ready, he/she will generally come around very quickly. For instance, you may build up a savings account or what people with bills, job-dependence and other liabilities call an emergency fund. If your spouse is already familiar with the concept, start talking about how your “emergency fund” will support you for 5 years, say, and that you are thinking about switching careers or taking a long hiatus. A 5 year fund is simply in another category altogether. It is qualitatively different because it gives you many more opportunities. A normal 6-month fund is only designed to pay your bills while you go and look for another job because you just got fired or carry you over while on an extended sick-leave Those, who focus solely on those problems will have a hard time wrapping their head around the larger time frame and the additional possibilities. However, if your spouse’s E-fund is only the standard 6 months, but she is beginning to think that her current life path sucks, she will most likely start saving more so that she will have the same options as you.

If your accounts are joint, you say you would prefer to save the money whenever she proposes an expenses. Just suggest that you split some money into his and hers and if she wants to buy something, fine, but you reserve the same amount of money for savings. After a while, you can start talking about the interest you are earning. One thing that tend to get people going is when I talk about how the money my savings generate on average correspond to a fulltime job in Walmart and how that essentially means that the person is working for me. I can put this in really snarky terms too using terms like mortgage and credit and it seems to get people thinking.

If you want your spouse to adopt some change, another thing to try is to find something they are familiar with. For instance, DW could not see herself living in a Tumbleweed House (my original plan), so I started talking about boats. Then someone suggested RVs. Now unlike me, DW had actually been in an RV and lived in a mobile home park at some point so she was familiar with those and was much less resistant to this idea. Had she not been, I guess one way would have been to start camping and make the trips longer and longer after which I would combine this with the suggestion that if we started camping full time we could cut our budget in half.

In summary, the sneaky way to go about things if you want to persuade someone is to change your environment to make your ideas seem more sensical e.g. try acquiring a majority of your stuff through swapping or freecycling. This might make your spouse reconsider the idea of paying for things especially when he/she sees the envelopes arriving by mail or you pick up a leather jacket while you proudly announce that you did not pay for this (BTW guys, I have not bought anything for me personally for several months now, but I have bartered(*) more than 10 things away, probably closer to 20). Get furniture used and make this the normal way for you. Mention that this month your expenses were completely covered by income from your investment accounts. Cook meals that only cost $1 but taste the same as $10 meals. Later you can start talking about how you don’t need to work anymore because you have enough savings to retire.

(*) I’m not sure bartering is the right term. Sometimes I swap 1-1. Other times, I give to person A and receive from person B making sure that I give as much as I receive to maintain a “fair” trade-balance. I ‘m working on this karma theory πŸ™‚

None of this guarantees success, but maybe, just maybe, someday your spouse will have a problem that is best solved with one of your solutions and then you will be right there.

Originally posted 2008-09-04 06:35:16.