How to Plan to Retire Early as a Couple

·5 min read

Early retirement may feel far off or seemingly unattainable, but just like anything else, it can be broken down and made into smaller, more feasible steps—especially if you're retirement-planning as a team of two.

The FIRE movement (Financial Independence, Retire Early) is based on the idea that if you aggressively save and invest 50 to 75 percent of your income, you can retire early and become financially independent within 10 or so years. The method stresses frugality, looking for extra income, and making your extra money work for you. FIRE picked up in popularity in the early 2010s with financial bloggers such as Mr. Money Mustache and several online forums, communities, and books sharing information on how to game an early retirement. In 2020, we even saw the emergence of dating sites and apps specifically geared towards millennials looking to retire early with a likeminded partner.

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FIRE, as a movement, runs in similar circles with tiny homes, do-it-yourself investing, and minimalism, to name a few. It seems to take the KonMari method and apply it to your financial lifestyle, where less truly becomes more.

With less frivolous spending and less buying of junk, plenty of couples are able to save more, invest more, and be more present with what they already have. The FIRE philosophies allow couples to look ahead, together, to a not-so-distant future where retiring early is a very real possibility.

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Here's how to start.

Pay off debts and complete your emergency fund.

Paying off debts must be done first, as you can't really start saving and investing until major debts (like credit cards) are paid off. But fear not: There are easy methods for paying off debt. It's also a good idea to have an emergency fund in place that can cover living expenses for three to six months, should you ever need it. Once these two components are taken care of, the real saving and investing can begin.

Envision your early retirement as a couple.

As you start, it's important to make sure that you and your partner are on the same page. To get there, begin to have discussions about your long-term goals and values. Is it important for you to retire in 10 years? Do you want to retire early completely, or work part-time? Should you look into Fat-FIRE or Lean-FIRE? Is owning a home important? Or do you see yourselves traveling, taking a more nomadic route?

Start to see where your values and desires really align and overlap. Envision, specify, and articulate those dreams.

Make an aggressive saving/investing plan together.

First, start by taking inventory of your combined income and your combined expenses with a handy budget calculator. Ask the tough questions: Can extra expenses be cut? Do we really need that spontaneous HomeGoods run? See how low you can go in terms of extra spending, and see where you might be able to find extra income.

Once you have your combined monthly budget calculated, find out how much is leftover for wants and needs. From here, you can decide what percent of your combined income (or how aggressively in general) you can save and invest.

In a way, you are tidying up your spending habits, and if you practice this act, saving for an early retirement will feel more and more natural. Ask yourselves: How little do we really need? In line with that thought, practicing gratitude (whether in a gratitude journal or out loud with your partner) can also help to remind you of how rich your lives already are, and can help stave off the impulse to unnecessarily spend.

Try to gamefy it: Can I go the whole day without using my debit card? If I bring my lunch and water from home, how much can I save weekly, monthly? Saving for an early retirement actually does come down to these seemingly small financial decisions, though they add up over time.

Do the math. Map it out. Write it down. Type it up. And then? Retiring in 10 to 15 years may not be so far off.

Create a team charter—and stick to it.

Important to note: You two are in this together. That means what one person does (or doesn't do) affects the share goal and vision. As a team tackling the challenge of how to retire early, some agreed-upon rules should be set out at the beginning.

A team charter can help you both stay focused, stay on track, and hold each other accountable in reaching your goal. Print it out and display it somewhere like the office board or the side of the fridge to keep spending habits in check. Consider brief, monthly or bi-annual check-ins to see how you all are making progress, or aren't, towards your goal. When times get tough and you want to spend, or when you realize you went overboard, go back to your shared vision. Forecast and look to the future, keeping in mind your initial long-term goal—and remember that what you want, what you are working for, is still attainable if you just come back to the plan.

While the mere thought of planning for retirement—especially early retirement—can feel daunting, remember that it can be done, and as a couple, you and your partner can do it. Like anything difficult (marathon training, learning new programs, going vegan) it will be uncomfortable and it will take persistence, but it will be incredibly rewarding.

Couples who are serious about their plan, who check in with one another, and who stay focused on the path towards their shared goal, can carve out their way to early retirement as a unit—and enjoy those extra years being together, traveling to new places, or exploring new hobbies. One step at a time.