A Brief Explanation of the Thriving Couples Model: Living As Roommates Vs. Husbands and Wives

A Brief Explanation of the Thriving Couples Model: Living As Roommates Vs. Husbands and Wives

Check out all of these materials (here) to get a better grasp of the Model.

The Development of the Model:

The Model arose after hearing from clients the stories of thousands of individuals and adults about their relationships.  Most of these were married.  Many were cohabiting or had cohabited before.  Others were single or divorced, some several times.  These people would tell me, often without prompting, the key elements that were missing in their marital or romantic relationships or the types of things they felt were important to making a marital relationship worthwhile.  The six elements of the Model are the six things these people brought up in sessions, over and over again.

While some researchers might question the wisdom of creating a Model of Marriage from people who are hurting, I would counter, that people who are hurting know instinctively what is missing and can articulate very convincingly the things they need.  A person in the desert knows he needs water to survive.  A person who just finished a 32-ounce Coke may be upset because his iPhone doesn’t have reception.  They both need water to survive, but the person in the desert is much more aware.

Priorities in the Model:

As you look at the graphic of the Model, note that it is built from the ground up.  The item lower on the graphic trumps the items above it.  This is a very helpful way to understand, as a couple and a therapist, what priorities are needed to improve the marriage.

For example, Commitment trumps Trust: it won’t matter if you are having an affair, if you are going to leave me.  Trust trumps Communication:  I won’t believe a word you are saying if I think you are lying to me!  Communication trumps Sexuality:  Why would I want to be sexual with you if you never talk to me, or all you do is criticize me?

The Elements of the Model:  

The Model has six layers with two concepts in each layer.  The two concepts at each layer are complementary to each other and necessary to the complete understanding of that area.  For example, we can’t just communicate.  We also need to be able to solve our problems.  In addition, you’ll note that all of the concepts at each level are interactive and dependent on the teamwork of both spouses.  You don’t communicate alone or you aren’t affectionate alone.  This helps couples see the character of their Marriage depends upon both of them working for the common good of the family the two of them started.

Marriage and Commitment:

When I use the word Marriage I’m referring to a husband and wife who have made a public pledge to leave their father and mother and start a new family.  In my view, Marriage is NOT about loving, romantic relationships.  Defining marriage as simply a romantic relationship has reduced marriage to feelings, leading to our horrendous divorce and cohabiting rates and encouraging anyone to be “married.”  This watered-down view has taken away from Marriage its intrinsic worth, and devalued it to the point where 50% of our married people throw theirs away.  Marriage has historically meant the complementary of a man and a woman, who are one in their uniquely, sexually, monogamous relationship, who promise in a public way their mutual commitment to each other in their new family.  Their family has the potential to be intergenerational, forming the safest and most tender place for the next generation to be raised.  Anything less reduces marriage to a loaf of bread: buy a new one if you feel like it.

Commitment is the idea that the vows of Marriage are continually reinforced throughout their lives together, because they’ve formed a new family.  Neither partner does or says things to call their Commitment or their new family into question.

Cohabitation does NOT offer the security of Married for Life and because the couple doesn’t know if either is in or out for sure, insecurity lurks beneath the scene.  Married couples who threaten the Marriage by saying things like “I can’t take this any more” or “I deserve to be happy,” also create insecurity and if either party thinks the other might leave, they start protecting themselves from the other spouse.  Either scenario (cohabitation or threats to leave) causes people to see their partner as their roommate instead of a husband or a wife, leading to marital problems and chaos and, for many, divorce or breaking up.

Trust and Accountability:

Trust is the idea that what spouses say matches what they do and they both keep appropriate boundaries with others.  There is an invisible boundary around their marital relationship and neither does anything to call that into question.  In Accountability both partners willingly tell each other what is going on because they each want the other in his or her life!  They do this because they want to compare notes and pool their wisdom and look out for one another.  They can’t protect each other, unless they both know where the other is.

Couples that don’t practice this end up keeping secrets from each other and not telling each other what they need to, which introduces insecurity into the relationship and makes one or the other feel controlled or totally unimportant.  This also leads to couples living as roommates.  Roommates DON’T tell each other what is going on!  Married people do, or at least should!

Communication and Problem Solving:

Wise couples will BOTH Communicate their concerns with each other and they BOTH will work together to solve both their concerns.  No relationship is perfect and will need to be tweaked now and then.  The relationship will not improve, if one or the other or both cannot or will not share their concerns or every time differences are brought up, anger, fighting, or shutting down are a threat.  Couples who are not able to resolve their differences or at least work them through to a satisfactory level will find their relationship deteriorating over time.  Couples who can’t work through their differences become roommates and either fight or become indifferent.  If the relationship can’t get better it will get worse.  Over time this can lead to Trust and Commitment issues.

Fun and Friendship:

Couples that enjoy their marriages enjoy each other’s company and they enjoy each other’s company because they spend time alone together and have a relationship on their own accord, apart from their children and/or friend or other family members.  This is difficult to do in modern society due to our busy lives, but Thriving Couples understand this and will make special efforts to spend time alone as a couple, enjoying each other’s company and developing their common interests throughout their lives together.  Couples, who end up as roommates, develop their own individual private interests only and invest in their careers and children, putting each other on hold.  Over time they will grow distant and, if they are not careful, will just pass each other in the hall.  This lack of time and effort on both parties’ part will be interpreted as an affront or indifference by each other and will bleed into other areas of the marriage, creating other, more serious problems.  For example, why be married to someone who won’t spend any time with me having fun?

Warmth and Affection:

Couples need Warmth and tenderness and one of the easiest ways to convey that is through Affection.  By Affection I mean non-sexual, non-demand touching.  There is a public and private aspect to this.  The public aspect conveys to the children and society at large and to each other that the two of them are an item.  The children see mom and dad holding hands on the couch and giving each other a hug and a meaningful kiss at the end of the day.  Privately the couple is close in the privacy of their own bed.  Their bedroom is a sanctuary with a lock on the door.  The couple cuddles, again, without sexual overtones, on a regular basis, keeping the relationship Warm.

Couples, who end up as roommates, avoid Affection and use excuses to keep from doing it.  If one is more affectionate, that spouse may give up pursing it because it doesn’t seem reciprocal.  Or one may say, I’m just not the affectionate type, leading to neither touching each other, publically or privately.  Affection that is one-sided feels forced and lacks Warmth for both.  The couple may rarely touch each other in bed (or anywhere else!), have a child or dog in the bed between them in bed or not sleep in the same bed at all!  Without Warmth and Affection the relationship grows cold and it is not long before they are both living as roommates and the couple is dealing with many other problems as well.

Intimacy and Sexuality:

There are four purposes for Sexuality: 1) to bring the next generation; 2) to ensure the spiritual connection between a husband and wife; 3) as a creative force in our lives to be a blessing to our families and the wider community (e.g. work, art, service, giving, volunteering); 4) as spiritual energy directed toward God in worship.  In any other contexts sexuality becomes a force of chaos, abuse, perversion and death.

The wise couple understands this and makes sure that the Sexuality between them has Intimacy, by which I mean it is mutual and meaningful.  Without these two elements Sexuality feels forced or inappropriate or hurtful or selfish.  On the flip side couples that ignore sexuality end up losing their love for each other as the spiritual energy between them leaks away.  Still other roommate scenarios include one or the other or both getting their sexual needs meant elsewhere or the introduction of other people (e.g. swinging) or things (e.g. pornography) into the sacred marriage bed that is just meant for the husband and the wife.  These extremes (coercion, indifference or perversion) cause couples to become roommates, raise marital problems in other areas and may lead to divorce.

Importance of the Model:

All the elements of the Model are necessary for a Marriage to be strong.  Weakness in one area can quickly trickle into other areas.  Just like a house wouldn’t be much of a house if it is missing a roof or a furnace or a kitchen or windows, so, too, marriage without all the elements will suffer.  The Model suggests starting with the most basic foundational area before working on the areas above it (looking at the graphic of the Model: work on Trust before Communication, etc.).  Knowing what the weaknesses are helps couples set their own goals as they seek to improve their marriages and can give them tangible places to start going forward.  Marital therapists can use the Model to assess the couple and create therapy goals.

Other Issues and the Model:

Money and Children:
Most other issues (e.g. money and children) can be subsumed under the Communication and Problem Solving section.  Nevertheless, any issue can become a Marriage and Commitment issue, if the couple can’t work it through, one or the other makes threats to leave or, in frustration, either makes unilateral decisions.  For example, quite often in cohabiting couples and step-family situations, money and children become Commitment issues!  For example, in a step-family situation, if you don’t warm up to my birth-child, I’ll divorce you!  YIKES!  Unilateral decisions and threats to break up or divorce in these kinds of settings are common.  The major concern here is “how” a couple handles their problems.

When I was first thinking through the Model I considered having protection as one of the major components: safety first, right?  After some reflection, I decided that protection is one of the assumptions and purposes of the family and it is germane to each level of the Model.  We could speak of protection at each level.  Protection is one of the key reasons the family exists in the first place.  Protection will be a theme at each level as I write about and develop the Model.


The Thriving Couples Model can help you as a couple determine areas that need work for you to make the most of your Marriage or your relationship.  If you are a potential marital therapy client or marital therapist the Model will help you focus on priorities.  The Thriving Couples Model provides a philosophy and a structure for improving your Marriage, when both parties realize you exist in the Marriage, not to make each other or yourselves happy, but to sacrifice for the benefit of your new family.   Your family is bigger than either of you, is worth sacrificing for, and both of you are key players in making it all it can be.

This blog Copyright by Dr. Bing Wall, Heart to Heart Communication, LC, 2011

To listen to the one hour podcast explaining the Thriving Couples Model in more detail, click here.

To check out the Graphic of the Model, the Chart Contrasting Living as Roommates vs. Husbands and Wives or to download a PDF of this blog today click here.

A Brief Explanation of the Thriving Couples Model: Living As Roommates Vs. Husbands and Wives

Part Eight on Money and Marriage: The Nine Keys to Wealth Building

Now that I’ve read all three of these I’d like to summarize the key factors for wealth building. Keep in mind Dr. Stanley explains that it’s different to have a high income than having high wealth. If you have a high income and spend it all you aren’t wealthy! You just look wealthy.

You can have a low to moderate income and end up wealthy if you keep some of these principles in mind:

People who end up wealthy are usually married and married for a LONG time. Four out of 5 millionaires were NOT millionaires when they married! They became millionaires LATER after a life of living BELOW their means. The husband and wife shared their frugal lifestyle and they talked and worked together on their money and their investments. Talking about their money situation was one of their common activities that they enjoyed together! Contrast so many couples who fight about money. Money fights and money issues lead to divorce in droves. If you want to have a successful marriage, if you want to have a successful financial life, this is one of the keys you, as a couple, will need to figure out.

They spend less than they make. He writes that there are only 80,000 “Glittering Rich” in the USA. He defines glittering rich as those who earn $2 million or more a year and have $20 million in net worth. They can AFFORD lots of crap. They don’t have one luxury car. They have 10 or 20. And it’s no big deal. These are the wealthy that are touted in the media and these are the people that too many of us emulate. Stop it already. You can’t keep up. The rest of us will never get anywhere financially if we spend all or more than we make.

They live in houses that are 80% of what they can afford verses many of us live in houses that are 100% of what we can afford. Prior to the housing crash of 2007 many of us were living in houses that were MORE than 100% of what we could afford. The extra 20% that eventual millionaires have left in their budget enables them to save and to live within their means. Their lifestyle can comfortably emulate their neighbors without they or their children feeling slighted. He believes that our neighborhood is the greatest single deterrent for accumulating wealth. We’re so busy keeping up with the Jones that we aren’t able to keep what we make.

They don’t buy fancy cars. They don’t buy many new cars. They don’t lease cars. Cars eat money. Cars depreciate. They buy cars after they’ve depreciated a few years. Most of them pay cash. You don’t become wealthy making car payments. You might look like you are doing fine, but that doesn’t mean you are.

They don’t give their money away to their kids. Children can eat money if you will let them. But if you give them everything they want to the point that you cannot save, you are giving away your future. Besides, children don’t learn the value of money if they have whatever they want whenever they want it. As Dave Ramsey (here and here) says you have to teach them to work and save and spend and give. Work hard. Save. Live frugally. Spend and give wisely. Nearly all millionaires EARNED their wealth. It wasn’t handed to them. Parents who give their wealth to their children will find that their children mostly don’t learn to work. Any fortune can be spent. There isn’t enough money to overcome stupidity.

They save. A ton. Stanley writes that millionaires save 15 percent of their income. Most of this is put into investments that are protected from taxes, like retirement programs. Over time these amounts add up. A lot. People that don’t save anything end up spending all they make PLUS paying more taxes because they pay taxes on ALL their income. If you spend all you make, plus go into debt spending more money than you make, plus spending all this money on taxes, you will be perpetually broke.

They budget and are frugal in their lifestyles. Benjamin Franklin wrote

Beware of little Expenses. A little Leak will sink a Great ship.[1]

The convenience store coffee, cigarettes and smoking and lottery tickets, beer, eating out, shopping for a hobby, all this stuff adds up to you spending your money and not having anything to show for it except a house full of crap.Millionaires learn to have self-control in all areas of their life.They aren’t fat and overweight, either or drunkards.This gives them self-control to watch what they buy.They have money because they budget and don’t spend their money foolishly.Once they become wealthy, they maintain their wealth by continuing to budget and being wise.

They stay out of debt. This is not an emphasis of Dr. Stanley’s research. I thought he would have more to say about it. It is certainly an emphasis of Dave Ramsey’s approach. But Dr. Stanley writes that millionaires save 15 % of their income. You can’t do that if you are paying off student loans, car payments, credit cards and mortgages in too nice of neighborhoods. Instead of debt, Dr. Stanley writes about “future income.” Millionaires do not spend now in anticipation of future income. This is what debt is: The idea that I will have income in the future to pay off what I bought today. Well, ah, what if something happens, like you get a horrific illness or your spouse does or you or your spouse loses his or her job or becomes disabled? Boom, just like that, you’re broke. You can’t save any money if you are spending more than you make.

Think about this.If millionaires became millionaires because they save 15 percent and you don’t save anything and instead you are spending 15 to 40% of your income on debt (house included), AND paying taxes on all this money you spend (on debt and crap), you can see that people who become wealthy someday, do so, because, instead of giving their money to somebody else, they are keeping a consistent amount for their own futures.

If you are in debt, you need to get out of debt.ASAP.And stay out.This could take you several years of considerable effort, cutting expenses and working extra jobs and being very conscientious.But the only other option is not doing anything and then in several years you’ll still be in debt and nothing will have changed, because your debt has imprisoned you.Only you can harness your financial future.Please don’t wait for mommy and daddy or the government to sweep in and save you from your stupidity.This is your job.Get on it.Both of you!Today.

-They give. Dr. Stanley does not emphasize this much, but both Dave Ramsey and Rabbi Daniel Lapin discuss this in their work. Giving creates a generous spirit which makes a person easier to get along with and more approachable. This generosity leads to open doors in a person’s life. If you would be a blessing to others you will, indeed, receive a blessing. You cannot give unless you have something to give and this means that you will need to spend less than you make. These all go hand in hand.

So, looking at these nine things, how did you do? It’s time for you and your spouse to sit down with this list and discuss how you are going to face your future together. This needs to be a team effort. It takes time, patience, hard work and discipline. Over time it pays off.

[1] Quotes from: Franklin, Ben. (2005). The Autobiography of Ben Franklin: America’s Original Entrepreneur: Franklin’s Autobiography for Modern Times. Adapted by Blaire McCormick. Canada: The Entrepreneur Press, p. 62.

A Brief Explanation of the Thriving Couples Model: Living As Roommates Vs. Husbands and Wives

Part Seven on Money and Marriage: A Little Savings-Budgeting Trick

Sure, there are the rich athletes and the Hollywood elite and people who win the lottery and a few who inherit a bunch and never earned it.Most of them never really become wealthy because they end up spending their money on crap and appearances.Your chances of having bookoo bucks to spend on whatever are slim to none.We have this E Television and US Magazine idea that the road to happiness is SPENDING and BUYING and it turns out that the happiest people in terms of money (money doesn’t buy happiness.Duh!) are people that utilize self-control and save and that having some money in the bank for a rainy day or for an uncertain future settles people’s spirits down.

Turns out it really feels good to have self-control, better, after all, then shopping till you drop. If you shop till you drop, you will literally drop. Emotionally crash. And then you’ll be sitting there with all this stuff.

Living frugally, instead, certainly works wonders for a marriage. One of the biggest problems in marriage is money and one of the biggest reasons money is a problem is because he and she are each acting independently and having their money separate and acting as roommates, but they aren’t roommates, and it bugs them when their partner spends this or that and so they go out and spend in revenge just to get their comeuppance and then they fight about that and around and around they go and if you live as roommates you can guarantee that you will never be financially independent other than independent from your spouse in an arrogant, selfish way that inhibits people from being the sacrificial spouses they need to be to actually get somewhere as a couple.If you are going to be married you may as well enjoy it and you aren’t going to enjoy it if you treat your spouse like she’s your sister or brother or your college dorm mate.

That’s no way to live, thank you very much. Unfortunately, millions of couples are living this way, many of whom learned it cohabiting with their current spouse or somebody or somebodies else and they’ve been ripped off in their previous marriages or previous cohabiting arrangements and so they get very protective of their butts and there’s no way they are going to trust their current spouses and around and around we go.

No, that’s no way to live. Money is fluid and it’s always changing and so this gives you, as a couple, something to talk about for the rest of your life. And if you agree on the overall goal (we’d like to have some someday), you’d be amazed how the little expenditures along the way can be worked out.

You’d be amazed.

You’d also be amazed, if you were a marriage counselor like me, how stubborn people are about their money and if they have developed the bad habit of not combining their money (We’re supposed to be ONE, remember?) together, they just aren’t gonna take any advice from their therapist on this deal. It works for them (they think), because if they have their money separate, at least they don’t fight any more about it.

As John Gottman’s research found, the absence of fighting may only be hiding seething underneath and sooner or latter the bill will have to be paid on one’s investments in resentments and one day one will come home with papers or the sheriff will deliver them to you or someone will end up in someone else’s bed or someone will turn into the wicked witch of the west and have complete meltdown.

You can’t go days, months and years and NOT talk about money and work it out and negotiate and navigate and compromise and give and take and save and give to common causes and enjoy your marriage. It’s like owning a boat that just stays in the garage. You are supposed to sail someplace with it and if you aren’t going anywhere with it it’s a complete waste and if you aren’t talking about your money you aren’t talking about your dreams and hopes and aspirations and you’re really aren’t going anywhere as a couple and it’s no wonder you start to hate your life.

And then you go and divorce because this is just awful, you can’t stand it any more, but all you learned is to be more and more stubborn and more and more self-protective and to nurse your wounds and to feed your resentments, none of which is conducive to a happy marriage or a happy anything and you get married again, or more likely, move in with somebody else again, more likely a creep, and you keep your money separate again, because you don’t trust nobody and your life continues to suck and you continue to have nothing to show for your life except receipts from Walmart and a house full of crap that won’t give you a hug and demands that you store it and clean it and organize it and rearrange it and repair it and take care of it and you become a slave to your own selfish self.

Hey, that ain’t no way to live.

So, have a powwow with your husband or wife and put your money together. Both of you. Enough of the living-as-single-people-while-you’re-married kind of life. Your spouse isn’t dumb. Neither are you. Compare notes. Take a financial class together, like Financial Peace University (13-week class sponsored by area churches and put together by financial guru Dave Ramsey. In any given time there are a dozen or more classes going on in central Iowa), or pick up Dr. Stanley’s latest book Stop Acting Rich or hook up with David Bach’s books, like Smart Couples Finish Rich, and read them together and repent of your selfishness and have a life already.

Enough of the pep-talk. Here’s a practical idea:

Dave Ramsey recommends that couples go to the envelope method to budget their money.By this he means, that you take out cash for your discretionary spending (eating out, clothes, household supplies, pop and snacks, etc.) and put these agreed upon amounts in a separate envelop.When the money runs out of you envelop, you are done spending money on that area.This keeps spending under control and everybody accountable and honest.

This isn’t to knock that idea, but that didn’t work for us.We’ve been using cash cards for years now, and the idea of taking cash and walking into the gas station to stand in line to pay for my gas with cash didn’t appeal to me.I wanna just run my cash card and be on my way.So my wife and I came up with another idea on our own.

We had another problem, and that is we’d have a savings account. but we’d keep dipping into it to pay for the unexpected or whatever and so it never grew to anything. Somewhere else, Dave Ramsey had said to make sure that your savings accounts are dedicated to a specific thing. He didn’t really elaborate on that, but we took that suggestion and ran with it and we’ve found that it’s really helped us. It’s a work in progress, but this is what we did:

We set up several savings accounts that are specifically earmarked for specific areas. We have a car repair fund. We have a car replacement fund. We have a Christmas fund. We have a medical deductible fund. We have a vacation fund. We have an emergency fund. We have a house repair fund. As we become more flush we’re talking about having some other ones as well. These accounts are at different banks (usually a savings and a checking account at one institution. That way we can transfer money from one to the other and use the bank’s cash card.) and they are linked to our main bank account via the bill pay feature.

Here’s how it works: Every Friday one of us gets paid, both every other week. On Monday, we have, from our general checking account, monies automatically drawn out into various funds. That money is specifically earmarked for a specific thing. Over time it adds up. A bunch. And because it’s earmarked, we’re not tempted to spend it.

For example, let’s say your medical deductible is $2000 a year. Divide $2000 by 52 (or if you get paid every other week, by 26 or if you get paid once a month by 12) and that’s $38.46 per week. For simplicity’s sake you’d probably round up to $40 on that. So every Monday, $40 would go to your medical fund at the checking account at bank X. You want to spend $1000 for Christmas? Divide that $1000 by the 10 weeks left till you have to go Christmas shopping and automatically deposit $100 is a separate account to pay cash for your Christmas gifts. You estimate your car repairs are around $100 a month? Put $25 in a different account every Monday. You see how this works?

So, over time, you have a bunch of money in your car replacement fund.Over time, it adds up.It’s SUPPOSED TO!It’d be tempting to spend it on whatever whim that comes up.But you both know that your current car is going to bite the dust someday and when it does you want to be able to go buy another car.And pay cash.

This is how we’re thinking. We’re done borrowing money. Borrowing money didn’t do anything to us but set us back. And car payments are STUPID. In our society you HAVE to have transportation. It’s a regular cost that you cannot ignore. We may as well plan for it. It’s a utility, just like the heat and electricity. So we pay it forward. The bill will come.

So, you figure out how much you want to spend on your next car and divide that number by however many weeks (or pay periods you and your spouse have). If you’d like to buy a $10,000 car next and pay cash and your current car can last for an estimated three years, you take $10,000, divided by 150 weeks and save $66.67 a week.It’s not that bad when you divide it out over weeks.That money is there and you don’t touch it.Because it’s earmarked.You agreed.

My wife and I monitor these accounts. We talk about them. We discuss our expenditures coming up, like vacations, birthdays, Christmas gifts, bills we want to pay, other savings goals we have, how our retirement is doing, should we change this or that. It’s a pretty nice conversation. We enjoy these conversations because they represent our mutual goals and dreams and aspirations, our mutual love and shared responsibility. We’ve learned to respect each other’s input and wisdom. It brings us closer together. We look forward to these conversations. Money used to be our big issue. Now it’s our unifying issue. We usually do this on Saturday morning (we go out to breakfast at Panera or Hy-Vee and we take our laptop and logon to our various accounts) and often several times a week.

Money is fluid.You have to talk about it.A lot.It’s a lot easier to talk about if you are both on the same page.

Your life can go either way.

You can work together, discuss your money, and, over time, work out a mutually agreed upon plan and actually enjoy the process and actually enjoy each other and grow in mutual love and respect.

Or you can piss it all away without even trying.

A Brief Explanation of the Thriving Couples Model: Living As Roommates Vs. Husbands and Wives

Part Six on Money and Marriage: Too Much House?

He writes that the biggest single deterrent to wealth building is having too much house! I’m surprised he wrote that. I’d have thought he’d have said, debt or divorce. But in any case, it emphasizes the importance of living within our means.

The reason he singles out the house as a deterrent to wealth building is because with the huge house payment comes higher maintenance costs, plus, as the housing value goes up, taxes go up. But an even bigger factor in draining our money away is the cultural forces at work in your neighborhood. These are subtle forces, but forces nevertheless. The fancier the neighborhood, the more money it takes to live in that neighborhood. You have to drive a certain car, furnish your home with certain furnishings, your kids have to wear certain things and be involved in certain activities that have high costs associated with them, you have to entertain a certain way and landscape a certain way and all of these things add up to sucking the money we do have away to meet expectations we can’t, in the long run, afford to meet.

Witness this startling quote from Dr. Stanley:

The average single family home in America is approximately 2,400 square feet …Statistically the larger one’s home is the less productive its owner becomes in transforming his income into wealth.   And remember that 92% of homeowners are not millionaires.

Only 92%? Where are all these people who supposedly got wealthy owning their own home? They are living beyond their means. We tend to “move up” as far as we can, thinking that housing values will rise continually and leave us with a sizeable nest egg. Ha! That’s an illusion. You can’t just sit on your butt and expect your nest egg that only consists of your house to take you through retirement. As 2007 taught us, rising housing values are not a guarantee.

Buying the nicest possible house on one’s income is a sure way to stay flat (or worse!) financially. You have to tie up so much of your income to keep afloat that there is little left over to invest. Some of us, frankly, are in too nice of homes and neighborhoods. Dr. Stanly writes:

Perhaps you aren’t as wealthy as you should be because you traded much of your current and future income just for the privilege of living in a home in a high-status neighborhood. So even if you’re earning $100,000 a year, you’re not becoming wealthy. What you probably don’t know is that your neighbor in the $300,000 house next to yours bought his house only after he became wealthy. You bought yours in anticipation of becoming wealthy. That day may never come.

Each year you are forced to maximize realized income just to make ends meet. You can’t afford to invest any money. Essentially, you’re at a stalemate. Your high domestic overhead requires full commitment of all your income. You will never become financially independent without purchasing investments that appreciate without income realization. So what’s it going to be? Will you choose a lifetime of high taxes and high-status living, or will you change your address? Allow us to help you in your decision making. Here is another one of our rules:

“If you’re not yet wealthy but want to be someday, never purchase a home that requires a mortgage that is more than twice your household’s total annual realized income.”[1]

What Dr. Stanly means by “total annual realized income” is the amount of money you actually pay taxes on. If you paid taxes on it, it was realized income. Those who end up being wealthy and those who are wealthy have found a way to protect their income from taxes. They save it, for example, in retirement plans. This takes it out of the taxable area. As soon as you spend your money you are taxed on it. Taxes and spending prevent you from accumulating wealth over time.

In Dr. Stanley newest book, Stop Acting Rich he introduces another formula to compute a realistic housing value that will enable you to build wealth over time:

“The value of your home you purchase should be less than three times your household’s total annual realized income”[2]

Here’s an example using the two formulas above:

If you and your spouse’s annual realized income (after tax income) is $100,000, to become wealthy your house should not be worth more than $300,000, or 3 times your annual combined annual realized income.

However, using Dr. Stanley’s formula, you shouldn’t borrow more than twice your annual realized income, or $200,000.

This goes contrary to what your banker will tell you and what they will lend you. According to bankrate.com, the formula your mortgage lender thinks about is that your mortgage shouldn’t be more than 28% of your gross monthly income. That’s before taxes. Dr. Stanley says, do the math AFTER taxes.

If your annual realized income (after taxes) is $100,000, your before taxes income will be around $120,000, depending upon your deductions. So the bank would figure it this way:

$120,000 divided by 12 = 10,000 a month. 28% of 10,000 is 2800.00 per month. This would mean the bank would let you borrow up to 520,000, which would equal a $2791 payment per month at 5%. If you got a lower 4% mortgage, you could borrow up to 580,000!

But using Dr. Stanley’s formula, if your annual realized income is $100,000 and you don’t borrow more than twice that, a 30 year mortgage on 200,000 at 5% is 1073.64 a month or only 12.9% of a monthly 8,333.33 income! At 15 years your payment at 5% would be 1581.59 or 19% of your monthly income.

Dr. Stanley’s formula for having a mortgage that allows you to have enough money left over to save is even more conservative than Dave Ramsey’s plan. Dave Ramsey is noted for helping people get out of debt and to build financial independence. He suggests never taking out a mortgage that is more than 25% of your monthly take home and that you can pay off in 15 years.

Whether you use Dr. Stanley’s formula or Dave Ramsey’s, many of us have purchased homes that will prevent us from building wealth. Dr. Stanley says that in order to build wealth for your future you need to save 15% of your income. There is NO WAY you can do that and be paying 28% of your income to mortgage payments, plus all of your student loans, car payments, credit card payments, condominium fees, alimony and child support payments, real estate taxes, upkeep on the house, utilities and keeping up with your neighbors!

You’ll just be working to pay bills. And you will wake up someday and you’ll be broke and have nothing to show for all your hard work.

What, then, does Dr. Stanley recommend? He writes you should live in a home that is in a neighborhood where most people are living on 80% of your annual realized income. That way, you can comfortably live similarly to your neighbors and still have enough income left over to save. Or as Dr. Stanly writes:

Then live and consume as though your household’s income was only actually 80% of what it actually generates. Save and invest the rest. Now you are on your way to becoming wealthy.[3]

As we’ve noted before, the key way to having wealth is to live below your means. Dr. Stanley, then suggests the easiest way to live below your means is to live in a neighborhood that is BELOW your ability so you can save.

This is the complete opposite of the pressure we hear in our society to climb the socioeconomic ladder as far as you can. We buy these fancy homes, in anticipation of future earnings, only to end up in a perpetual state of being broke.

If there’s nothing left at the end of the month, you won’t have anything left at the end of your life.

YIKES! Lord, save me from lust and greed and envy!

So…is your house preventing you from building the kind of wealth you and your spouse need to prepare for your future?

This may be a discussion the two of you should have.

[1] Stanley, Thomas J. (2000). The Millionaire Mind. New York: Andrews McMeel Publishing, p. 68.

[2] Stanley, Thomas J. (2009). Stop Acting Rich. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., p. 27.

[3] SAR, p. 26.

A Brief Explanation of the Thriving Couples Model: Living As Roommates Vs. Husbands and Wives

Part Five on Money and Marriage: Marriage, Wealth And Discipline

Accountability (last blog) and now discipline? Come on, Dr. Wall, lighten up, already.

The last few blogs we’ve been looking at millionaires and building wealth and what works. I’ve enjoyed reading Dr. Stanley (I’ve been looking at his books The Millionaire Next Door and The Millionaire Mind and for this blog, I’m introducing his latest book, Stop Acting Rich. See also his blog) and sharing his insights on this blog, because he’s looking at the positive. Turns out the characteristics that make for wealth building are the same characteristics that work for successful marriages.

Weren’t you amazed at the quote from out last blog that he found 92% of millionaires were married and only 2% were divorced and only 2% were single and the rest were widowed! I mean, that’s just nuts! Cooler than all get out, but just nuts!

Now lets be clear about this: Not everyone who’s married becomes a millionaire. Only about 3.5% of American households will become millionaires (for a summary of Dr. Stanley’s findings see here.) But you don’t have to have a large salary to get there. The basic principle of Dr. Stanley’s work is this:

If you want to become wealthy someday, spend less than you make.

That’s it.Simple.Or to say it another way: Delay pleasure.Or to say it another way: Grow up.Or to say it another way:Be mature.

Discipline, people.


Marriage is a great place to learn these things.Most of us aren’t there yet when we get married.Putting all our money together for the first time after you marry takes a certain amount of faith and servitude, features that kick growing up into gear.There’s nothing like a few hormones and a child kicking in your stomach to wake you out of youthful fantasies.Seeing little Jr. or Sally for the first time often has the same effect on dad.A kid screaming in the middle of the night with a big project the next day for you will give you a dose of patience.Either that or it will drive you crazy.I guess a lot of us go crazy.


Three and a half percent is not a very high figure. You remember he divided the affluent into two categories: Those with high salaries and not much to show for it (IAs or Income Statement Affluent) and those with modest or higher salaries who became wealthy (Balanced Sheet Affluent). The BAs had something to show for it: Millions of dollars. The IAs had only things to show for it: Lots and lots of stuff. It turns out that not all millionaires have high salaries. In his study sample, at the time when his BAs became millionaires, they were 45 years of age and earned $89K. The way they became millionaires on a salary that low, is that they had to live frugally, living well below their means. Take this typical quote from Dr. Stanley’s blog:

(This couple) achieved millionaire status at age 45 with a combined income (between he and his wife) of $103K per year. Ten years later they were worth 2.3 million.

In 1999, I crossed the million dollar net worth threshhold with an income of “only” $78,000. My wife made about $25K that year…. During all our employed years, we have always contributed the maximum to our 401K plans, IRA’s, and any Roth plans (in the years we were eligible), always saving 20-30% per year. All our wealth was acquired by saving, dollar-cost averaging, and slow and steady investing mainly in mutual funds.

Here’s another example from his blog:

I am not a millionaire. At the age of 38 I am about 1/2 way there on a household income that has never exceeded $85000. I’ve done this via the usual: saving at least 15% each year, modest home (still in my first house), used cars and furniture, shopping wisely, etc. I still drive my first car, a 1976 Monte Carlo and just bought a “new” truck for working around the house. The “new” truck is a 1993 Ford.

These people ended up with fat kitchens. To get there they had to live frugally, reign in their wills, or as Benjamin Franklin wrote above, “lean will.” Don’t tell your will that you can do whatever you want and it’ll be Okay. It won’t be Okay. You have to tell your will to just chill. Stuff won’t make you happy anyway. Consider this next quote by Dr. Stanley:

Happiness in life has little to do with what you wear, drive, eat or drink.  The people with the greatest satisfaction are those who live below their means.

Dr. Stanley writes that in order to reach this kind of financial success people need a good offense AND a good defense.[1] A good offense is our earning power. Many of us have spent years in college preparing for our careers and do a fairly good job with our salaries. The problem, then, in accumulating wealth, is NOT OUR INCOME. For most of us the problem lies is lacking a good defense: Using the income we have wisely.

Most of us are only good on the offensive side: We’re really good at earning money. But we didn’t learn how to USE the money we earned. Where do you learn that? For most of us it’s the school of hard knocks.

If you are like most couples (the 96.5 percenters?), you argue about money and got sick of arguing about it, so you quit talking about it. You end up with two people, supposedly married, who are living as if they are single, each doing their own thing. In extreme examples (too many of us, I’m afraid) you even keep your money separate, totally different accounts and have NO idea what your spouse is doing with his or her money. Then, your spouse buys something you think is over the top. You don’t say anything, but you are madder than a pistol. I’ll show you, you think, and go out and buy something else that is over the top. If you can spend money so can I.

Great. Revenge spending. That’ll work.


In marriage, if we’re going to use our income wisely, we’re going to have to talk about it. We’re going to have to work together. We’re going to have to delay pleasure. We’re going to have to be disciplined. We’re going to share the same goals. We’re going to have to keep impulses at bay. We’re going to need to be self-disciplined and not be selfish.

Turns out these are all characteristics that make for a good marriage, too.

Turns out that discipline in one area affects discipline in another. Dr. Stanley foundthat millionaires were rarely overweight and that they exercised regularly! Crap! Discipline begats discipline.

But what about most of us? The other 96.5%? We love our beer and pop. And sitting around. And munching. And gorging. And gaining weight. And getting soft and pudgy. And drinking more beer. And living together without getting married. And having sex whenever we want it on the internet, sans spouse. And buying all the latest toys. Spending all our money. Spending money we haven’t even earned yet, squandering our future. I just wanna be happy, we tell ourselves. And we fill our houses with stuff. And do what we want when we want it. Over and over and over and over.

And then, one day, we wake up broke. Too many of us wake up divorced, too. And very, very sad. And lonely.

Hey, people! It’s time to get some discipline in your life.

Start somewhere. Harness some self-control, already.

Quit eating all that crap. Quit spending every spare cent to buy all that crap. Work together with your spouse to develop discipline in your lives. Accountability. Teamwork. You can do it.

Dr. Stanley writes, if you are married, there are three options:

-Both spouses are spendy.

-One spouse is spendy. And one is frugal.

Both spouses are frugal.[2]

It’s only the third group that end up wealthy in the end.

So, if you are going to make it financially someday, you will both have to work together.

Enough of this living singlely ‘til divorce us do part.

Ask each other. Consult with each other.

That would be good! It’s time to have a little chat. It’s time to put our wasteful living in the past. It’s time to put our selfishness on permanent leave. By-by.

To quote Dr. Stanley, again:

It usually takes a certain degree of discipline, proactive planning, prioritizing, and investing to become a true millionaire.[3]

So we consult with each other. We encourage each other. We motivate each other. We strengthen each other. When one is down the other picks the one down up. We’re in this together.

For the rest of our lives.

[1] Stanley, Thomas J. and Danko, William D. (1996) The Millionaire Next Door. New York: Pocket Books. p. 37-39.

[2] Stanley and Danko. (1996).

[3] Stanley, Thomas J. (2009). Stop Acting Rich. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p. 9.