Early Retirement Bliss: Getting Your Partner on Board

Early retirement sounds amazing, but what if it doesn’t sound amazing to your partner? That makes things a bit challenging, to say the least.

Cubert, an aspiring retiree who plans to abandon the cubicle in his mid-forties, provided today’s guest post in which he discusses strategies one can use to make the FIRE life sound like a winning proposition (and how not to approach it, as he did initially).

Cubert and I have a fair amount in common, living in the same state while owning property in the same part of another (here’s his and here’s mine). We’re also husbands, fathers to a couple kids, and the first in our families to concoct an early retirement scheme.

You can learn more about Cubert at abandonedcubicle.com. Take it away, Cubert!


 

Finding Early Retirement Bliss (Hint: You need to be on the same page with your significant other)

 

A little about me: I grew up in Michigan and moved out to the Twin Cities after college. I’ve spent most of my adult life on corporate auto-pilot (save 15% of my income, buy a house, drive a decent car, maybe retire at 62?)

Now married for 11 years and a proud father of twin preschoolers, life has gotten more meaningful, but also more complicated. I credit marriage and fatherhood with my career success. Ironically, that type of success I can do without.

I’m planning to retire early at age 46 and be done with Fortune 500 office politics and all the baloney that entails.

 

Question is, is my wife ready for this change?

 

So often in a marriage or any domestic partnership, there are little disagreements and annoyances that pop up. Sometimes we let those things slide until they become ginormous conflagrations, leading to much bigger problems.

This can certainly be the case with Early Retirement. If you’re not on the same page with your significant other, be warned!

 

tower with shutters

That tower behind us is where they put over-eager early retirement husbands.

 

I remember coming across the post on Mr. Money Mustache’s blog about three years ago, when I started contemplating my own early retirement. MMM apparently got an email from the wife of a newly-converted Mustachian.

This lady was absolutely LIVID at this notion of saving money. To her, it was tantamount to deprivation of the third degree.

Whether that was a troll is tough to say. But it sure made for entertaining bloggery. MMM used the email exchange to touch on a key tenet of early retirement extremism: If you don’t take the journey together, you’re screwed.

 

How to get off on the wrong foot

 

In my case, thankfully, the situation wasn’t as bad as the email exchange that inspired the infamous MMM post. But Mrs. Cubert and I certainly had our differences, right out of the gates.


“Honey, I don’t like my job. You know how crappy the stress is, and I’ve hated working all those weekends these past several months. I’d like to retire early.”

“Great. Will we be poor?”

“No, no, no. See, there’s this guy who writes about the simple math behind early retirement. We’ll be just fine. You should go read his stuff. It’s really funny.”

(Sighs) “We’re going to be poor.”

And so the dialog was opened up. Clearly, I started off on the wrong foot. And to make matters worse, I kept bringing home all these wonderful nuggets of wisdom from MMM only to compound things.

“Honey, you’re not going to drive to the grocery store, are you? It’s only four blocks away, and the sidewalks all look to be clear of ice and snow.”

(Sigh, this time with a stoic F-you gaze.) “Sure. We can walk instead.”

 

Using the power of math to get out of hot water (or back into it)

 

I felt like I just stumbled across the meaning of life with this wonderful early retirement jazz. And yet, at every turn I was met with skepticism. After all, we had twin 18 month-olds to care for now. Talk about adding a little stress to the conversation!

I had to make this pitch work. It wouldn’t make sense for me to retire early and have an unhappy marriage on my hands.

I turned to the magic spreadsheet for help. Applying the simple math behind early retirement, I was able to shed some science on the proposal:

 

Cubert’s Five Year Plan (DO try this at home! Carefully…)

  1. According to the math, if we can pay off our $180K mortgage in five years, and $70K of your high interest student loans, it’ll free up roughly $1,000 a month in cash flow. Cash flow is KING.
  1. We need to reduce some of our living expenses. Some of them you won’t even notice, like: Shopping for cheaper insurance, me biking to work and ironing my own work shirts, switching cell phone plans, and using credit card bonus points to pay for our travel. EASY!

 

Then came the hard part. (What was I thinking?)

  1. And by the way, Honey, we’ll need to cut back on our dining-out expenses. By half. No more lattes at Starbucks every other day. (I did NOT win that latte battle, by the way…)
  2. No more cable television. We have to say goodbye to our friends Mike Holmes and the Property Brothers. And your friends Alton Brown and that Restaurant Impossible dude.

 

We can always go to the bar to watch our alma maters during college football season. (As you might imagine, this went over like a wet blanket too.) [PoF: Who is this alien who doesn’t want to go to a bar to watch college football? Maybe the sting of the 2016 season was still lingering.]

 

6. “Honey, did I mention that I’ll need you to cut my hair at home from now on?” I kept the scissors hidden for a few months just to be safe. Those Wahl clippers usually can handle the job on my receding hairline anyhow…

 


You're still not using Personal Capital? That's how I track the PoF portfolio.

Selling the Dream (with patience and persistence, and of course, DATE NIGHTS!)

 

That’s right, date nights. At least every other week we would find a sitter for three hours so we could escape for a little while as husband and wife, leaving mommy and daddy duties behind.

Although the cost of a sitter and the act of dining out costs some good coin (roughly, $125 per outing), we found it the price of admission for sanity while raising twin infants / toddlers.

This is a good example of where you can play “Buffet Catholic” with MMM’s scripture of Frugality. MMM and Mrs. MM have one kid. When you have more than one little tyke in the mix, and especially twins, the situation is, well, more of a situation. Break that extreme frugality commandment and go get your date night on!

 

burntside lodge

A weekend getaway to Burntside Lodge never hurts either…

 

 

Over time, early retirement SELLS ITSELF

 

Persistence is really important in getting your significant other on board. Over time, I was able to show Mrs. Cubert just how much faster our net worth was growing.

She began to see how passive our four rental properties truly were. Adding a few more houses to our portfolio was a key tactic in the early retirement scheme.

I highly recommend becoming a landlord, if for no other reason than to diversify your investments.

As it turned out, I had a cheerleader on my side with my newfound biking habit. The Mrs. even got into biking herself (though it didn’t hurt that I got her well equipped with a fab bike and gear…)

We don’t miss cable all that much. There simply isn’t enough time in our busy days to enjoy more than one hour of it (if that) before we cash in at night.

When we do watch the tube, we rely on our Apple TV for all the content we need. A handy digital antenna beams in high-def football on weekends, for FREE.

 

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Remembering to drop subtle hints of the life ahead

 

Mrs. Cubert will work part time for another ten years after I retire early. She’s almost ten years younger than me, so she’s got more left in the tank.

She runs her own small business as a chiropractor, so she doesn’t have to answer to a boss or deal with office politics.

My commitment is to take care of the kids when they get home from school and during summer breaks. Eventually I’ll enlist the kiddos’ help in managing the rental properties. What better way to become handy, than working alongside their papa!

Another key selling point? Guess who gets to make dinner just about every night? That’s right – yours truly, Mr. Mom.

Though I may need to sneak in some cable teevee for more Alton Brown cooking tips if I’m to survive that ten year span…

 

cubert bike

 

Lessons Learned

 

The main thing I’d advise to someone newly converted to the ways of Financial Independence, Early Retirement is this: GO SLOW. You have time.

Contain some of that enthusiasm, and let the tape unwind naturally. Doing this all over again, I’d have worked in all of the budget changes slowly over time, particularly the ones that directly affect the lifestyle my wife had grown accustomed to.

Mrs. Cubert has always been thrifty, but now she’s like a hawk. I love that I have a partner I can discuss money with and end up on the same page. It’s not always easy, but we have the trust factor that it takes to go forward on this journey.

My parting tip: On that haircuts idea, I’d continue going to the barber at first. Best to avoid sharp objects when you push high octane frugality on an unsuspecting wife!

 

Readers, have you broached the subject of early retirement with your spouse? How did that go? Do you have any tips to help get your partner on board with this crazy idea?

 

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48 comments

  • This is a (hilarious and) great read.

    I let my wife help trim my neck hair one time. Didn’t explain to her how the razor worked. Instead of going down my neck… She went up. Straight into my actual hair. Had to get a military fade. Will have to put that picture up sometime on my site with the story. Needless to say, she will never cut my hair haha.

    Being on the same page is crucial. When I discuss the opportunities it’ll provide, my wife gets excited. I’ll be able to early retire when my kids are. 18, 16, and 13. So we will have plenty of time to go and see them or go on trips. If they play sports or do ballet or play in the band in college, we will be able to go and see all of that. Those sort of things get my wife on board quickly. Having time is so important.

    I will say that the frugal side of telling her we will have to wait a couple extra years before we buy the next house was a tough sell until I, like you, showed her the math to convince her. Sitting down and looking at the concrete stuff can really help, because like I always say, “Life is about expectations and reality…. And making those two things as similar as possible.” Thats one key way to have a happy marriage. First, you have to have solid expecations.

    • Thanks, TPP! I sometimes laugh out loud as I write this stuff. See, writing CAN be therapeutic.
      Wow, RE the neck trim. Are you sure she didn’t know what she was doing just then?? 😉
      Congrats on the ease with which you got your wife on-board. That’s one unexpected hurdle (wife or husband or partner) many of us have to clear.

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  • doc mom

    Wow this is so inspiring. Slow and steady wins the race. I followed your link for the rental properties and am totally inspired to be a landlord. Dr. PoF you have many sources of passive income . How about rest of us? Do we have to have all these sources of passive income to be able to retire early. My first target is to pay off my mortgage before I invest elsewhere. I am sure I cannot be a blogger. I guess being a landlord is the only way to move forward but I am so busy with everything else that I cannot imagine doing anymore work.

    • I wrote this just for you, doc mom. You know that, right? 🙂 The landlord journey is something I definitely encourage you to pursue. I’m not convinced everyone needs to lock in multiple sources of passive income, but boy it sure helps with early retirement options! There’s probably a good chart to reflect the trade offs of pursuing passive income options, as your primary income rises. Stick around these blogs and keep learning — and maybe hold off on paying off the mortgage, if that’s your only debt atm?

      • Docmom

        That’s the only debt . But I want to be debt free before I invest elsewhere . Otherwise I m taking loan to invest in .

        My grandma told me as a little girl – remember the interest never sleeps or takes a break on weekends. Only spend as much as you can afford . I still took a mortgage loan & want to get rid of it ASAP. Hopefully by then I will have some more insight on real estate investment.

        • Good wisdom! Interest certainly “sleeps” for no one.

          You may consider a dual strategy of paying down the mortgage, while at the same taking on good opportunities for rental property. That’s our current strategy – so far so good.

  • PoF! Thanks, mate, for the opportunity to share on your excellent spot of web! It is truly an honor.

    By the way, I noticed that little comment about the 2016 season. OUCH. That was a well-placed barb, my friend. Glad they rebounded, but jeez is Sparty-land going through some serious mess right now.

    Look forward to meeting sometime – not just to prove that I do in fact enjoy going to the bar. 🙂

  • I think it is probably best to start with changing what you do and making life easier, not harder, for your spouse. So instead of telling her she’s now going to walk to the grocery store, you start doing the grocery shopping. Enough of you taking on the househusband chores and she might decide she likes the idea of being the breadwinner.

    • Right on! Know that I suggested she walk to the grocery store, and perhaps I didn’t convey it so well – if she felt shamed into it. Never have I enforced any of these changes.

  • Nicely done. It is a slow and steady race, but I think at the end of the day the math wins. If you can demonstrate that the finances will be fine and begin making the money saving changes while still working, then it becomes an easy transition. It is hard to argue with someone wanting to spend more time raising their kids!

  • Math wins! I can appreciate that notion, Triple-D!

    And for sure, the easiest part of the “sell” is how much we win with more childcare-by-PARENT.

  • Being on the same page about money and retirement is very important. I finally got a divorce in November and promptly announced my retirement and started a new blog http://doctoroffinancemd.com/2018/02/10/10-steps-to-figu…ou-fat-or-skinny/ ‎. MMMis inspiring lots of people. I had some of his thoughts for years but he put it on “paper”.

  • Hi Mr. C,
    Nice post and many truths here. My wife and I started discussing FI in the 90’s when we were dating (before the term FI was even born I think) And then as you say we just kind of let our journey evolve naturally. We made it, but both of us still work in new/2nd careers in academia. That wasn’t really part of the initial discussions, but that’s where we ended up (for now). Tom

    • Thanks, Tom! Glad that you’ve found the journey a smooth path. Nothing wrong with those 2nd careers – especially if it’s a passion and doesn’t involve being tied to a cubicle. 🙂

  • All about balance, even in a relationship. You get rid of what doesn’t matter at first and then work your way around other expenses. Obviously Starbucks does matter to your wife:)

  • My wife was TOTALLY ready for the early-retirement concept, but getting us both onto the same page of scaling way back on spending to achieve it – definitely took a while. In fact I’d say its an ongoing process, even though we’ve been retired four years now.

    • Congrats on four years, Brad! I’m soooo looking forward to being done in 1.5 years. A lot more hard work ahead, but hard work that is self-directed makes a huge difference.

  • I’m still trying to convince my wife that FIRE is the right path. We have plenty and her job is a major source of stress. Yet she is not ready to let go. I hope it will change over time.

    • Hey there, Doc G! That’s the struggle with many I think. So difficult to let go of “the ladder” — even though each rung brings more and more stress.

      Maybe you could use your next vacation to have “the talk.” “See Honey – we could live the low-stress life every day if we want to!!!”

  • NJFP

    Make it practical…when I showed my husband on paper that the money we spent dining out in one year would pay for TWO week long all inclusive Caribbean resort vacations per year, suddenly he was not so eager to dine out twice a week. And dining out in Bermuda last summer was a lot nicer than going to the same crappy restaurants we have at home twice a week out of laziness/”too tired to cook” syndrome. Rather than focus on what you are losing, focus on what you are gaining. My husband is 12 years older than I am and already retired, but complains about going to the beach (and doing pretty much everything else during the day) alone. Every time he brings this up, it is an opening for me to say ‘wouldn’t it be awesome if I could go to the beach with you during the week?’ I am trying to get him to see the potential rewards of our frugality and not focus on the daily (minor) deprivations. And we are currently shopping for rental investment property, which I have told him is to allow me to retire earlier, not so that we have extra cash flow to burn in the here and now.

    • NJFP! Is that a Meyers-Briggs classification? Non-Judging, Feeling-Perceptive? I Googled it. I found “New Jewish Film-making Project” and “Not Just for Profit”. But I also liked “Nigerian Journal of Family Practice”.

      😉

      Well put comment, in all seriousness. If there’s any sense of deprivation going on, a couple things need to happen: One, re-calibrate your Maslow organ. Two, re-calibrate your trade-offs. If a little fun now (spend spend) is better than a lot of fun later (save, adjust and adapt, stoicize, and THEN spend), then rethink your strategy!
      Best of luck in your hunt for rental investment property. If nothing else, it’ll make for a nice side project when you could otherwise be at the beach, alone. 🙂
      PS – I wrote a post on the power of date nights over at my blog. Might be worth a look if you’re seeking a good balance.

  • Vagabond MD

    Great read and timeless FIRE and marital advice.

    I tried to get my wife on the MMM bus, and it was a flop. She is not THAT frugal, neither am I for that matter.

    I would agree that bringing it on slowly, taking small steps in the early retirement direction, and explaining a lot along the way are a better technique than trying to drag someone kicking and screaming away from the life that they know.

    • Vagabond MD. My favorite newly discovered moniker of the day! So much you can do with the “MD” designation: “Master of Dollaz” or “Money Doc” or “Manic on Dividends.” Honestly glad that you and many others here put in the superhuman effort and significant debt into becoming “Medical Doctors”!

      Keep chipping away, Hoss. Even if it means just getting one jet ski vs. two. Or settling for an Airbnb when you could otherwise enjoy Paris via the Ritz Carlton. There is certainly no need to drag someone along kicking and screaming – figuratively or otherwise. But if you’re swimming in a heap of debt, I’d advise a Mustachian intervention at the very least!

      Cheers!

  • Congrats on the guest post Cubert and I loved reading your story.

    I remember when we were at Harriet’s and you told us a little bit about this, but not the whole story. I’m glad you were able to convince Mrs. Cubert and now are crushing the rental game.

    Looking forward to our next hangout 🙂

    • Hi Erik!

      I’m a lucky guy – PoF must’ve seriously taken pity on me for MSU’s 2016 football season. That or he likes the occasional smart-alec feature? 🙂

      Harriet’s was a fun time, and we need to try that again and get more of Kevin’s anecdotes on Airbnb crushin-it. Either way, we gotta get the good doctor back in town for a meet-up too. His real estate exploits are of a magnitude way above mine!

  • “Over time, early retirement sells itself.” Same with financial independence in general. My husband is now really getting on board as we’ve slowly talked this through for a while now while making incremental changes to our savings rate. Slow but steady.

    • That is great to hear, Angela. Slow but steady indeed. Don’t forget those crucial date nights and occasional splurges to help make the journey smoother.

  • fiberguyr1

    Hey Cubert,

    I blundered into PoF’s blog a few months back, and by the time I was done reading that day, I had already started setting up my accounts in Personal Capital. Then I had to have the conversation with her about getting to log all of her accounts in site as well so we (I) could have the overall picture.

    Now I will have to say that she was the one that made me start saving money via a Roth IRA and 401k years ago right after we got married. She has always been a big saver, but never had interest in finding the best place to put her money. We have also been lucky in that multiple sets of grandparents are big believers in education so my children’s 529’s are overflowing, and just recently we have ceased to have a mortgage. So all in all, when I look at the Personal Capital site showing our net worth, we find out that we are stealthy millionaires. Great news to us!

    Then I brought up the timing of my retirement. My wife likes to say that she has been retired ever since getting her Masters in Management Information Systems in 2001. I believe that you are old enough that your remember 2001 was a crap time to be looking for a job. She looked for a bit, nothing came through, so we decided to start down the family path of life and she hasn’t worked since then. I think my ideal age of retirement would be 50 (about 6 years and 7 days away), but she has this strange idea that retiring while 2 of our 3 kids are in high school sets the wrong impression for them like they will expect not to have to work themselves. I see that in a completely different viewpoint of showing them what you can do if you have a goal and go for it. So we’re still in that impasse, and my current age will be somewhere in the 52-54 timeframe. I’m hoping to be able to wear her down as the years go by.

    It is an interesting topic, and I liked reading the comments.

    • Fiber Guy! It’s like the new “Cable Guy”. Man, these handles are the bomb. 🙂

      I sure do remember 2001. I got laid off soon after 9/11 (the extreme least of our problems at that point in history.) And finding a new job even a year later after getting my MBA was a bear.

      That is interesting that your wife would choose staying tied down to a job intentionally, when she might better serve the kids by the early retirement example (e.g., work hard early, so you can call your own shots later.) AND it’s not as if you’ll be lounging around all day, right?!?

      • fiberguyr1

        The fiberguyr1 name has been my online persona since around 2000-ish. I work(ed) with fiber optic networks at the time and had just bought a yamaha yzf r1 motorcycle. I might lounge around for a bit :), but not forever.

        The good news is that I really love what I’m doing now. I get to play in a network lab and demo equipment for customers while getting paid like a sales guy. So I’m making more money than I ever have and enjoy it.

  • What an important topic. Fortunately for me, my wife and I have pretty much been on the same page. She would rather I take more time off even if it means less money. That support feels awesome.
    My wife does struggle with the idea that you can make money without “working.” She understands the work to get a paycheck model. She tunes out when I talk about passive investments streams and such. Income can come from investments, not just work… blah blah blah and her eyes glaze over….

    • That is so important. Not only to be on the same page money-wise, but also early-retirement wise.

      Too funny re passive income. Most of our cube jobs are passive for Pete’s sake. We might do a backflip one day and save the company half a million bucks, then squat and twiddle our thumbs for half a Friday. The problem is we sit there, pretending to work…

  • drmoneyblog

    Well, my husband was NOT on board when I used to talk about early retirement back in 2000. I truly thought docs made 30K a year when I graduated from Medicine so when I made so much more, it was pure jet fuel! I have always preferred simplicity rather than taking care of all the stuff so it was very easy for me to keep my expenses in check.

    The short story is I just retired when I turned 36 years old. I am now 49. My husband who loves his career just keeps working. The largest benefit of financial independence is that he takes as much time off as he pleases. Since your wife is a chiropractor, she may simply enjoy more options as my husband has.

    • Did you miss a zero on that “30K” reference, Doctor? LOL.

      I really hope Mrs. Cubert finds that balance and fairly soon. She’s such a perfectionist she chooses to manage all her books and see patients. Just way too much going on there.

  • Fantastic post Cubert!

    Being on the same page as your spouse really is a key to a happy life.

    I’ve had many conversations with my wife that are almost verbatim to what you discuss above. Thankfully, I did not start sending her MMM articles right away as I knew the result would not have been pretty.

    As a matter of fact, I may have started my blog to add my own (less punching yourself in the face) voice towards personal finance and chasing FI. Since I could not share blog posts without risking my marriage, I figured why not write some myself.

    • Thanks, Jason!
      I was at least as smart as you in the “don’t send MMM posts to the Mrs.” department. There are a few that make you laugh out loud, but a good many that can be off-putting. That said, there are a LOT of folks out there with massive debt that need to heed the Debt Emergency Face Punch!

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  • For me I think the biggest thing to figure out to get a spouse on board is the buy-in. Mr.Wow was definitely first on the FI train and it took some time (many months) for me to jump on board. Even though I am not a spreadsheet person/ numbers lover, that wasn’t the issue. Once I discovered my “Why of FI” I bought it hook, line and sinker. Numbers are just numbers unless there is a goal or reason attached to it. Making money and then saving the hell out of it means so much more now that I am working towards being able to [insert reason here]. If you don’t have that, its hard to want to change your life, simply just because.

    • Waffles! I’m so flippin hungry now. Sunday morning. Stuck at keys…
      I really like how you put that: Numbers are just numbers unless there is a goal or reason attached to it.
      Everyone looking to retire early or simply reach financial independence needs to figure this out before anything else. Thank you!

  • I know it probably would have been a good idea to have my husband on board right from the start. However, I recognized very early on that he liked “nice things” whereas I was very immune to most of it. I simply proceeded to spend what I valued. He would buy a BMW while I LOVED my trusty Honda Civic (I kept my first car for 15 years. I still miss it). I have never told my husband to spend less but I focused on living how I wanted to. I used to only take shifts at places where the bus transit would take me easily. It’s kind of in my DNA.

    When I first met my husband, he would say “wait till you make money, your tastes will change.” After 20 years of marriage, he has become more frugal than I am at times. I have to tell him to spend more. I have zero issue with spending, it simply has to be easily affordable relative to what you earn.

    I have often found my best decisions checked off all the boxes of being good for my wallet, good for the environment and good for my health. Those are my values.

    Unless the world has changed, most people do not enjoy being told what to do. And money is such an emotional topic fraught with land mines. I just left my husband alone. He came to see how simple and enjoyable my lifestyle was and has come to embrace it. It probably helped that one day I said “Honey, you can stop working this year for money.” He is a typical surgeon- he never paid attention to the books and finances and left it all to me. That was the ultimate turning point. He could not believe how quickly this was reached. He has continued to work but often relays to me how everyone else seems to keep working harder and harder. He is deeply grateful that I showed him another way. He has been able to spend plenty of time with our children and has rarely missed any of their childhood events.

    Reaching FI a little later is much more efficient and pleasant than making your spouse resent you. That is a one way ticket to decreasing your net worth in half rapidly! And completely unnecessary especially if you are a physician.

    That’s my two cents. Everyone’s situation is different but that’s what also makes the journey interesting.

    • I have often found my best decisions checked off all the boxes of being good for my wallet, good for the environment and good for my health. Those are my values.

      Wow – that pretty much sums it up! Well-put!!! You also hit on such a crucial concept: The journey is so much easier when you’ve hit your financial independence target. That your husband can take the time for his family without fear of losing his job or keeping up with his peers – priceless. Who knows? I may keep on truckin’ for a spell after July 2019, if it hits me then that I have nothing to lose.

  • This is hilarious 🙂 my husband is also older than me and I have a few more years left in the tank. Glad you were able to have a FI discussion! My husband also loves the Wahl clippers (from Amazon?) and I help do touch ups to make sure the back of his head looks ok.

    I didn’t know you had 18 month old twins!! Props to you- that’s tough!!

    • Gen Y! Thanks for the kind words! We got our Wahl set from Marshall’s for like $25. I really like the set I saw at Target yesterday though – CORDLESS. I held off though, because, well, I’m Cubert, dang nab it!

      We now have 4.5 year old twins. But I tell you – Some days it doesn’t feel it’s getting any easier (even though it really is…) 🙂

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