How to Study for the CPA Exam (and Stay Married)

The CPA Exam is rough on a marriage.

One of the most difficult aspects of taking the CPA Exam is the toll it takes on personal relationships.

Your family misses you and your friends don’t understand why you’re always “studying.”

You work, come home, and then escape to the spare bedroom or coffee shop to knock out three hours of studying after grabbing a quick bite to eat.

When I was studying, my wife and I had three kids.

jeff elliott cpa
Jeff Elliott is a licensed CPA (KS) who had a saint for a wife while he was studying for the CPA Exam. .

A spouse can only take so much loneliness, so you need to make sure that you do your part.

Here are some strategies to help keep it all together.

If you’re married and studying, you absolutely cannot put your marriage (or kids) on hold.

If you do that, you’ll come home to an empty house. I hope the certificate was worth it.

Through the years, I’ve had to put on my counseling hat numerous times because a couple was headed to a divorce due to CPA Exam-related issues.

It isn’t the CPA Exam that caused marital problems.

It was one person thinking that they could ignore their spouse and focus on just working in public accounting and studying.

They thought they could still maintain some semblance of a marriage.

Three couples specifically come to mind as I write this.

In one instance, the wife left the husband as he was studying for REG—the weekend before his exam—and took the kids to live at her mother’s house.

I am happy to say that they worked things out and are still married. I get Christmas cards from them every year.

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Another couple had the reverse situation: the husband moved out because the wife was studying.

She wasn’t making him a priority, and I told her as much.

When a marriage is on the line, there’s no need to be anything but blunt. I told her to stop studying and take a break to restore her marriage.

They got divorced.

The third couple put the exam on hold, got right with each other, moved back in together, and are still married.

If you’re married and studying – and want to stay married while you study – you have to make your spouse feel like they are still #1.

Even if it means you forgo that extra study session on bonds and cut a three-hour study session short by an hour, spend time with your significant other.

You also have to embrace the reality that the CPA Exam is now your “me time” activity.

Whatever activity you’re into—golfing, hunting, tailgating, girls’ nights out—it all gets put on the shelf while you’re studying.

Your “me time” activity is now your spouse. Period.

If you’re not working, studying, eating, or sleeping, then you should be spending quality time with your spouse. Just embrace this new reality.

Sound extreme? So is ruining your marriage.

With that said, there is still a place for a guys’ night out and stuff like that, but it has to become the exception rather than the rule.

Taking Saturday night off from studying? Schedule a date with your spouse and go do something fun together.

This may sound “preachy” – and it might be, but I don’t want you to make the same mistakes that I and many others have made.

When I was studying, my wife would see me come home from a long day of public accounting and plop down in front of the TV after the kids were in bed to play video games instead of studying.

After two years of going through the motions with the exam (study for a week ahead of the exam…fail with a 71…repeat), my wife finally came to me and said (paraphrasing),

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“Listen. I support you, but if you’re going to do this and if the kids and I are going to sacrifice, then I want to see you sacrificing too. Either do it right or hang it up.”

She was right!

I had been such a lazy jerk-bag (my words, not hers).

That was when I got serious and PASSED – including a 92 on REG.

In retrospect, I wanted to be a CPA, but I didn’t really want to be a CPA in the sense that I was willing to do whatever it took.

My wife helped me to realize that and fix it.

Some parting thoughts…

1. When you study – study.

Shut down all other distractions. The time you save is better spent on your significant other. Use the free NINJA Study Planner.

2. Tell your spouse weekly – if not daily how much you appreciate their support.

Let them know that you value and appreciate their sacrifice in this venture as well.

3. Keep them in the loop – even if you don't think they'll “get it”.

Hate Bonds and Leases?

Tell them about it.

Scored a 58 on your Corporate Tax MCQ session?

Vent to them.

Praying that you don't get any Variance questions on your BEC exam this week?

Confide in them (they won't tell the AICPA about your secret weakness).

Jeff Elliott, CPA (KS)

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