Fundamental irreconcilable(?) differences on money
January 23, 2017
It might surprise you, with the not-exaggerated idyllic (for us) descriptions of our marriage, but PiC and I truly struggle to internalize each other’s perspectives on certain aspects of money.
When we talk about planning for the future, he rightly pointed out that I plan for the future as if I were an island, as if no one would be there to help.
Friends, I laughed and cried at the same time. Well, yeah!
My family had nothing. They were almost the personifications of the rags to riches trope, arriving at the Los Angeles embassy with just the clothes on their backs, striking out on the entrepreneurial road, and managing to earn enough of a living to get by for long enough we even thought we’d buy a house someday. They paid our bills and helped their siblings who didn’t strike out on their own. Unfortunately, in the course of doing business, and helping family, they also amassed quite a lot of debt.
The biggest lesson I learned from that point on was never rely on anyone. When the chips were down, I was mostly alone. Not entirely – relatives who cared didn’t have money, but they would help out by spotting the occasional bargain on groceries and bringing us some extra produce. Sage friends mentored me so I could build my career and blogging friends pitched in to tide me over a particularly rough spot in the year I spent job-hunting during the Great Recession.
Otherwise… My sibling was a hopeless case. My parents were reeling with the loss of their business and their health issues, and my entire extended family that had benefited so long from my parents’ labor had no use for us if we were no longer useful to them. Once we didn’t have money (to give them), they made sure we knew we weren’t welcome to drop in for a cup of tea, or a visit over a meal. Not that I had time to eat but it makes quite an impression to have my grandmother, who my parents had supported for longer than I’d been alive, sneer in my face about the family’s misfortunes, deciding that made me a worthless human. (I never spoke to her again after that day.) ((Yes, I hold grudges.))
Over the fifteen years during which my parents lost their livelihoods, their savings, and their health, after I buried a grandparent, my mom, and destroyed my health taking care of my family, I thought about what they could have done to help. It’s not that I expected them to support us until we got back on our feet, or even to lend us money, or put us up if we couldn’t make rent. It’s that I expected them not to spit in our faces while we struggled but that was too much to ask.
Naturally, I learned to rely on no one, for anything.
It was a great triumph of hope and human spirit that I decided to learn to trust PiC and I’ve never regretted that decision.
But. It’s as hard for me to imagine believing that if I need it, someone will help, as it is for him to imagine living with the knowledge that no one will be there to lend a hand if we fall down.
Maybe it’s a difference in perspective.
Maybe he thinks of “needing help” as a single bill that’s just too heavy to shift on our own. In that case, he’s right. One-off expenses tend to generate sympathy or empathy and it’s relatively easy for people to find a few dollars to help out.
But in my view, if anything went so wrong as to need help, it’s not going to be a single bill that we can’t quite manage whether it’s $1,000 or $10,000. Leave aside from the fact that I’m unlikely to ask for help with a single bill, the deeper issue is this: If we can’t absorb that bill, by dipping into savings or doing without luxuries for a while, it means that something catastrophic has happened to our financial system or is about to happen. We couldn’t cash flow a $250,000 medical bill for example. If something that bad has happened, I’m dropping my towel and I’m panicking. Why? One, we’re much older. I’m 40% as capable as I once was at 18 years and we’re both nearing the peaks of our earning ability. If we’re talking about a full system meltdown that our salaries and/or savings can’t cover, we are not at the point in our lives where we can double our hours and earn overtime to cover it, even assuming that both of us are still fully capable of working our normal jobs and they exist. Two, if our entire financial system has gone down the drain, which presupposes that we’ve already gone to bare bones on our necessary expenses and also that our savings and assets are gone, who on earth can give us the help we need to recover from that? There aren’t grants for People Who Worked Really Hard and Tried Really Hard but OUCH Life Happened. I would like to fund such grants, but they do not exist. In which case, it’s utterly beyond my comprehension to believe that “someone would help” if we suddenly became poor.
Also I cannot bear the thought of being poor again. But that’s a topic for another day.
I’m not trying to prove either one of us right or wrong here, obviously, I feel right and he feels right. In the long run, as the financial planner, I’m much more comfortable planning my way – assuming that we are on our own except for infrastructure issues which should mostly be covered by our taxes – so I will. It’s just such a fundamental difference in thinking that neither of us are yet able to find a spot in the middle to meet. It would really help if we could.
Belatedly, I should say that this isn’t a cause for strife, it’s just a Really Big Something we have to take into consideration when we’re not seeing eye to eye on how we expect to accomplish our desired goals.