By: Revanche

Fundamental irreconcilable(?) differences on money

January 23, 2017

Married Money: the fundamental differences in how PiC and I deal with moneyIt 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.

:: Do you sympathize with one or the other perspective more? Do you have similar, seriously different, perspectives with your family members?

22 Responses to “Fundamental irreconcilable(?) differences on money”

  1. Rae says:

    Huh, well that is a tricky interpersonal barrier and a good reminder to be honest with myself about what’s going on in my grey matter. I mean, how awful would it be if one or both parties to this communication were unaware of their internal script about money?

    You didn’t ask for any input, so I won’t presume to give you unsolicited advice. I will say that it hurts terribly to read about your family, and I admire you for being willing to ever let anyone in again. That must have taken so much strength, and I’m going to try to remember that lesson as I go through life.

    • Revanche says:

      Thanks for reading, Rae. I agree, it’s really important to understand our internal scripts, they’re what tends to drive most of our decisions!

  2. It’s understandable that you’d each have very different perspectives based on your own history. I tend to plan as if no one would help not because they wouldn’t, but because I don’t want to have to ask for help, and they may not be able to help when I need it. It’s just as simple as “plan for the worst, hope for the best”. But that’s just me and it doesn’t speak to either of you being “right”. I guess the important things are being able to see each other’s point of view (even if you don’t agree) and compromising on how you move forward.
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted…15 Ways To Get Your Money’s Worth from Doctor VisitsMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      “I tend to plan as if no one would help not because they wouldn’t, but because I don’t want to have to ask for help, and they may not be able to help when I need it. It’s just as simple as “plan for the worst, hope for the best”.”

      That’s definitely my first reason for planning that way, and I think it’s just as valid as my experience showing that no one has helped in the past.

      Knowing why we think the way we do is the key to compromise.

  3. NZ Muse says:

    I so appreciate your honesty on this.

    Slightly off topic – we were watching Fantastic Beasts the other night and there’s a line that goes “I don’t believe in worry, it causes you to suffer twice” or similar. To which he was like THAT’S YOU and I was like Yes, but so often worrying is what enables you to avoid later suffering!

    Back to this topic. We haven’t explicitly discussed but my sense is although our feelings probably mirrors yours, our family backgrounds are more reversed. Obviously mine have offered significant help recently (re buying house) but for a while we were basically No Contact. His family have nothing but they are very much of the collective mindset. His mum is killing herself supporting the older kids who are, er, not very self sufficient, along with their kids (her grandchildren).

    We’ve lightly touched on the issue of what we might be able to do for her when she’s older and on her own (no longer supporting the other siblings, though I’m starting to wonder if that’s ever going to end). Maybe that’s having her live with us – get one of those prefab sleepouts and stick it in the backyard. Maybe have her help out with childcare.

    I’m definitely worried about retirement – saving enough, how likely the universal pension is to still be around, ditto public healthcare and whether that will be sufficient.
    NZ Muse recently posted…Financial vampires: Is there one in your life?My Profile

    • Revanche says:

      “Yes, but so often worrying is what enables you to avoid later suffering!”


      I think you’re experiencing similar conversations to what we might have had in the past. It’s uncomfortable and worrying but better do that now and get into a proper plan rather than let it sneak up on us.

  4. ” it’s just a Really Big Something we have to take into consideration ” – Love that wording.

    Fergus and I are at least a rung or two different in terms of risk tolerance. We’ve had the same “when is enough enough” conversation on a few separate occasions. The most important thing is obviously just to talk – communicate reasons, emotions – and figure out a plan going forward. It’s still tough, though – especially when a decision needs to be made.

    For us, Fergus is definitely more conservative, but I am more in charge of planning/the numbers. Neither of us are in a bad job situation, though, so we’re leaning more towards Fergus’ perspective of “enough.” We’re also really lucky to be more on the higher income side of things, so “one more year” makes a huge difference – I’d have a lot more qualms if our savings rate was lower and our differences of opinion meant 5+ years of working, though I’d also be much more seriously considering working while traveling / part time work.
    Felicity (@FelicityFFF) recently posted…Rental Insurance and Holy Shit, Cambridge FireMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      It’s great that you’ve already had these conversations, and even better that you have the flexibility conferred by higher incomes.

  5. Sense says:

    When my parents were going through a very, VERY tough spot financially, I was pretty jealous that everyone around me seemed to have a safety net that they took for granted and that I just didn’t have. If I had gotten into trouble at that point (while I was in undergrad/grad school/in debt/paying off debt), I realised that I had no one to turn to if things got bad. That realisation hit me very hard: I am completely on my own here.

    Now that my parents are more solvent (or seem to be?), I have regained the safety net I didn’t even know I had taken totally for granted prior to their money issues. However, while I know that they would do anything to help me if the chips were down NOW, I equally would do anything to NOT have to ask them for anything. I’ve gotten too independent to cede ground now.

    So I see things from your side here–I also plan as if/fully expect no one will be around/able to help me. It’s too unknowable. I mean, I’m sure a few people will be around to help you with walking the dogs or childcare once in a while if things are hard–that is what friends are for?! But to plan on depending on someone wholly for something/$$ without discussing it with them and securing it in some contract first (and who would even do that?!)…um, no.

    • Revanche says:

      @Sense: It really is scary and a gut-punch to know that it’s entirely on you, isn’t it? It can be liberating when you have plenty and aren’t in danger of insolvency or anything that worrisome but it’s scary first.

  6. What an interesting narrative. I can understand your permanent anger at relatives who treated your parents so callously. It’s also easy to see how that kind of experience could affect your outlook for life. It surely would do that to me… Every time I hear the stories of my friends’ extended families, I thank my lucky stars that my mother and I were both only children!

    On the other hand, aloneness has its own strange effects on your outlook toward money.

    It doesn’t sound as though the issues these experience generate with PiC are truly “irreconcilable,” since you allow that you’re coming to trust him…that’s a lifelong project. And it’s probably a good thing to have two distinctly different perspectives on money management: it covers all the bases.
    Funny about Money recently posted…Overworked and…over-rained.My Profile

    • Revanche says:

      @FunnyAboutMoney: If I didn’t know myself so well, I’d pretend that I wasn’t permanently angry at them. But it’s true, I am and I will never forgive them. At least not forgive them to the extent of letting them back in to poison our lives further.

      I think our differences in approach are more irreconcilable than the effect it has on our relationship, if that makes sense.

  7. I relate very much to this. I’d say I’m more like you with money and risk and BF is like PiC. I’m pretty much the safety net for my family. My mother has made the “your my retirement fund” joke one time too many. Even if things were rough, I don’t know that my folks would be capable of giving assistance or that I would even want to broach that with them (strained relationship).

    BF, on the other hand, is the only child of upper middle class parents. Whenever I get freaked out about money and how we might lose everything, he reminds me that his mother and father would help us (me) out in a heartbeat. It really does make me feel better– similar to when my ex’s parents would send me care packages throughout college. I can be scrappy and resourceful and GSD if I need to, but just having that support is good in not feeling so alone.

    Families are strange and complicated.

    • Revanche says:

      @Taylor: Yikes. I can’t take that joke. It’s not funny when it’s true 😛

      I’m glad that BF’s parents are willing to be supportive, though, whether or not you ever need it.

  8. I think DH and I are pretty similar on this — we both know that our respective families would provide a safety net, but neither of us wants to ever use it. So we save a lot.
    Nicoleandmaggie recently posted…College Savings are hard to planMy Profile

  9. You did not win the relatives lottery, and it truly sucks. I hope you can lose the grudge (because it hurts you) but keep the distance. I also hope that at the very least, PiC’s being open to help (even financial help) rubs off on you a bit. I remember being in a tight financial spot years ago. A discerning woman at church, who clearly figured things out, gave me $50. Of course it didn’t get me out of my situation, but it gave me a rush of encouragement and a confidence that I would ultimately be supported. It wasn’t an enabling thing; it was love in action. That’s what I hope you’ll allow yourself to be open to.
    Fruclassity (Ruth) recently posted…Debt and the Battle of the MindMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      @Ruth: I wish I’d known what I was gambling for, back in the day 😉

      What a lovely woman, your helper from church.

      I think I have a long way to go before I accept love in the form of help, but I think I can try to be open to the idea. It’s a start.

  10. Linda says:

    I identify most strongly with your perspective here. Mentally, I’m sure that I will never get support or help from any family members if I’m in a tight spot because the emotional support just has never been there. But truly when the chips are down, I’ve always gotten some help from family.

    My mom may be a trainwreck in some ways, but I always knew that if I needed a place to live I could do so under her roof (and I did move in for a bit after college). My stepfather (mom’s husband) is likewise kind and would extend a hand. Sister may be difficult to deal with in her own way, but would also give me shelter if I needed it. But my father and stepmother…well…I think they may put me up for a few days, but I’m not so sure.

    Money help is trickier. I’ve only asked for money once from a family member (my father) and would never do so again. Mom and stepfather couldn’t afford it, and I’d feel like asking them for money would be like taking food from their mouths. Stepfather would probably find a way to give me some, but I know he can’t afford it. I can’t contemplate asking sister for money; maybe?

    So I feel like I’m on my own here. I save, save, save. I do enjoy luxuries like the occasional fancy meal out, less than basic foods at home, regular massages, and household extras (like a robot vacuum and acupuncture for my dog). I took an out of town trip this year that didn’t involve any job-related or family business (first time since I’ve moved here), too. But mostly I try to keep my living expenses low so I can put more cash away, pay down the mortgage, and fund my retirement and contingency plans.
    Linda recently posted…Extreme introvertingMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      @Linda: It’s good to know that if you truly needed a place to stay, you do have that much at least. Money is always trickier, isn’t it?

  11. Crystal says:

    If y’all ever hit a rough spot so rough that you need to ask for help, you three can just can live with us. I’m not kidding. We have 2-3 extra bedrooms even if we can pop out a kid. And food in Texas is cheap. No matter how old we get, if you or PiC (with or without Jugger Baby) ever need food and shelter, you have it.

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