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She's a saver, he's not

They clearly have a significant value conflict. Can they reach a compromise?

By Karen Datko Jul 15, 2010 9:54AM

This post comes from Trent Hamm at partner blog The Simple Dollar.


Recently, I posted an article about setting goals with your partner. In the comments, Brittany left a wonderful question that I felt deserved a post all its own:

What if you have your shared goals, but one partner doesn't have the financial gumption to see it through? I'm not married, not even engaged, but I'm in a relationship that looks like it might be heading for the long term. But my partner is awful with money and even worse with savings. We have a few shared long/medium-term goals (and one is a life goal of his, so I'm positive it's not my goal; I'm just calling "ours"), but my partner isn't making any progress toward the goal. He's far more likely to make a bunch of little frivolous purchases now. ("Eh, it's just $10 … it's just $20 … I'll save when I have a reasonable amount to save.")
Normally I try not to push the "gospel of frugality" on anyone, just live my example and take satisfaction from people's faces and questions when I get to say things like, "Yeah, I know my car (a PT Cruiser) is a bit silly-looking, but I paid cash for it when I was still working for minimum wage, so …." But I also don't have a vested interest in others' financial futures.
Everything else in the relationship is great, but I can't see myself becoming financially involved with someone who doesn't share my financial views (even though this seems like a silly reason to break things off). How do others handle their partners not being on the same financial page as them?

First of all, I would move forward very slowly in this relationship. Clearly, the values you have and the values your boyfriend has are in signficant conflict, and if you're seeing that this early in the relationship, you need to move forward slowly and not jump into anything. I would also, for a very long time, keep your finances as separate as possible.

Value conflicts are the core of virtually every relationship problem. Value conflicts are actually resolvable, but they require a willingness by both partners to work through that conflict, compromise on a solution, and work together to make sure the solution holds.


It sounds as though your partner is not interested in or engaged in long-term goals or puts a much higher priority on his own goals than any shared ones you have. That's in direct conflict with where you're standing: It sounds like you're goal-oriented and are also willing to compromise on the goals you're both working for.

The only way to resolve this, then, is to do what I mentioned above. The first part is working through the conflict. A big part of that is trying to make sure you both understand what each of you value -- and how each of you acts is a very big part of that understanding. By his actions, he seems to put value on short-term rewards for himself.


You can't be judgmental here. We all think our values are the best way of doing things or else they wouldn't be our values (the DINK post from last week is an example of that). The trick is to recognize that not everyone shares our values -- and no one likely shares your exact set of values.


Discussions like this are usually painful because when someone you care about says he doesn't share your values, it often feels judgmental no matter how it's worded. You have to make it clear that you want to understand what he values and you want him to understand what you value.


This requires the ability and willingness to communicate. If you can't get to this point in the process, the communication breakdown will make the relationship very difficult going forward. It will likely require one of you to subjugate what you value, and that's an unhealthy relationship that either ends up in therapy, an explosion, or with someone in misery for a long time.


The only way relationships work is through compromise: You agree to certain arrangements that allow both of you some freedom to retain your values but also respect the values of your partner.


My wife and I compromise on a lot of things. Here's an example: Sarah is very conservative with investment choices. She does not like her retirement savings to be at risk, even if that means earning less. She would far rather put away more for retirement now and have it be at less risk than put away a little less now and have to take on risk to reach her retirement goals.

I feel differently. I don't mind some investment risk if the term is really long. Since I'm in my early 30s and don't intend to touch any of that money for at least 30 years, I have no objection to putting a hefty portion of my retirement into stocks.

Our compromise? She handles her retirement accounts as if I didn't exist, as if she were solely responsible for her own retirement. I handle my retirement accounts as if she didn't exist. Add our two approaches together and we have a mix. The majority of the money is conservatively invested -- all of hers and a slice of mine -- and some of it is in high-risk high-gain investments.

Neither of us is getting exactly what we individually want. What we do have, though, is respect for what we value and some ability to express those values.


That's exactly what you two need to strive for if you want to make this work: respect for what you each value and some ability to express that value. That's compromise.


If you're a long-term planner and he's a short-term person who aims to live life fully now, one thing you might want to consider is a "free" account -- money set aside each week or month that he can use however he wants. Perhaps you can have a small account like this for yourself, if you wish.


That account, though, is the limit of what you can spend frivolously. The money beyond that is set aside for the long-term goals that you share.


If your partner rejects such a conversation or any such attempt at a compromise, your relationship is not on a good foundation. If you're willing to accept his values and bend on yours, then he should be willing to do the same. If he won't, then he's requiring you to subjugate your values to what he wants, and, as I said above, that won't end well.


Where can you start? Sit down and talk. Try to figure out what he values. Suggest a compromise that allows you to keep some significant degree of what you both value. Keep your end of the bargain and live up to the compromise -- and see if he's doing the same. If he's not, then I would back away slowly from the relationship.


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