we’ve shared once or twice on the blog that, before we got engaged, we did some couples’ counseling to learn some tools to make our relationship stronger, like improved communication, better understanding of each other’s point of view, and — of special importance here — how to manage our finances jointly. we have always been glad we did that counseling (even mr. onl! maybe especially mr. onl!), and come back to those tools time and time again. (we also both read a great book on thinking about our finances as a couple, called couples & money, and highly recommend it. it’s now out of print, so you can get it for the bargain price of 1 cent, which at amazon means $4.)
while it’s easy to paint a pretty picture here in blogland, the truth is that, despite all that counseling, and reading that book and others, and even despite being in complete and total lockstep with regard to our early retirement and life goals, we aren’t always on the same page about every aspect of our finances. we think it’s important to acknowledge that. maybe there’s a lesson in here somewhere, or maybe not. but we suspect these kinds of things are common, and worth being open about.
none of what we’re currently disagreeing about is a deal breaker. it’s not that one of us wants to go blow our retirement stockpile in vegas, or invest in some oceanfront property in mongolia, or that the other wants to take out a heloc against our house to finance a beanie baby empire. we are finding ourselves in a completely legitimate but also frustrating (to both of us) disagreement over how to view our spending in our last year or two before retirement.
the current disagreement
here’s the basic background: while we’ve curbed our spending hugely from our baller days, we still spend a bit more capriciously now than we’ll be able to spend when we’re retired. while this more capricious spending doesn’t actually work out to a big difference in terms of dollars, we do allow a looser approach to spending currently in reaction to our high-stress jobs, and two main corollaries of that:
- our desire to spend a little bit of money on convenience now while we’re short on time and long on cash, knowing that we won’t pay for convenience once our time vs. cash ratio is reversed
- our desire to spend a little more on activities to blow off steam to cope with the job stress, which we once again won’t spend on once we’re retired
and here’s where we disagree: (we are not looking for folks to take sides in the comments, so i’m keeping it neutral as to who holds each opinion.)
spouse 1 holds the view that we need an extended “dress rehearsal” for our retirement years and retirement budget. the view that, before we pull the plug on our stressful but extremely cushy jobs, we should be 100 percent sure that we can truly live on the budget we’ve set, and therefore we should be transitioning to that budget now, since we’re only a year or two (probably two, if the markets have anything to say about it) away from retiring. this means that paid entertainment and paid travel would become more rare, like they will be in retirement, but in return would ensure that our retirement budget is realistic and that we can truly stick to it long term.
spouse 2 holds the view that some dress rehearsal is necessary, but not an extended one, and that we should not make our last year or two of work more stressful than necessary by forcing ourselves into a spending approach that feels too restrictive. we have very limited free time now, and we shouldn’t feel like we have no options during that free time, especially since it’s often at times when there are fewer free options for entertainment (e.g. it’s dark, so we can’t take a hike or go for a bike ride). if we want to go out and have a glass of wine with friends, that shouldn’t be a big issue, but rather should be a reward for how hard we work. if we constrain ourselves too much for too long, we might unnecessarily grow to resent the budget that will be easier to adhere to in retirement. instead, we should do the dress rehearsal once we’re in the final glide path to retirement.
both views are legitimate and rational, so it really is a simple difference of opinion. the spending difference that we’re talking about is small enough that it won’t meaningfully change our retirement date. and yet we get frustrated whenever we discuss this topic. not because of the dollars involved, which aren’t significant (we’re talking about the difference of about two glasses of wine and one takeout meal a month, and maybe two airline tickets this year). but because of what these money views represent.
what’s underneath it all
one of the best things we learned in counseling and in that book are that money decisions are never just about numbers. they represent a huge range of feelings and past experiences and insecurities. they represent patterns we learned in childhood, and they can also represent ways in which we rebel against our upbringing. talking about all of that stuff helped us understand the “why” behind a lot of our money disagreements in those early days and now. and you can see that, embedded in each of our views, there is a heavy dose of the scarcity mentality. one spouse is afraid of not having enough time, so wants to spend out now to maximize that time. and the other is afraid of not having enough money in retirement, so wants to take steps now to ensure that we will have enough. by understanding that and reminding ourselves of it, we can be compassionate to one another instead of assuming something idiotic (but easy to do) like that the other person is disagreeing out of spite, or is invalidating the other’s feelings.
no resolution is sometimes a good resolution
while we’d absolutely be pushing for resolution if this were a big issue, like needing to tackle credit card debt, or get our spending under control, or having vastly different life goals, we know that this is a small potatoes disagreement. it sometimes feels bigger than that since we’re so focused on our early retirement goals, which means focusing on all things financial. but the reality is that pushing for one approach or the other would mean that one of us would feel hurt that we didn’t get our way, and so we’re okay not actually resolving this one (and tamping down the occasional frustration when it comes up).
we know that it is the cornerstone of couples’ wisdom that you should never go to bed angry, but we’ve actually learned that — for us, at least — that’s not always the best advice. sometimes you get yourselves worked up, and you’re angrier than an issue really deserves, and the best thing to do is sleep on it and get a little perspective. if it’s still an issue, you’ll know, and you can discuss it in the morning. and if not, then you can move on without wasting life force debating something dumb and building up resentment over something unimportant. it’s the same for this disagreement. it has a natural expiration date (when we retire), and we’re pretty sure this one will get buried in the sands of time. i feel 100 percent certain that i wouldn’t have been able to say any of this when we first got married, or even a year or two into marriage, but we’ve found that sometimes leaving minor disagreements unresolved is actually the right choice.
we know there’s a lot in here that folks might disagree with, and we’re curious! anyone else out there believe in leaving things unresolved sometimes, for the good of the relationship? or do you stick closely to the “don’t go to bed angry” rule? have you had any light bulb moments in dealing with financial disagreements that helped you move forward? any other brilliant wisdom to share? lay it on us!
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