Fiscal Unequals: Finding Common Ground with Family and Friends

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Fiscal Unequals: Finding Common Ground with Family and Friends

What should you do when you’re invited to a trendy new restaurant that is beyond your budget? What if you’re the one who can’t afford the long weekend getaway or high-end vacation?

On the flip side, when you have more resources (perhaps significantly so), do you reach for the check more often than not? How does it work when you’re willing and able to pay more? How do you talk about it?

Both sides of the imbalance are tough. Most of us have been on both sides of the divide. Whether with our friends, family, siblings, adult children or spouses, finding balance when our checkbooks are unequal can be a challenge.

But our relationships transcend all sorts of differences and obstacles — and they can survive fiscal inequality as well.

Identifying Your Values

It’s not about the money; it’s about our underlying values. When we experience fiscal inequality, exploring what matters most is the place to start.

Finding common ground — common financial ground in this case — in a relationship requires understanding what is important to ourselves and listening carefully to understand what is important to the other person.

An Exercise

In a fiscally unequal situation, we are suggesting that we begin not by talking about money, but by reflecting upon and talking about values and identifying what is important.

Let’s go over some scenarios and how we can use our values as a starting point for navigating the situation. In each of the following scenarios, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What matters to you, and what do you think matters to the other person?
  2. How can you express your values in this situation?

We don’t have to be too rigid about it. Try to make “I” statements and try to avoid solving.

Scenario: You and your friend/partner are moving into an apartment together. One of you can afford $800 and the other only $500.  How do you manage this?

Scenario: Your friend has invited you to a destination celebration — all expenses paid. How do you manage this?

Scenario: You have invited your friend to a beach house for the weekend. Does your friend have to be a “good” guest?

Scenario: You and your friend/partner plan to travel together. One of you is high-thread count, the other has a tighter budget. How to you manage this?

Final Question: Think of someone in your life with whom you have a money relationship. Could be anything from a loan, to a friend who buys you lunch, your hairstylist, your children. If you could have a free and open conversation about money, what would you like to say to them?

When we understand what gives the other person meaning and what they value, we can develop empathy and mutual respect. We also need to be able to communicate what we care about, what is important to ourselves. We need to have a clear understanding of what gives ourselves meaning and what our values are.

Personal Power and Positional Power

There is inevitably a power dynamic between fiscal unequals. For a healthier relationship, it is critical for each partner to uncover his or her personal power, and the source of it, in contrast to perceived positional power.

Personal power is a reflection of your internal state. It comes from knowing who we are and what we stand for — what our values are.

Positional power is a reflection of your external state. It is based on external considerations of status, societal expectations, quantitative measurements like how much you own or how much you earn. Positional power is what creates the sense of inequality in a relationship. 

When you are trying to “prove” yourself based on some quantitative, or, external measure (like how much you earn or own), that may be an indication that there is some positional power dynamic going on. But when you express what is important to you, your own personal truth, you and your partner no longer have to “measure up.” This evens out the power dynamic and creates a safer, less adversarial conversation in which you can identify common values and come up with creative solutions.

Define Your Values with The Humphreys Group

The topic of fiscal inequality clearly has a financial component. But as in so many cases, it’s not about the money. It’s important to explore our values so we can better understand each other and communicate more clearly what we care about. To develop empathy and mutual respect within a relationship, we first need to have a clear understanding of what matters most to us. And, of course, to the person across the table.

It’s important to ask more questions, be more curious, and to make fewer assumptions. The other person may have a completely different set of values than we’d expect — and that’s okay. We need to put our solution mindsets on the backburner.

Want to continue the conversation about identifying our values when it comes to money? Reach out to our team today.