When Priorities Collide: How to Keep Your Head
My guess is that many of you Wisebread readers know your financial priorities and have some idea of how you want to achieve these, though you may not have all the details ironed out (if you did, why would you read us?). However, what happens when those come into conflict, when your priorities collide and you don't know what to do next? Consider the following situations:
1. A woman and her partner decide that she should return to work full-time after she gives birth to their baby and exhausts her maternity leave. This will allow them to pay off their educational debt in two years, at which point she will be free to stay home with the child, which is ultimately important to both of them. Three weeks after the birth, the child is diagnosed with a serious illness which makes daycare much more expensive, if it is available at all. What do they do?
2. A husband and wife have worked hard to provide college funds for each of their children. While they can't pay for everything, they have enough to help each child in a significant way. A year before any of the children is set to leave home, the wife sufferes a crippling accident. While she will recover eventually, the cost of her care devastates the family financially. They find that, even though they planned wisely, they must choose between spending their childrens' college money on her care or taking on a level of debt they may not live long enough to repay.
3. A person who loves video games finds the best deal ever on Halo 3. On his way to buy it, his car develops a problem that ends up being minor but must be fixed. He fixes it, but then dosn't have the money for his game. He can put the game on his credit card, which is aginst his financial principles, or he can wait until he has saved the money again. He's not sure he'll be able to pay off the credit card bill at the end of the month as it is, and this would only add to that.
4. A woman has a great idea for an entrepreneurial endeavor, but does not have the time to start it up because she is working full-time, partially supporting her husband who is finishing up a graduate degree as fast as he can. She knows that the marked for her idea is now, and may not still exist later, and that pursuing her idea could lead to more money for her famiy in the long run. However, if she quits her job to pursue it, her husband will have to quit school until her idea is successful, which lowers his earning potential. How do they decide what to do?
Whether you can empahtize with all these stories or not, they do illustrate the fact that collisions between priorities are like collisions between cars--they can happen out of the blue. One minute you think you know where you're headed and what it looks like to get there, and the next minute the world is a very different place. You're not sure what to do or how to make the decisions that need to be made.
When this happens, it's easy to start making decsions without thinking seriously about the facts or the long-term situation. It's easy to decide simply because a decision must be made, instead of deciding based on what is right or more important to you in the circumstances. Instead of doing those, try the following process the next time this happens to you.
1. Stay calm.
2. Step away from the situation, whether it's for a few minutes or a few days.
3. Separately from any others whose opinions matter in this, decide which priority is more important to you. If others are involved, have them do the same.
4. List reasons why that priority is most important.
5. Make your decision based on what you have decided.
if your decision involves more opinions than just your own, replace step 5 above with the following:
5. Come back together and share your important priorities and the reasons behind them
6. Civilly discuss any areas of disagreement. Be open to hearing something you didn't expect.
7. Step away from the situation again. Try to do something else during this time, but be open to any new ideas that might pop into your head.
8. Come back together and make a decision. Entertain offers of and ideas for compromise.
9. Live out your decision.
May your decisions be well thought out and well-executed!
PS I'd love to know what you would do in the situations above. Leave a comment if you have any ideas.