Practicing the Art of Compromise & Choice

Physician's Money Digest, July 2007, Volume 14, Issue 7

How do you decide on whether to allocate your hard-won, managed-care money on spending or on saving? And on what specifics and when? It is all about compromise. And doesn't the word itself just seem to imply failure or loss; we didn't get what we wanted when we wanted it; we had to "compromise."

Overwhelmed by Options

A close comrade to the concept of compromise is the concept of choice. It is certainly very nice to have choices. We sometimes lose track of this privilege and often complain about having too many choices and not enough time to understand, decide on, or use them.

While wrestling with choices and grasping at compromises in financial affairs, it's sometimes helpful to look at the difference between wants and needs. It can even be a bit of a shock to remind ourselves that financial planning pillars, such as "college tuition for the kids" and a "secure retirement," ultimately are wants and choices, not fundamental needs or requirements. This doesn't make them any less important in our lives, but it does give us full responsibility for achieving them. If retiring in a nice villa on the beach is a priority, than choosing to forgo on that new Mercedes becomes a part of our compromise.

Bargaining with Ourselves

Admit it, we have conversations in our heads constantly, negotiating, rationalizing, making deals: "If I can't have this, how about that?" Once those are settled, then we verbalize our position to our spouse, patient, shopkeeper, financial advisor, etc, and take in what they have to say on the matter. And on the compromising goes. Call it what you will, negotiation, deal-making, compromise, they all involve the art of the possible. It’s easy to forget that sometimes good can be accomplished if we just let go of the idea of having everything.

There have to be rules, of course. Moral and legal constraints must exist to make civilization possible. Humankind's history has revolved around the hope that our behavior is at least manageable. Ultimately, compromise is a survival skill.

Compromise is hard work though, it's draining. How do any of us feel at the end of a day of making hard decisions, medical or financial? Pooped, that’s how we feel. As Andy Rooney would say, "I wonder what it would be like to go through a day without having to make a single compromise." Then again, maybe it's a good thing that we'll never know.