In a perfect world, everything lines up exactly the way we wish it. But how do we make decisions when our principles and values are not perfectly aligned? If a principle is an irrefutable truth and a value is our belief system, then any choice we make is uncomfortable when these are not congruent.

Some principles have been drummed into us since we were children. We know that we should spend less than we earn. Clients may interpret this as paying cash for everything, some only pay cash for things that will fall in value, and some look at payments rather than costs to determine if they are spending less than they earn. Hmmm. Three values interpretations for one underlying principle. It gets messier when you add unearned money (gifts) into the equation.

When couples have money disagreements, they are rarely about principles. If your spouse spends less than he or she earns but not in the way that you want, that is a values disagreement. Why should your values trump your spouse’s? It is important to get agreement on what is shared. For example, with most couples, we want each spouse to have his or her own money so that the values decision is less confusing and less transparent.

Another principle is to be prepared for the unexpected. How you handle this is a value. For our retired clients who are living off their portfolios, we manage the unexpected by insuring that we have enough cash set aside for between two to three years of their spending. We also often encourage clients to try to reduce their fixed expenses (such as paying off their mortgage) when they no longer have earned income. This increases their safety net because they have to make a mortgage payment but they don’t have to buy a car or take a trip. But those are our firm’s values. Some clients don’t feel a need to be this cautious, so we want to adhere to their values.

In working with a financial adviser, you will find that most agree on fundamental financial principles, but they may not have the same value orientation as you do. While principles are steadfast, values can be more fluid. Most successful advisory relationships occur by getting to the bottom of the interaction between your values and general principles. The only way that this can occur is through conversation, trial and error, and a willingness to discuss the uncomfortable. You should expect your adviser to be smart, but that may be a commodity. What you really want is for your adviser to help you connect principles with your values.

Spend your life wisely. 

Ross Levin is the founding principal of Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina.