Carolyn Hax: Bride-to-be is frugal; groom is less so

DEAR CAROLYN: I was taught by my parents to live frugally, which meant never using more than I needed. We always lived comfortably, but it was definitely a test of limits because our space was only as much as we needed.

My new fiancé has a very different view of frugality. He comes from a much stronger economic background than I did, and while he lives within his means and is never irresponsible, he has never had to be frugal.

Now we’re considering buying a house together. In my opinion, we should have just enough to live reasonably well, and that’s it. It’s a value I would like to transfer to my children because it implies a consciousness for those less fortunate.

My husband-to-be, on the other hand, wants a nicer and bigger house with more yard than we could ever use. But to me, buying a bigger house would throw aside one of my most central core values.

My fiancé’s lack of understanding about this is putting me on the verge of breaking off the engagement. Is it time to call it quits?

– Signed, Why Can’t He Just See It?

DEAR SIGNED: I’ll start with the easy part: Living according to your values is important; understanding and being understood in your marriage is important; setting a good example for your someday children is important; weighing your choices now for their future impact on these things is important.

And getting this all said is important, because the details that make up these big concepts get complicated.

For example, when you’re living according to your values and sharing your life in marriage, whose values take precedence when his and yours don’t perfectly align? Do you think it’s OK to have issues on which you or he won’t budge? If so, and if this is one of them, then we can skip the rest: You tell him this is central to your life purpose, to the extent that you’re unwilling to marry unless he buys into your idea of economic fairness.

Note the “your idea of.” Another complication is that there isn’t just one lifestyle that underscores “the importance of social equity.” What about modeling generosity versus frugality?

And your fiancé: Is he just about desires, or does he have a core? Do you know it well? Respect it?

“Our example” is up to you, but what your children do with it is up to them.

Which brings us back to your fiancé and the possible deal-breaker. If you and he haven’t dug into all this thoroughly enough to get at whats and whys like these, then I don’t think you’re in a position to break or even make any deals, much less impress future kids.