Barbara was tired. She had no idea that merging wants, needs and desires in marriage would be such a challenge. She and her husband had overcome many challenges, but their greatest ongoing problems surrounded money. Her spouse was a spender, she was a saver; she liked to balance the checkbook to the last penny, her husband hadn't entered anything in the register in years.
The result was numerous volatile eruptions and conflict that both she and her spouse wanted to avoid. It shouldn't have been a surprise. Experts agree that finances can be the number one cause of marital strain.
It's understandable that financial struggles can cause strain because how people spend money is never just about the money—it reveals attitudes about what you value most; it reveals deeper character issues. These are some of the reasons blending financial habits can be very challenging.
But there is hope!
In this series of articles, we've provided great ideas to help you and your spouse make your marriage stronger by tackling the issue of money management in marriage.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate (Matthew 19:6).
Money is one of the major causes of friction in a marriage, and it's no wonder. Living in a world in which we are constantly worried about taking care of ourselves, it's easy to forget that marriage is a commitment to forge a new life with another person. The lack of trust emerging from society has created prenuptial agreements and separate bank accounts. These undermine the commitment to a shared life with a spouse and are contrary to biblical teachings.
Whenever financial issues begin to get out of hand in a marriage, the first thing to do is to pray about them. There is no substitute for God's answer. Second, you might try using a marriage counselor who is trained to help couples resolve issues diplomatically.
A husband's and wife's incomes in marriage should be merged and shared. Someone should be in charge of keeping a budget for the household, and whatever funds there are should be held mutually. This will require a lot of faith in the Lord, as well as in your spouse.
Don't forget to ask God what He wants you to do with your money. He made you stewards over your finances for a purpose, so you should always remember to ask what His plans are. Many blessings can come from appropriate money management in marriage.
The Word of God has basic principles that govern every aspect of marriage, including His minimum financial standards.
Although often these biblical principles are in marked contrast with the world's ideas concerning money, if couples will dedicate themselves to living by God's principles they will avoid many potential financial problems.
The primary financial principle taught to married couples by the world's financial institutions is called OPM, or Other People's Money.
However, this principle is nothing more than a credit mentality and a credit standard -- the ability to borrow that allows couples to buy things they really cannot afford to buy.
This principle works great during the early years of marriage, because it allows couples to accumulate a lot of things they otherwise cannot afford to buy.
Unfortunately, there always comes a day of reconciliation, when the bills for all those things comes due.
Before they realize it, because they built too much too quickly, using too much debt, married couples find themselves in debt far beyond their ability to repay.
God requires minimum financial standards of finance in marriage for His people.
If couples establish these minimum standards and determine to make them an essential part of their financial management, they will, without a doubt, lay a strong foundation for a healthy and balanced marriage.
The following are four primary minimum standards of finance found in God's Word that all couples are encouraged to adopt.
God owns everything."We have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either" (1 Timothy 6:7). Once couples accept the fact that God owns everything and that they have been chosen to be stewards or managers of God's property, it's important for them to manage according to His principles and standards.
It's how we faithfully manage what He has given us that will determine whether He will give us greater things to manage. "Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things" (Matthew 25:23).
So, since in a marriage a husband and wife are one, the financial assets and incomes of both husband and wife should be merged and they should operate from a unified financial management base, rather than from a separate and independent management base.
Think ahead and avoid problems."Which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?" (Luke 14:28) Too often couples put off planning until they are so deeply in debt that it seems impossible to get out. By then it is too late to plan, except for crisis planning. Couples need to begin planning by writing down their goals and objectives, which should include a yearly balanced budget.
These goals and objectives need to be reviewed yearly. Obviously one of the first goals is to avoid financial bondage by staying out of additional debt and committing to pay off existing debt.
This doesn't necessarily mean that they shouldn't borrow, but borrowing to buy consumables, such as gifts, vacations, and clothes, should be avoided. This type of credit debt will put a couple back into insurmountable debt faster than they can pay themselves out of it.
Keep good records."By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches" (Proverbs 24:3-4). It is impossible for couples to have their finances under control unless they understand the basics of good bookkeeping.
Recently it was discovered that less than two out of 10 couples know how to actually balance their checkbooks. This means that many married couples seldom know how much money they have to spend or how much they are spending.
Couples should develop their financial plans together and work together, but there should be only one bookkeeper in the home who pays the bills. Two bookkeepers invite bookkeeping disaster.
Get educated."The naive believes everything, but the sensible man considers his steps" (Proverbs 14:15). Most financially naive couples are not stupid regarding money; they are just ignorant and do not understand how borrowing and interest rates work. As a result, their primary concern becomes "How much are the monthly payments?" rather than "How much is this going to cost ultimately?"
In addition, many times the naive people borrow more money than they can repay because they have no budget. In essence, they have no idea where their money goes each month or how much credit their income can support.
Couples need to learn financial management and budgeting and use that information to avoid debt or financial problems.
God's Word provides standards for managing money that are essential for marital unity. If couples study these biblical principles, learn them and put them into practice in their marriages, and adhere to those standards no matter how tempted they are to adopt the world's standards, their marriages will be strong and will remain sound.
In a marriage, there is no "my money" and "your money" or "my debts" and "your debts." There is only our money and our debts.
A couple cannot be one if they separate their lives by separating their finances.
God will bring a couple closer if, from the very beginning, they establish God's Word as their financial guide and then follow those principles.
A marriage is not a 50/50 relationship, as many people think. It is a 95/5 relationship on both sides.
Each must be willing to yield 95 percent of their rights to their spouses. If they are not willing to do that, it will not work.
No viable marriage can survive a "his or her" relationship for long, because it is totally contrary to God's plan.
Couples should avoid having separate financial anything, including checking accounts, because when they develop a his money/her money philosophy, it usually leads to a him-versus-her mentality.
Unwillingness to join all assets and bank accounts after marriage is perhaps a danger signal that unresolved trust issues could still be lingering or developing in the relationship.
Budgeting can be difficult, if not impossible, when spouses do not agree on basic money management principles. Therefore, they should make all budgeting decisions together.
They also need to agree to hold each other accountable for meeting their financial goals, and devise a plan for regular evaluation of how well they are succeeding.
The couple should come to an agreement on the amount of money that can be spent without first checking with each other. The specific amount will depend on the budget category and the couple's particular circumstances. "Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
Practically speaking, only one person should keep the books.
Even though one person primarily handles balancing the checkbook, both should be fully trained and able to do it.
There is nothing wrong with the wife handling the finances in the family if she is the better administrator, but God still holds the husband accountable for the ultimate decisions.
When there is an impasse, the wife must yield to her husband and allow the Lord to work it out. As they work together, encouraging one another, God will show them His favor and grace.
Nevertheless, being responsible as the leader does not mean the husband is a dictator; the couple should discuss and agree on financial management.
Both spouses should be involved in paying the monthly bills. Doing so will keep both fully aware of their financial status.
Within a marriage relationship the husband and wife are partners who are dedicated to one another.
A bond of uncompromising devotion creates a healthy atmosphere for togetherness: studying God's Word, praying, and even managing money.
Just as it takes two to make a marriage successful, it takes two to establish a clear line of communication in financial planning.
In any relationship as intimate as marriage, there must be sharing of responsibilities and abilities. God often uses opposites in a marriage to balance the extremes. If husband and wife are identical in nature, undoubtedly the decisions will be unbalanced. Thus, a saver balances a spender and a hospitable spouse is balanced by a reserved one. A sensitive, discerning wife is a great asset to any husband, if he's willing to listen to her.
However, the burden of maintaining a trouble free, financially sound, spiritually mature, and cooperatively considerate household is the responsibility of the husband/father. "He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)" (1 Timothy 3:4-5).
The wife's responsibility is to support her husband and honor him by following his direction — as opposed to nagging and belittling. Sometimes she needs to be willing to suffer with him and to let him fail if necessary without judging (1 Peter 3:1).
For a wife to be submissive does not mean that she must remain silent or give in to every word, whim, or desire of her husband. She needs to take an active part in family planning, financial planning, discipline of children, decision making, and family goals. The following are four financial areas in which wives need to play an active role.
There are instances in which a woman is forced to become the head of a household as a result of divorce, her husband's death, or other reasons. In these instances, she has no choice but to assume an authoritative position.
A woman in this position should know that within the body of Christ, God has provided the leadership she needs. The local church she attends should be used as a source for counsel and help with financial matters. However, she needs to be willing to let her needs be known, and the church must be willing to equip itself so it can help her.
Financial authority in the home is one of the most misunderstood principles facing today's Christian family. If both husbands and wives will faithfully observe the mandates established by God and submit to the discipline needed to comply to those mandates, families will experience less stress than those who disregard His mandates.
God's Word describes the tithe as a testimony to God's ownership. It was through the tithe that Abraham acknowledged God's ownership. Thus, God was able to direct and prosper him (Genesis 14:20).
God's freedom cannot be experienced in the area of finances unless:
In the Old Testament the Hebrew people brought approximately 23 percent of their increase to the Lord's storehouse — a physical storehouse. The keepers of the storehouse, the Levites, in turn used what was given to care for the widows, needy foreigners in the area, orphans, and themselves. In the New Testament, the people no longer brought their tithes and offerings to a physical storehouse; instead, they gave of their increase in tithes, offerings, and alms to the church body. The church then used the tithe for spreading the Gospel. The offerings were used for the general and administrative support of the church, and alms were used to care for the poor, widows, orphans, and needy.
Because tithing involves money, it is a prime candidate for controversy between a husband and wife. However, if both spouses are Christians, they should have a desire to please the Lord.
It's important for both spouses to be trained in God's principles of finance. That way, they'll understand that tithing is God-ordained, not just a personal desire that one spouse is trying to impose on the other. Giving should come from the heart. As such, tithing is not a law but, rather, an indicator of obedience to all of God's laws. Because the tithe's purpose is to be an individual or family testimony of God's ownership, it was never intended that everyone should give the same amount or in the same way but that each should give bountifully and cheerfully (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-7).
The problem becomes more complicated when one spouse is an unbeliever. Since it is the responsibility of the husband to be the leader in his home, if the wife is an unbeliever, husbands must obey the Lord's direction. Husbands need to realize, however, that the Lord is more concerned about the wife's soul than about money. If tithing becomes an obstacle to the wife, husbands should consider not tithing temporarily in order to win their wives to the Lord. Husbands need to counsel their wives, pray with them, and seek their opinion and direction but according to God's Word the decision is ultimately the husband's. Because most wives in America today are looking for the strong leadership that seems to be lacking in many marriages, husbands need to take the lead regarding tithing.
If the unbelieving spouse is the husband, the believing wife should submit to his wishes and trust that her submissive attitude will win him to the Lord (see 1 Peter 3:1-6). Remember it is not the money but the attitude of the heart about which the Lord is most concerned. If wives have made commitments to give and their husbands object to giving, God sees the desire of the wives' hearts to tithe and He will honor that commitment, even though wives honor their husbands' wishes. God will bless because of the wife's attitude, not because of giving.
However, a wife might still ask her husband to let her give an amount smaller than the tithe for at least a year. If, at the end of the year, the family is worse off financially as a result of giving, she will agree to stop giving. If the family is better off, the husband may agree to give more. In Malachi 3:10, the Lord says to test Him in this thing (tithing). Often this is just the opportunity for God to prove Himself real to a doubting spouse.
Giving the tithe is the outward expression of inner commitment — or lack of it. It is material and financial surrender prompted by spiritual surrender. However, if couples do not tithe because one spouse objects to tithing, the subject should be placed "on the back burner," until they are able to discuss and study the principles of tithing together.
Fifth grade science taught me that appearances can be deceiving. I learned that when looking at an iceberg, we only see the small portion that sticks out of the water. The largest part of an iceberg — typically 80-90% —remains unseen, hidden below the water's surface.
Financial conflict is like the tip of an iceberg. Many couples cite money problems as the reason for marital strife when the true source of their conflict is a larger issue lurking below the surface. In my years of working with couples in crisis, I've found that financial issues are usually a surface problem driven by deeper issues.
It's easy to mistake finances for the real issue if you argue about it on a regular basis. However, the fact that the same financial arguments happen over and over without being resolved indicates that the real problem is something deeper. That "something deeper" is what we call a core issue. If core issues are not dealt with, surface issues — like finances — will keep popping up. It's kind of like trying to keep a balloon below the surface in a pool of water. You keep pushing it down, but it keeps right on coming up.
If you've tried to resolve arguments related to finances, but they keep popping up, it may be time for you to look below the surface. Here are a few questions to ask:
Do we have a breakdown in communication? If you fail to communicate your thoughts, desires, preferences and so on, your spouse is left to guess what they are. Guessing often leads to misunderstanding, which can lead to hurt feelings and even resentment.
If the only time you try to communicate about finances is when you're already upset or angry, your emotions will get in the way and the conservation will most likely lead to harsh exchanges of words and end up going nowhere. It's important to talk about sensitive issues in a way that is comfortable for both of you.
Try writing down your concerns or desires versus trying to explain them when you're feeling emotional. Be clear about what you need from the other person regarding spending, budgeting, help with balancing the check book and how to get out of financial holes. Don’t begin your conversations in a negative tone and expect something positive to come out of it.
Be kind and compassionate to one another…—Eph. 4:32(KJV)
Am I harboring unresolved hurt or resentment? Sometimes it's easier to argue about money than to admit when we have hurt feelings. If your spouse has hurt you and you're still harboring that hurt — or maybe even resentment — you're going to see everything through that filter of hurt. When your spouse tries to discuss financial issues, you'll be more likely to overreact.
Instead of letting hurt and resentment hinder your relationship, gather the courage to deal with the hurt. Bring it out in the open in a healthy way. Do it before tackling financial issues. That way you'll be able to discuss your financial issues without the extra burden of emotional baggage.
Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. — Eph. 4:26 (NIV)
Am I afraid to face the truth? Are you afraid to talk about money for fear that your spouse will discover you made an unwise decision, spent money you shouldn't have, didn’t pay the bill when you were supposed to, or have kept other financial secrets?
Dishonesty always reaps a negative outcome. If you make a significant financial decision without talking to your spouse, your actions will almost never be well received. If you've been hiding something you did or did not do, the real issue is not about finances, it's about being honest. Dishonesty destroys trust. When trust is destroyed, your spouse will not trust you to make future decisions, which can leave you open to feelings of resentment, and the cycle repeats itself. Trust has to be rebuilt in a marriage before sensitive and important issues like finances can be addressed properly.
Speak the truth to each other. — Zec. 8:16 (NIV)
By communicating in a clear and loving manner, getting rid of emotional baggage and embracing honesty, you and your spouse can lay a smooth foundation on which to build your financial future.
Making no effort to be quiet, Graham comes to bed. It's about 1:00 a.m. Anna has been asleep for three hours, but she's wide awake now.
"Anna," says Graham, "we're never going to make it if you keep spending so much money."
Stress squeezes Anna's stomach. She knows Graham has been working on their finances. She'd like to pretend she didn't hear him, but figures she can't.
She turns toward him. "Honey, what can I do? I try not to spend too much. There are things that we need."
Graham sighs. "We need $50 worth of makeup from Dillard's? We need $120 worth of groceries a week? We need to buy new furniture for the living room and put up new curtains? These are not needs, Hon."
Anna stares at the ceiling. "Okay, the furniture and the curtains may not be needs, but my makeup and—"
Graham interrupts, "Honey, you're beautiful. You don't need to spend that kind of money on makeup."
"But that's what it costs. And I don't buy it that often." She tries to snuggle next to Graham, but he pulls away.
"Are you kidding?" he says. "I'm so stressed out, and you think you can just cuddle up and be cute and it'll all be okay. You've got to take some responsibility here, Anna. Things are not okay."
As Graham and Anna have found, it can be a huge problem between husband and wife when one of them spends–or seems to spend—too much. But it's a problem the two of you can face and conquer together, especially if you keep the following principles in mind.
Understand that you're on the same team when it comes to finances. Chances are that neither of you wants to be told by your spouse exactly how much you can spend or where you can spend it. This doesn't communicate respect or trust for one another.
You can start by agreeing that you both want the same things concerning money — a certain amount of security and a certain amount of freedom. Those amounts may not be the same, but the general goals are. More importantly, you both want to emphasize the health of your relationship over the details of accounting.
When you're on the same team, it's easier to come up with creative solutions to spending disagreements. For instance, Graham and Anna might decide that each spouse will have a certain number of dollars set aside for grooming supplies each month or each quarter — rather than spending "as needed" on a "need" that hasn't been agreed upon.
Understand the underlying reasons why your spouse overspends. Let's say a husband and wife go to the mall. The wife buys face powder and the man buys a computer program. Neither accuses the other of overspending.
But what if these people feel compelled to go back to the mall the next day or week? What if the wife buys the newest trend in eye makeup and lipstick? What if the man buys another piece of software he doesn't really require and a memory expansion card that allows him to use it? They may be trying to meet needs that purchases can't satisfy.
You've probably heard a variety of reasons for overspending: deprived childhood, privileged childhood, depression, anxiety, the thrill of the hunt. All of these have one thing in common: a search for security. Consciously or not, the spender thinks something like, "If I have this, I'll be in style." Or, "I'll be accepted." Or, "I'll be safe." Or, "I'll be okay."
Buying things doesn't provide real security. It does nothing to change God's love for us. Due to the consumerism so prevalent in our culture, it's an ongoing battle for many people to let go of the fleeting gratification of things for the long-term security of a relationship with God through Christ.
Before making a purchase, husbands and wives need to ask themselves, "What am I trying to do?" If the answer has anything to do with finding fulfillment or escaping stress or pain, don't buy the item. It will never meet that need. Instead, take your quest for security to your heavenly Father and find it in Him.
If your spouse struggles in this area, support him or her in seeking security from God instead of goods. A pastor or counselor can help.
Understand what things cost and how often they must be purchased. People often enter marriage with very different experiences of spending, saving, and tithing — and preconceived ideas about what things should cost.
Take that husband and wife at the mall, for example. He buys a piece of computer software; she buys makeup from a department store. Each experiences "sticker shock" over the other's purchase.
"How can you spend that much for a little eyebrow pencil?" the husband protests. "You can get a whole box of Magic Markers for the same price!"
"Look who's talking," says the wife. "You just spent more on that computer tax program than it cost to hire that guy to do our taxes last year."
Both partners end up on the defensive.
Marriage counselors sometimes have couples go through lists of purchases, mark down what they think the prices of those items would be, and compare notes. Something like this may be worthwhile if the two of you struggle with the costs of each other's purchases. You may also want to divide the same list into wants and needs, indicate how often you think each item should be purchased, and compare results.
Knowing a certain computer program is purchased once, with upgrades bought every year, for example, will help spouses agree on the real cost. So will learning that $20 worth of powder could last three months for some women and six months for others.
Understand that you must live on less than you earn. Living from one paycheck to the next isn't comfortable for anyone. It can lead each of you to feel taken for granted, used, and insecure about the future of your marriage and finances. That insecurity is heightened when you ask the question, "What if I lost my job?"
The real problem may not be your spouse's spending or earning, but a failure to budget. That was true of Graham and Anna.
Let's look in on them three months later.
They've been working on their finances, reviewing their spending and goals once a week. They've disciplined themselves to take from one area to cover another so that they don't bust their new budget.
Over a cup of coffee Graham says, "Okay, Anna. I've finished looking at our finances for this month."
"I think we did better," Anna says. "I spent more on groceries than we planned, though. Like detergent and fabric softener and stuff."
"So," Graham replies, "that explains the $150 bill at Sam's instead of the usual $100."
"Yeah," Anna says.
"How long do fabric softener and detergent usually last us?"
"At least six months."
"So it's not something we have to buy every 30 days," says Graham.
Anna shakes her head. "No, no."
Graham sighs, relieved.
You know those newlyweds who sip iced lattes in the spa outside their five-bedroom Tudor while planning their next trip to Italy?
Neither do I.
Most people I know started out eating mac and cheese in a cramped apartment while sorting stacks of bills.
Weren't your first years of marriage supposed to be magical? Weren't you supposed to take weekend getaways, buy spontaneous gifts and paint the town? So why does it seem that every dime is paying off the past or accruing for the future?
Enjoying the "just married" moments and still saving money is challenging — but you can live well when you prioritize your spending based on the three C's of financial contentment:
If you can't have it all, discover the most important aspects of your activities. What's the best thing about going to the movies? If you think it's the atmosphere, attend an earlier (cheaper) show. If it's discussing films with friends, rent one at home and invite the gang. Figure out what brings you the greatest enjoyment. Then look for ways to have fun without breaking the bank.
When the Joneses are buying hot tubs and big screen TVs, it's tempting to pull out the credit card and keep in step. It's the American way, right? How quickly we forget to thank God for the simplest things. Even hot showers, comfortable homes and cupboards full of food represent luxury to people in most other nations. Challenge yourself to take your eyes off of your neighbor's toys and to reflect upon everyday blessings.
God commanded the Israelites in the Old Testament to give Him the first 10 percent of everything they harvested. This showed they trusted Him to provide the rest. New Testament writers don't play with percentages; they remind us that all we have is God's. The lessons: Give generously and spend wisely. When we invest our time and money in Him, we reveal our hearts. And if you think faithful giving only leads to eternal rewards, talk to someone who consistently offers his "first fruits." He can probably amaze you with stories about God's abundant provision here on earth.
Live better — and smarter — by incorporating the three C's of financial contentment. Here are 20 money-saving tips to get you going.
It's great to dream about the future — and wise to plan for it — with the one you love. But ultimately, your level of financial contentment as a newlywed depends on your mindset. French poet John Petit-Senn summarized it this way: "Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance."