Can you help me and my new spouse set some reasonable financial goals for our life together? We haven't been married very long, and my husband is already talking about buying a house and setting up retirement funds. Meanwhile, I'm concerned about paying rent and buying groceries. Is he being realistic? Am I worrying unnecessarily? Is there a way to balance these two perspectives?
Let's start by thinking in terms of three very basic concepts: perspective, priorities, and expectations.
Perspective is all about the long view. It includes the realization that you can't always do everything you want to do and have everything you want to have all at once. To gain perspective, start thinking in terms of building a relationship that will go the distance. Remind yourselves that there is a season for everything and a time for every purpose under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Finances are an important and integral part of the marriage relationship, and working together to establish healthy financial goals and attitudes are matters that couples would be wise to undertake before the wedding vows are exchanged. Just as critical, however, especially for newlyweds, is the need to concentrate on getting to know each other, shoring up the foundations of your marriage, and strengthening the bonds of intimacy that hold you together in a one-flesh union.
That leads to the next of our three fundamental principles: priorities. The rule of thumb here is first things first. You and your husband need to be careful not to get ahead of yourselves. It's easy for a young couple to assume that getting married means jumping straight into the "adult world" as they've observed it at home, complete with all the possessions, perks, and securities that characterize their parents' current lifestyle. This is a serious mistake. For one thing, it's unrealistic. For another, it's a materialistic diversion from the real task at hand.
When their perspective gets skewed and their priorities are out of place, young couples easily fall prey to false expectations. Remember, it probably took your parents decades to achieve the standard of living they enjoy today. There's something presumptuous, if not ludicrous, about a pair of newlyweds assuming that they can step directly into a similar situation. If you want to avoid serious conflicts and misunderstandings in your marriage, you need to take a close look at your circumstances and readjust your expectations accordingly.
In the meantime, here are a few tips that will help you get started on the road to financial security.
- Think about what it means to "become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). This, according to Scripture, is the essence of the marital relationship. When you got married, you vowed to live in and for one another and to achieve a unified blend of your individual goals, desires, and objectives. This means abandoning selfish attitudes and sharing everything in common - all of your resources, whether spiritual, emotional, or material.
- Live within your means. If you can't afford something right now, don't buy it. Practice the self-discipline of delayed gratification. If you don't arm yourselves with that resolution now, you'll quickly discover that there are plenty of credit card companies out there who are more than willing to introduce you to the wonderful world of debt. That's a place you don't want to go if you can possibly avoid it.
- Be intentional about drawing up a workable financial plan and committing it to paper. At this stage of your lives it may seem premature, but your first order of business should be to draft a will. Then commit yourselves to making charitable giving a priority and develop a plan to strategically build your financial resources step by step. Research and purchase a term life insurance policy. Once you've established a solid financial base and retired any existing student loans or consumer debt, you can start thinking about buying a house and making investments. But be wise, discerning, and modest in your choices.
- Don't make any major financial decisions without praying through and talking them over thoroughly. Communication is vital in every area of a marriage, but it's especially important here. You and your spouse come from different backgrounds. Your families of origin may have handled money matters in very different ways. So don't assume anything. When it comes to finances, be sure you're on the same page, and don't make any big purchases unless you're in agreement.
- Sit down together at least once a month and create a spending plan. A monthly budget will not only provide you with a necessary and realistic picture of your financial health, but the process itself with enhance your communication and encourage healthy decision making in all aspects of your marriage. Generally speaking, it takes about two years to establish a smoothly working plan. During the first year, keep careful accounts to determine exactly how much you're earning, how much you're spending, and how much you'd like to spend. Use the second year to put your plan to the test.
One last thought. If finances are becoming a serious bone of contention in your household, you and your husband may want to consider the possibility of getting marital counseling. A trained counselor can help you examine your relationship and determine which areas need to be shored up. For referrals we strongly suggest that you contact Focus on the Family's Counseling department.
Communicating About Money