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When I saw the announcement for the financial planning class in the church bulletin, my heart immediately leaped with hope. At the time, my husband, Will, was a high school teacher, and I was a stay-at-home mom. We had two toddler daughters and a third baby on the way. As a one-income family, we'd been living paycheck-to-paycheck for some time. Surely this class will teach us how to better manage our money! I thought.
I was most excited about the lesson on the nitty-gritty of budgeting. We'd struggled with financial planning since our newlywed days. Since I'm a saver and Will is a spender, we often butted heads on how we should allocate our funds.
A natural optimist, I beamed with excitement during the class session in which we opened our workbook to the budgeting chapter. But I realized immediately that Will, ever the realist, wouldn't get much out of today's lesson because the sample budget was based on a family of four living on more than double Will's take-home pay. While my heart sank, I figured there must be something we could learn from this class. Even Will was now pinching our pennies, but perhaps there was something else we could try to make our budget work.
But Will knew. He took one look at the budget and shut down. Face red and fists clenched, he slid the workbook to my side of the table and marched out of the room. He stayed in the hallway for the remainder of the class.
I approached the teacher, Randy, at the end of the class and explained our disappointment in the course materials.
"I don't know if this is the right class for us," I said. "We understand the concepts, but the sample budget isn't realistic for us. We're trying to live on much less."
At that moment, Will walked back into the classroom and expressed regret for having left.
"How can we ever get ahead?" Will asked.
"Would you let me go through your finances with you?" Randy asked.
We accepted the generous invitation, and after musing over our financial documents the following Sunday, Randy quickly unearthed the root cause of our current financial frustration: "One thing is clear," he said. "You don't have a spending problem."
"We don't?" I was shocked. I was sure we must be doing something wrong. Wasn't there some area of our budget we could maneuver to allow for a little breathing room? But here was Randy, a financial expert, telling us we couldn't cut any more corners.
"What you have," Randy continued, "is an income problem. You simply don't have enough money to live."
Tips for finding financial agreement
Randy's pointing out our income problem was a turning point for us. Will and I were able to get on the same page with our finances at last. I stopped blaming Will for buying necessities, and he stopped blaming me for hoarding the little money we had. Not only did Randy's wisdom set us on a journey toward financial freedom, but it also began a deeper level of communication in our marriage. We stopped pointing fingers at each other and realized we were on the same team. We both desired the same thing — financial freedom for our family. That meant we needed to join forces and figure out ways to bring in more money.
Perhaps your family is struggling financially and you're having a hard time getting on the same page with your spouse. If anyone knows this doesn't come easy, I do. At this writing, Will and I have been married for nearly 14 years, and talking about money can still be a challenge during difficult seasons. The following ideas have helped alleviate the stress, and when we follow them, our finances and our marriage are so much better.
Connect with your spouse for regular budget meetings. We try to meet to discuss our budget once a month. Our friends Mitch and Megan have a weekly budget "date." A sitter watches their children while they go out to a coffee shop to discuss the week's spending.
Use a shared budgeting app. To keep from overspending, Will and I each have an app on our phones that tracks and records when either of us uses our debit cards. We use the Mvelopes app, but there are other highly rated budget tracking apps that might work well for you, too.
Designate fun money as part of your regular budget. If you have any wiggle room at all, be sure to designate some funds to little splurges each month. Setting aside fun money can help keep you from overspending because it gives you a boundary. Even a $5 splurge on a fancy coffee once a month can help you avoid unnecessary purchases. We don't put restrictions on how we spend this money. Will recently spent his fun money on a movie ticket and lunch with a friend. I spent mine on a new cookbook.
Learn from each other. When we first got married, I was frustrated with how Will spent money. I wanted to save every penny, and he wanted to have a little more fun. But over the course of our marriage, I've learned that the saver isn't the hero, and the spender isn't the villain. While Will says he's learned the value of saving from me, I've learned that it's sometimes OK to pay more money for quality goods — as long as we have that money in our budget. Will has also taught me how to give more generously.
Don't be afraid to ask for help
Is spending always a heated topic with your spouse? Perhaps it's time to ask a third party for advice. Meeting with Randy gave us a much more realistic picture of our finances, and it helped Will and me make a better plan to conquer our financial frustrations — together. Find an online directory of U.S. financial coaches through Crown Financial Ministries. This Christian organization is committed to helping believers learn biblical principals to better steward their money.
When you get on the same financial page as your spouse, you are able to better manage the resources God has given us. That principle is described in Ecclesiastes 4:9: "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil." It will take work, commitment and maybe even a little creativity, but I promise you, working through finances with your spouse is worth it!Erin Odom is the author of More Than Just Making It: Hope for the heart of the financially frustrated and You Can Stay Home With Your Kids: 100 tips, tricks, and ways to make it work on a budget.
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