Money Choices That Couples Need to Make in Every Season of Marriage

Illustration of a woman and a man. He holds a piggy bank with coins popping out, and she carries a handbag.
Heather Landis

One afternoon, my wife and I took a drive to look at some land to buy as an investment and possibly build on sometime later in life. While we were driving and dreaming, we stumbled upon a development that had log homes on acreage. On our way out, a neighbor spotted us and came over to show us a house that was 80 percent complete. The neighbor called the builder, and before we knew it, the builder drove over and gave us a tour of the house. After a couple hours of chatting and touring, the builder made a dangerous statement: "Make me an offer on the house."

I laughed off his comment and told him we were only looking for land. But this guy was serious. He said, "This house comes with seven acres. Make me an offer!"

I could tell he was serious, so I made an offer that was significantly less than the asking price, thinking he would thank us and we would be on our way. I was wrong. He paused for a moment and then said, "If you can close in two weeks, I'm in!"

And that's how we ended up with two houses and two mortgage payments ... and the stress of wondering when our current home would sell. It took us six months — and that was six months of paying "stupid tax"!

My story illustrates how easy getting into money trouble can be, even when you and your spouse are on the same page. That's why I challenge couples to carefully consider their financial situation, their future plans and how they intend to honor God with their finances. Every decade of married life presents its own financial risks and opportunities, and planning ahead can lay the groundwork for making wise money choices throughout the many years that you'll share together.

Choices in your 20s: preparing for the future

When you're first starting married life, it's easy to feel as if you have your whole life ahead of you. In some ways, that's true. But when it comes to money, you can't wait until you're older to make wise decisions. During this decade, you are establishing money habits that could chart the direction of your finances for many years to come.

One of the most important things you can do in your 20s, besides praying through your financial decisions, is to develop the habit of budgeting. If that word sounds boring, think of it as a monthly spending plan. I recommend doing a zero-based budget, which means you start out with your income, subtract all your expenses (including any money set aside for savings and investments) and end up with zero. Easy, right? Give every dollar a name and place to go. There are lots of budgeting tools available, so review a few to make sure you're covering all the necessary budget categories.

If you're already living debt-free, try to start putting 15 percent of your income toward retirement. You'll thank me in a few decades. If you're living with debt, set some goals to get rid of it as soon as possible. Debt works like quicksand, and it will keep you from your dreams.

Choices in your 30s: younger kids in the home

Many young couples start having children in their 30s. Amid the craziness and sleep deprivation that come with having a young family, it's easy to let finances slip. Don't allow these life factors to lead you toward poor financial decisions.

When kids come along, pay attention to the changes in your income. Keep in mind that maternity and paternity leave rarely pays 100 percent of your salary. And all the overtime you worked B.C. (before children) is probably going to be a distant memory. Little ones are demanding.

You'll also have to adjust to new expenses. When you start feeling the money squeeze, you might be tempted to skip those date nights to save money. Don't make this mistake! Date nights are a necessity, not a luxury. Even if all you do is go out for ice cream while a friend watches the children, it's worth the time alone as a couple.

Choices in your 40s: life with older kids

Parenting shifts gears when kids hit middle school and high school, and so do your spending patterns. You'll find yourself paying for camps, car insurance and everything in between. The costs can skyrocket, so set limits on what you're willing to pay for. That's not a sign that you don't love your kids. You're simply setting boundaries and teaching them self-sufficiency — and that's a good thing. Another thing you'll need to keep an eye on is your mortgage. Everyday life will demand your attention, and you just might be tempted to keep that house payment longer than necessary. That could end up costing you tens of thousands of dollars in interest. So pay off that house as soon as you can, even if it means fewer vacations and other sacrifices. Having no mortgage will allow you to charge forward in funding your retirement.

Choices in your 50s: the empty-nest years

Watch out! While you're busy launching your kids into their adult lives, you may not see a huge temptation lurking around the corner: the "I deserve" syndrome. Here's what it sounds like: "I've been working hard all my life! I deserve to buy that fishing boat so I can relax out on the lake." Or, "I've been scrimping for decades. I deserve that dream vacation." These poor choices could seriously affect your financial future. It's OK to give yourself little rewards, but stay focused on your long-term financial goals.

Choices in your 60s: enjoying retirement

Congratulations! Your hard work has paid off and you get to enjoy the reward. Keep in mind that you'll still need to create a monthly budget. You also need to communicate with each other about what you want to do during this chapter of your life. It's OK to pursue separate interests, but make sure you plan experiences together, too.

If you've hit your 60s and your money situation is less than ideal, that's OK. You still have options like working longer, opting for a part-time job or downsizing. The important thing is to guard your marriage, not your money, as your priority. There's no end to how deep your marriage relationship can become if you continue to focus on it together.

Chris Hogan is the No. 1 best-selling author of Retire Inspired: It's not an age, it's a financial number and host of the "Retire Inspired" podcast.

Better Financial Choices

How can you and your spouse make better financial decisions? I can't give you specifics because every marriage is different, but I can give you some basic advice to consider, no matter what decade of life you're in.

Discuss your dreams. Talk with your spouse about where you are in your finances and where you want to go. What's the end game? It could be volunteer work, traveling or visiting grandkids. You and your spouse don't have to have the same dreams, but you do want to be on the same page.

Get on a budget. If you don't have a monthly spending plan, you'll find yourselves spinning your wheels. Money will disappear, and you'll wonder where it went. Every month you need to sit down and talk through your expenses. Working as a team can bring you closer together because you'll both be headed in the same direction.

Get to work. Look through the Baby Steps and determine which step you are working on as a couple. That will be your starting point. As you work through the steps, you'll gain more confidence in making good money decisions.

C.H.

Baby Steps for Success

by Dave Ramsey

Getting on solid financial ground requires taking one step at a time and being intentional with your money. I recommend the following seven steps because they can lead you out of debt and stress and into a life of saving and giving. Here's a quick summary:

Baby Step 1: Stash $1,000 cash in a beginner emergency fund.

Baby Step 2: Use the "debt snowball" to pay off all debt but the mortgage. This means listing your debts smallest to largest, and then attacking the smallest one first. Get rid of it as quickly as you can. Then move on to the second smallest debt, then the third and so on. As you pay off one debt, you free up money to apply to the next debt.

Baby Step 3: Build a full emergency fund of three to six months of expenses.

Baby Step 4: Invest 15 percent of your household income into retirement.

Baby Step 5: Start saving for college for your children.

Baby Step 6: Pay off your home early.

Baby Step 7: Build wealth and give generously.

If your marriage is in trouble, there is hope. The Focus on the Family Marriage Institute is here to help — call one of our counselors at 866-875-2915 or visit HopeRestored.FocusOnTheFamily.com.

This article first appeared in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Focus on the Family magazine and was originally titled "Critical Money Choices." If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get this publication delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.
© 2017 by Chris Hogan. Used by permission.

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