A newlywed couple was struggling to keep their marriage together just six months after their wedding. The reason was no mystery. They had accumulated $180,000 of combined consumer and student-loan debt — on just $60,000 of income. The wedding, honeymoon and home furnishings were all purchased with credit cards and loans from family. The couple's financial picture was shocking. Unfortunately, their marriage did not last through their first year, and bankruptcy was in the future for both of them.
Surviving the "for richer, for poorer" part of our wedding vows begins with understanding that God has a plan for our finances. In fact, understanding God's minimum requirements for money is a way to thrive in married life as we avoid some of the difficulties that can take place over the course of a marriage.
Rather than seeing the goal of a new marriage as the accumulation of things, couples need to build a strong team relationship and seek God first. Jesus talked about the desire to accumulate things and about worries over money. In Matthew 6:33, He advised: "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."
Rather than being owners of all we hold, we are more accurately "renters" in this world — caretakers of what God has given us. "We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world" (1 Timothy 6:7). Once couples accept that God owns everything and they have simply been chosen to be stewards or managers of His property, then it's important for them to manage according to His principles and standards. How we faithfully manage what He has given us will determine whether He will give us greater things to manage. "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:23).
The biblical concept of stewardship begins with understanding that we will be judged by how well we take care of our resources, including the people in our lives. Here are some important truths to keep in mind as you consider how to become better stewards:
Think ahead to avoid problems. "Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether 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. That's not planning; it's reacting. Couples need to begin planning by writing down their goals and objectives, which should include a balanced budget, and these goals and objectives need to be reviewed yearly. One of the first goals includes avoiding financial bondage by staying out of additional debt and committing to paying off existing debt. This doesn't necessarily mean that a couple should never borrow money, but borrowing to buy consumables, such as gifts, vacations and clothes, should be avoided. This type of borrowing 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; 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 record keeping. Recently it was discovered that fewer than two out of 10 couples know how to actually balance their bank accounts. This means that many married couples seldom know how much money they have to spend or how much they are spending. Couples should work together to develop their financial plans, but there should be only one bookkeeper in the home who pays the bills. Two bookkeepers tend to invite disaster.
Get educated. "The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps" (Proverbs 14:15). Most financially naive couples are not stupid regarding money; they are just uninformed regarding 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, naive people often 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 principles and use that information to avoid debt or financial problems. Crown Financial Ministries has many tools to help create budgets, plan retirement and consider the true cost of your plans so they can be fulfilled.
God has special purposes for every couple: to bring joy to the husband and wife and to create a team that can achieve more together than the individuals could accomplish on their own. Think of your goals as larger than your purchases, and get free from debt so you can be available for any adventure God brings your way.Chuck Bentley is the CEO of Crown Financial Ministries and host of the national radio broadcast My MoneyLife.