Money and finances in marriage is always a topic that generates intense and interesting discussions amongst married and singletons. The beauty of our Christian walk is that we already have a manual that provides guidelines on how to manage our finances as couples.
As couples, we have differing opinions and attitudes about money and if these differences are not managed properly they can have a devastating effect on our marriage relationships. We must allow money to play its role as a tool to enhance our marriages and avoid letting our different attitudes towards it bring chaos into our homes.
I would like to touch on issues that arise as a result of our differences which could affect our relationship. I remember when my husband and I first got married, I used to marvel at the differences between us in terms of our attitudes to money. Firstly, my mindset was that money was to be spent and getting into debt was no big deal as long as it was for a good purpose after all one would get out of it eventually. On the other hand, my husband felt that money was to be saved and getting into debt was a definite no-no. Getting married of course meant that our finances were now joint and seeing as we both had different views about money it took a while to come to a place where we could agree, I remember conversations that we used to have about agreeing to disagree. I, therefore, feel it is important to share some thoughts about this issue, time tested principles that will help you keep money in it rightful place in your relationship.
Firstly, I would like to encourage couples to treat every financial resource available to the couple at the point when they get married and everything else that comes into the home thereafter is treated as “our” household resource which is owned in common and in equal measure by both husband and wife. This means there is a common purse irrespective of the source of the money. This helps to foster intimacy and build trust as no one has too much or too little, whatever is in the pot belongs to both of us rather than one person. Also, it does not leave room for the enemy to introduce distrust and furthermore, it allows money to remain submitted to the marriage relationship rather than the other way round. I remember a situation where a wife complained to me that her husband was not caring and looking after her as much as he could, well on trying to get to the bottom of the problem I found out that although the husband gave his wife a certain allowance every month this was not enough to meet the needs in the home. In spite of the fact that she knew how much he earned, his refusal to be completely open about his finances gave her an inaccurate picture of the family finances so she assumed erroneously that he had more money than he really had and was denying her. All of this came to light when I spoke to the husband and found out that actually he was owing money and although he was earning a good salary, most of it was being used to pay off the debts. Openness and information breed confidence and make room for understanding, when we do not have enough information, we are prone to misconceptions.
Financial Vision and Plan
Secondly, it is important that every couple has a financial plan, the Bible in Luke 14:28 stresses the importance of counting the costs, if you do not have a vision for your joint finances, you will neither be able to maximise your family income nor will you be able to channel your funds appropriately when they come into the family purse. As a newly married couple, I remember that we did a financial plan depicting what we wanted to achieve over a five year period. At that time, doing it was a challenge for us because we were very broke and if we thought about where we were in the natural, the dreams we had would seem impossible to achieve. However, doing it helped in a number of ways. It encouraged discussions between us and this helped shed light on what was important to each person. It helped us think about what we wanted to achieve in life and also helped us think about sacrifices that we might need to make for the dreams to become a reality. It also helped us trust God as to where we were at the time was no way near where we wanted to be. It has been many years down the lines now and we have marvelled at how God has brought some of those dreams to pass, this has increased our faith in God, strengthened our financial unity and is now helping us stretch our aspirations and faith even further as we look into the future.
It is important that we talk about our expectations of each other as they impact our Marriage. Many family decisions may initially seem to have no financial implications but eventually, we end up finding out that they do. It is also important that we spend time identifying and addressing the key financial issues relating to our future. An example is a situation where a husband chooses to work overtime or where he chooses to take up a second job. Having a second job may require him to work evenings and be away from home for periods of time. It may also be the wife who decides to take a job, buy on credit or commit to a charge account or loan. It is important to discuss how these and other routine financial affairs will be handled. Do we want to buy or rent a home and at what time do we want to do this? What sort of domestic lifestyle do we want?
Other issues worth addressing include decisions on spending on gifts for each other, giving to the church and other people including respective extended family members, giving to needy people and causes, spending on parents and children, amusement, entertainment, recreation and vacation as well as expending on eating out frequently as opposed to eating at home more often. The list can be endless depending on what is important to each spouse and the degree of personal, background, cultural and other differences that shape their opinion.
In agreeing on which priorities play a key role for our families going forward, the decisions we arrive at should reflect what is important to both spouses and not just one individual. A significant degree of giving and take, accommodating each other’s needs and of seeking the other’s needs above our own must be reflected in the outcomes. This selfless perspective to prioritisation is essential to ensure we curb resentment and foster unity in the home. It is also important to realise that the decisions we agree on at this point are subject to change over time. As our individual perspectives change over time, these priorities will also change and gradually we will realise that a higher degree of mutual understanding and easier agreement on many contentious financial issues will begin to occur in our homes. However, certain areas of different priorities will remain. These areas simply emphasise our genuine personality differences and we must remember that by bringing balance and wholesomeness to our homes these differences are actually beneficial to our marriages and should be celebrated and valued. So please do not get exasperated if you hit many heated patches during your discussions on spending priorities. You simply get to know each other better.
The Choice to be Mutually Accountable
It is critical that apart from spending time deciding the family’s financial priorities we discuss the need to be accountable to each other and how we intend to achieve this. A good case in point here is the issue of whether or not to allow one spouse to buy or spend without the other spouse’s agreement. In as much as it might seem to constrain each spouse, especially the one who earns more in the home; the decisions are taken by a couple in this area usually serves as a defining line as to whether or not they are willing to actually achieve financial intimacy and really establish the primacy of their marriage over their finances.
In my opinion, it is advisable to limit any such allowances because this will reduce the need to relate, discuss with each other and be accountable to each other before making day to day financial decisions, this may rob a couple of the opportunity to develop financial intimacy. The more each person is able to expend funds without the input of the other spouse, the less accountable they will be to each other and by extension, the less financially intimate the couple will become in the long run. I must however emphasise that although it is desirable to maintain this degree of “submission one to another”, it may be challenging to achieve it overnight. It is more important that both spouses are in agreement that it is a desirable goal for their home and that they make concrete plans about how they will begin working towards it.
In my experience of counselling and speaking with couples on how to maximise their family finances, the issue of whether or not to maintain joint or separate bank accounts has always been a major one. Suffice it to say that having a joint account could help a couple begin the journey towards implementing all the ideas emphasised above including joint ownership, openness and trust, financial planning, prioritisation and the choice to be accountable to each other more easily in their finances. However, it must be emphasised that what these ideas all try to achieve is joint thinking about the finances by both husband and wife. If a couple is committed to the principles above, it is very possible to develop a joint mindset and apply all these principles to good effect without having to open a joint account. However, without a joint mindset, it is impossible to achieve financial harmony, even when joint accounts exist. A joint account is merely a tool that expresses our values, beliefs and goals as a couple. We must first define these values, principles and goals and really live every day by them before we can reap the true benefits of a joint account.
Understanding Our Individual Financial Backgrounds.
Many couples have found it very helpful to discuss their childhood experiences and the attitudes which their respective parents had toward money. Apart from allowing each person to understand the other’s background, this helps individuals identify how their spouse’s experiences have influenced their thought patterns concerning money today. Gaining access to this insight enables the individual to respond to the actions of their spouse in a manner that helps them become better over time. It also increases their compassion for their spouse having realised that they have actually inherited many of these habits and thought patterns. Without this awareness, they would naturally assume that their spouse’s behaviour was intentionally motivated to upset them. A case in point was one where a young man grew up in a middle-class family. Due to an economic downturn, his family went through a very difficult time which led to a drastic drop in their income and standard of living. Unknown to him the experiences he went through during the period had a damaging effect on his attitude to money. He became afraid of ever being in that position again in his life. When the young man got married he remained fearful of ever being poor and this coloured his decisions in the marriage. He was always inclined to save consistently without taking time to enjoy some of the fruits of his labour along the way. For him this was a protection mechanism; for his wife, this was terribly limiting way to live their lives. As they spoke about their past, they were able to realise the challenges posed to the family by the husband’s past experiences and his wife was able to pray for him and give him appropriate practical support to enable him to work at bringing about the desired changes in his attitudes. This could then take place in an environment of love and understanding.
So please find time to evaluate how your respective parents differed on how best to manage money and try to determine the circumstances that were prevalent when you were growing up with your parents. Determine those attitudes which you have inherited and how they are shaping your financial outlook. I promise you, this will lead to interesting revelations which can assist better financial understanding and support for each other in achieving your mutual goals.
How can you resolve your differences?
As depicted above, in spite of our best intentions, there will be genuine areas of disparity in opinion between husband and wife relating to our finances. So how can we avoid these issues resulting in long drawn conflicts?
The most important point here is probably to emphasise the need for our heart attitudes to be right in addressing these issues. We need to avoid an independent approach to these issues on the part of either partner. Once we can achieve the right mental attitude, we will begin to see ourselves as being on the same team, with the same goals; we just happen to have different ideas about how to get there. This makes for healthy discussions that are devoid of acrimony, more likely to lead to compromise and less likely to lead to conflicts.
It is also important to understand and make allowances for each person’s spending priorities. We need to plan and budget realistically taking each person’s needs into consideration and being flexible and ready to make necessary adjustments as situations arise.
We must always remember to respect our differences. Some individuals are naturally inclined to save; we call them savers rather than “scrooges”, “tight-fisted” or “stingy”. Other individuals are naturally inclined to spend.; we call them spenders not “wasteful”, spendthrifts”, “reckless spenders”. These are man’s labels, not God’s view. When we really look at it there are no bad or good people with money; it’s all relative to context and timing. Having someone with a saver mindset in the home could be a huge asset during lean times and having someone with a spender mindset in the home could make the family more open to giving to good causes, more inclined to make investments that will generate significant returns or more inclined to be obedient to Gods will by making investments in His kingdom when instructed. God has blessed us with differing perspectives, personalities, backgrounds, experiences etc for a reason. Let’s choose to value and celebrate these differences so that our eyes can be open to see how each person’s peculiarities are meant to benefit the family.
We must also realize that money does not bring joy or sustained happiness and we should not expect that having more of it will bring the desired happiness and marital bliss we desire. As we have heard several times, Hollywood is full of divorced millionaires!
Finally, we must allow God to be our ultimate source and let the peace we have concerning our finances be a reflection of our dependence on and trust in Him.