The Business of Being Married
My husband and I consider financial planning a prime date night activity. We sit close together at the kitchen table sharing our favorite take-out meal, desserts, and coffee. We pray together, then start working through the papers we each have spread out in front of us. We laugh, we get serious, and we sometimes disagree. Once we’re finished, we pack the papers away, feeling connected, informed, and aligned.
This time we spend reviewing our financial situation, plans, and goals is the business of being married and taking care of a family. We believe that a solid money management and communication plan is part of our Biblical responsibility to steward God’s resources, and we see it as crucial to the health of our marriage.
We’re not alone in that view. According to Focus on the Family and a 2007 survey by Investment News, it is money — not sex or household chores — that couples between the ages of 18 and 40 fight over the most. In fact, money is such a troublesome issue that 82 percent of survey respondents admitted to hiding purchases from their spouse. And even if they’re not outright hiding things from each other, I know many couples avoid financial discussions.
Chris and I have, thankfully, had very few big disagreements over how we spend our money, but early on in our marriage, we—and especially I—had a lot of work to do in understanding and accepting our overall financial roles.
I was 41 years old when we married, and I had been supporting myself since the age of 18. After serving as the sole breadwinner for so long before I married Chris, there was a part of me that really desired a break from the responsibility. I told myself I deserved a break. I felt entitled and that led to resentment and anger. But it was clear from our circumstances and our prayers that what I felt entitled to did not match up with God’s provision for our family at that time. Chris had an excellent job, and he worked hard, but my job paid more, and the income was steadier. I realized my sense of entitlement and my resentment were getting in the way of building a healthy marriage. I had to accept my breadwinner role as a gift from God and trust that His plans for our family were good.
If you are struggling with dissatisfaction or resentment over the financial role you play in your family, it may help to remember that wherever you are now does not dictate where you’ll be forever. Over time, Chris and I have seen our roles shift according to changing jobs and family needs. For the past few years, Chris has stepped into the primary breadwinner role and probably will continue to serve our family in that way until retirement. Looking back now, I can see God’s plans were so much bigger than I realized at the time, and I’m grateful I accepted that calling and moved forward, instead of letting my own expectations and resentments hold us back.
Establishing Your Own System.
So how do you establish a healthy system of financial management? I’ll tell you what works well for Chris and me, but really there’s no one right answer for handling the details. The one thing you must do is to make sure you and your spouse are aligned on a Biblical perspective towards the resources you have (or will have in the future). What does it mean to have money, what is it’s purpose, and what is our responsibility towards it? Biblical money management is about so much more than tithing. Remember “We have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either” (1 Timothy 6:7 NASB). All of our resources are God’s, given to us for a time to manage, use and—yes—enjoy, and to serve God’s kingdom. It dishonors God when you mismanage or misuse His resources. You and your spouse must see each other as teammates, working together to serve God well. Once you have established a firm family perspective on money and other resources, you can move on to the nitty-gritty details.
There are hundreds, or even thousands, of verses related to money management in the scriptures, certainly too many to address here. But overall I would say the scriptures call for diligence and care. The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, but those of everyone who is hasty surely to poverty. (Proverbs 21:5). At a minimum, know your financial situation and have a plan. It sounds incredibly basic to keep track of what’s going in and out of your checking account, but a shocking number of people don’t do it.
In our family, Chris and I use a “one big pot” sort of banking system where we share joint checking and savings and investment accounts, and we agree on the proportions of our paychecks to designate to each account (for more on other types of financial arrangements for dual-income couples, check out chapter 13 of Work, Love, Pray). We go for “full disclosure,” where we talk to each other about everything coming in and everything spent. Each year, we set up a budget, balance sheet, and charitable giving sheet.
Soon after we got married, we took some time to determine who would take charge of various aspects of our finances. In our family, Chris is best at paying bills and tracking money in and out, so he took charge of this aspect, and regularly tracks our monthly income, spending, and progress according to our budget. I’m in charge of tracking and researching our investments and investment opportunities. We both keep the other informed and consult on any big decisions, and we plan regular “finance” meetings to review our balance sheets and discuss it all.
It doesn’t always work perfectly, but when tension arises, it helps to remember that we’re on the same team. As we work through issues together and practice communicating effectively on financial matters, we build skills and trust that spill over into all parts of our marriage.
If you don’t already, I encourage you to start calling your own date-night budget meetings. It might seem odd or awkward at first, but it’s a great way to grow your marriage and to work together to serve your God, and in my book, that’s pretty romantic.
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