A memorable moment happens to almost all newlyweds at the end of their first month of marriage: Husband or wife assembles a pile of bills and receipts on the kitchen table, looks at the checkbook balance, and then breaks into a cold sweat! If the differing expectations and value systems present in every home have not collided before now, they are about to.
There's no question that the way to handle money causes stress in most marriages. The expert on money matters, Larry Burkett, once said on our FamilyLife Today radio broadcast, "Of the couples who end up getting a divorce, every survey shows between 85 to 90 percent of them say the number one problem they were having was finances."
Most of us believe that the only real money problem is "not enough." A friend of mine said, "I know I can't take it with me. But could I at least keep some through the weekend?" Deep down we all know that a money shortage usually is not the real issue. We need the knowledge and discipline to use wisely the money we already have.
As I read Scriptures about money, and as I have experienced money challenges in our marriage, I believe that God uses money to test us. He tests our faithfulness to His Word—whether we are going to trust Him to supply our needs as we give, share, and become wise stewards of the financial resources He has placed under our care. Many times, money issues have sent Barbara and me back to dependence on God.
The most important point we all need to remember about money is that it is just another part of life, not the essence or goal of our existence. If we keep our attention on God and His objectives, we will walk in obedience and help build His kingdom, and our needs will be richly supplied (1 Timothy 6:17-18).
Let me offer "hard-knock university" knowledge on finances. I am no guru on money management; bookstore shelves bulge with many good books on this topic, a number of them by Christian financial experts such as Ron Blue and Larry Burkett. But having been around the block a few times, I have some pointers I believe will be of benefit to any couple.
I love Ron Blue's summary of the proper attitude toward money in his book Master Your Money:
- God owns it all.
- Money is never an end in itself, but is merely a resource used to accomplish other goals and obligations.
- Spend less than you earn, do it for a long time, and you will be financially successful.
Having already alluded to his first two points, I want to get practical and review the thrust of Ron's third point—the basics.
Talk about money. On our radio broadcast, Larry Burkett said about couples, "I have said a million times and I believe it, if you are not communicating about money, it is because you are not communicating about anything." How true this is. It may be difficult at first to talk about this sensitive topic; but if you don't, you will talk about it eventually, and it probably won't be a pleasant conversation. Bite the bullet early! Talk about your finances, your goals, and the money-related strengths and weaknesses that will help or sabotage you.
Minimize debt. Openly discuss your level of debt. Unfortunately, it's not unusual for a couple to start marriage in significant debt, perhaps $100,000 or more due to unpaid college loans or other premarital purchases. Put a plan in place to reduce such debt and to prevent adding more because the really large investment—a home—usually waits just around the corner.
Study to learn the basics, for example, a budget. Despite the modern aids such as sophisticated computer software to track money, an alarming number of people don't know how to balance a checkbook. If you have never been taught the basics of preparing a budget, managing your checkbook, and paying bills on time, swallow your pride and learn. There are many people and resources waiting to help you. (Download this simple budget worksheet from Familylife.com. You may also want to invest in an inexpensive money management app or some computer software.)
Decide who will do what with finances. Just because the husband is the spiritual head of the home does not mean he has the gift of bookkeeping. Honestly decide between you who is best suited to do what with your money. In our home, I learned too late that Barbara was a far better financial record keeper than I could ever be. I was doing it to "protect" my wife. I should have let her do it to protect both of us!
Give and save. You should never give to get from God—that's not how He operates. But God blesses you for being obedient, and He wants you to give liberally to care for the needs of others. He also urges you to be a faithful steward (Luke 16:10-13). A critical part of stewardship is to set aside a portion of earnings for the future—the needs of your house or someone else's needs. Obviously, I'm not talking about selfish hoarding but prudent preparation for future known and unknown expenses that await every family.
Make dual-income choices. Spend a lot of time in prayer and discussion over this topic, because the ramifications of unwise decisions may influence a family for decades.
Don't develop a plastic addiction. Very, very few people handle credit cards well. Odds are good that you are not one of the minority. Easy plastic credit is a lure to tempt you to think you can escape from reality through the fantasy of getting whatever you want right now. Don't fall for it. If you need a credit card for travel or emergencies, keep it locked up at home and agree with your spouse that it can be used only by mutual consent.
Consider carefully loans or gifts from parents. When our daughter Ashley married Michael, I started thinking about the amount of money they were going to chunk out for rent. We had a little bit of wedding funding left over, so I thought maybe we should help them put together a down payment on a home.
But then I remembered that a young couple should stay focused on each other during their first year together (Deuteronomy 24:5). Buying a house is a huge distraction and can definitely take the focus off the relationship.
At some point Barbara and I may decide to help our children after marriage. But again I will heed our financial mentor, Larry Burkett, who said, "There is nothing wrong with the parent helping. Just be sure you are helping, not hurting. It might be better to take the same amount of money and buy them a car so that they owned a car for cash. Then tell them, 'Now, I want you to take the same amount of money you would have been paying on the car and save it up for the down payment on your home.'"
Consider accountability. If you are struggling with money, seek help. You may need a staff member at your church or an older couple to hold you accountable to your monthly and long-term financial decisions. There is no shame in this; doing what's right for you and your family is always right.
Use resources developed by experts. Every newly married couple should go through a Christian book or Bible study that teaches God's perspective of finances. Ron Blue worked with the FamilyLife team to create a couples study called Mastering Money in Your Marriage. I can't overstate the importance of going through a Bible study like this together. I also recommend Crown Financial Ministries for their hands-on financial training.
Jesus spoke probably the most compelling words related to money and possessions in the Sermon on the Mount: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:19-21). That financial planning sounds good to me.
Taken from Starting Your Marriage Right © 2000 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
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