One of the key decisions a couple needs to make in a marriage is about lifestyle. Ultimately, a lifestyle represents a set of choices driven by underlying values—the way we choose to use our financial resources and time. And if spouses do not reach agreement on this issue, conflict will be a daily feature of their relationship.

For most couples, questions related to lifestyle surface early in marriage around whose tastes will determine the appearance and furnishings of the new love nest. Barbara and I were no exception, as our differing tastes became apparent even before our wedding in 1972.

Barbara chose a silver pattern called Old Master. I visited the silver department at a department store, where I walked up to a distinguished elderly clerk and said, “I’d like to see Old Master by Towle.”

“Of course, sir,” said the woman. She showed me a setting of Old Master. It was pretty.

“Ah, that’s really interesting. How much is it?”

“It’s $59.95,” she replied.

“Did you say $59.95? That’s not bad for eight place settings of silver.”

The woman pushed her glasses back, looked at me a bit condescendingly, and said, “Son, that’s for one place setting.”

“You mean $59.95 for one place setting! Lady, do you realize how many plastic knives, forks, and spoons that will buy?” (My reaction was to 1972 prices. Today I probably would have a stroke on the spot!)

Later I called Barbara. I tried to be tactful, but frankly, I was trying to discover if she was losing her mind. She assured me that the silver was a bargain. So, basic, functional fiancé followed along dutifully and we registered for Old Master by Towle.

This searching for common ground in a new marriage can be humorous, but just how should you go about deciding the values in your marriage and family related to lifestyle?

What really is important?

For Christians, the spiritual should be more important than the physical. If partners do not make a point of defining what’s important to them, the culture, peers, advertising, and a host of other influences will rush in to accomplish the task. Three powerful influences work together to drive many couples over the financial cliff.

First, we live in a culture that worships material things. Every day we are bombarded by advertising and other messengers that shout, “You are what you own!” The media also tell us that what we have is definitely not enough, and we should aspire to bigger and better things.

Second, we compare what we have with what our parents have or with what others have been able to accumulate. Even among the Christian community the pressure to make comparisons arises.

Third, we are selfish. We want nice things. Winston Churchill once remarked, “I am easily satisfied with the very best.” With instant credit available in abundance, a young couple may satisfy their latest cravings. And many in this generation have grown up having just about anything they wanted.

I encourage you to evaluate and discuss your worship of material possessions, your tendency to compare, and your ability to deny what your eyes see and want. Hold each other accountable for purchases by establishing a budget and being in agreement about what you will buy.

This generation needs a clear understanding of Jesus’ teachings about money and possessions. He commanded us not to worry about physical needs or material things but to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). He told His disciples to travel light and encouraged them to be ready to give away their coats if people asked for them. Jesus did not have a home and was definitely not into collecting stuff. He is our model.

As a couple, you need a godly mentor couple who can model budget management and impart to you God’s heart about money, possessions, and materialism.

Your choices will empower or hamper future options

As you and your spouse discuss the specifics of lifestyle, please remember one critical truth: Decisions on how to invest resources will have a dramatic, ongoing impact on your family. I wish I could look you in the eye and ask, “Are you listening? This is really important. I’m going to warn you about a trap that is destroying many families today.”

For example, a typical scenario is for one or both persons coming into a marriage to bring along a sizable debt. For many this deficit is a result of college loans. For others it may represent money obtained by credit to buy a car, computer equipment, vacations, or a long list of other stuff.

The debt may not seem like a big deal because both husband and wife are working. In fact, the dual-income situation may encourage adding more debt, perhaps a mortgage for a nice house.

Everything may be going smoothly until the couple decides to add a little third person to enjoy the nice house and other things. But their ability to consider having a child, much less the possibility for mom to stay home to provide care, is limited or nonexistent because of debt and the cost of their lifestyle.

Before getting in this predicament, the wise couple will do what Jesus suggested: “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” (Luke 14:28–30). Now insert the word lifestyle in place of the word tower, and then read the passage again.

Counting the cost, as well as setting financial boundaries and staying within them, results in financial freedom. Choices about lifestyle often have significant spiritual ramifications too. The couple burdened with debt and lifestyle expenses that threaten to break their budget may be unable to give liberally to their church and other kingdom efforts. An opportunity for one or both to help with a short-term mission project, for example, may be denied because they can’t afford it.

My intent here is not to imply that enjoying elegant things, living in a large home, and taking a nice vacation are wrong. My point is that each couple needs to examine their situation and decide whether their chosen lifestyle fits in with the important values of life and allows them to honor, obey, and serve God as He calls them to do.

The best way I know for a couple to forge an agreement on lifestyle is to go through the process of determining your family values. Once the two of you have a clearer idea of what is really important in your marriage and family, decisions will be more obvious on lifestyle matters.

Adapted from Starting Your Marriage Right, © Dennis and Barbara Rainey, 2000, Thomas Nelson Publishers.