By Brent Rinehart, Crosswalk.com
When my wife and I were young newlyweds, we tried to do the right things. We took financial classes at our church, and we attempted to talk about budgets and money at home. But, instead of bringing harmony and consensus, these talks seemed to devolve into arguments--or times of “spirited fellowship” as I’ve heard it described.
It’s hard for couples to talk about money. A study from Ramsey Solutions – a company started by financial expert Dave Ramsey – found that money is the number one issue that married couples fight about. And furthermore, fights about money are the second leading cause of divorce, behind infidelity.
Talking about money is not easy, especially if your relationship consists of one saver and one spender. For my wife and I, we aren’t necessarily on opposite ends of the spectrum. Instead, one of us thinks more about our finances than the other. We both make the money, but I handle the finances more, monitoring the accounts and paying the bills. Therefore, it’s on my mind a lot more than it is for my wife. It’s not right or wrong.
Whatever the situation is in your home, finances bring a unique set of challenges, and we have to be up to the task to meet them head on. We have to know how to avoid the common things that drag us into financial disagreements that cause discord in our marriages.
Start with a Foundation
Before approaching this topic of money, it’s important to start with a simple truth. You don’t have money. I don’t have money. Your husband or wife doesn’t have money. It’s all God’s; He’s just trusting us with some of it for a little while.
“The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). Everything belongs to God, we are just called to be faithful stewards of what He’s given us. So many arguments come out of the lack of trusting and truly believing in this concept. We fight about money because we are hanging onto it. We clinch our fists around it and want to have autonomy in how it is used. On the contrary, God wants us to have open palms, trusting Him with everything in our lives--including our finances.
When a husband and wife grasp this concept together, they are prepared to tackle any financial challenge that awaits. They will also be positioned to give back so much more and bless others around them for the glory of God.
Have the Conversations
Just because talking about money is hard doesn’t mean we should avoid it. In fact, we should welcome the opportunity to meet it head on. We have to talk about money openly and honestly. We also have to fight the urge we have to be defensive…or in some cases, offensive.
These money talks are not only times to get on the same page about your finances. They are also times to grow closer to your spouse. It’s an opportunity to get to know each other more intimately--to create shared dreams of your future together.
According to Ramsey, “those who say they have a ‘great’ marriage are almost twice as likely to talk about money daily or weekly compared to those who say their marriage is ‘okay’ or ‘in crisis.’” Ninety-four percent of respondents to the aforementioned Ramsey survey who say they have a “great” marriage discuss their money dreams with their spouse, compared to only 45 percent of respondents who say their marriage is “okay” or “in crisis.”
The interpretation is this: a great marriage involves open conversations about money and developing a shared vision of what the financial future should look like.
Create a Budget or a Roadmap and Stick to it
Budgets are a critical aspect of managing household finances. But, don’t let the budget run your life. You can keep each other accountable, but don’t be dogmatic about it. Don’t be like I was as a young husband. Early on in our marriage, I was so concerned about tracking our money that sometimes it was the first thing I would ask my wife about when I saw her at the end of the day. Not “Hey Honey, how was your day?” Instead I would ask for her receipts. Rookie mistake.
It's critical to have a plan. You have to know how much you are making and spending for the obvious reason: so you don’t spend more than you make and go into debt. But, don’t let a budget dominate your life. A budget is simply a tool you can use to ensure you are being a good steward. It’s a guide that can change with time as your earnings and expenditures evolve. Don’t let the budget itself become the Gospel. If you do, you’ll leave little room for the Spirit to work in your marriage, bringing about the fruits of “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Combine your money
For our first few years of marriage, we had separate accounts. It just seemed easier to keep on doing things the same way we always had. It’s a hassle to close accounts and change your direct deposits. But, after a little time, I soon discovered the err of my ways. I knew we had to combine our bank accounts as quickly as possible.
Listen, I realize this is a personal choice. Some couples think that maintaining separate accounts is the ticket to a conflict-free marriage and you won’t have these common fights. It’s the divide and conquer idea, where one person is responsible for some bills and the other is responsible for others. Sounds nice on paper.
But, I happen to disagree, as does Ramsey. “This lays the groundwork for financial problems as time goes on. Marriage is a partnership. Both parties need to be involved in the finances. Separating the money and splitting the bills is a bad idea that only leads to more money and relationship problems down the road. Don’t keep separate accounts. Put all of your money together and begin to look at it as a whole.”
I’m a living testament to it. After my wife and I combined our finances, it dramatically reduced my stress level. We each felt more ownership in our budget and we had a clearer picture of how things were going. There was open communication, and we could clearly see together the best way to utilize our budget.
Arguments and disagreements in marriage are going to happen, and money is likely to be a subject that will bring them to pass. But, if you fix your eyes on Jesus and avoid shying away from meeting your financial challenges head on together, you can make it through.
Brent Rinehart is a public relations practitioner and freelance writer. He blogs about the amazing things parenting teaches us about life, work, faith and more atwww.apparentstuff.com. You can also follow him on Twitter.