After years of scrimping, countless setbacks, and a handful of slip-ups, Andrew and I recently hit a major financial milestone in our marriage – completing an emergency fund by setting aside enough cash to equate three months of bare-bones expenses. I can hardly articulate the peace and sheer bliss that took over once the last transfer moved from our checking to savings; and as soon as the transaction finalized, I shot a giddy email to Andrew at work, “We did it!! Three months saved up!”
This is a huge deal for us. It’s huge because we’re a single-income family with four small children. It’s huge because it took us SIX YEARS to get here. It’s huge because it means that if disaster strikes, we’ll be in debt to no one but ourselves; but above all, it’s huge because it took some hardcore marital teamwork. At long last, our hopes and actions were in agreement with each other.
Relevant Magazine cites money as the top area of conflict in marriage and it’s no wonder. Is there a more powerful tool than money in an adult’s life? Conflict is bound to arise when two people with two ways of thinking have two different plans for how to wield that power. One person is a control freak and the other loves annual seaside vacations, or maybe neither has much hope of getting out of debt or security in the years ahead. Too many couples fall into the same trap we did and they just quit looking at their accounts. It’s easier to live in blissful ignorance to avoid a fight or a scary stack of bills. Maybe it’ll just dissolve on its own.
But just as money can be the biggest point of tension in marriage, it can conversely be the biggest point of freedom. Spouses who work together with their finances agree on long and short term goals and not just in money matters, either. They have a shared understanding of their present circumstances and a shared vision for themselves and their family. Too many people think of budgets and financial planning as arms on a straight jacket, limiting fun and eating nothing but beans so you can have a heap of cash. But truthfully, having a detailed plan is like putting a plow on the strength of your income; with persistence and good direction, you’ll reap both financial benefits and common understanding between you and your spouse.
Fantastic idea, right? It’s getting there that’s the challenge. The first step in working together is validating each other’s needs. If your mister is itching for a bass boat and your eyes are fixed on a new bedroom set, then set aside funds for both in your budget or agree about which want will be met first. If you’re ankle-, knee-, or shoulder-deep in debt, take a page out of Proverbs and “deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hunter, like a bird from the hand of the fowler.” Have you ever seen a gazelle casually trot away from a cheetah? It doesn’t happen – they bolt as fast as they can to save their own skins. To speak practically: sacrifice saving up for the boat or the vacation and put all extra cash toward your debts so you’ll be able to live life more freely. (Note: Proverbs 6 has some powerful insight into “signing surety,” or going into debt.)
A few years ago, I took out a store credit card to save on frequent purchases. The discount made me feel like I was winning against retail prices; but before I knew it, I had racked up a few hundred dollars abesentmindedly. In a long streak of barely budgeting or looking at our accounts, I approached Andrew knowing my bad habits needed to come to light. We took a thorough look at our cash flow and financial goals in a conversation that lifted the fog for us both. In prayer and faith, we set our hands to the plow and haven’t looked back. We know how to properly manage God’s gift of our income now, and our plans wouldn’t have been realized without shared participation and mutual support and honesty when things got tough.
Financial peace comes from establishing what the two of you value and writing out in your budget how those things can happen; the fantastic news is that it has no prejudices. With teamwork, a couple married for six months or 40 years who communicates and cooperates with their funds will surely experience relief. In all efforts, know that the surefire way to succeed with money in marriage is to lay this powerful tool before God together, and let go of your own will in order to more clearly see his.