Today I spent a couple hours making some major revisions to my family budget. Not because of any major life changes, nor because of some upset or problem. It’s just something I’ve been putting off for a while; we’ve been coasting on a good track that hasn’t accounted for the little adjustments in our fortunes. But I’ve been leading a group through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, and it wouldn’t be right for me to urge them to name every dollar while I myself am not.
So today’s effort was all about making a plan to use well the financial gifts God has given me, to honor him for that blessing. Having done so, I took what I had written up and showed it to my wife. We talked for a few minutes about specific items, discussed a few changes she felt would be appropriate, talked the particulars of enacting the new plan, and then we hugged, kissed, and I left to get some things done at church.
That’s it. No arguing. No yelling. No stress and struggles and tears. And I left thanking God for this uncommon blessing.
Why do I say it’s uncommon? Well, I know that even if the divorce rate isn’t really 50%, divorce is still a thing, an unfortunately common thing, and also a horrible thing. And God help us, finances almost always show up in the top five or top ten reasons for divorce when it’s studied. Sometimes number one. And even when couples don’t divorce, they still report that money is one of the top things they fight about.
Money matters more than marriage?
Well, not really. But our use of money represents our values, and our ability to communicate, and our ability to make a plan and a commitment and stick to it. Incidentally, some of the other common reasons given for divorce are “Lack of commitment,” “Lack of communication,” and “Differences in values.” Money may not be the problem, but it reveals an awful lot about what our problems are.
So I consider it a tremendous blessing that my wife and I have managed to build a marriage where money is not a point of contention for us.
I could end this here, kinda tooting my own horn and letting everyone know how awesome my marriage is. But for anyone who’s fought in the last month over money, I venture this would be a little disheartening. That’s not my goal.
My goal is to give you hope. I want you to know that money fights don’t have to be a reality. They aren’t for my wife and I because we work hard to plan well and use our money wisely, and we communicate about it. If you’re going to take hold of that hope, it might involve a change of behavior and attitude. Here are some practical steps you can take to accomplish that change:
1. Agree that you are on the same side. I suspect that in most money fights, there is the underlying assumption on the part of both people that it’s a contest to be won. But when you’re married, there is only one team – your team. In the words of Zig Ziglar, “Many marriages would be better if the husband and wife clearly understood that they’re on the same side.” Take the practical step of sitting down together and agreeing out loud, verbally, that you are on the same side. Then, you know, hug and stuff.
2. Make a budget. If you’ve never done one before, I’m sure it sounds scary and you’re probably about to close this article because you don’t like me any more. But hang on! Look, a budget is nothing to be scared of. A budget is a planning and communication tool. It may seem complicated and overwhelming, but the reality is that 85% of your budget is just writing down the things you have to pay for, like your mortgage and your car payment. The rest is what you get to do with the money you have left. So don’t sweat it. Just work it out. If you need a place to get started, here are some great tools.
3. Talk about your budget together. The coolest thing about talking about a budget is that once it’s on paper, there’s really nothing to fight about. You can’t argue more money into the income, and you can’t argue less money into the expenses. The numbers are what they are. All you can do is discuss the best way to use the money that doesn’t have to go to someone else right away. But by that point, all the stress is gone because the tough stuff is already on the page.
4. Prioritize the things that matter. Where I live, a cable and internet package can easily run you $99 a month or more, to say nothing of movies, gadgets, etc. What about putting food on the table? It doesn’t matter how entertained I am, I need to take care of my home. When figuring out your spending, your priorities should be giving to God, saving for the future, housing, food, clothing, and utilities. After that, stuff like transportation, insurance, and debt retirement are critical. You cover all that, then figure out how to entertain yourself. The thing is, once you learn to live responsibly and let your money reflect godly values, you will find both less draw to spend on entertainment and more enjoyment in what you do spend on.
This is just the beginning, but if you put this to work, you will have the uncommon blessing of not fighting about money. Hey, maybe if more people made this effort, it wouldn’t be so uncommon.