He says: “I think my wife, Laura,* spends money on unnecessary items—at least on things that I don’t think we need. And she seems to be unable to save! This becomes a real problem when we have unexpected expenses. I’ve often said that if my wife has money in her pocket, she’ll spend it.”
She says: “Maybe I’m not the best at saving, but my husband has no idea how much things cost—food, furnishings, household expenses—and I’m the one who’s at home the most. I’m aware of what we need, and I buy it even if it leads to another ‘discussion’ about money.”
MONEY can be one of the most difficult subjects for a couple to discuss calmly. No wonder that it often tops the list as the most common cause of marital arguments.
Couples who have an unbalanced view of money might suffer stress, conflict, and emotional—even spiritual—damage. (1 Timothy 6:9, 10) Parents who fail to resolve money issues may be forced to work more, depriving their children and each other of emotional and spiritual support. They also teach their children to be unreasonable about money.
“Money is for a protection,” acknowledges the Bible. (Ecclesiastes 7:12) But money will protect your marriage and family only if you learn not just how to control it but also how to talk to your spouse about it.* In fact, rather than being contentious, discussions about money matters can actually strengthen the bond between marriage mates.
Why, though, does money cause so many problems in a marriage? And what practical steps can you take to make money a constructive topic rather than a contentious one?
What Are the Challenges?
Often, disagreements over money are not really about cash or credit but about trust or fear. For example, a husband who demands that his wife account for every cent she spends might really be saying that he has little faith in her ability to manage family finances. And a wife who complains that her husband saves too little could actually be expressing her fear that some future event will cause the family financial harm.
Couples also face another challenge—their backgrounds. “My wife comes from a family where money was managed well,” says Matthew, who has been married for eight years. “She does not have the hang-ups that I do. My father was an alcoholic and a chain-smoker and was out of work for extended periods of time. We often had to do without essential items, and I developed a real fear of being in debt. At times, this fear makes me unreasonable with my wife about money matters.” Whatever the reason for the tension, what can you do to make your money work for your marriage, not against it?
What is more important to you—money or your marriage?
Four Keys to Success
The Bible is not a financial handbook. But it does contain practical wisdom that can help a couple to avoid money problems. Why not consider its advice and try the suggestions listed below?
1. Learn to talk calmly about money.
“With those consulting together there is wisdom.” (Proverbs 13:10) Depending on your background, you may feel awkward when consulting others, especially your mate, about money matters. Even so, wisdom dictates that you learn to discuss this important subject. For example, why not describe to your spouse how you think you might have been affected by your parents’ attitude toward money? Also, try to understand how your mate’s background has influenced his or her attitude.
You do not have to wait until a problem arises before you talk about money. One Bible writer asked: “Will two walk together unless they have met by appointment?” (Amos 3:3) How does this principle apply? If you set a specific time to talk about financial issues, you lessen the likelihood of conflict resulting from misunderstandings.
TRY THIS: Pick a regular time to talk about family finances. You could have the conversation on the first day of each month or each week on a set day. Keep the discussion brief, possibly lasting about 15 minutes or less. Choose a time when you are both likely to be relaxed. Agree not to talk about money at certain times, such as at the meal table or when relaxing with the children.
2. Agree on how income will be viewed.
“In showing honor to one another take the lead.” (Romans 12:10) If you are the only one who earns a wage, you can honor your spouse by viewing your income, not as your personal money, but as family money.—1 Timothy 5:8.
If you and your spouse both earn money, you can honor each other by disclosing your income and major expenditures to each other. If you hide either from your mate, you may well undermine trust and cause damage to your relationship. You do not necessarily have to consult your mate before spending every cent. But if you discuss larger purchases, you prove that you value your mate’s opinion.
TRY THIS: Agree on an amount that each of you can spend without having to consult the other, be it $20, $200, or some other figure. Always consult your mate if you want to spend more than that amount.
3. Put your plans on paper.
“If you plan and work hard, you will have plenty.” (Proverbs 21:5, Contemporary English Version) One way to plan for the future and avoid wasting your hard work is to create a family budget. Nina, who has been married for five years, says: “Seeing your income and expenses on paper is a real eye-opener. It’s difficult to argue with the facts.”
Your method of budgeting does not need to be complicated. Darren, married for 26 years and father of two boys, says: “At first, we used an envelope system. We placed the money for the week into different envelopes. For example, we had food, entertainment, and even haircut envelopes. If we ran short in one area, we borrowed from another but always made sure that we paid the money back into that envelope as soon as we could.” If you rarely pay your bills with cash, using either electronic banking or a credit card, it is especially important that you have a plan and keep track of your expenses.
TRY THIS: Write down all your fixed expenses. Agree on what percentage of your income should be saved. Then list your variable expenses, such as for food, power, and phone bills. Next keep track of your actual expenses for several months. If needed, adjust your lifestyle so that you do not sink into debt.
4. Agree on who will do what.
“Two people are better than one, because they get more done by working together.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10, New Century Version) In some families, the husband cares for the finances. In others, the wife capably cares for this responsibility. (Proverbs 31:10-28) Many couples, though, choose to share the load. “My wife looks after the bills and smaller expenses,” says Mario, who has been married for 21 years. “I care for the taxes, contracts, and rent. We keep each other informed and work as partners.” Whatever your method, the key is to work together as a team.
TRY THIS: Taking into consideration each other’s strengths and weaknesses, discuss who will care for what responsibility. Review the arrangement after a couple of months. Be willing to make adjustments. To help you appreciate the work that your spouse does, such as paying bills or shopping, you might want to swap roles occasionally.
The Real Message in Money Discussions
Your money discussions need not stifle love. Leah, who has been married for five years, found this to be true. She says: “My husband and I have learned to have open and honest conversations about money. As a result, we now work as a team, and our love has grown.”
When couples discuss how they want to spend money, they share their hopes and dreams and confirm their commitment to the marriage. When they consult together before making large purchases, they show respect for each other’s opinions and feelings. When they allow each other freedom to spend a specific amount without consultation, they express trust in each other. Those are the ingredients of a truly loving relationship. Such a relationship is surely worth more than mere money, so why argue about it?
Names have been changed.
When was the last time that my spouse and I had a calm conversation about money?
What can I say and do that will show appreciation for the financial help my spouse gives the family?