Money and Marriage

What makes money such a "big deal" in marriages?

Heather has had a lifetime of experience with making small budgets stretch. Raised as a pastor’s daughter, she now writes from south Georgia, where her husband pastors two churches. They have three children under the age of four.

Money—it is a "big deal." If it’s not to you, then chances are it is to your spouse. Let me clarify: a “Big Deal” does not necessarily mean you have a lot of money. If that were the case, you probably would not have married a pastor. It just means that it is important to you how it is used.

Many studies list finances as the number one trigger for fights in marriage. So what makes money such a “Big Deal”? I would suggest that your choices on how to use money are some of the most personal and revealing decisions you make. Way before getting married you developed your views on the value, importance, and proper use of money. Once you are married those beliefs do not automatically align with those of your spouse. In fact, you may not even be aware of every aspect of your financial views. If you are still finding money to be a “Big Deal” in your marriage, here are five steps to help both of you get on the same page:

To start, ask yourself whom your income belongs to. Is it yours, your spouse’s, or something you share as a couple? If you look at money as something that you own, then fighting over it is inevitable. Recognizing that as a Christian everything you have belongs to God and acknowledging that even your finances are a tool on loan from Him will have a dramatic impact on how you look at money.

Lay your income before God on a regular basis. Ask Him to direct you as a couple in how you use your resources. Review your spending to see if it is in line with God’s values. He is not a harsh taskmaster who grudgingly gives only what is necessary. God loves to bless His children in the ways He knows will be for their best good. Surrendering your finances to God and allowing Him to direct in their use will eliminate the stress that comes with tight budgets or conflicting interests.

Step two is to take time individually to evaluate and identify your feelings and values as they relate to money. As you try to pinpoint your views, think about how your family life growing up might have affected your perspective. For example, if there never seemed to be enough money growing up, you may feel stressed when it is spent in what you perceive as a frivolous manner.

It is also important to get an idea of the financial patterns you formed before getting married. Did you carefully save every extra bit, or did you buy a drink with the spare change in your pocket? Everyday decisions say a lot about the values we have in relation to money!

Think about what financial categories you feel should get top priority. I hate spending money on vehicles, but having a good car is important to my husband. His vehicle standards are very reasonable, but I still dislike spending money on cars. On the other hand, I appreciate a comfortable and attractive home, something that is not as big a deal to Andrew. Identifying our different financial priorities has given us the opportunity to communicate through our differences and get on the same page about how to handle them.

Once you have identified your financial values and views, take some time to share with each other what you have discovered. You do not have to reconcile all your ideas right away, but this information will be helpful next time you run into a situation where you disagree.

The third step to eliminating the “Big Deal” in your finances is to create a budget. This is something I strongly encourage you to do together. Agree to hold each other accountable to this budget but feel free to readjust it, as a couple, when you identify areas that need a second look. Having a budget you both created helps ensure that your individual financial priorities are addressed. This cuts down on the frustrations of seeing money used in a way that may not be your first choice.

Step four is to create a list of “big ticket” items that both of you want to purchase during the next year or so. By “big ticket” I mean things that you will probably have to save for, such as a special vacation or a car. Once you have your list, number each one in order of importance, with consideration to both of your desires. Having this list gives you concrete goals that you can work toward together.

Finally, make sure you include personal allowances in your budget. Even if you can only afford a five- or ten-dollar allowance, do it! Having money that you can use at your own discretion allows you both to have some freedom of expression. Make it a rule not to comment on how the other uses this allowance.

Marriage is a beautiful depiction of how two people can become one in every aspect of life. It is also a commentary on how this “oneness” gives each partner the freedom to express their individuality. If money has been a “Big Deal” in your marriage, I challenge you to lay it first before God and then, with His guidance, to tackle it as a team. Take time to work through your differences in an understanding way, and keep in mind the financial priorities of your spouse. You will be richly rewarded!

How to Make a Budget

1. Track your spending. This is the key to setting a realistic budget. It takes a little time, but it’s the best way to know where your money is going. Record all your spending for at least two months. Make sure to include all small purchases (drinks, snacks, etc.), not just big costs.

2. Categorize your expenses. List utilities, rent/mortgage, groceries, clothing, savings, etc., based on the information you’ve tracked. Try to be as specific as possible so you don’t have a miscellaneous category that accounts for a third of your spending.

3. Compare income with outflow. Add up the costs of each category for each month. Look at your total income and compare it to the amount of money going out each month.

4. Evaluate your goals. Are you satisfied with the spending in your various categories? What financial goals do you have? How well are you meeting those goals?

5. Set realistic budgets for each category. Discuss each category together and decide what amount is realistic, based on what you’ve tracked. Add up all the categories and compare the total budgeted outflow with your total income to make sure it is compatible.

6. Start an emergency fund. You’ll need this to cover surprise expenses as they arise.

7. Stick to the budget. The key is to spend no more than what you’ve allotted for each category. A good way is to put cash in an envelope for each category at the beginning of the month. When the cash runs out, you have no more to spend. If you live in a country where it is possible, you can also purchase gift cards to stores where you usually shop (such as Walmart) instead of carrying cash for every category.

Heather has had a lifetime of experience with making small budgets stretch. Raised as a pastor’s daughter, she now writes from south Georgia, where her husband pastors two churches. They have three children under the age of four.