When my husband and I first got married, discussing finances was something best avoided at all costs. Money was a necessary evil, something to be endured when bill paying time rolled around, but not thought of much beyond that. I would have never guessed that 17 years later, discussing finances would become a major part of our love story. I could never have realized the value that would come from learning to talk about money, sharing our goals and dreams for our financial future, and becoming a united front in the never-ending challenge of managing our family’s money.
Does this sound impossible to you?
It did to me as well, once upon a time. My husband Curt and I could not talk about money — even in the simplest terms — without a fight ensuing. We were drowning in debt and ill-equipped to approach money discussions from a positive place. Fighting was guaranteed. I dodged financial discussions with the finesse of a ballroom dancer: pivot, dip, glide. After all, if you can avoid the discussion, you can avoid the problem, right?
Not true. While we continued to avoid talking, the problems kept piling up. Finally one night in a dark car in a parking lot, we started talking in a way that wasn’t loaded with accusation, dripping with blame, and hedging on defensiveness. We were $95,000 dollars in debt, including multiple credit cards, two cars, and student loans we had carried our entire marriage. God met us there in that car and began breaking down the barriers that existed between us, leading us out of our respective corners and into a middle ground that started us talking. That night we began to work out a plan that would take us four years and a lot of commitment to see through.
During those four years there was lots of temptation to fall apart instead of come together. We had to work towards a common goal, walking the path laid out for us together instead of each going our own way and just hoping we ended up in the same place. Learning to communicate about money in an effective way has been huge for our marriage. Here are some tips we learned:
· Your spouse is not your enemy. Identify your enemy and focus on that enemy together as a team that is united by a common goal. (Ephesians 6:12) Don’t let your enemy divide you and thereby gain the victory. When troubles and setbacks arise (as they will), pray for a united heart and the wisdom and clarity to handle the problem together.
· One spouse doesn’t get to just “check out” about the finances. The person who pays the bills shouldn’t have to shoulder that burden alone. Working together is imperative and knowing what is going on with your finances is actually — believe it or not — fun!
· Set regular times to plan, plot and assess. For Curt and I, that is usually on a lazy Saturday morning while the kids are playing and we sit in our kitchen over big steaming mugs of coffee. We have found that two heads really are better than one and having more than one perspective is wise. I never fail to walk away from these times refreshed and hopeful over what God has done, and what He continues to do in the life of our family.
· Find ways to communicate based on your unique situation. Regular communication is necessary, but with six kids, ministry duties, and my husband’s demanding full-time job, that can be difficult. We have found it best to touch base about finances through emails. My husband pays the bills but sends me updates so I know how much is left in certain budget categories based on what is being spent on an ongoing basis. While this doesn’t substitute for sitting down and talking things out, it is a realistic solution for our busy day-to-day life.
· Don’t use money as a way to control the other person. I struggle with wanting to know too much now (as opposed to once believing that “ignorance is bliss”) and can sometimes make my husband feel like I don’t trust him or am micro-managing him based on my need to know. In every conversation, temper your words with kindness and respect. If you feel yourself getting angry or accusatory, pray before you go to your spouse. Choose to believe the best about your spouse and trust God to make that happen.
· Reward yourselves from time to time with a fun date night out. Set reachable goals and build in some money for a sitter once those goals are met. Make sure you are still having fun and talking about other things besides money all the time! This is a time to celebrate your accomplishments, not wring your hands about the future. These times along the way keep things fun and refreshed in your marriage and not “all business.”
· Give together. The blessings of giving along the way will unite you in a way that is contrary to what makes sense in our scope of understanding. It might not make sense in the natural, but it is wise to build a plan for giving into your plan for living financially free. Besides, it is just plain fun to give to your church or to a family in need. My husband and I love to scheme about giving now — something I never thought would happen in a million years!
Years ago, I would have told you that finances have nothing to do with love. Now I know that money is a big part of our lives — and a big part of our love story. Getting in the ring and fighting for our financial future has united us in vision. Learning how to talk about money in a productive way has helped us learn to talk about other difficult situations. Knowing we conquered our mountain of debt together has made us stronger as a couple. And that, as they say, is priceless.
Copyright © 2009 by Marybeth Whalen, Used with permission.
Marybeth Whalen is the wife of Curt and mom of six children, ages teen to toddler. The family lives outside Charlotte, NC. Marybeth is a member of the Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker team and a regular contributor to their daily devotions. She and her husband Curt co-authored the newly released book Learning To Live Financially Free. Marybeth speaks regularly to women’s groups and enjoys sharing stories from her daily adventures as a wife, mom, homeschooler, writer, and, most importantly, a follower of God. You can find her online at www.marybethwhalen.com.