Money is like a land mine in marriage — it lies quietly in the field, until one day you step on it a certain way and it explodes. Problems with money fester over time, bringing feelings of distrust and disrespect. These feelings can easily turn into alienation in marriage.
1. It’s Our Money
“I’m the one working hard to earn the money around here, so I get to decide how we spend it.” “You’d think I could get a little respect, considering that I’m the one who makes the money to keep this family going.” Whenever I hear statements like these from a couple, it is a telltale sign that marriage problems are on the way. It doesn’t matter if the husband works and the wife doesn’t, or if they both work — it’s still all “our money.” Neither spouse should say, “It’s my money.”
In my own situation, my wife does not have a job outside the home that produces income. But that makes no difference. “The two become one flesh.” If a woman has a career that outearns her husband, it doesn’t matter. It’s not your money, it’s “y’all’s” money. So even though my wife doesn’t make money, she can spend money however she sees fit on the maintenance and the care of our home because it’s our money. The two are one.
2. Agree on Major Expenditures
I’ll never forget what a woman said to me: “He will not give me the freedom to buy a $14 dress pattern, but he will come home with $800 in tires. Somehow that’s OK for him, but it’s not OK for me.” Even though it’s our money, check with your mate before you make a major expenditure.
You don’t want to surprise your mate in the area of money. Always check with your spouse, especially when you’re about to charge a major expenditure. Trust me, if the credit company or the bank surprises your mate with what you did, that’s not a good thing. Independence in the area of money is really a lack of respect, and it causes hurt and pain. Check with your spouse and say, “This is what I’d like to do.” It honors your mate to do that. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when my wife said, “No, you can’t do that.” But she simply likes to know that she’s a valued part of our marriage.
3. Give Freedom in Small Things
A woman actually told me this: “Whenever I have to buy something, my husband drops me off at the store. I go inside and get the exact figure plus tax to the penny. I come out and tell him the amount. He gives me the exact change to the penny. Then I go back inside and purchase the item.”
Her husband was sitting there at the time and did not feel he was being demeaning to that woman. He felt he was being holy. And I said to him, “No, you’re just dumb. You’re dumb because in seeking to control, you’re treating your wife like a child. So whatever you think you are gaining, you are actually losing the love of your wife. You need to trust her with things.”
Men and women need the freedom to take care of the necessities of life. A woman needs the freedom to run a home. Paul calls a wife the oikosdespotes — literally, “the house despot.” What a word. It means the manager of the home. She needs to have the freedom to spend some money to do her job.
4. Women Can Have Money
Most younger folks don’t need to hear this, but there are still some people who think women shouldn’t make money. But the woman in Proverbs 31 is an extremely gifted businesswoman. She sells belts to the tradesmen. She considers a field and buys it and plants a vineyard from her earnings. As long as husband and wife are in agreement and it doesn’t interfere with their marriage, it is good for a woman to pursue her dreams.
5. Decide Who Does the Books
The man does not have to keep track of the money. The wage earner does not have to keep track of the money. In my family, my wife does the books. She does a wonderful job, and I’m happy to let her do it.
Let me give you a bit of guidance on this: if you’re the one who does the books, you must do them well. You can’t mess up the finances. Your spouse needs to know that things are being done right. On the flip side, if your mate does the books, then you, in a sense, have to submit yourself to what works best for them. I have to be willing to accept what works best for my wife as she keeps track of our finances. If she needs me to bring in certain receipts and invoices, then I have to do what she thinks is right. I can’t use my position as a husband to usurp her authority as the person responsible for the books.
Make life easy for the spouse who keeps track of the finances.
6. Debt Distracts
The whole essence of debt is that you have what you haven’t earned. You obligate yourself in the future to pay back the other party with interest. The root word of credit is credo, meaning, “I believe.” They believe that I will pay them back. And the Bible says that the borrower is the lender’s slave.
Stay out of debt all that you can because when you take on debt, you give up an equal amount of freedom. You simply can’t do some good things because that money is already spoken for. You are obligated to pay back that money.
7. First Things First
Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. (Prov. 3:9 – 10 NIV)
I am amazed how God uses money to make us honor him. That’s why Jesus said that your treasure is where your heart is. You can talk all you want about spirituality, but if it doesn’t transform your use of money, then your religion is just an intellectual exercise. Money is like lifeblood; it keeps you alive and keeps stuff on your table. God knows how precious it can become to us — that’s why he wants the first portion for himself.
Honor God first. And then always pay what you owe. Pay your bills. And then pay yourself by saving at least 10 percent. And what about the rest? Enjoy it. Have fun with it. Once you honor God, then take care of Caesar and your future, you can enjoy today with the rest of your money. And if you stay out of debt, you have a lot better chance of having better love now in your marriage.
That’s why I urge you to ruthlessly keep materialism out of your marriage. It is absolutely opposed to Christianity. It’s not following Christ; it’s following your lusts. Are there symptoms of the disease of materialism in your marriage?
8. Live within Your Income
People get stuck in debt because they want what they can’t afford. The only way to have better love now in your marriage is to learn to play the hand you’re dealt. The Bible says, “It is He who is giving you power to make wealth” (Deut. 8:18). God deals us different hands. God is not fair. He doesn’t deal with everybody the same.
God is good and God is just, but he’s not fair. Fair means you always treat everybody in the same manner, and he doesn’t. I am a pastor. In America today, there is a certain range of salaries that a pastor makes. I know lots of people who make more money than I do — some of them make a lot more. I have a choice: I can be jealous of all their toys, or I can be thankful for what I have. Every TV commercial, magazine ad, billboard, and Web site is trying to convince you that happiness will come by spending money you don’t have. You’ve got the same choice I have. Choose to live within your income.
I’d like to make a few subpoints here. When you’re young and getting married, you don’t get to start off where your parents are — they’ve been working for thirty years. At this point your dad may be pulling down something like $150,000 — he is doing really well. What’s the average starting salary these days when somebody is young and just married? Maybe $40,000. You have to remember that you can’t have all the toys your dad and mom had at $100,000, $80,000, or $150,000. You have to work your way up the system.
9. Beware a Dual Income
When both the husband and wife work, the couple has an extra income that they might not normally have. But the reality is that nobody wants to make more money; they want to spend more money. So when you have more money, you’re automatically going to spend more money. You get accustomed to a lifestyle that depends on both incomes. Then they have their first child, and she decides, “I don’t want to put my child in day care and let somebody else raise him. What’s the use of having a child if I can’t be a mother? I need to quit work.” Then her husband looks at the bills and decides she can’t quit work because they spend more money than he makes. They’ve painted themselves into a corner.
So the couple has to make a decision. Is it the kid or the Chrysler? And often the Chrysler wins. I’ve seen it over and over, and it leads to bitterness and division in marriage. So be careful with double incomes. If both of you work, take the second income and put it aside. Save it for college, retirement, and a rainy day.
10. Enjoy Your Money
Paul said, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). Seven times in the book of Ecclesiastes we’re told to eat, drink, and be merry. You never let what might happen tomorrow cancel out the happiness of today. Honor God, pay your bills, put some in savings, and enjoy your money.
An old sage in our church said, “Make sure you run out of money and air at the same time.” I had a professor at seminary say, “Make sure that your last check bounces.” He added, “Preferably to your kid.” Enjoy your money. I can show you plenty of verses in the Bible that support going skiing, buying a nice camera, or enjoying a nice outfit. Are you both able to enjoy the life God gives you and the money he provides?
Adapted from “Better Love Now! Making Your Marriage a Lifelong Love Affair.” Written by Song of Solomon Conference founder, Gary Chapman.
Copyright © 2007 Gary Chapman. All rights reserved. Published by Thomas Nelson.