The American Dream has altered over the years but still fuels our culture. Its message permeates the airwaves, social media and modern advertising. We’re promised a better body, popularity and sexier hair; all the contents of a happy life. In the place of the white picket fence and 2.2 kids is the good looking, popular and rich homestead.
A big motivation (whether known or not) for people to make a lot of money is to buffer the realities of a life that doesn’t work. A friend shared a great line with me the other day. He said,
If we can buy our way out of a problem, it’s not really a problem.”
I hadn’t considered it that way but believe it’s true. You can’t buy happiness but you can put some margin between you and life. (Despite the studies that show you can indeed buy happiness up to making around $80,000 per year, I think money delays and buffers disappointment).
Marriages contend with this struggle for happiness and financial freedom on a daily basis. Gone are the days that your paycheck is yours and yours alone. Instead of being able to easily decide the impact of a purchase, the married person now has to consider, engage and discuss the impact of a purchase on the other person. Watching the issues of money erode marital relationships is what we have all thought about the Titanic sinking: Just slow down and heed the warning of those before you.
For us, the last week of the month is without fail a matter of just making it. The fridge is bare and the pantry is fragmented with portions of non-perishable goods but no real substance. The pile of bills on the desk is at it’s apex. Thankfully the first of the month is near and we can make reset soon.
Those of you who’ve lived on a line-item budget know what I’m talking about. Budgeting is a four-letter word in our marriage. It creates friction and lots of opportunity for conflict. Neither my wife or I are excited about our end-of-the-month budget meeting. Even though we hate the process, it works really well.
Budgeting helps us to see where our money is being spent, allows us to plan for upcoming events and gives us a sense of togetherness. At times making our monthly income work for a family of six feels like I need a Ph.D in finance. Ask any marriage expert and they’ll probably mention money as being one of the biggest issues couples face in their marriage. Our marriage is no exception. The reason for this? Desire and value.
Money is the great illuminator of what is important in life. We manage and deal with our money in line with what we value and how we desire to live. This isn’t a big issue in our lives when we’re single because bouncing a check or making a costly decision only affects one person: You. The problem comes when you have two conflicting ideals about how to save or spend the money. Becoming one financially requires a level of patience and honesty that can only happen with time.
Think of the merging of your wants and needs financially with your spouse’s wants and needs as a Venn diagram. Only part of the circles will overlap. The majority of the needs/wants are going to be different. Financial security is real. This is the motivation for our monthly budget meetings. God asks us to steward our resources and for us this means that we tell our money what to do. The difficulty is deciding together the needs and wants are of our family, as well as how we work together to go about making this happen.
Start this process at the beginning of the month with a budget meeting. Consider this, if you managed your bosses money the way you manage your own, would you keep your job? As part of your engagement or early beginnings of marriage, strongly consider taking a financial class. Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace is the best class I’ve seen and experienced.
Money is unlike other issues in marriage in it’s finite definitive uses and attainable solutions. The conflicts happening around money are not really about money, they’re about wants, needs and desires. Take care of your finances to clear the way to take care of your God-given desires and other resources.