We've all heard the statistics. Money issues and arguments are one of the leading causes of marital stress and divorce. And this isn't true just outside the church - it's true in our congregations as well. Discussions about money surface all kinds of emotions, and many couples aren't equipped to deal effectively with the topic.
If you're like most couples, you probably didn't discuss money in any depth before you married. That means that you each likely entered the relationship with unspoken assumptions and priorities; and, since you're different people, those assumptions and priorities are probably a bit at odds.
Understanding how each of you relates to money is crucial to agreeing on how God's resources will be handled in your marriage. Conversations about money often start with dollars, but they need to start at a more foundational level. Your spending plan should reflect your priorities, not control them; as a result, it's important to start by discussing the key factors underlying how each of you relates to money.
Ground Rules for Discussion
First, a couple of ground rules for creating a safe space for discussion.
There are many ways you could approach a conversation with your spouse about finances. But the important thing is to understand where your spouse is coming from. What is the background behind how your spouse feels about earning, spending, giving, saving, and debt? Why do the two of you see things so differently? Let's explore a few topics to help you begin. Think of these as discussion starters only - and let the conversation flow!!
There's a good chance that you and your spouse have different family histories when it comes to money. The way your family of origin handles money impacts the way you think about it, and the same is true for your spouse. So take some time to learn about how your spouse's family handled money. Here are a few questions that might help you get started.
Our money motivations are neither good nor bad, but they are important. They influence how we see money - whether we tend to spend or save, how generous we tend to be, and more. Most of us aren't in touch with our own money motivations, let alone our spouse's…so most of us can't really explain why we prioritize one category over another in a spending plan.
There are a number of ways to view money motivations but four of the most common are freedom, security, love, and power. Each of these motivations has its strengths and pitfalls. Let's look at a few questions that can help identify your and your spouse's money motivations. Note that if your spouse's primary money motivation is different from yours, that may cause some friction - but it may also help keep you in balance as a couple!
Priorities and Non-negotiables
Our financial priorities are always shaped by deeper underlying values. For example, a financial priority on sending children to private school may be based on a fundamental value placed on a Christian education. A decision on whether to be a single-income family is influenced by priorities on how a couple wants to raise their children. Decisions about how much to spend on housing are based on priorities such as living near family or living in (or away from) a city.
Differing priorities can lead to arguments over how much to spend in certain categories. One spouse who grew up on a farm may prioritize eating organic fruits and vegetables, while the other spouse may balk at the expense. Understanding your own and each other's life priorities will help you work through planning your spending, saving, and giving.
Most of us have conflicting priorities. That is, given limited resources, we can't achieve all that we'd ideally like to do. It might not be possible, for example, to send children to a private school on a single income. Or to afford a certain size house in a certain area while also trying to retire significant credit card debt. A good priority discussion will help you identify conflicts within your own priorities and conflicts between your priorities and your spouse's. Here are a few questions to help you get started:
Putting it all together
You can see how these questions affect spending decisions and how different answers to these questions lead to different spending directions. For example, the spouse whose primary money motivation is freedom may place a high emphasis on family vacations and experiences, while the spouse whose primary motivation is security may balk at spending on expensive trips. The spouse who feels a need to care for aging parents will make different decisions about housing and location than the spouse who doesn't.
These decisions may look like financial determinations, but they're really questions of priority. Clearly understanding your own and your spouse's priorities can lay the groundwork for constructive financial planning - and help keep you on the same page in this key area of success for your marriage.
Article Contributed by our Friends at GoodSense
*Good Sense is a non-profit organization that exists to help churches equip their congregations in a key area of Christian discipleship: financial stewardship. Learn more about them by visiting goodsensemovement.org *