My wife and I celebrated our 40th anniversary Sunday. Thanks be to God!
Along the way, we've raised three sons, moved 11 times, and experienced innumerable blessings. One of those blessings is that we have never had a serious disagreement about money.
From the beginning, Joye and I combined our finances (she helped pay off my graduate school debt!). We also committed to tithing in recognition of God's ownership and our stewardship. And we've had a budget plan almost from day one. (At first, we used a wide, green-sheeted ledger that required hand-written entries — remember those?)
As I was cleaning out a file cabinet not long ago, I found one of our old budgeting ledgers. I was struck by how relatively small our income was at the time. And yet, somehow, the Lord provided everything we needed, day after day, year after year.
Looking back, a few of God's extraordinary provisions come to mind.
- Employment: We didn't have our first child until after we had been married for several years. By then, Joye was working full-time on the library staff at a major university. I worked early mornings at a radio station, then took care of our son the rest of the day while she was at work. It was a workable arrangement, but not a great one.
One day, when our son was about a year old, I was reading a Christian magazine and spied a "Help Wanted" ad for a radio producer. The qualifications matched mine so closely that it seemed like the ad was written specifically for me!
That same day, my wife came home in ill humor. It had been a rough day at work (after several rough months at work). "If you can find a full-time job," she declared, "I'm ready to quit!"
I showed her the ad.
To make a long story short, I applied, got the job, and ended up working for 13 years for financial teacher Larry Burkett, who had the most-listened-to financial program on Christian radio. (And it was through that job that I met Austin Pryor and learned about Sound Mind Investing!)
- Medical expenses: Our second son was born prematurely (32 weeks) and spent his first month in the hospital. The costs were high (although nothing approaching the staggering medical costs of today).
We requested a detailed copy of the bill and Joye reviewed it page by page, line by line. She identified multiple mischarges and overcharges. Her findings not only reduced the bill considerably, but they also entitled us to a cash reward from my employer. (The ministry I worked for was mostly self-insured, so they offered cash incentives to employees who helped reduce costs.) As I recall, we also were able to negotiate with the hospital over the remaining balance.
In the end, Joye and I set up a payment plan for the agreed-upon amount and paid off the medical debt (at no interest) over just a few months.
- College costs: Although we saved money for our boys' education, we didn't have nearly enough set aside by the time our first son reached college age. We wanted him to avoid debt at much as possible, but we weren't sure how that was going to happen.
Then something remarkable occurred. At that time, my wife was the library director at a small college in Georgia that participated in a "tuition exchange" program with other private colleges and universities around the country. However, we couldn't take advantage of that program unless a faculty member at another school had a child who wanted to attend the school where my wife worked. In other words, there had to be an "exchange."
The school Joye worked for was not prestigious or even well-known. That a young person whose parent worked for another college would want to apply was unlikely. In fact, it was so unlikely as to seem impossible.
But then it happened! A qualified student applied, the "exchange" took place, and our eldest son attended the school of his choice (a selective institution in another state) tuition-free for all four years!
Another blessing is that God helped us prepare our boys to be good stewards. From early on, we discussed money issues with them in an age-appropriate way and helped them think through the trade-offs that are inherent in every financial transaction (such as, "If you spend the money on 'A' now, you won't have it for 'B' later.")
We also focused on life skills that help control one's cost of living. Joye taught them how to shop wisely (she's a master at that). And she taught them something about cooking (an area of knowledge in which I am deeply deficient). Knowing how to both shop and cook go a long way toward being able to live well, even with modest means.
Today, all three boys are grown and on their own. Each is gainfully employed and manages money well. They're pretty good cooks, too.
As far as the day-to-day money management of our household finances, we have a good division of labor. I handle the bookkeeping while communicating with Joye regularly about our balances and cash flows. She handles gathering and organizing receipts and makes notes on them about any "split" transactions (i.e, when expenses on a single receipt should be applied to different categories, such as "groceries" and "miscellaneous").
Although we budget and track carefully, we've learned to avoid being "too tight." One way we add flexibility is by allocating a certain amount of "spend-it-however-you-want-to" money each month for each of us. (Joye calls her allocation "mad money." I call mine my "unusual" account.) Interestingly, we rarely spend that flexible money on impulse. Joye typically allows her "mad money" to accumulate for several months until she is ready to make a purchase. I'm the same way.
Having those "flexible" funds provides each of us with a sense of freedom within our budgeting structure. If Joye sees a great deal on yarn (she is a prolific knitter and crocheter), she can buy what she wants using her "mad" money without worrying about how much is remaining in our "miscellaneous" category. (Purchases from my "unusual" account tend to be things like old record albums and compact discs.)
Joye and I also have created a certain amount of flexibility in our giving. We do church giving, of course, but she likes to donate to the campus ministry that had an impact on her when she was in college. I prefer to give to media-type ministries – print publications, radio, internet, etc. So we've set up a portion of our giving funds so that each of us can give to the areas we're passionate about.
It wasn't all that long ago that retirement seemed a long way off. Now it seems like it is just around the corner. Thankfully, Joye and I have done a lot of "steady plodding" to prepare for our later years. Our nest egg isn't huge, but it is healthy — thanks in no small part to the counsel we have followed from Sound Mind Investing since the early 1990s.
Looking back, I can say, along with the Psalmist, that "the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places" (Psalm 16:6). The Lord has been gracious all along the way.
Joye and I are well aware that more financial challenges lie ahead, including those related to our aging parents, who are increasingly in need of care. But we trust that the God who made a way for us over the past 40 years will make a way in the days that lie ahead.
"Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer [stone of help], saying, 'Thus far the LORD has helped us.'" – 1 Samuel 7:12
Image used with permission.