Managing Money as a Couple

There are few other topics more emotionally charged than money. In marriage, this is especially the case. Money has a way of exposing our hearts. Matthew 6:21 says that where we place our treasure, our heart will be also. So, when issues of money come up in marriage, they can very quickly become sources of conflict.

Thankfully, there is hope. There are two essential attitudes and two habits that are characteristics of couples who allow money to work as a catalyst as oneness rather than something that constantly leads to conflict.

Attitude #1: A Right Relationship with Money and Possessions

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters. (Psalm 24:1-2)

Scripture makes it clear that our relationship with money and possessions is to be one of stewardship, not one of ownership. Stewardship is when someone is asked to manage another’s resources and does so according to the owner’s vision and values. Our job then is to manage God’s resources (or our money) and do so according to God’s vision and values rather than according to our own.

Nothing we have, our money, bank accounts, homes, cars, etc. are our own. First and foremost, all these things are God’s resources that he graciously gives us to steward.

When we embrace an attitude of stewardship, everything about money changes. Income is no longer a scoreboard and your career is no longer a ladder to climb. These things become a responsibility and an opportunity to be faithful. Personal fulfillment is not the goal of our earning, saving, or spending. The goal is to honor God. Debt is not just a way to get what you want. Debt becomes something entered into with caution, thoughtfulness, and prayer.

Generosity, for believers, is not living as your please and then giving from what is left over. It means first giving in abundance and then living on what is left over. Stewardship is a complete reordering of your financial world. It boldly declares that you are not the owner of your stuff, but a manager of God’s stuff.

If money is going to be a source of oneness in marriage, you first need to realize that you are on a mission together. Your mission is to steward God’s resources, not simply accumulate wealth or live in comfort and ease.

Discuss With Your Spouse

Describe your current relationship with money. What are the main sources of conflict?

Attitude #2: A Caution with Debt

The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is the slave to the lender. (Proverbs 22:7)

Whenever a married couple spends a great deal of money, emotions are typically high. The prospect of getting a new house, new car, or other large purchase can be exciting or even intoxicating. However, when doing so requires taking on debt, there is an increased likelihood of feeling demoralized, frustrated, or even imprisoned.

Couples with a healthy relationship with money see debt as an opportunity for oneness. The best way to go about this is with caution. When the Bible talks about debt, most of the time it is warning us about it. While the Bible is also clear that debt itself is not a sin, the reasons we go into debt often are. Therefore, couples should be cautious and questioning when relating to debt.

For many couples, the financial aspect of debt is usually not the biggest struggle. Often, the emotional aspect is. The pressure of debt can weigh heavily on your shoulders and impact you relationally. This is another reason to be cautious, and if deciding to take on debt, work to get out of debt as soon as possible.

Being cautious with debt can look different for every couple. Here are some ways to be cautious with debt:

  • Clearly defining when debt is acceptable and when it is not. Ask questions like “Will debt be only entered into as a last resort?” or “Is there a pre-determined limit to the debt we want to take on as a couple?”
  • If debt is entered into, decide in advance how quickly you commit to paying that money back. “Is there a way to work together to pay this debt off as quickly as possible?”
  • Avoid using debt as a quick fix or a way to skip out on waiting. “Why do we need to make this purchase right now?” and “Could we save for a longer period to make debt less of an issue?”

Habit #1: A Financial Plan

The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty. (Proverbs 21:5)

If you are working to steward your money well, one of the first tangible steps you should take is developing a financial plan. Planning out your finances helps guide you to more faithfully steward the resources God has given you. Not having a financial plan results in more disorder and frustration.

What does biblical financial planning look like? A financial plan is a series of steps that couples regularly go through it to achieve their financial goals. Said another way, a financial plan is deciding what to do with the money God provides before it enters your bank account. This is not just a job that one spouse stewards. While one spouse can act as a “bookkeeper” of sorts, both spouses should be responsible to know and understand the plan.

A good financial plan will consist of several elements: a plan for generosity, a plan for spending, a plan for savings, and, if necessary, a plan for reducing debt. Knowing these categories in advance will help you steward God’s resources actively and intentionally.

No plan will be perfect, and even the most solid financial plan does not secure you completely against uncertainty or disaster. However, putting a plan together will help reduce conflict about money in your marriage.

Discuss With Your Spouse

Describe your current financial plan. What needs to be reassessed?

Habit #2: A Simple and Useful Income and Expense Tracking System

Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations. (Proverbs 27:23-24)

One of the easiest ways for couples to thrive financially is by using an income and expense tracking system. For many, this is the budget on a spreadsheet you started years ago. Others may still be balancing their checkbook. Regardless of your system for tracking resources, it is important to have and use one consistently.

Money has a strange way of “disappearing” when you lack proper information or do not have a good tracking system. In marriages where budgeting and money are a consistent problem, couples will often blame one another for not being mindful about money or for spending impulsively. Not following the plan (remembering Habit #1), can result in a lot of hurt, confusion, and misunderstanding. Purchasing items and allocating money can quickly become a source of conflict rather than an opportunity to be faithful with your resources.

A good tracking system allows you to do four things and do them simply:
1. Create a monthly spending plan (a budget)
2. Track every dollar you spend
3. Categorize and organize each expense
4. Compare your actual expenses to your planned expenses

There are many products, applications, and programs that help you with this process, with some offering more features, automation, or even investment and financial planning services. Some options include: Quicken, Mint, or (our favorite) You Need A Budget.

If your current system of budgeting and tracking is complicated, difficult to use, or cannot easily be used by both spouses, then it is time to think about a new system. Both you and your spouse should be able to access the facts and come together to make better financial decisions. Quality information helps draw couples closer together.

Discuss With Your Spouse

How are you doing at both budgeting and tracking your expenses? Is this something you both do together?

There is Hope

It is possible for couples to experience oneness in their finances. Money can be a way to worship and strengthen your marriage. Stewardship, rather than ownership, helps with a right view money and possessions. Stewardship, along with an appropriately cautious attitude towards debt, are great steps in this direction. When these attitudes are paired with helpful habits, money ceases to be a source of conflict and can instead be a source of oneness.

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