There is much truth in the old saying that, “Love flies out the window when money problems come in the door.”
Couples Quarrel About Money
One survey suggests that 60 percent of couples quarrel seriously over money. This makes money management one of the most sensitive aspects of marriage.
Two traditional weapons used by husbands and wives against each other are money, which he controls; and sex, which she controls. But neither works very well in our modern world. He can’t control the money if she goes to work. And the books now tell her she’s an inadequate woman if she’s not sexually responsive.
Why Couples Quarrel About Money
Actually, money quarrels are usually not really about money. They are more likely about:
1. Power. Marriage counselors insist that most money quarrels are really power struggles in disguise. Family members who have money tend to try using it as a means of manipulating those who don’t. Money may be the weapon the husband uses to dominate his family, to prove he’s in charge.
2. Priorities. Couples fight over opposing life goals. He wants a machine, she wants flowers. He wants transportation, she wants furniture. He wants to give money to the good cause; she wants to spend it on the children.
3. Parents. In one survey, one out of three couples said their parents were critical of the way they spend money. Even worse, every bride and groom bring a picture of their parents’ home into their new one. Their parents’ home is almost certainly the largest contributor to their ideas about how money should be spent and who handles it.
The bride, who is disappointed when her husband cannot provide for her as well as her father did, is being both belittling and unfair. A man just beginning his career and, at the same time, trying to accumulate the necessities for a new household is not in a position to provide for his wife as well as her father did in his mid-life years.
Money Principles for Couples
Here are six guidelines for family finance:
1. Trust God. Put God first. Put God first because it’s right. Transfer ownership, not only of your money, but of your time and talent. The person sees these, not as things he owns, but as gifts from God.
The little girl was planning to give her father a pair of slippers for his birthday. Someone asked where she was going to get the money. She frowned, then brightened, “Why, Daddy will give it to me.” Like the girl, all we have is what our God gives us. The formula for making money is: talent+ time + opportunity + effort = money. If the first three are God’s, how can we say the money is ours?
Put God first because you love Him. You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.
Put God first because you trust Him to then help with the rest. Give what you can now, and as you cooperate with God your hand will open to impart still more, and God will refill your hand that the treasure of truth may be taken to many souls. He will give to you that you may give to others.
God loves giving gifts to His children, but He dares give only so long as your hand is open. Every gift He gives is a test to see whether it is safe to give more. If you use His gifts selfishly, He may have to withhold future gifts to protect you from total self-centeredness.
2. Claim self-esteem. Too many men presume their masculinity is measured by their ability to make money. When a family’s living standards must be lowered, or a wife is forced to take a job, a man’s self-esteem often plunges.
Now, money is important, but not important enough to be your principal source of self-esteem. As Henrik Ibsen said, “Money may be the husk of many things, but not the kernel. It brings you food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; acquaintances, but not friends; servants, but not faithfulness; days of joy, but not peace or happiness.” You have a higher claim to self-esteem than money.
Claim the right to self-esteem through your creation. Tools succeed when they do what they were designed to do. It’s hard to drive a nail with a screwdriver or turn a screw with a hammer, but use them as they were designed to be used and each succeeds.
God designed you and God doesn’t design failures. He has a plan for your life and His plans succeed. When you’ve failed it’s probably because you’ve tried to be something God didn’t design you to be. Find the place that fits His design and you’ll succeed: The only way you can fail in life is by refusing to follow His plan.
Claim the right to self-esteem through your redemption. How do you find out what a certain painting is worth? It’s worth is determined by what someone who knows it’s true value is willing to pay for it.
Don’t look to money for self-esteem.
3. Question prosperity. We’re all tempted to equate wealth with happiness. Don’t be too quick to assume you’d be better off if you just had more. Actually, the more you have the more you want.
Ellen White uses a dramatic illustration, “It is not the empty cup that we have trouble in carrying; it is the cup full to the brim that must be carefully balanced. Affliction and adversity may cause much inconvenience, and may bring great depression; but it is prosperity that is dangerous to spiritual life.”
For example America is suffering from an epidemic sometimes called “Affluenza” (Affluence). The more people have the more they move away from being happy when their needs are met, and the more they move toward being happy only when their wants are met. India is not exceptional. One generation’s luxuries have become the next generation’s necessities. One decadent philosophy is blazoned across tee shirts, “The guy who dies with the most toys wins.”
Interestingly, as incomes go up, giving comes down. A Gallup poll shows that low and moderate-income people give a higher percentage of their money (2.8 percent) to charity than do their middle-income counterparts (1.7 percent).
Money may cause more quarrels among middle-income families than among others. High-income families have enough extra so each can have most of what they want. Low-income families can provide only the bare essentials and there’s agreement on what they are. But middle-income families, who can afford only a few extras, quarrel over them a great deal, because they must decide whose extras they’ll afford and whose they’ll go without.
Hard work, in turn, leads to prosperity and affluence. Most cannot wake up in an expensive house, put on expensive clothes, ride around in an expensive car and keep revival fires burning. If we have here everything the body requires and almost everything the heart desires, we just don’t likely live for over there.
4. Shun debt. “The borrower is the slave of the lender.” Being in debt is like being a slave. In neither case are we free to make our own choices. Indebtedness turns the control of our lives over to the lender and we can’t be content when our lives are controlled by anyone.
It’s easier to live without even the simplest of luxuries than to live with them and an accompanying fear of the bill collector. No wonder Ellen White advised, “We should shun debt as we should shun the leprosy.”
Pay cash for day-to-day necessities. This helps you save in at least two ways. You save the cost of interest. If I offered you a plan for a 10 to 20 percent discount on everyday expenses, surely you’d want in on it. Saving the 10 to 20 percent interest on charge accounts does just that.
The pay-cash principle also helps you save because you tend to look around more and spend a bit more reluctantly when you have to part with the money right now. And you’re free to purchase where you get the best buy rather than where you get the easiest credit.
Plan ahead for bigger items. Even if you have to buy on credit, you will have time to save at least a good down payment. Beware of impulse buying. Make it a purposeful plan to wait a week after your first impulse to buy an expensive item. Give your immediate desire time to cool.
A good rule of thumb is to have no more than two credit cards or charge accounts. The more you have, the greater the psychological tendency to overspend. Most people cannot comfortably afford to devote more than 10 percent of their take-home pay to installment debt (not including mortgage payments).
5. Set goals. Ask, “What do we need?” Until the family can agree on the answers to that question there can be no peace. More money doesn’t necessarily mean fewer fights, since many families quarrel over what to do with discretionary funds. Luxuries are what other people buy. We each tend to honestly believe that what we want is a necessity and what our spouse wants is a luxury.
The way to be happy is to make happy. This principle is never applied more practically than when we negotiate, compromise or capitulate and finally come to an agreement on financial goals.
All should learn how to keep accounts. Some neglect this work as nonessential, but this is wrong. All expenses should be accurately stated.
There should be short term goals, such as getting out of debt by a certain date. There should be long-term goals, such as meeting housing or transportation needs. Setting goals tells your money where to go rather than trying to figure out where it went. After answering, “What do we need?” ask “How can we get it?” There are really only two basic answers to financial problems: make more, or spend less. There is a third answer that especially tempts people from financially disadvantaged backgrounds. They want the government, welfare or someone else to pay, but that’s self-defeating. If you cannot earn your own way in life you will not maintain your selfesteem. And without self-esteem you cannot be happy no matter how much you have.
One way to make more is to get more education. That may need to be one of your primary goals. If a man empties his purse into his head, no one can ever take it from him.
Financial counselors almost invariably recommend a family budget. The problem is that financial counselors are financial counselors partially because they’re the kind of people who like budgets and accounting. Many people don’t. One fellow said his wife has a budget, but she treats it just like the government. When she runs over it, she just backs up and runs over it again.
A budget is actually just a way of systematizing your goals. If you find that a detailed budget cramps your style, prepare a broader one that paints your financial picture in broader strokes—a general plan for spending. Or, try a detailed budget for only a little while. It’s a good way of finding out where the money’s going so the problem can be faced rationally rather than emotionally. A budget keeps you from hiding what you owe. It might amaze you to learn just how much debt you actually have.
Husbands tend to blame their shopping wives for high prices. That’s both illogical and unfair. Seeing the figures written down in a budget helps everyone see how much things are costing.
If you have extravagant habits, cut them away from your life at once. Unless you do this, you will be bankrupt for eternity. Habits of economy, industry, and sobriety are a better portion for your children than a rich dowry.
It’s ideal if you can write into your budget a minimum of five percent savings for each pay period. This is an excellent way to plan ahead for reaching your long term goals.
6. Consult family. Families that quarrel a lot are usually unable to communicate freely on financial affairs. They are often more reluctant to discuss money matters than sexual matters.
Many wives tend, unreasonably, to regard their husbands’ earnings as “our” money and their own earnings as “my” money. On the other hand, one sign that a couple is on the right road to financial agreement is for each partner to have a personal money allowance that need not be accounted for. This shows mutual trust and a realization that lives are not made to be regulated down to the last cent.
Couples who can openly consult with one another invariably learn that one of the two is a better money manager than the other. Financial advisors strongly recommend that that person should handle the money and pay the bills no matter how it was done in the parents’ family.
Many couples withhold information about family finances from their children. Parents should feel a responsibility for teaching their children about finances. If decisions are made together, children are being trained to handle money. As a rule, youngsters are better able to accept deprivations when their parents are frank about money matters. They may become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
One wise way to negotiate the setting of financial goals is to ask each member of the family to prepare his/her own list of spending priorities. When lists are compared, each at least begins to understand the other.
The fact is that people can live on a lot less money if they have a lot of family love. If they’re happy in other areas, money problems seem less crucial. Like any other crisis, a family that handles a money crisis together will end up being closer than before.
John Wesley’s three-point sermon summarizes the money issue as well as any. What should be the family’s principles in managing family finance?
1. “Make all you can.” Develop your gifts. Work hard.
2. “Save all you can.” That is, learn to control your spending.
3. “Give all you can.” First to God, then to family and those in need. Your life is of greatest value and you’ll find greatest contentment when you live to give. You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.