By Jaime Jo Wright, Crosswalk.com
One of the main reasons for tension in a marriage is money. Each spouse was raised differently regarding finances, so reconciling that with a mutual consensus on how to budget as a couple can bring a lot of conflict. There are a lot of how-to-budget resources out there. This article is not one of them.
Instead, being proactive on how to agree on a budget is important. It is arguably even more important than the budget itself if one believes that the relationship between spouses is important and deserves to be protected. That sounds a bit exaggerated, I know, but according to a 2018 survey by Ramsey Solutions, money fights were the second leading cause of divorce. So do not underestimate the dividing power of a Benjamin Franklin.
How do spouses agree on a budget? I’m not an expert in finances, budgeting, or marriage. Not really. But I can speak from personal experience. So, I will dial back from the “I know how to save your marriage from financial tensions” to a more simple “here’s what my spouse and I have done and been successful at.” Take what you will from it.
1. Verbally determine that money is not as important as your spouse.
Yes. We actually had this conversation after an especially riveting fight that led to an accusation that insinuated one of us had the proneness to flush money down the proverbial toilet while the other was raised to pinch pennies so tightly, they could break copper. Is money more important than the other spouse? No. That was an agreed-upon consensus. While that sounds simplistic, it became the basis for many budgeting conversations to come. If money is < spouse, then the spouse is > the bank account, which meant compromising our individual opinions was critical to finding a middle ground.
Ugh. That’s a tough one. Especially if one is trying to save the household from financial bankruptcy and debt while the other seems bent on getting you into that dark abyss of never-ending interest rates. However, no problem was ever solved by two parties refusing to agree with the other’s stand. If you can achieve that, then kudos! You’ve made much further ground than many couples. Sometimes, one of you just realizes the other’s stance makes financial sense, and they go with it. Fabulous! But for those of us who are too stubborn to see the rightness in our spouse’s point of view—whether that’s being too liberal or too conservative with money—learning to compromise is very important. Meet in the middle. Neither of you will like all the elements, but it’s a step that will save severe controversy.
3. Accept that your money is not your own.
I don’t mean that you earn a paycheck, but you have to share it. Some couples do, some don’t. It all depends on how you set up your budget. What I mean is that your money is a gift from the Lord. If you, as a couple, can come to terms with that, it will benefit you greatly. Because, as the Lord’s money, you both will lean toward becoming stewards of it as if you were caring for someone else’s bank account. Really, you are. God has gifted you with your funds—how can you spend them wisely versus rashly? That element of caring for a gift brings a cautiousness to the situation and brings an element of teamwork into the situation. One that is easier to agree upon than when you’re fighting for your own financial rights.
4. Eliminate what you want in exchange for what is best.
This is the time to set yourself aside. Your wants, desires, instincts, and even what you may feel are your rights. Some of us are particularly possessive of the money we bring in. Others feel they have a right to spend money on certain things they view as necessities, while their spouse views them as frivolous. Many of us don’t like to sacrifice when it comes to budget, and then those of us who don’t mind it also don’t have as much sensitivity to those who feel as if their financial freedoms are being threatened.
Take an imaginary situation, for example: Husband feels that going out for lunch on a regular basis with his buddies is fine. It’s normal. It’s even healthy socially. There is no good reason to stop doing it even if it saves $60.00 a week, equating to $240.00 a month. Wife feels that getting her nails done twice a month at $60 each time is less than her husband’s monthly lunch budget, and therefore it’s only right she can continue this habit. Husband sees wife’s nail pampering as unnecessary and wasteful—if not vain. Wife sees the husband’s habit of eating out with the guys as unhealthy both monetarily and physically—not to mention why won’t he take her out to eat once in a while?
We begin to start the fair is fair war. Or the “I want this” over the “is this the best for our financial budget right now?” This is when the husband needs to be willing to cut his lunches down if necessary, and the wife may need to scrape by with less pampering. Sounds awful when they’re active parts of your lives and you enjoy them. But being willing to eliminate what you want in exchange for what is best sets you up to successfully compromise and have healthy dialogue instead of defensive arguing.
5. Avoid insults.
The example above leads to another point about our potential to insult. When we want the other to drop something that we feel is unnecessary or detrimental to our budget, we can often turn away from a logical, unemotional assessment to an insulting, offensive attack on the one we love the most.
If the husband decides his wife’s nails are “stupid” and a “waste of money” when she could “buy a bottle of polish for five bucks,” what the wife probably hears is: “you’re stupid,” “you’re not worth the money,” and “your desire to look good has no value to me.”
This can go both ways. His wife’s criticism could imply his friends are unimportant, and eating out will make him overweight or unattractive to her.
Lack of respect is a perfect equation for a tension-filled budget. It will sabotage efforts to gain financial stability and wise spending. It will take the conversation far deeper than money to the very fabric of your relationship. Suddenly, the budget is no longer the issue—it’s one of respect, love, and the very value each spouse believes the other holds for them.
When it comes to agreeing on a budget, plan to safeguard your conversations before you start budget conversations. Be aware of sensitive topics. Be respectful. Be intentional and willing to consider agreeing to decisions you’d rather not. Most of all, be mindful of your spouse, their feelings, their value, and their need for your respect. Great in-roads can be made in discussing the ultra-sensitive topic of finances when you can do that. But this time, you’re doing it hand-in-hand instead of resorting to hand-to-hand combat.
Jaime Jo Wright is an ECPA and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author. Her novel “The House on Foster Hill” won the prestigious Christy Award and she continues to publish Gothic thrillers for the inspirational market. Jaime Jo resides in the woods of Wisconsin, lives in dreamland, exists in reality, and invites you to join her adventures at jaimewrightbooks.com and at her podcast madlitmusings.com where she discusses the deeper issues of story and faith with fellow authors.