A great number of families in the church today are no longer traditional; often they are remarriages from divorces or deaths, later in life marriages or remarriages, which often have her/his and our children. In our church of 8,000 there are a great number of couples like this for whom financial planning can be very tricky. Each may bring their own ways of doing things- which may be good or bad, financial problems and money emotional baggage left over from the previous single or married life, and fears about trusting the other. Then there are also the concerns about being fair to my, yours and our children.
How does one go about cleaning up financial issues, such as getting out of debt? People wonder about combining incomes, checking accounts and bills. They are not sure about assets brought into the marriage such as retirement funds and houses. Many want to be fair to their respective children today, sometimes it is a guilt thing, or maybe one child is having a particularly difficult time and are receiving financial help from you. How does one go about sorting this all out? I think there are 8 top areas couples should work through in order to have financial harmony:
- Make finances a top priority but pace yourself: Remember that money touches every area of life, so it is important to make this a priority, otherwise problems can worsen, division can creep in, and love that should be growing doesn’t. Secondly, since there are so many things to work out, and one spouse will usually want to move more quickly than the other, if you try to do them all at once then the tension and emotions may run high, and this is not good. Consider covering the following areas over a period of many months to a couple years.
- Get informed: Most people are not that knowledgeable about a whole host of personal financial issues. To make sure that you have a good foundation about common things like budgeting, debt, insurance and investing, it would be good to take a class to learn about them more. The best example of this is Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class. Couples should take this together, so that they can learn right ways of managing money from a 3rd party. Some couples will be able to tackle their finances together right away, but the important thing is that you gain some essential knowledge about practical financial skills now together.
- Get the right spiritual framework about finances. Find out what principles the Bible communicates about money. Read “Managing God’s Money” by Randy Alcorn together, so that you understand the basic concepts of stewardship, God’s ownership, tithe and several other topics. Crown or Compass financial Bible studies are excellent too at helping couples be unified around Christ, and not each other’s agenda.
- Build the marital relationship. You may have gone through pre-marital counseling and classes preparing for marriage. The minister who officiated your wedding had a lot of good advice too on the big day, however many couples just want to get on with being married and not really working day-to-day on the essential part of the relationship that forms the basis of a solid unit. One idea is for the couple to have a few very honest, civil and one way conversations. The agenda is for one person to talk and the other and one to listen and ask questions to understand the other one, not to respond. The listener is to work really hard at understanding. Stephen Covey’s book, Seven Habits of Effective People, Rule #5 Seek First to Understand, and then to be Understood lays an excellent frame-work for this. You are crazy in love with your spouse, and you are anxious to understand them on an intimate level. This is a wonderful opportunity for each to understand what the other’s concerns are about combining finances, fixing issues (like debt), and planning for the future. Secondly each should share their dreams about what they want financially for themselves and what they think the Lord has in mind, what they want to do together, and want they want for their own children. Lastly, each should share what they have learned from Ramsey and Alcorn: what they agree with and not. It might also be a good idea for the other to share how the other comes across when you have discussed money before. This exercise helps to build mutual understanding, and trust, things essential for managing money and building a successful marriage. I want you to fall in love more deeply with the other person as well as their hopes, dreams and concerns and desire to help them achieve them. This lines up well with the Bible verses that urge us to help others first before serving yourself, and to live sacrificially for our spouses.
- Budget meetings: First organize all bills, income, debts and establish and agree to a cash flow plan, leaving out long-term goals and expenses for such things as retirement, large purchases, and gifts to children. Here is where you want to establish a workable solution for day-to-day financial management.
- Combine daily finances. Combine incomes and expenses, have only a joint checking account and no secrets.
- Finalize the big financial plan entailing how you are going to keep some large assets separate and combine some, and plan for large purchases, retirement and death taking into consideration each other and the children.
- Seek the advise of many counselors (Proverbs 11:14), such as a Christian financial counselor to help you navigate and answer questions as you work through these and other items.
The first 3 areas provide the urgency, practical knowledge and spiritual basis so that you are on the same page, and are at least in agreement to where things should be. However, it is important to work through emotional and relational issues (#4) before you can make progress on the overall plan (#’s 5 – 8), because it is these things that tangle your ability to implement the things you have learned.