Pulling out groceries from the bags my husband Russ had just brought home from a store, I began to feel tense. He had bought much more than I usually did, and many of the items were unnecessary extras.
“What are we going to use all those gourmet sauces for?” I asked, gesturing toward a group of jars he was stuffing into our pantry.
“Oh, I don’t know yet, but I’m sure we’ll come up with a recipe for them,” Russ replied cheerfully. “They look interesting.”
Russ nodded and kept unpacking groceries.
I walked into our living room and rummaged around inside a cabinet until I found some videos he had bought on impulse from a gift shop on a family vacation several years before. Then I waved them dramatically in front of Russ as I exclaimed: “Remember these? You said there were interesting, too! They seemed interesting enough for you to spend nearly $100 on them years ago. But the kids have never even watched them!”
“We’re going to use these sauces!” Russ declared defiantly, waving a jar in front of me as dramatically as I’d waved the videos in front of him.
“Even if we do, they’re a waste of money!” I retorted, picking up the grocery store receipt from the kitchen counter. “Look at this! The groceries cost more than twice as much when you shop as when I shop!”
“That’s because you just buy the basics! You should be glad I bought more for us!” Russ exclaimed, holding a jar of sauce like it was a championship prize.
“You should be glad I save our family money!” I declared, unfurling the long receipt until it stretched down toward the floor.
Suddenly, it hit us how ridiculous we were being to use props to make our points to each other, and we ended the argument with laughter. But the frequency of our arguments over money was no laughing matter.
Ironically, we were in complete agreement on all of the basic biblical principles of money management. We tithed to our church and gave generously to charity. We stayed completely out of debt and avoided other unhealthy financial practices, like gambling. So what was the problem? It came down to personality differences. One of us (Russ) had a natural tendency to spend money, and the other (me) had a natural tendency to save money.
Spenders and savers often marry each other, because couples are frequently attracted to personality differences that can complement theirs. But while God’s plan is for spouses to use their differences to become stronger together than they would be apart, those differences can cause great conflict if spouses haven’t yet learned how to work them out well. This is especially true with financial differences, since money is the leading cause of marital conflict.
A North Carolina State University study from 2008 (“Financial harmony: A key component of successful marriage relationship” by Carolyn Washburn and Darlene Christensen) showed that “most couples find finance to be a primary cause of conflict.” The couples surveyed for the study listed money as the cause of conflict in their marriages more than any other cause, with 39 percent reporting that money is the primary reason they experience conflict with their spouses, and 54 percent saying that money is a secondary conflict cause in their marriages.
If you’re in a marriage between a spender and a saver, the good news is that you and your spouse can learn how to decrease the amount of conflict and increase the amount of trust between you. Here’s how:
Pray. Every day, ask God to empower you both to have attitudes that will help you work out your differences and build trust between you as you manage money. Pray for help developing attitudes of humility, respect, kindness, patience, grace, a willingness to learn from each other, and a desire to serve each other.
Establish a mutually agreeable limit on discretionary spending. By setting a maximum amount you each can spend without discussing it with the other spouse, you’ll remove the pressure of having to discuss every minor purchase and learn how to work together on plans for major purchases.
Set up three bank accounts. If you establish one joint checking account and two individual savings accounts, you’ll be able to manage most of the money in your household budget together, while also giving each other the freedom to make some discretionary financial decisions on your own. You can each deposit an agreed-on portion of your monthly household income into your separate savings accounts on a monthly basis, and then either leave it there as savings or withdraw it to spend – however you like.
Set waiting periods. When you don’t agree on whether or not you all should spend an amount that requires a mutual decision (because it exceeds your individual spending limit), you can wait for a certain length of time before making a decision about the expenditure in question. Use that waiting period to pray individually for guidance about the decision, and then meet after the time is up to discuss how you each sensed God leading you. Usually, God will bring you into unity during that time, but if not, the husband then can make the final decision, being careful to keep the wife’s best interests in mind.
Fully disclose your financial information. Don’t withhold any financial information from each other, since doing so damages valuable trust between you. Every month, thoroughly discuss how each of you has spent or saved money in the previous month as you go over your household budget and bills. Explain why it was important for you each to make the individual financial decisions you made, so you both can grow to understand each other better.
Fully disclose your emotions. Don’t hide your feelings from each other; be honest about your emotions, since doing so helps you appreciate each other’s values and perspectives on money. Discuss negative emotions, such as feeling frustrated about not being able to spend money on something you value or not being able to save enough money to meet a certain goal. Discuss positive emotions, too, such as why you’re excited about a particular opportunity to either save for something or spend on something.
You and your spouse will always have the personality differences God gave you, but you can put an end to financial conflicts in your marriage by spending and saving in ways that honor God and each other!
Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and the editor of About.com’s site on angels and miracles. Contact Whitney at: firstname.lastname@example.org to send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience like an answered prayer.
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