Vanishing Act

We should have money. So where does it go? And what can we do about it?

Hi, I'm Jim, and I'm a financial nincompoop.

When you can come into agreement on your spending, you reach a level of unity in your marriage that you reach no other way.

I make a decent salary. We live in a nice house, have plenty to eat, dress well, and go on vacation every year. We don't live extravagantly. So how come we never get ahead financially? And how come new expenses—such as jacked-up car insurance because our oldest son has started driving—have thrown us into a tailspin?

If you can't relate to any of this, set this magazine aside and light another cigar with a $100 bill. But I suspect our financial life isn't much different from yours. We're average, and though we don't look it, we're basically broke.

My quest to get a handle on our family's finances led me to two money experts: Neil Atkinson, author of The Shrewd Christian: You Can't Have It All, but You Can Have More Than Enough, and Dave Ramsey, syndicated radio talk-show host and author of several best-selling books about mastering money. Both agree that financial pain can be a good thing if it forces you and your spouse to look seriously at your finances for the first time in … how long?

Here are two of their "magic money" secrets revealed. While neither step promises to be pain-free, both will energize your marriage.

Secret 1: Get out of debt

Many couples are financially paralyzed by credit card debt and car loans. They make only minimum payments and have given up the idea that they'll ever crawl out of the hole. They're one missed paycheck or unforeseen expense from disaster.

"They have said to themselves, 'We will forever be a slave to bankers,'" Neil Atkinson says. "Their spirit has been broken. They have a sense of hopelessness and helplessness."

While this seems a no-brainer, if you want more money, you need to wipe out debt—for now, everything except your mortgage. In The Total Money Makeover, Dave Ramsey offers this advice:

  • Stop borrowing. Destroy your credit cards and don't get more. Keep a debit card for times when you need a credit card (hotels, car rentals, online purchases). It works like a credit card but you can't spend money you don't have.
  • Create a $1,000 rainy-day fund. Sell stuff, put off unnecessary purchases, cash in a cd, do whatever it takes. Set aside the money as untouchable except in case of a real emergency (example: the alternator on your car goes out and costs $300 to replace).
  • Find ways to temporarily increase your income—maybe a weekend or evening job. "Wait a minute," you say. "Won't that harm our family life?"
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Budget; Debt; Marriage; Money
Today's Christian Woman, Winter, 2004
Posted September 12, 2008

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