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He Said, She Said

Why can't she manage our money?

Alan's Side:

When Bev and I started dating, she worked as a bank teller during the day and studied accounting at night. Occasionally, when I stopped by the bank to pick her up, I'd watch her work. She punched the keys of her calculator with blinding speed. When she counted the money in her drawer, the bills flew by in a blur. I respected the proficient way she did her job.

For Bev, a good day at work was to sit at her desk adding columns of numbers. So when we got married, it seemed natural that she would be the one to manage the checkbook.

As it does for most young couples, every month presented a new financial challenge. We endured a continual parade of unexpected expenses. Each time, I'd ask Bev, "Can we afford to replace the vacuum cleaner?" or "Do we have $150 to let the boys play Little League?" Invariably she'd answer, "I think so."

But within days after the bill was paid, I'd notice Bev becoming edgy. She would have trouble sleeping, and finally she'd admit, "I don't know how we're going to pay our rent this month."

"How could this be?" I wondered. "Just a few days ago, she said we could afford to pay our bills."

As this pattern established itself, I got more and more frustrated. I wasn't in charge of paying the bills, so I didn't have any idea how well we were meeting our budget.

Bev's Side:

Ever since our four children were young, I've been glad I could stay home with them. Even so, sometimes I missed the interaction with other adults and the excitement of working. When I worked in banking, I enjoyed the challenge of making sure column A plus column B equaled column C. Actually, the integrity of the entire banking process hinges on this principle. I was good with details, but not necessarily with the overall financial picture.

Alan has a talent for math, but he doesn't really enjoy it. He's more of a creative type who doesn't like to get bogged down in details. I loved his entrepreneurial spirit and his imagination, but those qualities didn't translate into a willingness to take on the task of paying our bills. So it seemed natural for me to take responsibility for the family checkbook.

When we started out, we lived on love and ham sandwiches (when I could find the ham on sale). Our financial goals back then were to afford a monthly pizza and a two-liter bottle of Coke, so it was hard to be disappointed.

But a few years later, with credit card bills, a mortgage payment, an old car about to give up the ghost, kids outgrowing their school clothes and not a penny saved toward retirement, the responsibility of managing the family budget had become a distressing and nerve-racking chore.

What Alan and Bev did:

When it came to paying bills and budgeting, the Barringtons' division of labor wasn't working. But neither of them knew what to do about it.

"If a number cruncher like Bev can't plan and budget the finances, what are we going to do?" Alan wondered.

Bev was equally distraught. "The worst part of it was that I had to shoulder the task alone," she recalls.

With a constant flow of bills and regular questions about their ability to pay them, Alan and Bev tried to alleviate their financial stress by finding ways to make more money. Bev started doing daycare, and she delivered phone books on the side. Alan worked overtime and pursued opportunities to earn bonuses. Their efforts generated more income, but at the expense of family time.

Finally, they began to pray about the situation. The answer was so simple they couldn't believe it hadn't occurred to them earlier: Managing family finances is a two-person job.

With this new insight, the Barringtons began to share the financial duties. Bev, the number cruncher, still balances the checkbook and does their taxes. "It would take Alan a whole afternoon to do the checkbook. And don't even ask how long it would take him to calculate our taxes!"

Alan, a good planner and manager, found himself enjoying the aspects of their finances that draw on his strengths. "It's not like being appointed CFO of a major international corporation," he says, "but I do have to make the same kind of decisions that any good business executive must make. How much we can spend, what we must save, and developing a strategy for paying off existing bills. I can hardly believe I'm saying this, but I'm having fun!"

Alan's frustration lifted since he was no longer "out of the loop" on where he and Bev stood financially from month to month. Meanwhile, the new arrangement relieved Bev's anxiety about handling the financial-planning responsibilities on her own.

Their new partnership has been so successful the Barringtons are re-evaluating other areas of their life to make sure they're sharing tasks based on their real talents and desires.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Budget; Debt; Marriage; Money
Today's Christian Woman, Spring, 1998
Posted September 12, 2008

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