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Dinner, Dessert, and Spreadsheets

Have you ever heard of a financial planning date night?
Dinner, Dessert, and Spreadsheets

Every few months, I attend a special sort of budget meeting. There is no conference room for this meeting, no PowerPoint presentation, and very few attendees. It’s just my husband, Chris, and me at our kitchen table, sharing takeout dinner, our favorite desserts, and cups of coffee.

Huddled close together, we start with a prayer, and then we compare notes on the papers we have spread out in front of us. During that time we’re deep in conversation, sometimes laughing, sometimes serious, sometimes disagreeing. Once we’re finished, we pack the papers away, feeling connected, informed, and aligned.

This time that we spend reviewing our finances (our current situation, our plans, and our goals) is the business of being married and taking care of a family. We believe that a solid money management and communication plan is part of our biblical responsibility to steward God’s resources, and we see it as crucial to the health of our marriage.

Financial Honesty

We’re not alone in this view. According to Focus on the Family and a 2007 survey by Investment News, it is money—not sex or household chores—that couples between the ages of 18 and 40 fight over the most. In fact, money is such a troublesome issue that 82 percent of survey respondents admitted to hiding purchases from his or her spouse.

And even if they’re not outright hiding things from each other, I know many couples who avoid financial discussions. It’s not the kind of romantic or glamorous thing that you want to focus on before the wedding, but over time, financial management and communication can make or break the health of a marriage.

Thankfully, Chris and I have had few big disagreements over how we spend our money. But early on in our marriage, we—and especially I—had a lot of work to do in understanding and accepting our overall financial roles within the family.

I was 41 years old when we married, and I had been supporting myself (and eventually my family) since the age of 18. After serving as the sole breadwinner for so long before I married Chris, there was a part of me that really desired a break from the responsibility.

I told myself I deserved a break. I felt entitled to it—but that only led to resentment and anger. It was clear from our circumstances and our prayers that what I felt entitled to did not match up with God’s provision for our family at that time. Chris had a good job and he worked hard, but my job paid more and the income was steadier. I realized that both my sense of entitlement and the resentment it caused were sinful and that they were getting in the way of building a healthy marriage. I had to accept my breadwinner role as a gift from God and trust that his plans for our family were good.

If you are struggling with dissatisfaction or resentment over the financial role you play in your family, it may help to remember that wherever you are now does not dictate where you’ll be forever. Over time, Chris and I have seen our roles shift according to changing jobs and family needs. For the past few years, Chris has stepped into the primary breadwinner role and will probably continue to serve our family in that way until retirement. Looking back now, I can see that God’s plans were so much bigger than I realized at the time, and I’m so grateful that I accepted that calling and moved forward, instead of letting my own expectations and resentments hold us back.

A Healthy Financial Relationship

So how can couples establish a healthy system of financial management? I’ll tell you what works well for me and Chris, but remember, there’s not just one right answer for handling the details.

The one thing you must do is to make sure that you and your spouse are aligned on a biblical perspective toward the resources you have (or will have in the future). What does it mean to have money? What is its purpose? What is our responsibility toward it?

Most Christians I know are consistent about their tithing commitments, but biblical money management is about so much more than tithing. Remember, “We brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave” (1 Timothy 6:7). All of our resources are God’s, given to us for a time to manage, use, serve God’s kingdom, and—yes—enjoy. It dishonors God when we mismanage or misuse his resources. You and your spouse must see each other as teammates, working together to serve God well. Once you have established a firm, faith-centered family perspective on money and resources, you can move on to the nitty-gritty details.

There are hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of verses related to money management in Scripture, certainly too many to address here. But overall I would say Scripture calls for diligence and care. “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty” (Proverbs 21:5). At a minimum, know your financial situation and have a plan. It sounds incredibly basic to keep track of what’s going in and out of your checking account, but a shocking number of people simply don’t do it.

In our family, Chris and I use a “one big pot” sort of banking system where we share joint checking, savings, and investment accounts, and we agree on the proportions of our paychecks to designate to each account (for more on other types of financial arrangements for dual-income couples, check out Chapter 13 in my book, Work, Love, Pray). We go for “full disclosure,” where we talk to each other about everything coming in and everything going out.

Soon after we got married, we took some time to determine who would take charge of various aspects of our finances. Each year we set up a budget, a balance sheet, and a charitable giving sheet.

In our family, Chris is the best at paying bills and tracking money in and out, so he takes charge of that aspect. He regularly tracks our monthly income, spending, and progress according to our budget. I, on the other hand, am in charge of tracking and researching our investments and investment opportunities.

We both keep the other informed and consult on any big decisions, and we plan regular “finance” meetings to review our balance sheets and discuss it all. We really try to talk about everything before it happens.

It doesn’t always work perfectly, but when tension arises, it helps to remember that we’re on the same team. And as we work through issues together and practice communicating effectively on financial matters, we build skills and trust that spill over into all areas of our marriage.

If you don’t already, I encourage you to start calling your own date night budget meetings. It might seem odd or awkward at first, but it’s a great way to grow your marriage and work together to serve your God. In my book, that’s pretty romantic.

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

Diane Paddison

Diane Paddison is a business professional and founder of 4wordwomen.org, local groups of professional working women committed to faith, family, work, and each other.

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