MY LAME MARRIAGE
How Do We Get on the Same Page Financially?
Money and marriage. I’ve got to admit, at first blush, it doesn’t feel like those two have anything in common or even belong in the same sentence. I mean, on one hand, you have the merging of two souls, you know, what God calls the two becoming one flesh. It’s a covenant of commitment and passion and completion. And then on the other hand, you’ve just got money, mundane, stuff, here today, gone tomorrow things. And it’s against the backdrop of this apparent disconnect that we have to reconcile the fact that finances and financial issues are the single most frequently cited factor in divorce and marital strain.
More regularly than adultery, more than the prolonged illness or the death of a child, more frequently even than, well, it just didn’t work out, people cite financial issues as the single greatest contributor to marital discord on the planet. Now, when you stop and pull back and think about it, it really shouldn’t be such a big surprise to us that this is such a monster issue in marriage. Folks, we need to understand that money just is. It is a fact o’ life. From the most sophisticated securities trader to the most rural agrarian culture that you could find on the planet, things and barter and trade are just a function of living life. And the fact of the matter is that what you do with your stuff and what I do with my stuff reveals volumes about who we are individually on a soul level. But most people never adequately consider or address this subject prior to walking the aisle. But after the wedding, in the meat of the marriage, every single husband and wife has to begin to wrestle with the question, how do we get on the same page financially?
Now, I want to ask you if you will to go ahead and take your outlines out of your bulletin. And as you’re pulling those out, I want to just take a second and do a little time-out and kind of pull back for just a brief second for a high altitude view. Remember that as we talk about marriage, the subject of marriage transcends marital status. You may be here today and you’re married, you may be a single adult, you may be a student. But the fact of the matter is that how you handle and treat and view marriage is directly related to your relationship with God, because God has created and instituted and ordained marriage for his purposes in and through our lives. At the same time, it’s important that we understand that marriage is something God wants to use. And so whatever your marital status may be, don’t tune out just because we’re talking about marriage. If you’re a single adult, this is preseason training. This is advanced study for you. You get to take care of this and begin to factor these things into your dating relationships so that you don’t have to do the remedial work, the rehab that a lot of us have to do because of mistakes that we’ve made learning on the fly.
Now, going back to the money issue, the fact is that God says what we do with this determines and reveals volumes about who we are. Look at what Jesus said in the book of Matthew, chapter 6. Jesus said, “Where your heart is, there your treasure will be also.” In other words, what you value, what you prize, what is cherished in your life is going to be reflected in how you handle your stuff, in how I handle my stuff. And the fact is that husbands and wives many times come together in marriage, and they are reading not on the same page, but from entirely different categories of marriage and finance literature. They’ve gone to Barnes & Noble and gone into completely different sections of the bookstore.
Just for introduction sake, let’s talk about some of those, shall we? Some of us are reading from the pages of history. As you handle your dollars, as I handle mine, maybe you’re dealing with history. You’re just doing what you picked up from your family of origin. You’re doing what you think your parents did, or if they talked about it and they discussed budgeting and allocating resources and those kind of things, a lot of folks just do it because that’s what was ingrained in them. There’s history. Other folks are dealing with autobiography because you’re spending money in a way that says it’s all about me. Whatever I want to do, whatever I feel like doing, that’s what I’m going to do. My husband, my wife is just going to have to learn to deal with it because it’s my money. I earn it, blah, blah, blah. Autobiography. Some of us here this morning are dealing with science fiction and fantasy. You are in financial la-la land. Remember that T-shirt and bumper sticker that says I can’t be overdrawn, I still have checks? Well, some of us have elevated that to a whole other art form and said checks, nothing. I’ve still got room left on my Visa. And there’s no way that CitiBank or Visa would give me a credit limit that’s not healthy for me, would they? At 18 percent interest? Are you kidding? You bet your bippy they will.
So a lot of us need to kind of rein back in and deal with reality. We’re going to talk about that in a little bit. But then there are those who in marriage are dealing with nonfiction. They are dealing with reality. And as a matter of fact, it’s nonfiction and relationships, because they’re taking this subject that can be so potentially divisive, and they have actually leveraged it to help their marriage and their relationship. Can you believe that? Some people, some husbands and wives actually enjoy the subject of money and discussing it because they have brought it into their marriage as something to help. It’s a crazy thought, I know, but let’s just say that it’s even possible as we go forward.
Now, the deal is, how does God make that happen? How do you leverage this so that it is a win? First of all, determine your source. As a couple, come together and determine who is the source of what we’ve got. Before you even start studying income and outgo, figure out for yourselves and determine where it’s coming from. This is what God says about that. In the book of Psalms, chapter 145, the psalmist, writing to God says, “The eyes of all,” of everyone, “look to you God, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” It’s important for husbands and wives to sit down and to definitively determine that everything we have is from God. It’s all his. Whatever you’ve got, if you’ve got a great big pile of stuff, that’s God’s. That’s a responsibility. If you’ve got a little pile of stuff, that’s God’s. That’s your responsibility. Maybe you have a pile that’s just right. That’s God’s stuff. And he is the source of all of it.
Now, this is why this is so important. When you determine, when I determine that everything we have is from God, that breeds contentment. Say that word with me. Contentment. Contentment. It just has a nice — it just kind of rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? To be content. To step back and go, look at what God has given us. This is all God’s. He’s just chosen to let us have it. So I can step back and go, wow, look at what God’s done. Look at how great he’s been to us. If it’s all God’s and I recognize that, I determine that and that becomes a heart issue and something that I hang my hat on personally and practically, then who am I to step back and go, well, God hasn’t given me enough, God has fallen down on the job. Do you see how determining that source breeds that contentment so husbands and wives can begin to breathe a little easier?
The fact of the matter is if you consider yourself to be the source of what you have and don’t have, that is a lot of pressure. That’s a lot of pressure. You think, well, my wife’s not happy, or my husband’s not happy. I need to provide more. I need to do more. It’s all God’s. He has given it to you. He is the source of everything that you have. Julie and I have really and truly as a couple — forget Pastor Mac or whatever. As a couple, we have been through the wringer financially and relationally. Now, by the grace of God and through some very gifted Christian counseling, that is no longer a problem for us in our home. But it’s no longer a problem because we’ve addressed it. And about two or three times a year, we as a couple sit down and have a Richard family business meeting. We sit down and talk about the X’s and O’s and look at the columns of income and outgo and figure out what’s going on. And the way that we begin that meeting every single time is with a word of prayer and thanksgiving, because we just sit down at our kitchen table after the kids have gone to bed, we put on a pot of decaf and sit down and start hashing through that stuff.
Now, there are other things that we do that are a lot more fun. This is not a sexy time in the Richard household. But when we do have those meetings, man, it’s amazing how it begins to put parameters and boundaries around what God has given us. And we start to understand what’s going on, we communicate with each other, and we begin by establishing the fact that everything that we’ve got, whether it’s a little, whether it’s a lot, whatever the case may be, everything has been given to us by God. Second of all, as a couple, determine your roles. Determine your roles in the marriage. I have noticed a trend, as I’ve done premarital counseling over 20 years of ministry, God has an incredible sense of balance many times which also includes an incredible sense of humor. Because God has a way most of the time, not always, but most of the time of bringing people together in marriage who come at finances from a completely polar opposite perspective. Julie and I are case in point.
But when people get married, almost without exception, one is a saver and one is a spender. Now, you can look at that and go, oh, harmony, and it balances. But the fact of the matter is a lot of times it creates a lot of tension, because one of you is the type of person where if you spend three extra minutes on your cell phone on roaming, you remember that, and you eat rice and beans until the end of the month so that you can be sure and pay that extra tab on your bill. While the other one is the trigger puller. Let’s go, baby. We’ll figure it out later. Life is meant to be lived. And the bean counter is going whoa, whoa, whoa, and the trigger puller is going what’s up, what’s up? Come on. And what ends up happening many times is that the trigger puller resents the bean counter, and the bean counter resents the trigger puller for resenting the bean counter, when we need to understand that neither is wrong and neither is right in and of themselves. They just are. I believe that, that is part of the way God wires up different personalities.
Most of the time, people with expansive vision and long-term capabilities don’t drill down into details very well. Now, I can do that. I have to from time to time as a husband, as a father, sometimes as a pastor. We have to get down into the nitty-gritty of the facts. But afterwards, I’m exhausted. But you want to talk about vision? You want to talk about dreams? I’m your boy. I will be there until the cows come home. You know what I’m saying?
In our marriage, Julie and I had to address that and figure it out. And so when we have these business meetings, we talk about what are we trying to accomplish, but then how are we both going to divvy up the division of labor? How are we going to function in this way? And so for us, we come together and get on the same page financially, and then Julie executes it month in and month out. Julie is one of these people, every now and then, she will call me at the office and go, guess what? I go what? I just balanced the checkbook on the first try to the penny. It was awesome. And I always respond by saying honey, thank you for doing that, and we’re going to get you the counseling that you need. I don’t understand that. But for her, it’s like a puzzle, you know? It’s like, what is it, Sudoku or whatever they’re doing now on USA Today. She loves that kind of stuff. I’m so glad she does, because I would go nuts. The other side of it is we would be in jail and homeless. That works for us because we have these roles that complement one another.
Early in our marriage, we didn’t understand that. As I said, I’m the trigger puller. Every now and then, I would be pulling the trigger, but I got to understand that that was creating a lot of anxiety and unknown, and there were surprises for Julie. And so I would begin to say hey, I’m going to do this, okay? And what I was unwittingly doing was making her the gatekeeper of our stuff. That’s not fair to her. That’s not right to put her in that position where she’s like mommy or daddy. It’s our stuff. Now in our home, I’m the primary breadwinner. That’s just the way it is in our house. That’s not the only way to do it, but that’s what happens in our house. I’m the primary breadwinner, she’s the primary bill payer, and she gives me an allowance. I get discretionary income a couple of times a month that I can spend. If I want to go out to eat, if I want to go to Cabela’s and buy a rifle to put meat on the table for the family, so be it. But we have these roles that have been clearly enunciated and discussed. What the role is is less important than the fact that it is mutually agreed upon.
Look at Romans chapter 12 verse 6. “We all have different gifts according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.” Now, Romans chapter 12 is speaking to spiritual gifts in the church, but doesn’t that also make sense for marriage? That if you have a set of gifts that God has given to you, and he has ordained your marriage and called you together, that you should use those gifts as an expression of your faith to help support, defend, and advance your marriage as an expression of faith. So determine what your role is going to be. Now, the reality is that a lot of times, these exceptions that prove the rule, two savers come together. And I mean, they are penny pinchers. And they’re on the same page, and they’re like, I just put another dollar in the bank. Isn’t that awesome? Way to go, babe. And that works for them.
The fact of the matter is you have to figure it out. Now, if both of you are spenders, Father, we just want to pray for those people right now. You know what? That’s okay. But you have to address this. You have to deal with it. And the problem arises when we don’t deal with it, when surprises crop up, which not accidentally segues into the next point. Determine your goals. What are your goals as a couple financially?
When Julie and I got married, I was making $750 a month after taxes as a part-time youth minister, and I was in seminary. Julie was a student teacher. She hadn’t even started making the big money that we pay public school teachers. But we determined through prayer and talking about it that one of the goals we had for our home was that should God bless us with children, Julie would be able to stay home and not have to work because we were paying off credit cards and that kind of thing. And that was just one of our goals. Again, I’m not telling you that’s the only way to do it or anything like that. But that was something we discussed and talked about. And as a result of that, all of our financial decisions were made with that goal in mind.
Now, some of you have heard me talk about before, I brought to the wedding table a fair amount of credit card debt. Lucky Julie. But part of our goal was to get out of that debt and to escape that burden and that enslavement as a couple. What are your goals? What is it that you want to accomplish? I want to just list for you some categories of things to consider and to identify where you are and where you’re going. First of all, some folks have the goal of existence. Your goal is to just pay your bills on time every single month. And that is fine. That’s great. For some of you, that would be a step up towards financial peace and security, because right now, you’re not paying them off every month. But existence is one. Other people have the goal of acquisition. Just be honest. Materialism is a real deal. That’s why Jesus spoke more on this subject than on heaven or hell, because he realized the grip that materialism can have on our lives when we leave it unchecked. So some people, their goal is acquisition. Materialism, friend of mine defines it this way: Materialism is the desire to acquire gone haywire. That’s it. It’s just that always thinking about the next purchase, always keeping a running list and tally. I’ve got to have, I’ve got to have, I’ve got to have, I’ve got to have. That acquisition thing.
Some folks see money as security. Their goal is to put a couple more zeros in the bank, and that way they’ll be secure, they’ll be insulated. Now, to be sure, finances can help, but they don’t provide ultimate, absolute security. But it’s a factor. Some folks have the goal of management. These are the folks that have stepped back and said you know what? I recognize God as my source, I recognize that whatever I have is all his, and I am responsible, I’m accountable to him for how I manage it. The church term for this is called stewardship. Stewardship. That you are a steward of God’s things, of God’s stuff. Except if you use the word stewardship, you need to say it like stewardship. You know, it’s got to be a little churchy behind it. Then there are other folks that have graduated beyond stewardship, and these folks have the goal of generosity. Did you know that generosity is a spiritual gift? Romans chapter 12 verse 8 says, “If you have the gift of generosity, let him give liberally.” There are some people, that when they receive God’s blessings, when they receive more of God’s stuff, their first step is not towards what can I do with it for me, but what can I do with it for God? These are the folks that have the spiritual gift of giving, the spiritual gift of generosity.
Very early in the life of our church, I was having breakfast with a guy that he and his family had moved to Austin about the same time we did. He’s since moved on to California. But we were in breakfast sitting there talking. I was getting to know him, he was getting to know me a little bit. And about two-thirds of the way through our breakfast, he said Mac, I just want to apologize to you. I didn’t even know he’d done anything. I was like, you talking bad about me behind my back or my momma, or what’s up? He said no. He goes, my work schedule is so crazy right now, I’m traveling all the time, and all I can do right now is give financially to the church. I said, you know what? That’s okay, man. If that’s all you can do. Now, I’m talking about a time when we had 45 people coming to church. That’s this guy’s spiritual gift. That’s how a lot of times God’s purposes are fueled and resourced in this world. Not everyone has that gift. Some people do. But the spiritual gift of generosity is something that God uses in the lives of other people, in moving ministries forward.
So as a couple, what’s your goal? What is it that God wants to accomplish through and in your finances? That’s an important thing to consider. I want you to look at something. So far, we have not said word one about spending. We haven’t allocated one red dime yet. All we’ve done is stepped back and talked about heart, about roles, and about goals and what God wants to accomplish. If that happens initially and sets the foundation, the actual living out of it is going to be the easiest part of this whole deal. And so follow those things up and determine your plan. Establish a plan for what you are going to do with God’s stuff. Look what the Bible promises in Proverbs chapter 16. I don’t care where you are spiritually this morning. Given whatever your intimacy or lack thereof is with God, you need to understand that God cannot lie. He can’t do it. He can’t promise you something and then break the promise. It is foreign to his nature. That’s something that’s hard for us to get our minds and hearts around, because we understand how capable we are of breaking a promise, or other people, we’ve been burned before. But God cannot lie.
Given that, look at Proverbs 16:3. “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” Not a bad verse, is it? Commit to God whatever you do, who you date, who you marry, how you handle yourself as a husband or a wife, how you handle God’s resources. Commit to him, and he will bless it. That is a promise. Now, I’m going to give you something right here that is painfully practical. It’s just so straightforward. But what I want to give you are some guidelines that have been borne out and lived out and proved over the years of effectiveness for households determining where their dollars go. These are guidelines. There is not a Bible verse that you can go to that says thou shalt spend accordingly, colon, and then it goes through it. These are just guidelines for you to begin the conversation at home, to begin to determine your plan and to figure out what you’re going to spend and invest and save and give where. Okay?
So having said that, let’s talk about it for a second. Biblically, if you’re a Christ follower, the first check that you write goes to your tithe, that 10 percent. So that’s where it begins. Now, if you’re not a Christ follower, or if one of the husband or the wife is not a Christ follower, table the tithe. The tithe and money is never intended in God’s economy to be a wedge issue. God wants this subject to draw husbands and wives closer together. Satan wants to use it as a wedge. So if a spouse who is not a Christ follower who doesn’t buy into the Bible doesn’t want to tithe, don’t force the issue. Use this as an opportunity to love that person, to share with them the love of God. But as Christ followers, we begin our giving with a tithe, with 10 percent.
Next is savings. And I’m going to give you ranges in here, okay, so that you can have a conversation. These are ranges. Some of these numbers will add up to less than a hundred percent, some of them will add up to more than a hundred percent. It’s not because I’m a communications major. It’s because I’m giving you ranges. Savings, you should allocate at least 5 to 10 percent. Your second check that you write should be to yourself. Save. The fact of the matter is you’re going to have to put new shingles on a roof, buy new tires, somebody’s going to have an illness, something’s going to happen. Save for those things. You’re going to retire, your kids are going to want to go to college, hopefully. Savings, 5 to 10 percent. Housing, roughly 25 to 35 percent. 25 to 35 percent should be devoted to mortgage or rent or housing. Let me say this also. These percentages that I’m giving you are for those of us who live — we pay our bills. If you’re independently wealthy, you probably already have a plan that’s working for you. Great. That’s fine. But you know, if that’s you, God bless you, that’s awesome. But these are for the rest of us. Utilities, 5 to 10 percent. Whatever you have coming in monthly, 5 to 10 percent should go toward utilities.
Let me say this, too. High-speed internet access, cable modem, digital cable is not a staple. If you can do that, great. But that’s not like I have to have that to exist. Food, 5 to 15 percent. You’ve got to eat. Food is 5 to 15 percent. Transportation, the wheels, 10 to 15 percent. That’s car, gas and insurance. Clothing, 2 to 7 percent. I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that conversation. Medical and health expenses, out of pocket 5 to 10 percent. Those things don’t always happen every single month, but you need to allocate those dollars for that. Personal discretionary income, 5 to 10 percent. Build something into your budget that doesn’t require a line item. There ought to be a place there for miscellaneous. That miscellaneous shouldn’t be 85 percent, but it ought to be there. Also recreation, dating, husbands and wives, hanging out, vacations, 5 to 10 percent. And then also manageable nonconsumer debt. Debt is roughly 5 to 10 percent. Folks, credit cards will eat your lunch. I know whereof I speak.
The worst parcel I ever got in my life was a letter from Visa my sophomore year in college that said the following: Visa believes in your future. You have been preapproved. Idiot me bought it. I thought, man, they really care. They want to see me succeed. This is awesome. And I carried that around for another 11 years. Four years of piling up the debt and then paying it off, and then seven years of having that attached to my credit record. If credit cards are a problem for you, cut them up. Cut them up. I heard about one guy who put his credit cards in a cup of water and then stuck it in the freezer so that if he went shopping and found himself getting ready to make an impulse buy, he would have to go home, pull that cup out of the freezer, and let it thaw before he could use the credit card, so that he could really think about do I need to, do I want to buy that? Some of you just need to cut them up.
Now, how do you know if your credit is out of control? If you can’t pay it off every month, it is out of control. You have to control that so that it doesn’t control you. Some of you have the spiritual gift of generosity, but because you haven’t exercised discipline in this arena, you can’t exercise the gift. The Bible says the borrower is slave to the lender. Some of us know what that feels like. And I will promise you this, because God has brought Julie and me through this, you don’t even know the burden that it is. You don’t know how binding and constricting it is until you get out from underneath it. And out from underneath it is where God wants you to live. God does not want you to live enslaved to your credit cards. Husbands and wives, treat this as an opportunity. You are not adversaries in this in God’s economy. You may have been to this point, but from this moment forward, commit and covenant with one another to partner, to team up and defeat this stuff. Otherwise, it will eat your lunch. And God doesn’t want you living like that.
Now, there is not one bit of King James English, Greek, or Hebrew root words in this list that I have given you or in this discussion this morning. But I suggest to you this morning that this subject is deep theological water, because ultimately how we handle our dollars, what God has given to us for stewardship and for safe keeping and for management reveals volumes about our theology, reveals volumes about our heart and our faith. That’s why the book of James says faith without works is dead. And to work out your faith, the Bible says with fear and trembling. To do the stuff that God has given us. This is a great opportunity. This should not be something that enslaves us. It’s an opportunity for power to be manifest through.