Marriage, Money, and Making Decisions – how it looks in a marriage of equals

[From the archives.]


Cabaret has that wonderfully avaricious song, Money, Money:

Money makes the world go around
The world go around
The world go around
Money makes the world go around
It makes the world go ’round.
A mark, a yen, a buck, or a pound
A buck or a pound
A buck or a pound
Is all that makes the world go around,
That clinking clanking sound
Can make the world go ’round.

The song gets worse, but it’s also quite accurate for those living out what Jesus warned against in Matthew 6:24 – No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Paul’s assessment in 1 Timothy 6:9-10 fits too – Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”

I don’t really have an answer for money problems. I’m not a financial expert or budgeting wiz. I’ve read about those things, but I’ve never been able to do them. Instead, I try to keep it simple and live within my means. Since I’m married, it’s really two of us living within our means. I’m glad my wife is with me on this because she’s more careful about money than I am, and while we don’t have a strict budget she is able to keep an idea of how much we’ve got to spend at any given time. Sometimes I think she’s too careful, but she probably thinks I’m too frivolous.

That’s how she characterizes things sometimes when we talk about spending money. “I just don’t want us to be frivolous,” she’ll say. That doesn’t mean we never spend money on fun stuff. We take a vacation occasionally, eat out, see a show once in a while, but neither of us are big spenders by nature. And since we have two kids to put through college (one just graduated, woo-hoo!), it’s hard to justify big expensive purchases or payments anyway. In fact that’s a nice excuse not to spend a ton, and not thinking about spending a ton keeps my head from spinning around out of control

So here’s how we do it. We talk about where the money goes. I don’t decide on my own, she doesn’t decide on her own. Sometimes, the two of us together don’t reach a decision either; of course, they say not deciding is a type of decision too. But when we do choose to shell out a biggish wad of cash, it’s because we’ve talked it through.

Sometimes our conversations are about vacations. Do we spend the money to go to family camp, rent a house on the coast with some friends, or just decide to stay home? Others have been about cars. Should we buy a car now or wait a while? If so, which car? (We haven’t bought new in years, by the way.) I know some families operate on the practice that the husband comes home with a car and that’s how the decision gets made. I’d rather walk than make a decision like that without my wife.

This type of conversation extends to who we give to as well. We get a lot of letters from people going on the mission field (short term and long), plus there’s church and other ministries and endless opportunities to give (remember what Jesus said about always having the poor among us?). It’s kind of enjoyable to talk about who to give to and how much for each. But again, neither of us has ever unilaterally chosen to give charitably. One of us might have a suggestion that prevails, but it is still talked about first.

At work, one thing I’ve noticed in my courtroom is that families that don’t talk about money are more likely to end up in a legal dispute than those who do. It might be in a marriage dissolution, which can include child support issues or dividing up the family’s property. It might be in a will contest or trust proceeding where one part of the family doesn’t trust what the other is doing with the money. It might be in a good old fashioned theft case, where one person mistakenly thought they could trust another member of the family with an ATM card and password.

Speaking of work, a retired judge told me long ago, “I’ve found that more communication is almost always better than less.” I’ve taken that observation to heart, and I can tell you that it works in my marriage whether we’re talking about money or anything else. What also helps is to remember that it’s not money that makes the world go around, but God:

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17.)

Creating all things and holding them together, including us and all we are and all we have. Now that’s something worth talking about.


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15 Responses to Marriage, Money, and Making Decisions – how it looks in a marriage of equals

  1. Helen says:

    Apparently money is one of the common causes of arguments in a marriage. Well, we’ve argued about every last little thing but never money. ….oh and never about toilet seats either, odd aren’t we?? Lol

  2. Thank you, Tim, for the reminder that I am married to such a wonderful man. We’re always there for one another and we always listen to one another and it’s very rare for us to fall out. Such a blessing.

  3. Pastor Bob says:

    Depending on who you talk to or the way the topic is phrased, but the number two issue addressed (human relations?) in the Bible is ——–


  4. Jeannie says:

    Very wise post, Tim — and I appreciate the other judge’s comment about “more communication, not less.” Money is one of many important things people seem to have trouble talking about openly.

    • Tim says:

      Anne Bogel once wrote a post on how there is no topic a couple can’t talk about if the timing is right. Money may be a tough subject for some, but it’s not an impossible one.

  5. Ahab says:

    This is what a healthy marriage looks like — the two of you communicate, respect each other’s input, and make financial decisions as a team.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Ahab. It certainly works for us, and I recommend anyone who hasn’t tried it to give it a go. It takes work but is so worth it.

  6. Gaye @CalmHealthySexy says:

    Thanks so much, Tim. I appreciate your commonsense thoughts on marriage, and I wonder why other Christians make it seem so hard and complicated (not to mention adversarial).

    • Tim says:

      I figure life has enough conflict in it. No need to manufacture more in a marriage. Two adults enjoying each others company, caring for each other in ups and downs, and talking through what’s going on in life is good by me.

  7. Rev. Carlene Appel says:

    Non-Christians can make a marriage equally as hard and complicated as well as adversarial. This happens When the “me” does not become the “we.” This is why I counsel couples not to live together before marriage. In a living together situation, each individual is well advised to keep the “me” as a priority in case the relationship does dissolve. But when they get married, the “me” must change to a “we” mindset if the two are to become one. The problem is many who move from living together to marriage never move from the “me” to the “we” because they cannot see a difference between the two. That little but very significant factor, of the inability to transition from the “me” to the “we”, is likely why the divorce rate is higher for couples who have cohabitated before marriage. (I’m speaking of long-term cohabitation, not cases where for instance the couple moves in together 2 weeks before the wedding due to the house closing). I know such a couple and you would think he’s still single “My this” “My that” my- my- my- my- my-my- my”. Everything they own apparently (in his mind anyway) belongs to him and everything is about how much money things cost him. Tim, you see a lot of this sort of stuff everyday as a family court judge. What are your thoughts on the “me” to “we”? Thanks.

    • Tim says:

      I haven’t had the family law assignment for a while, but I can say that couples often move back to the me stage at a different pace at break-up. When one is far ahead of the other it makes for more problems because they see the relationship so differently.

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