This video segment is one of five lessons in the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Finances” seminar.
The GCM series are marriage preparation and marriage enrichment level resources. If your marriage needs restoration level care consider one of the other options available at summitchurch.com/counseling, or visit bradhambrick.com/findacounselor for help finding a counselor near you.
If you are interested in the pre-marital mentoring program built around these materials, you can find everything you need at www.bradhambrick.com/gcm.
NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the GCM seminar notebooks. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at firstname.lastname@example.org (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).
Imagine you’re on the Family Feud game show. The host asks, “We’ve surveyed 100 families and asked what they believe is a good idea, but still don’t do. Can you give us one of the top five answers?” There is a good chance “Budgeting,” would be the #1 answer.
There is no one who really believes, “You can neglect paying attention to your finances and expect everything to turn out fine. Spend what you want, try not to be excessive (but don’t define “excessive”), and you should be alright.” We would roll our eyes and laugh as we read this if it were not how most people tried to live.
There are many reasons why families don’t use a budget. Unless we examine these “reasons” (a.k.a. excuses) they will either seem valid or insurmountable. Until we debunk or re-frame these “reasons,” practical advice will just be “good ideas” that we “should do” and feel guilty not doing.
7 Things that Makes Budgeting Hard
If budgeting were easy, everyone would do it because the advantages are huge and irrefutable. In that sense budgeting is like exercise. As you read this chapter there are two things you should do. First, take comfort that everything stated in this chapter will be considered in the materials ahead. Second, talk with your spouse/fiancé. This is another opportunity to learn about one another and create an atmosphere where it is safe to acknowledge your fears and weaknesses.
1. Life Changes.
“Whatever we write down this month won’t be relevant a year from now. We’ll just have to redo the whole thing in six months.” The first sentence is correct. The second sentence is either an exaggeration or evidence of a major design flaw in your budgeting process.
A budget is not something you finish. It is a living document that must grow and change as your family grows and changes. The design of a budget must allow for this growth or its benefits will be quickly lost. A good budgeting process calls a couple’s attention to life’s changes. You’re going to have to adapt to these changes whether you do so intentionally or not. Therefore, a budget is a good stimulus for marital communication.
“Our income doesn’t stay the same every month so there is no way for us to budget.” Households with fluctuating incomes need to budget more than anyone else. If not, you’ll either begin to rely on the mystical “better next month” or eliminate your family time by trying to out-earn your spending.
Couple Discussion Questions: How much fluctuation is there in your monthly household income? What factors determine the predictability of these fluctuations? How many things in your life serve to alert you to important conversations you need to have?
2. We’d Rather Live in the Now.
“I’d rather not think about the future. It feels negative. I’d rather be positive and enjoy today.” Some approaches to budgeting do completely sell today in an attempt to buy tomorrow. If so, they are ineffective and demoralizing. They label joy as immaturity.
But it is equally wrong to sell tomorrow to buy today. That is the essence of debt. If selling today (financial legalism) robs us of joy, then selling tomorrow (debt) robs us of hope. A healthy budget is the only thing that allows us to enjoy both today and tomorrow, joy and hope.
How we manage money will affect generations, and that is not just a reference to leaving an inheritance. We teach a lifestyle and value system through how we manage our money. We teach about fear, joy, self-control, security, contentment, hope, trust, and generosity by how we handle finances. If our verbal-lessons are going to have their full impact, our model-lesson must be teaching the same thing.
Couple Discussion Questions: Do you lean towards selling tomorrow or today? Is this tendency a reaction against something that hurt or embarrassed you? Invite your spouse/fiancé into that experience and process it together, instead of forcing your spouse/fiancé to live in the restrictive or excessive world that experience creates.
3. No Purchase Is an Island.
“I got a great deal on my cell phone. But I had to sign a two year contract, needed a case, and an ear piece. And the earpiece would also work great with…” We live in a day of sophisticated marketing. From children’s toys to technology every purchase is designed to lead you to other purchases.
This is also true outside of modern marketing strategies. When you buy a first home or a bigger home there are an endless number of domino expenses (i.e., furniture, electricity, lawn care, etc.). We must think about both the purchase price and the cost of ownership. Marketers have realized something we try to ignore; not only do we own our purchases, but our purchases own part of us.
Couple Discussion Questions: What examples can you give of “belonging” to something you purchased or a purchase growing beyond its “ticket price”? Do you tend to be naïve towards this reality or frugal because of it?
4. “We Deserve It.”
“Having a budget makes me do without things I believe I deserve. A budget is insulting, condescending, and damages my self-esteem.” This is a highly personalized way to frame life that makes it an insult to ever tell myself “no.” When are we not insulted by a negative answer to the question, “Are you saying I don’t deserve [blank]?” Badly framed questions rarely lead to wise answers.
Debt is not a thing to be desired, much less deserved; it is punishment, not a reward. When we are willing to see this we will realize, “If we cannot afford it, we do not deserve it.” Words like “deserve” have a strong influence upon our value system and will radically shape our life. We must be very leery of flippantly putting things in the “deserve” category. It is important to be able to differentiate your self-worth (identity) from your net-worth.
Couple Discussion Questions: How has a bad definition of “deserve” led to unwise spending for you? Who and what reinforces an unwise definition of “deserve” in your life? How does entitlement, even for good things or things you can afford, sap the vitality from marital romance and closeness?
5. Money Means Different Things to Different People.
“I don’t understand my spouse when we try to talk about money. It feels like we are from two different worlds or talking two different languages.” These differences can be attributed to many different things: personality, personal financial history, family history, risk aversion, entrepreneurial spirit, religious beliefs, level of exposure to the truly poor, etc. A big part of marital unity is not just managing money in a unified system, but understanding what money means to each of you.
From the list below rank the things that you associate with money (1 being the first thing you associate with money; 10 being the last things you associate with money). Compare your answers with your spouse’s.
- God’s Blessing
- Other: ______________
Couple Discussion Questions: For each of the areas below discuss: (a) your view, (b) your spouse’s/fiancé’s view, (c) your parent’s lifestyle, and (d) major shaping influences on your view.
- Buying on credit and taking on debt
- Saving money at the best ethical junior isa (percentage and for what)
- Giving and generosity
- Spending on entertainment, recreation, vacation
- Working overtime
- Wife working outside the home
- Having a will (frequency of updating)
- Who administrates the finances
- Level of spending without consulting each other
- Going out to eat
- Joint vs. separate bank accounts
6. It Is Becoming Less Painful to Spend Money.
“Often I don’t even realize I’m spending money. Auto-drafts and credit cards make it so easy. It feels like I’m ‘doing’ instead of ‘spending.’” Banks have extensively researched and found that the less people associate their spending with actual money the more they will spend.
This doesn’t mean banks are bad. It does mean that banks have a product (debt) that they are better about selling than we are informed about how we’re buying. The first step towards reducing a behavior is to realize that you’re doing it. From a marketing perspective, the first step towards increasing an unwise behavior (debt) is to make you less aware that you’re doing it.
Start by being aware that every time you add convenience (less pain) to your spending, you are increasing your actual spending by 10-20% on average. Acknowledging this unpleasant reality (more pain) is itself a counter to this tendency. If you still find that convenience is increasing your spending beyond your budget, then it is wise to go to a cash-in-envelopes system, at least for a while, to counter this dynamic.
Couple Discussion Questions: How is the pain associated with spending a blessing in disguise? How does comfort spending multiply this pain aversion? How can you reinforce the reality of spending money even when you use auto-drafts or credit cards for convenience?
7. “We’ll Do a Budget When…” “
It will be easier to budget after this next promotion… after the kids are in school… after the kids are out of school…” As with many things, the hardest part of having a budget is merely getting started. It usually takes about three months to go from numbers on a page to functional budget.
“Later” is too often a code word for “never.” There is only one time to start a budget – “now.” There is only one way to make time to do a budget – doing it. There is only one way to learn what you don’t know about your financial situation – get started budgeting.
If you’re about to start hyperventilating, realize all you have to do from here is read the next lesson and fill in the blanks. Everything you need to do and learn will be laid out for you. Budgeting is not a complex skill; it is a consistency skill. Stick with this material and you’ll get it.
Couple Discussion Questions: How big of a problem is procrastination for you? What are the primary motives that typically fuel your procrastination? Why are you stalling by looking at these questions (smiling)?
You’ve started. More than that, you’ve started wisely. Instead of just trying what you’ve tried before, you have begun to examine what caused your previous attempts to fail. Or, if you are about to get married, you’ve examined the challenges that make most attempts at marital budgeting fail.
God’s plan in our financial management is to both transform our character and provide for our needs. Our budget is only a piece of what God intends to use in that process. This gives us patience when the process is hard and grace during the trial-error process. Persevere in this material and God will make you both more financially secure and more Christlike. Here is the big win for this material, “When you master the #1 cause of marital division you will find that it can be the #1 cause of marital unity.”