I lament too often about the challenges of our tight budget, but the truth is that there are great marital blessings of being "broke" that our culture will never tell you about.
Today while running on the treadmill at the gym I was watching a news segment in which a financial counselor was giving "advice" on marriage and money for engaged couples.
It was maddening to hear his advice, as it showed so clearly how our society readily provides ways in which couples no longer have to "become one" in marriage. Money management is one of those ways.
Now, I am not a marriage counselor nor a financial counselor, so don't read this blog as professional guidance. This blog is simply coming from personal experience, a heart that is passionate about marriage, and a fair amount of experience ministering to women who've shared their stories with me.
So, the financial counselor on the news segment was addressing a few of the questions that engaged couples ask. The first question was, "Is it better to join our checking accounts or keep our money separate?"
His answer was that neither way is best and every situation is different. He suggested one option of having a joint account for joint bills such as the mortgage/electricity, but then have separate accounts for everything separate, including "fun money." But he gave no advice or caution on how to actually carry that out in real life.
I've never made that much money working part-time in ministry, so we've never had separate accounts. I am completely, 100% financially bound to Paul. I completely depend on his income for our groceries and mortgage and heating and medical and toilet paper and clothing and, and, and.
And, actually he's financially bound to me too because there's no way he could ever afford a live-in nanny and personal chef and housekeeper (actually I kind of fail at the house-keeping part of that, but he still couldn't afford me.)
And you know what? That's a beautiful thing. Being financially bound to one another because we're too "broke" to live without each other is a beautiful thing.
Easy? No way. Hard? Very. In the early days it was very, very hard and we had many an argument about money, ending in tears (me) and aggravation (him). But we have grown and matured as one and we no longer argue about money. Actually, we don't have enough money to argue about how we spend it, and that's a blessing too!
So yes it's painfully hard. But beautiful nonetheless.
Maybe that doesn't sound romantic to you - "having" to stay married because I'm financially dependent on my husband. But guess what? Marriage isn't about romance - it's about commitment. And our financial state aids us in staying committed to one another because we can't afford to be apart from each other.
(Plus, being too broke to pay for outside entertainment actually does lead to romance after the kids go to bed:)
Another blessing of sharing our menial account is that we have to discuss every single purchase. And I mean every. single. purchase.
For instance, Paul told me the other day that he would like money in the budget this month for new socks and underwear. I told him I need to get Evelyn new leggings. In January Paul spent about $10 on an apple slicer and we decided together to return it because it wasn't in the budget. We debated for hours yesterday if we could afford to take our family out to dinner (a place where kids eat free). And since we only have one credit card payment and I pay it monthly, I ask him about every purchase I don't recognize. This isn't to control him - it's just to protect against fraud - but still, it means that every single purchase is known by both of us. And discussing every purchase down to socks and apple slicers provides numerous opportunities for great communication and transparency and accountability and conflict resolution, and that in turn provides intimacy and humility and vulnerability in marriage.
Discussing sock purchases may not be sexy conversation, but the humility it requires for a hard-working man to ask his wife if he can buy new socks is absolutely downright sexy.
I understand that separating money might actually work for many marriages. But I think it's also wise to give a word of caution to this plan. When you get into "your money" and "my money," it can bring more stress and frustration to the marriage. Sure, perhaps there's a plan for which bills are paid from which account, but what about all those unplanned bills? Like the kitchen sink leaking or a medical emergency or the $500 deductible for a fender bender...These stressors can bring even more stress if you have to decide which one of you has to pay for them.
And second, the "fun money" accounts need accountability. It's not wise for husbands and wives to have their own money with no accountability from the the other half of the marriage. I've met so many men and women that didn't know their spouse was spending their "fun money" on porn, alcohol, gambling, or excessive shopping.
And third, if you aren't joining your money together, it's likely that you aren't giving together. Giving together draws your hearts together. Like Jesus said, "Where you treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21). When we give our financial treasure to other ministries, our hearts become uniquely tied to that ministry. Giving shapes our hearts for God. And when married couples give together, their hearts become shaped together.
In the last calendar year as we decided to have me quit working, Paul and I fell back significantly on our giving. It wasn't intentional...but life happened and windows leaked and kids' shoes got holes in them and doctor's bills came...you know how it goes. And our giving fell. So in this new year we sat down and prayed and talked at length about how to get back on track with tithing and where to give. The process drew our hearts together...a very good thing as two continually become one flesh.
And last, if you have enough money that you both have adequate separate accounts, I'm really happy for you that you've been financially blessed. But don't let your financial assets allow you to think you can live without each other.
So can separate accounts work? Perhaps, but only with transparency and honesty in all things. As the Bible tells us to "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5:21)...the married couple has to submit to one another in every way, including financially.
Another question the financial guy addressed was this: "Will my fiance's college debt become my debt when we get married?" I was APPALLED when the guy said NO. He explained that your spouse's debt will remain only your spouse's debt.
This is wildly untrue. Sure, on paper, my private college debt was only in my maiden name. But in real life, it became Paul's debt too the moment we got married. It affected Paul that I went to a private college and had larger loans than him. Was it a deal breaker in getting married? Of course not. But it affected him as if it was his own debt, because again, we became one when we got married. One spouse's debt will ALWAYS become the other spouse's debt. Even if your accounts are separate, it becomes your debt because you are to submit to one another in all things. Therefore, if one of you can't pay a debt with your own account, the other ought to because you are in fact one flesh and therefore one family unit.
I realize this whole thing might sound very old fashioned. But the days when husbands and wives NEEDED each other were really good days. Marriages lasted until death almost all of the time because they "held fast" and "cleaved" (Genesis 2:24) to one another in all things. The one good thing the financial guy did say was that money disagreements are one of the leading factors for the vast majority of divorces.
Money is a great gift but it also has the power to destroy us. This is why Jesus said, "You cannot serve both God and money" (Matthew 6:24). God knows the hold that money can have on our hearts. Money is not the root of all evil, but the love of money is (1 Timothy 6:10).
So in your marriage, no matter how many accounts you have or how much money you have, don't let it get to your heart. Because whatever is in your heart will either draw you together or keep you apart. Let your heart be full of love for God and love for one another.
Don't love your money more than you love your spouse. In fact, don't love your money at all. Be thankful for it, give it and use it wisely. But don't love it.
And if you're like us and don't have nearly enough money for separate accounts, (some days we barely have enough money to keep one account above zero!), rejoice. You need each other. Let your financial state bind you together in a way that you are cleaving and holding fast to one another, as if one another is all you have.
Because sometimes being broke really can be a blessing.