I have several friends who are in deep financial trouble in the early years of their marriage. I want to avoid the stress they’re experiencing. Do you have any helpful tips so that I can guard my home and marriage?
Dear Avoiding Disaster,
Being under constant financial stress is terrible at any age, but it is especially dangerous in the “early years.” This is a time when most couples are vulnerable to separation and divorce.
I assume your friends are struggling with debt due to being unprepared for their lifestyle.
It usually occurs in a series of small mistakes, as a result of one huge accident, or because of the assumption that “this is just the way it’s done.” Since I don’t really know what happened to your friends, I will give you some financial advice and also some general principles so that you can avoid the five most common causes of debt.
#1 – Allowing a Get-Rich-Quick Mentality to Govern Decisions
If people only invested in get-rich-quick schemes with available cash, they would be more cautious. Somehow, it is easier to risk borrowed money because it appears to be free money. Like purchasing consumer goods on a credit card, it is easy to justify borrowing money to invest, especially when you think your returns are “guaranteed.” Speculating on the future is a practice in surety, which the Bible warns against. It’s presumptuous since no one can rightly predict financial markets.
Believers are particularly vulnerable, trusting so-called “Christians” who claim to have a special revelation from God when selling their scheme. My advice: Stay with what you know. Thoroughly investigate the product, company, and person presenting the offer. Make no hasty decisions. Always wait 24 hours, and pray before investing a dime. Borrowing money to speculate is not investing. It is a high-risk gamble.
#2 – Ignoring the Primary God-Given Advisor: A Spouse
Since opposites tend to attract, couples will not agree on everything. Learn to communicate respectfully to reach reasonable compromises. Husbands are to love their wives. That includes seeking and listening to their advice before making any financial decisions. Wives are to honor their husbands and to respectfully give their opinions. God created a husband and wife to function as a single working unit. This enables them to capitalize on each other’s strengths and avoid errors in judgment.
#3 – Failing to Schedule All Expenses
Plan on financial disaster if you fail to plan for unexpected expenses. These are often things that have yet to come due or the unexpected costs of maintenance, repairs, or health issues. Anyone with a car, home, children, or pets understands this. Ignoring the inevitable or not working expenses into a budget creates credit card dependency. Adjust the budget to include setting aside money into an Emergency Account. Though temporarily uncomfortable, it is very wise long-term. It is best to have 3-6 months of your monthly expenses in an Emergency Fund.
If you are struggling with credit card debt now, contact our friends at Christian Credit Counselors. This should be done before you dig a deep hole.
#4 - Buying a Home You Cannot Afford
Purchasing a home too early in marriage or paying too much for one creates problems. A house payment for the average family’s budget should not exceed 40% of net spendable income after giving and taxes. Include the mortgage, utilities, HOA fees, property tax, maintenance, and repairs. Destroying the budget to get into a home is not logical. It restricts the ability to give, save, and invest. Only purchase if the numbers work, preferably based on one income only.
If you cannot put 20% down before you take on a mortgage, it is best to rent and save until you can.
#5 – Buying a Car You Cannot Afford
Most people look at the monthly payments for a car instead of the overall price. Interest translates into paying significantly more than the asking price and being burdened by the debt for years. Unlike a house, a car depreciates in value the moment you drive it off the lot. So, do not finance something that will lose money. Save, and buy reliable used cars with cash.
Disaster Proofing the Marriage
There is no silver bullet to protect “your home and marriage” from a disaster. Satan prowls around seeking to cause havoc in all relationships including the best marriages. Having your finances under God’s control is a sign of wisdom, and I highly recommend it. At the same time, let me give you a few tips that have helped us through the hard days.
Pray together, often. This took us years to get comfortable with, but it is now a way of life. Often, we take long walks and pray aloud together the entire time.
Seek to grow as Christ’s disciples. When you are both pursuing this goal, you will experience the fruit of the Spirit which is a glue to make any marriage even better.
Invite your spouse to be your most intimate, trusted advisor on all decisions. This trusting submission builds confidence and leads to better outcomes in all things as you work in unity.
Be humble, gentle, and quick to apologize. Nobody escapes hurting their spouse in a marriage. We can escape becoming indifferent about it through showing mercy, kindness, and grace when we are offended.
A good marriage is a financial benefit. A divorce is emotionally and financially devastating. My wife and I wrote an entire book on the topic of money and marriage, called Money Problems, Marriage Solutions. It is a step-by-step guide to growing in unity. You can get your copy here.
I made many of the mistakes that you are hoping to avoid. By God’s grace, He kept our marriage together, and we worked through the mistakes. Today, we are in a much better place and stronger because of our ability to work together. There is always hope when you fully trust Him and apply the principles of God’s economy.
Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, a global Christian ministry, founded by the late Larry Burkett. He is the host of a daily radio broadcast, My MoneyLife, featured on more than 1,000 Christian Music and Talk stations in the U.S., and author of his most recent book, Seven Gray Swans: Trends that Threaten Our Financial Future. Be sure to follow Crown on Facebook.