Question: Money is becoming a huge problem in our marriage. I think my spouse spends too much. Meanwhile, I've been accused of being "stingy" and "unrealistic." How can we resolve these conflicts and develop a "team strategy" in the area of finance?


Financial disagreements can be a huge problem between husband and wife, especially when one of them is convinced that the other is spending too much. But it’s a problem the two of you can face and conquer together provided you keep some basic guidelines and principles in mind. 

Be on the same team

In the first place, make up your minds to be on the same team when it comes to finances. You can start by agreeing that you both want the same things concerning money – a certain amount of security and a certain amount of freedom. Those amounts may not be the same, but the general goals are. Above all, you will want to emphasize the health of your relationship over the details of accounting. Once you’re on the same team, it will be easier to come up with creative solutions to your disagreements about spending.

Understand motivations

Next, if you think your spouse is overspending, try to understand the deeper motivations behind this behaviour. There can be a variety of reasons for overspending – deprived childhood, privileged childhood, depression, anxiety, the thrill of the hunt – but they all come down to one thing: the quest for security. The antidote is a healthy grasp of God’s love, provision and grace. It’s the realization that things don’t provide ultimate security – God does. Before making a purchase, husbands and wives need to ask themselves, "What am I trying to do?" If the answer has anything to do with finding fulfillment or escaping stress or pain, don’t buy the item. Instead, take your search for security to the Lord and find it in Him. 

On a more practical level, it’s vital that both of you understand exactly what things cost and how often they need to be purchased. Some people enter marriage with very different experiences of spending, saving and tithing, and a number of preconceived notions (many of them highly inaccurate) about the price tags attached. For example, knowing that a certain computer program is purchased once with upgrades bought every year will help spouses agree on the real cost. So will the knowledge that $20.00 worth of powder could last three months for some women and six months for others. 

Live on less

Finally, understand that you must learn to live on less than you earn. Living from one paycheque to the next isn’t comfortable for anyone. It can lead each of you to feel taken for granted, used and insecure about the future. What’s worse, in cases of crisis or unexpected expenditure, it can send you over the edge of financial solvency into a downward spiral of endlessly accumulating debt. 

This is where the importance of budgeting comes in. A budget will enable you not only to live within your means, but also to set something aside for a rainy day. Among the many benefits of adopting a budget, some of the more noteworthy include the following: 

1) A budget establishes a spending plan. It helps you decide in advance what you will do when faced with the need to make a purchase. Having a plan gives you options, and having options means freedom.

2) A budget encourages saving. If you plan your budget properly and follow it faithfully, you’ll end up with the beginnings of a savings account at the end of the month. Without a budget, that fund may never get off the ground.

3) A budget reduces stress. With a budget, you’ll know exactly how much money is available each month. When you respect the system, finance will no longer be a primary focus of conflict – which it often is early in marriage.

4) A budget allows for the unexpected. Emergency expenses can be overwhelming, especially in a new marriage. Setting aside funds for surprise expenditures can help reduce pressure.

5) A budget encourages giving. Having a budget will allow room for generosity and help you honour God with the resources that already belong to Him.

6) A budget discourages debt. By adopting a reasonable plan and sticking with it, you’ll prevent yourselves from sliding into financial over-commitment. 

7) A budget can be flexible. Many couples fear that a budget will become a straitjacket, but in actuality it can be a liberating measure. Financial freedom can be expanded by constantly re-evaluating the budget. For example, you may want to take half the money from your "dining out" budget for next year and put it into your "vacation" account. It’s entirely up to you.

8) A budget can encourage spouses to submit to the same authority – God. To set up a budget, you have to establish priorities. Discussing those priorities and seeking God’s direction in the process can take you a long way in the direction of financial harmony. 

We realize that we’ve given you a lot of food for thought here. If you feel you need help sorting through these ideas and applying these suggestions to your situation, please feel free to give our counselling department a call. Our staff counsellors will be happy to listen to your concerns and offer their perspective over the phone. They can also provide you with referrals to qualified counsellors in your area who specialize in marriage and family therapy. You can contact them Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time, at 1.800.661.9800. It will be their privilege to serve you in any way they can.

Excerpted from The Complete Guide to the First Five Years of Marriage, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. © 2006 Focus on the Family.

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