Letters of Advice to Newlyweds

Becoming One Financially

Young Couple on the Fire Escape of an Apartment HouseI suspect that your first month together flew by and yet lasted forever. So many new experiences in such a small amount of time!

Living near a military base has given me opportunities to interact with numerous young couples. It has been my privilege to help many through the difficult years of adjusting lives of independence into a life of togetherness. If I had to pick one topic that causes instability in new marriages, it is finances.

Even though you are not long from living at home, both you and your wife have had several years of earning your own income. For the most part, no one has told you what you had to do with your money and since you have accrued many obligations, it is easy to develop a habit of impulse buying. After all, it doesn’t impact anyone but yourself.

Even if you and your wife continue to work and earn separate incomes, you cannot continue living life independently. You are no longer two people but one. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). This is not limited to sexual intercourse. Your outlook on life must shift from “me” to “we.”

If you haven’t already, eliminate all separate bank accounts and only have joint accounts. It may not sound all that important, but it is vital for your marriage. This seemingly simple act will force both of you to start thinking as a couple and not as two people living in the same house and sharing the same bed. And let me warn you, there will be some serious adjustments to be made because each transaction you make will impact your spouse. Even if you have good income because both of you are working, it is still a limited resource. Plans that you have and she has for the future use of that money must be discussed in advance. Because there are limits, plans will have to be deferred – sometimes it will be hers, and sometimes it will be yours.

An early mistake many Christian men make in entering a marriage is thinking that since you are the head of the family, then what you want is more important than what your wife wants. Nothing can be further from the truth! Such thinking is for an individual, not a couple. Imagine the CEO of a company who wants a new boat and so issues himself a bonus from the company’s funds. Such a man won’t last long in business and neither will his company. The leader of a company is always thinking about what is best for the company in the long run. A good leader will often make personal sacrifices so that the company will be in a better position in the future. The same is true for the husband. Being head means I am willing to sacrifice my wants for the good of my family. Sure, I would like to drive a new car, but the family can’t afford it, so I continue to drive an old Taurus with a dent in the door.

Even meager amounts of wealth is an unreliable commodity. “He who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like foliage” (Proverbs 11:28). The combination of your income and your wife’s income probably makes life feel fairly free and easy compared to the time you were living by yourself on just your own income. However, there are no guarantees that your income will remain. Bad things happen even to good people. Companies close, get bought out, or have layoffs.

Expenses too are unpredictable. “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs 27:1). Things are going to happen. The washing machine will not last forever. Dishes will break. The car will have a flat. While I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, I can reliably predict that there will be unexpected expenses in the future.

An early and common mistake couples make is living life on the edge of what they can afford. It is part of our impatience with life. We remember what life was like living at home, so we assume we should have the same – forgetting that it took mom and dad years to build up to the life we remember. Hence, we buy as much as we can afford and congratulate ourselves on how well we are doing. But then the unexpected happens and we are caught off guard. You had a wreck this morning or despite your precautions your wife informs you that she’s pregnant. Now what?

Because of the heavy advertising and the quick acceptance in our modern society, most people figure that they can always use credit to handle the unexpected expenses that arise. While borrowing is not wrong, the Bible clearly warns us that it is not wise to use it. One reason is that borrowing puts you under the thumb of the lender. “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7). You give up control over a portion of your life. You no longer have a choice in what you can do with your income because you must pay the lender back. Worse, you are paying these people for the privilege of controlling your spending. In a true sense, the extra you pay in interest is a gift you are making to the wealthy. “He who oppresses the poor to increase his riches, and he who gives to the rich, will surely come to poverty” (Proverbs 22:16).

Solomon invites us to learn a lesson from the ant: “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, which, having no captain, overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest. How long will you slumber, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep - so shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, and your need like an armed man” (Proverbs 6:6-11). The ant survives without obligation to others by preparing for the future. Life is filled with good times and bad times. By thinking ahead during the good times and putting something aside, the ant is able to survive the difficult times of winter. This is exactly what Joseph did for Pharaoh (Genesis 41:25-40). God told Pharaoh that his land would see seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. By putting aside 20% during the seven good years, Joseph was able to bring Egypt through the seven years of famine and he had sufficient extra stores to supply the nations surrounding Egypt.

I might not know the precise future, but I know that there will be good times and bad times. If I am smart, I will put aside a portion during the good times to carry me over the bad times. “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has” (Proverbs 21:20). There lies the problem. During good times it is hard to think about bad times. Young men especially have difficulties with this because their minds are not developed enough to analyze and recognize risk. Hence, they push the limits a bit. Sometimes they are lucky and make it through unscathed, but most often they are caught off guard and find themselves up to their eyeballs in debt.

To get the two of you pulling together, sit down this week and list out all your planned purchases for next month. Start out with the basic necessities: food, clothing, shelter, utilities, and the like. Add on one time purchases you know you need to make: replace the tires on the car, additional glasses so you can have guests, paint to spruce up the living room, etc. Some of these things you will be able to afford and some will require saving up for the purchase. And don’t forget to an emergency fund. A good minimum fund is to look at your insurance and consider what would happen if two things happened at once. Suppose you have a $500 deductible on your cars. What would happen if you had an accident tomorrow? What if your wife falls ill? Have enough set aside to meet two events. For many these days, a thousand dollars in a savings account should handle quite a few emergencies.

Next, put your list in order. God should come first. Under the Old Law there was the concept of first fruits. God’s portion of the harvest came from the beginning of the harvest and not from the end (Exodus 23:19). “Honor the LORD with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine” (Proverbs 3:9-10). The New Testament contains the same principle. “Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33). Decide with your wife what the two of you are going to give to God, and set that portion aside.

Second must come the dreaded taxes. “For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (Romans 13:6-7).

Third, necessities must come before luxuries. “And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (I Timothy 6:8). Set aside the money you need for your home, food, and clothing. In this include a small allowance to each of you for discretionary spending. This will help keep you from feeling like a slave to your own budget. It can be your “fun night money” or a bit to buy a soda at work.

Fourth is your obligations, the debts that you might have incurred. A Christian must always honor his word, even if it causes him personal discomfort (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5; Matthew 5:33-37). Pay at least the minimum that you are obligated to pay.

Fifth is your emergency fund. Keep adding to it until it reaches the limit you set. If you use it, start rebuilding it the next month so you are prepared for the next emergency.

Sixth, start paying off your current debts. Go after them like a mad man. They are literally sucking you dry, so put as much as you can against them to make them vanish. Psychologically, paying the smallest debt off first helps motivate you to keep going. Throw yourself a little party when they are all gone.

Seventh, it won’t take long to realize that the emergency fund is not enough. Life is filled with unexpected expenses that might not be an emergency, but they still need paying. Establish a savings account where you have money set aside equal to three to six months of living expenses. This is your pad to save you from borrowing when little things come up. In a sense you are establishing an account so you can borrow from yourself. Instead of paying interest to a bank, your savings will pay you interest – a much better deal. By having a nest egg of several months, you won’t go into a panic even if you are laid off tomorrow. Three to six months should give you plenty of time to locate an new job.

Finally, you can start addressing the niceties in life: a new sofa, a newer car, or even a down-payment on a house. If there is still spare cash, start putting money at this point away for retirement.

The idea is to create a list far longer than you have income. Every dollar is allocated, even the money you set aside for discretionary spending – you might not know what you are spending it on, but it is there. No plan will fully protect you from uncertainty. “Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit"; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:13-14). You can, however, minimize the discomforts in life.

You and your wife are young. Start developing some good solid habits now and you won’t face as many difficulties in the future. Others will think you’re crazy. But what might appear to be foolishness to others is sound financial advice from God.