Challenges, Money & Finances

Finances in Marriage: 7 Principles Every Couple Should Consider

Finances are a hot topic in every marriage. It can be insanely stressful, and if we’re not careful we can get caught up in the comparison game.

We certainly don’t know everything about this or have a sliver bullet to fix every financial woe in your marriage. However we have learned a few principles that help us stay focused on the main thing: God. Having right perspective on finances will serve three important purposes in your married life:

  1. Keep God at the center and in control of your life, not money
  2. Keep money in it’s rightful place – a few notches down the priority list
  3. Replace stress with trust and striving with faithfulness, thus adding to your overall marital joy

Here are seven principles we’ve learned about finances. Note, #1 is the longest since it lays the groundwork for the others. Bare with me, I hope it’s worth the read!

1: Stewardship: “We own nothing.

Every other principle herein stems from the biblical idea of stewardship. Stewardship is a concept that has radically changed our lives over the past 5 years. Basically, biblical stewardship is this: everything is God’s (not ours), what we have, we have been given to care for, for God’s glory alone.

Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service, you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already.

– C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I think of it like this: God has entrusted me with a plot of land to care for, I don’t own it, He does. At some point I will give back to Him what is His, and I want to prove I’m a good steward. His love and my salvation do not depend on my stewardship, but mindful stewardship is a natural result of understanding God’s grace and love. I want to give my life and everything in it to Him because I’m compelled by His love.

A man doesn't own his marriage; he is only the steward of his wife's love.As a man, it’s a truly liberating revelation; it takes pressure off of me to provide (i.e. God is our provider), but it also excites me to use wisdom and work hard because I’m caring for the time, money, talent, and relationships He’s given me. Yes, I work diligently (this isn’t an excuse to be lazy), but the reason I work is to steward, not strive for more income. It’s an otherworldly concept, but wisdom of God sometimes looks foolish to the world, eh?

If you’re not familiar with biblical stewardship, there are many good books on it. And here’s a list of verses to start with (crack that Bible!):

  1. Matthew 25:14-30 (Parable of the talents)
  2. Colossians 3:23-24 (Whatever you do, do it as unto God, not unto men.)
  3. Psalm 24 (Everything is God’s)

One author put it very well:

Although God gives us “all things richly to enjoy,” nothing is ours. Nothing really belongs to us. God owns everything; we’re responsible for how we treat it and what we do with it. While we complain about our rights here on earth, the Bible constantly asks, What about your responsibilities? Owners have rights; stewards have responsibilities.

– Bill Peel

With stewardship as our foundation, let’s dive into the other principles we’ve learned.

2: Perspective: “We have everything.”

If you’re reading this blog (i.e. you have internet and a device to view it on, you speak English) it’s likely that you are extremely wealthy compared to the whole world. We’ve all heard the stats: “Billions of people live on less than $2 a day“. It’s hard to take stats like that to heart, because we can’t really fathom what “Billions” of faceless people look like.

But it’s true.

Having a worldwide perspective helps keep financial issues in check. Can’t afford the $40,000 car you want? It’s not such a big deal. Constant gratefulness is a great way to keep your perspective.

3: Seek Unity: “We’re in this together

Seek unity in your marriage.Get on the same page. If you both understand biblical stewardship and respond to wisdom, this won’t be a problem. But if one of you seeks to be a good steward while the other spends haphazardly, you’re in for a bumpy ride.

Get on the same page: God’s page. Learn what God is asking of you and stick to it together.

4: Needs vs Wants vs Consumerism

Make a distinction between your decision motivators:

  1. Need = it’s essential for survival or good stewardship
  2. Want = you would genuinely enjoy something
  3. Consumerism = unwise spending based on impulse or attractive marketing

Knowing what’s motivating you will help you make godly financial decisions.

5: Avoid Excess

Warning: this is a radical idea for most, including myself. But since when was the gospel not radical?

Luxury by definition means excess. Extra. Lavish. I’m not talking about “pauper theology”, but rather stewardship taken seriously. How much should you give away if you make $1M a year? Nobody needs to live on $1M annually. If you have extra, it may be time to give extra; yes, more than 10%, more than 30%, perhaps even more than 90% of your income.

I won’t paint with broad brush strokes: “Everyone over $xxx,xxx should give xx% away”. That’s between you and God. The key is to be utterly, completely, and wholeheartedly satisfied in God and obedient to God. Right perspective on stewardship is critical to not “fooling ourselves” or justifying money management habits that are bad stewardship.

In fact, your gut reaction to this proposition gives you a hint on your true perspective on stewardship. I know I have a heart check even now as I write this. (God, please help me…)

6: Use Cash, Not Credit

Don’t use a credit card, it’s not real money. Also, the airline miles aren’t worth it (I worked in loyalty marketing for a number of years, and trust me, “points” and “miles” are there for companies to make more money.)

Also, avoid loans whenever you can. There’s a reason so many people are in the lending business, because they make money, and lots of it.

Selena and I are still learning about this. We only have debit cards, which we learned to do the hard way. We also have a house with a mortgage (we rent it out), a car loan, and school debts. I can’t definitively say “all loans are bad”, but I can say credit cards are just plain nasty.

Proceed into any loan agreement with stewardship in mind, then make a wise choice based on God’s word.

7: Prioritize to Maximize Joy

Disposable income is good! It’s one way we can experience God’s grace. It’s extra, and it’s there to be enjoyed. When enjoying it, choose the things that matter most to you, not just shiny things marketed well.

g̶e̶t̶ ̶ s̶t̶u̶f̶f̶ ... make memoriesIf you’ve got $300 of “fun money” this month, how do you use it in a purposeful way to maximize long-term enjoyment?

For us, we travel. We love to make memories. I imagine at some point we’ll buy a ski boat or a horse (Sel loves horses), but only when the time is absolutely right. The point here is to spend your disposable cash (after tithe+, after saving) in a way that builds you up purposely as opposed to just adding to life’s consumer clutter.

Question: What other principles do you and your spouse use to make financial decisions?

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  • Nicola Nsubuga

    It’s a good read! I think joint bank accounts are good too. So many couples have separate accounts and then separate their spending but when you’re married you become one, so I think it’s good to share everything including your money. I think it’s also easier to save and budget plan this way.

    • Very true Nicola, and I definitely agree. That would have been good to include!

    • Jonathon Brooks

      I’ve never understood separate bank accounts. Do those same people file taxes separately too?

      • Locke1682

        There are practical reasons for that. If you file your tax ID as married but filing separately you can get the higher single taxes taken out from your income and thus not end up having to owe money in April, this works if you are on a tight income and yes, if you do this you have to file taxes separately also because that is the law.

    • Rebecca

      There can be practical reasons for separate bank accounts. A few examples from good marriages that have stood the test of time (as in multiple decades):

      1. Three separate accounts: one for monthly bills, one — linked to a savings account — for expenses like repairs, replacing cars or major appliances, etc, and one for household expenses. The wife does the cooking and shopping, so she carries that checkbook (they are old-fashioned and not into debit cards). The other two are kept at home and the husband uses them for paying bills, etc.

      2. A number of couples that I know try to live off the husbands’ earnings and bank and/or invest the wives’ earnings, and separate accounts make this much easier. (This is standard advice for young couples trying to save up so the wife can stay home with kids, or so they can buy a house, etc.)

      3. Some couples give themselves a “spending allowance” and prefer not to use the “cash envelopes” method, thus they have separate personal accounts apart from a household account.

      4. Some husbands have the “love language” of giving and receiving gifts, and feel it detracts from the gift if their stay-at-home wife has to ask them, “Could you please give me $20 so I can buy you a present?” Wives don’t like this either. Nor does either spouse tend to enjoy having surprises ruined by a lack of financial privacy. And then there’s the matter of the spouse always knowing the price of every gift. One can work around it by only buying small gifts using pocket money, by secreting away stashes of cash for more expensive gifts and only buying what one can pay for in person, or by gifting only homemade or intangible gifts. But if a husband is complaining that his wife never buys him gifts, especially if she is a stay-at-home wife, he might want to consider separate bank accounts.

      As for “becoming one” meaning no separate bank accounts — that is hardly a scriptural argument. There are lots of things we keep separate in marriage. Most of us keep our clothing in separate drawers and on separate sides of the closet. We usually keep our spending cash in separate wallets. We even use separate toothbrushes.

      Tax returns are not filed for each bank account — I had multiple bank accounts prior to marriage and didn’t need to file separately for each one. Marriage doesn’t change that.

    • Locke1682

      I think divided bank accounts are essential for building trust. We agree with and try to follow the scripture of stewardship, and it can definitely get very bumpy at times, in fact I would say it is the thing we argue about the most, but, that being said the division of our bank accounts is of no concern. This is because while we have four bank accounts we consider all money coming into the house as community property. just like the house we live in. We pay bills from the house account, have a savings for nest eggs, investments, emergencies, etc… and each has their own personal banking account. Our wages go into our personal accounts and we place what we need in the house account as needed, from whomever has the most at that point in time. We make very little so this is what works for us because we have to worry about timing as much as we do value. We think about marriage a bit differently than two becoming one though. We think of it as two individuals under God creating a third, intangible “child” that is the marriage itself, the bond before and with God which we are given as a gift and are stewards and parents of, so we have to nurture it responsibly as you would a child. Carrying this forward we see our future child as the holy embodiment of that relationship between me, my wife, and God because I child is the best thing to reflect in your face what you, your spouse, and your combined faith actually look like.

  • Jeremy Sands

    I agreed with everything until you got to the part about the airline miles credit card. Credit cards are not inherently evil, just like social media and music are not inherently evil, but all of these things can be used in evil ways. Facebook can be a great tool to keep in touch with someone overseas, but it can also be abused by stalkers. Music is a great way to worship God or just chill out in general, but it can also have hurtful/disrespectful lyrics. Credit cards (especially with airline rewards) can be used well, or they can be misused and cost you a lot of money in the process. My wife and I have a United Airlines Explorer credit card that we use for regular purchases (gas, groceries, household supplies, etc.) and we pay it off in full every month. Her family lives 3,000 miles away and this card is an amazing tool that has saved us thousands of dollars in airfare costs and allows us to visit more frequently. Notice how I said we pay it off IN FULL every month….this is the key to using any credit card wisely. We have not paid a cent of interest on it, and I intend to keep it that way.

    TL;DR Credit cards are not inherently evil, but they can destroy your finances if used improperly.

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  • JoyAnn TannerPhillips

    I believe separate account help a marriage, but can also hinder it. Experience from my first marriage when my husband used the card without advising me he took money out caused a large amount of overdraft fees and a bounced check.
    My current marriage which is amazing… My husband can’t have a bank account because of something from his younger years, but I have mine and I’m the only one with a card. We put both our checks in the account and on pay day I pull out $40 for him to have money for whatever on top of filling up the gas tanks. This works because then even though money is tight we don’t over draw on the account and if we ever do it’s all on me for not adding something in the check book. Sure solved the fighting I had in my first marriage.

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  • Joel Mbowa

    This is one of those pieces one should feed on.
    Thank you