By Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn
Are you and your spouse on two different pages around money? The two of us certainly had that problem. In fact, we had such a disconnect that one of us pleaded with the other, year after year, to go the church’s financial management class – and finally went alone. But as we interviewed and surveyed couples for Thriving in Love and Money, we finally discovered what was underneath that dynamic – and that most couples have something similar.
Two different ways of viewing money
In most marriages one spouse is more of a “saver” and one is more of a “spender.” Even when both partners are savers, one of them is usually simply more comfortable with spending than the other. And to make things more interesting, the savers are also usually more oriented around planning and structure, where the spenders often value having a bit more flexibility.
We’re going to make an educated guess that if this article caught your eye, you are probably more of the saver/planner type . . . and you’ve been wondering how to get your spouse on the same page. The answer to your question is crucial – but perhaps not in the way you think.
Because now we’re going to ask you to make an educated guess: Which type of person has built all the money-management courses? Written all the financial stewardship books? Hosts all the money-related podcasts and radio shows?
It turns out: the entire financial-management industry revolves around the belief that there is really one mostly “right way” to handle money – the saving/planning way. Which means, by definition, that the spender/flexor way is not considered the right way. Without realizing it, most resources, classes, sermons, and studies on money share the subtle message that the spender/flexor person needs to get with the program, change what they value, and mold themselves into someone different than who they are.
The consequences of a one-way approach
Is it any wonder that those who fall into that category would shy away from talking about money with their spouse? Would avoid attending the church financial management class together? Would perhaps let their spouse draft a nice, strict budget – probably without much involvement from their own point of view – and then mostly ignore it?
That’s what happened with us. Between the two of us, Jeff is more the saver and planner, and Shaunti values the ability to spend money more flexibly. For several years, our church offered free annual classes to anyone wanting help with financial planning or getting out of debt – and Jeff was beyond excited. Each year, Jeff wanted to sign up, but there was always some reason Shaunti couldn’t commit to the class: weeks full of travel, projects at work, or activities for the kids. This went on for four years. Finally, Jeff gave up and went on his own. Which, as you can imagine, wasn’t too effective in helping us manage our money as a team.
It wasn’t until years later, as we were researching Thriving in Love and Money that Jeff had a light bulb moment: He realized that the money management class would have brought out the intense side of his personality – the side that gets excited about “going all in.” And while this is not a bad thing, Shaunti can find it scary when applied to budgeting. (i.e., “Let’s eat Costco beans and franks every day for six months, and we’ll save a fortune!”) Knowing that attending a class together on budgeting would add fuel to the fire of Jeff’s love for strict goal setting, Shaunti instinctively avoided it. And we missed the opportunity for important conversations and actions as a result.
There’s no one “right way”
Here’s the reality we all need to reckon with if we are going to get on the same page about money: Both financially and biblically, there is no one right way to handle money. For every Bible verse the saver/planner quotes about not building a tower before reckoning with the cost, there is a verse the spender/flexor can quote about trusting God and not worrying about tomorrow. Both are true. Both are important.
Accounting for the “spender” point of view does not mean handling money irresponsibly. We are called to be good stewards of what God has given us. But there are many ways of being a good steward – including genuine Kingdom-honoring enjoyment of the good gifts that God has given us today, not just years in the future.
A couple is never going to be able to get on the same page around money until they find a way to honor both ways of viewing money.
Honoring both; becoming closer
The good news is: if you can indeed find a way to respect both of you, then not only do you have a truly mutual approach to finances, but you grow closer in the process.
In our case, once Jeff recognized that he had been essentially scaring Shaunti off, and changed tack, it gave both of us a chance to step back and look for what was good about the other person’s point of view. For example: “Even though I don’t think it is necessary, I see why you want to give the kids nice birthday parties that will draw in their friends.” Or, “Although I would love to be able to use the tax refund for a spring break trip, I do appreciate your desire to build more security in our savings.”
The two of us will probably never be similar money types. You and your spouse may not be, either. But realizing that we don’t have to be, can help each of us feel “seen” and honored. And that in turn will make each of us far more willing to “see” our spouse’s point of view as well.
This article was also published at Patheos.
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