So you’re engaged, and now you’re preparing for the big day. There are a thousand things on your mind. Wedding dress. Invitations. A cake. A photographer. The list goes on and on.
What about your finances? If you’re a typical single, you do your best to manage your finances and have a good sense of how much is entering and exiting your bank account. But now you’re getting married. What should change? Marriage gurus name the three big areas of conflict as sex, parenting, and finances. How can you prevent future fights over money?
Here are 11 recommendations.
1. Your money is not just a practical issue, but a spiritual one.
Don’t falsely divide your life into financial management or spiritual issues. As Christians, all of life falls under the sovereignty of God, including our finances. As Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24).
A follower of Jesus cannot have divided loyalties; the Lord is to be first in all things. And Christian priorities should guide your handling of money. How you steward it is a spiritual issue. Your money can be used for kingdom purposes, or it can hinder your relationship with God. Which is it for you?
2. Don’t merge your finances before the big day.
David and Sally were engaged. Things went so poorly they broke up. Problem was, they’d merged their finances and didn’t keep track of who spent what.
You aren’t yet married. So don’t pretend you’re married with all the perks of marriage. It’s a colossal mess to deal with merged finances after a nasty breakup. Tensions are already high enough when things fall apart. Why add to this mess?
3. Merge your bank accounts after you get married.
How you handle your money in marriage says a lot about your trust for one another. Getting married means merging everything. It’s no longer his money, or her money, but our money. Traditional marriage vows often state, “With this ring, I thee wed, and with all my world goods I thee endow.” If you’re not willing to entrust your money and everything you own to your future spouse, why are you getting married?
This is serious business. I won’t marry a couple if they won’t merge their bank accounts after marriage. It signals they don’t trust one another with important things.
4. You need a budget.
In and of itself, money is not anything. It’s a proxy for value. So when we fight over our money, we’re fighting over what we value.
We learn these values from different places (family, church, education, and so on). As Christians, your values will be similar. You treasure God and his kingdom (Matt. 6:19–21, 33). You desire a generous spirit (Prov. 14:21, 31; 2 Cor. 9:11). You steward your resources wisely (Prov. 27:23). Nevertheless, even as Christians you’ve learned different financial values due to your differing educations, upbringings, and experiences.
Here’s the rub: Your financial values are primarily intuitive. And these implicit values will be made explicit in marriage. As your differing values come into conflict, they can create tension.
So how do you prevent conflict over money? Establish a common set of values—a shared value system. A husband and wife should operate with a mutually-agreed-upon set of financial values. When you form a budget together, implicit values get discussed as you answer the question, “What do we mutually value?” Your family budget is a primary way to give expression to what is important to both of you.
There will be less conflict in a marriage marked by careful financial planning and explicit shared values. So why not start working toward that goal during engagement by planning your future budget and discussing your common values? A budget turns conversations about money from reactive and constraint-driven to proactive and opportunity-driven.
5. Take the one-income challenge.
If you want to take things one step further with your proposed budget, remove one of your incomes and figure out how to live on just one salary. For some of you, the thought is painful. Here are four reasons I ask couples to consider this practice:
- Learning to trim unnecessary expenses, like frequent eating out, is a good habit. It takes discipline to live on less.
- A second income (while it’s available) can be used to eliminate debt or prepare for the future (for example, save for a down payment on a home or create a rainy-day fund). Use that second income to be especially aggressive about paying off debt with high interest rates.
- If the wife desires to be at home once you have kids, it’s good to figure out now (while you’re engaged) what’s required financially to make that life possible. And no matter what you think you’ll do regarding employment once kids come along, you want to give yourselves flexibility for that new stage of life.
- A one-income budget prepares you for uncertainty. Jessica and John got pregnant in their first month of marriage. She was sick throughout the pregnancy and was no longer able to work. They didn’t plan for it, so they weren’t prepared.
Even if you don’t end up living on just one income, learning to discipline your budget is a wise thing to do.
6. Establish a habit of communicating about finances.
Don’t leave one another in the dark. I cringe when I hear someone say, “I don’t know anything about our finances. If my spouse died, I don’t know what I’d do.” During engagement, communicate about your finances. Think, plan, and scheme together about your financial future. Establish the habit now, so that it’s normal in marriage to discuss it. Your finances are God-given means of building unity.
7. Figure out a plan for the grunt work.
Establishing a budget is easy. Executing a budget is hard. Too often I’ve met couples who created a viable budget, but never followed through. Don’t let that be you.
8. Get out of debt.
Take advantage of the time when you have no children and two incomes. Establish an aggressive payment schedule for getting out of debt now. You won’t regret it.
9. Don’t let difficult circumstances get in the way of giving.
The churches in Macedonia were suffering great trials and didn’t have much, yet they gave sacrificially (2 Cor. 8:1–2). They were poor, and they still gave. The love of Christ compelled them to live this way. Adopt a gospel-mindset that, no matter what, you’ll give generously to others.
10. Establish a habit of giving sacrificially and cheerfully.
Giving is an act of grace (2 Cor. 8:6). It’s a reflection of the grace we’ve received through Christ who, though rich, impoverished himself for our sake (2 Cor. 8:9). A gospel mindset says because Christ gave up his life for me, I should give up my life for others. A gospel-saturated life, then, results in generosity toward others. Oh that we wouldn’t be stingy Christians, but those who would beg for the privilege of giving more (2 Cor. 8:4).
Additionally, develop the habit of focusing outward and serving others rather than obsessing over the perfect wedding day. Give your money first to the Lord rather than spending it all on wedding vendors.
11. Give to missionaries and parachurch work, but start with your local church.
If your local church is the main hub of your spiritual growth, it should be main source of your generous giving (Gal. 6:6). Give to missions, campus workers, or lots of other solid Christian causes, but start with God’s primary plan for advancing his kingdom—the local church.
Because your finances matter to the Lord, they should matter to you and your fiancé. Don’t wait until you’re married to take finances seriously! During engagement you can establish the habits of creating a budget, adjusting your spending, communicating about money, and giving generously to your church. This preparation will position you for a lifetime of wise financial choices.
Stewarding your money in a way that glorifies God is a privilege. A challenging one for sure, but a privilege nonethless.