Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Starting the Money Conversation

For many marriages money is a big issue. If you Google the phrase "top reasons for divorce", you will find that financial issues show up on pretty much every hit. Issues with money are inevitable and will create tension for most couples. Money definitely causes disagreement between Melissa and I.

How can couples deal with money, respect each other, make wise choices, and stay married??

Over the next couple of weeks, we'll post a handful of blogs to try and impart some financial wisdom we've learned in the last six years from trusted friends, counselors, and trial by fire. Here is what's in the queue:
  1. This blog, Starting the Money Conversation, will begin with some basic conversation tips to help give you and your significant other a good foundation for discussing finances. 
  2. Building a Budget will lay out some basics to understanding how to budget with three blogs to follow taking a few questions a little deeper:
  3. Deciding What to Give
  4. Do We Really Need That?
  5. Cutting Corners: Tips for Tight Budgets
Here are some thoughts on starting conversations about this topic:

1. Understand your significant other's view of money.

Often in marriage, you can wrongfully assume your significant other handles things the same way you do and money is no exception. It's important to understand how money was handled in both of your families while growing up. Take time to ask what your spouse liked about the way their parents handled money and what they didn't like. How does this impact what they do with their money now? How does your spouse or fiance deal with credit cards and/or debt? What do they think the role of a budget is? What do they spend their money on now? What are their future financial goals? It's great to have these talks before getting married too, as these conversations will provide insights into how you can work towards handling finances collectively.

2. Clarify roles. In marriage, it can be really helpful to set and clarify individual financial responsibilities.
  • Will one person pay the bills each month or will you each pay some?
  • Who is going to balance the check book? How often will that be done?
  • Who is going to take care of deposits?
  • Will you handle grocery shopping together or will one person take care of this?
  • Who is going to set and track a budget?
Each couple needs to figure out what works best for them and it may take a couple of years to iron this out. I am much better at math than Melissa, so I handle balancing the check book, tracking our budegt and paying the bills each month. When it comes to deposits, we handle them on a case by case basis depending on who will be heading near the bank on a particular day. Melissa has a sixth sense when it comes to grocery shopping and can stay on budget with scary accuracy. Literally every week, she gets to the check out line and can select 2 or 3 items to remove from our purchase and is almost always within a dollar or two of our budget.

3. Figure out your bank accounts.

It can be assumed that as a married couple you should have one shared checking account and one shared savings account. But bank accounts don't have to be one certain way. Some couples find it easier to manage money by having separate accounts and split up their bill paying. Some have separate fun money spending accounts, but also have a shared savings and shared checking.

We've found it really helpful for Melissa to have one separate account where she deposits her art and freelance earnings. In some ways, it's her business account which she uses to purchase supplies for whatever she needs for her job as a freelance artist. But she also uses it to buy clothes, pay some bills, save for vacations, the occasional coffee with friends or to buy presents for birthdays or Christmas. Not everyone should do this, as it could lead to hiding finances, but it works specifically for us as Melissa is  responsible with money and it helps her feel a small sense of freedom that is important for her. Growing up, her father was very controlling and manipulative about money, and having this little account for herself makes her feel like she doesn't have to ask me anytime she wants to do something.

Again, there really isn't one correct way to do bank accounts, it's all about what works best for each couple.

4. Clarify your significant other's view of money. Again.

Yes, this is a repeat of #1 and we are repeating it for a few reasons. First, money is something that can change at any time. Your spouse loses their job. Your landlord decides to raise rent. One of you gets a raise. Lots of things can change the landscape of how you were spending money and create the need to repeat conversations.

Second, people's views constantly change, especially when it comes to money. What your spouse was comfortable with a few months ago could now make them really uncomfortable. What you thought could be cut out of the budget might be too difficult. A book one of you read or a sermon you heard could have brought up a new perspective on finances. Don't get frustrated or upset with your spouse when things change. Take time to listen to them and understand what has altered in their views and why. Do you now need to change your finances at all? If you can't come to an agreement about a change leave things the way they are for a week and pray about it. You can revisit the conversation and decision later and some prayer, time, and breathing space might help.

Money doesn't have to derail your marriage if you handle it correctly. Some purposeful conversations and some careful planning can help minimize the tension that money creates.

Jake and Melissa

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Surviving the Bear Grylls Way

I love the TV show Man Vs. Wild with Bear Grylls. How can you resist a man with an English accent who ruggedly handles all sorts of survival situations? He provides a glorious hour-long anxiety attack coupled with copious amounts of raw heart and/or bug eating. Oh, and there are alligators...lots of alligators.

What I love most about the show (English accent notwithstanding) is how creative Bear is when it comes to survival. He uses what he's got, what he can find, his brains, and previous special forces military training to make impossible situations work. Yes, yes I know many of the "dangers" are staged so that he can demonstrate techniques, but the principle is still the same. You do what you have to do to survive.

Marriage takes survival. And today couples faces so many obstacles.  We have a horrible economy, lack of jobs, difficultly getting mortgages, two income households, crazy schedules, constant technology and marketing bombardment, and record debt rates just to name a few. In the midst of this our society puts very little value on the sanctity and commitment of marriage, family values, morality, living within one's means, a slower-paced life, church involvement, community living, and love that is based on choice rather than feelings.

In order for a marriage to last, we're going to have to throw many of the "proven" ways of doing things out the window. You're going to do what you have to do in order to make your marriage healthy and long-lasting.

If you and your hubs feel like passings ships in the night because you both work full-time and have kids as well, maybe it's time to buck the trend by cutting way back on expenses and adjusting your lifestyle to create less financial pressure and more time for each other.  A marriage is unsustainable if you don't make quality time for each other.

Maybe survival means taking some of that religiously guarded money out of savings and use it for a family trip or much needed vacation.

Maybe you cut down on church commitments. Or cut out e-mail after 8pm.  Or turn off your cable so that nights can be spent reading, learning, talking, or playing games. Things that build connection.

Maybe you let others into your marriage problems and allow them to speak wisdom and advice into your life. Maybe you go to counseling.

You do what you have to do, with what you've got, use your brains, get some training (books, seminars, counseling, small groups, etc.) and find a way to make it work so that your marriage survives.

-Melissa (*note that Jake does not love Bear Grylls' accent...it's a woman thing!)
Our goal of this blog is to share stories (both good and bad), thoughts and insights about our marriage and we would love for you to jump into the conversation.

The goal is to provide three things:
1) HOPE for struggling couples that they are not alone.
2) GROWTH in our marriages and our understanding of marriage.
3) ENCOURAGEMENT to keep loving your spouse unconditionally.