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In love and in debt: Young couples and money
There is far greater joy in households where money is saved before it is spent. Reject the cultural premise that borrowing for everything is normal.
Since money problems are one of the top causes of divorce in the U.S., financial guidance is certainly indicated in pre-marriage counseling.
Most Christians would agree with Scripture that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. So, general warnings about loving money do not accomplish much, and quoting 1 Timothy 6:10 is not financial counsel per se. Paul exhorts Christians to be content with what they have because he understood that loving money was incompatible with loving God (Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13), and that craving wealth had caused some to wander from the faith and “[pierce] themselves with many pangs” (1 Tim. 6:6–10).
But how can the love of money be detected in the heart of a man or a woman? At what point does earning money and enjoying its benefits cross over to an obsession with materialism and prosperity? These are questions that brides and grooms should ask themselves and each other before their wedding.
“Wealth is not wisdom’s goal, but is often wisdom’s reward.” –R.C. Sproul
Though it’s hard to quantify the condition of a person’s heart, the amount of money they owe (and to whom they owe it) is especially telling. Consumer debt is most germane, as it tends to reveal their affections or how they want to be seen by others.
I don’t advocate a formal audit, but full financial disclosure is expected in pre-marriage counseling. The purpose of courtship is to get to know your partner, including the condition of their finances before forming a covenantal relationship with them. Since the commitment to marry includes the commitment to share all assets and liabilities, asking each other about car payments and credit card balances is both reasonable and wise.
But with so much to talk about before their wedding, what financial information is most beneficial for couples that are about to start their lives together?
1. Time is money, and money is time
If we can say time is money, then we can also say that money is time. Yet the expression takes on new meaning when it’s reversed. When someone says, “Time is money,” they are likely telling us that their time is valuable, and the conversation is costing them in lost revenue. The reversal, “Money is time,” is a more sobering truth, especially for those who work for a wage salary.
All the money we have represents either time that has been worked in the past (savings), or time that will be worked in the future (debt). This simple fact is foundational to wise money management, as we live in a culture where the line between time past and time future has been blurred and obscured to the extent that many seem unaware of its existence. Powerful advertising tells us that we deserve to own or experience something before we have earned it, and that borrowing to buy a house, car, or education is normal and acceptable.
Don’t measure success by the size of your estate.
2. Plan your financial future
Resolve to let wisdom and godly reverence guide every aspect of your lives (Prov. 9:10). Wisdom is more valuable than silver or gold, and “Nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor” (Prov. 3:13–16).
Start your marriage with low expectations regarding the car you drive or place you live, being content with what you have. It is the blessing of the Lord that brings wealth, so enjoy those blessings as they come. In the words of R.C. Sproul, “Wealth is not wisdom’s goal, but is often wisdom’s reward.”
Don’t stake your happiness on financial success. It is wise to plan your financial future, work together to realize it, but don’t measure success by the size of your estate.
3. Work together on financial decisions
Observe and exploit God’s design for a complementary marriage. Men and women are gifted with different forms of wisdom and discernment, and each should respect the gifting of the other when making financial decisions. Being in agreement will not only preserve peace in the home, but it enhances the odds that a good decision will be made.
4. Strive to live within your means
As you resolve to be content with God’s provision, your desire for “things” will diminish. In your contentment, you’ll be less willing to trade your future and forfeit your freedom for some form of present bling. There is far greater joy in households where money is saved before it is spent, and people have a greater appreciation for stuff when they’ve already worked for it. Reject the cultural premise that borrowing for everything is normal.
Living within your means will require discipline and sacrifice, but the freedom it brings will be worth the effort.