Counting Your Pennies
She never imagined it would end like that. He never saw it coming. Their marriage began as most do with high hopes and bright dreams, but in a year or so, it was all over. No, she didn’t begin to flirt with anyone at work. No, he didn’t ignore her for some flattering woman on the job. Their divorce started on television.
You see, it was the ‘80's and Cable TV was the craze. As any good capitalist would do, someone came up with the idea that a 24-hour shopping channel would be a good idea and the Home Shopping Network and QVC was born. Now I can’t imagine the appeal, but then I can’t stand to shop. For this wife, however, the appeal was irresistable. Without her husband knowing it, she ordered a host of “must have” deals. By the time he found out about her addiction, she had run up over $20,000.00 in credit card debt! That was a debt their love could not pay, and their marriage quickly ended in divorce.
Now, in this “Dave Ramsey” church, the tendency would be to say something like, “Too bad Financial Peace wasn’t around back then. If they’d have just listened to Dave, they could have erased that debt and saved their marriage. Now, I’d be the first one to say that, if they had followed Dave Ramsey’s principles, they could have definitely turned their financial picture around. But, their problem was not debt, it was something much bigger.
In their book, First Comes Love, Then Comes Money, Scott and Bethany Palmer write:
even couples with perfect budgets and paid-off houses and zero debt still end up arguing about money, angry about money, resentful about money. Even couples with spotless credit reports can be mired in the kind of financial infidelity that sullies relationships. Because the budget isn’t the problem; the lack of financial communication is the problem.
They go on to say that the financial problems in our marriages that have the greatest potential to ditch our matrimonial bliss in the sea of divorce is not debt, it is what they call “financial infidelity.” That was the problem with this couple: It was not the debt that got them, it was the lies and the cover up.
And I would dare say that there is some financial infidelity going on in this room today. Many of us who would think of lying to our wives about a chick we’re keeping on the side, will lie about check we’re trying to hide. Many of you ladies wouldn’t think about having a boyfriend your husband doesn’t know about will gladly have a credit card your husband doesn’t know about. But here’s what you need to know: Financial infidelity can be almost as devastating as sexual infidelity. Which leads me to this question: Just why is this financial infidelity so common in many marriages? Well, it’s because we all approach money so differently. In fact, the Palmer’s point out that there are several different types of money “personalities.”
For some of us, for instance, money means control. That’s at least one thing that motivates the saver. That’s what this person is. He gets a rush from saving and, while they may be disorganized in other parts of their life, they are very organized about money. They hate credit cards and they will let their car be held together with bailing wire rather than go into debt for another one. They are savers. Money for them means control.
And they’re usually married to their exact opposite: The spenders. For the spender, money means a party! This person lives for the moment. Their ultimate thrill is the act of purchasing. Whether they are spending at a thrift store, or at Saks Fifth Avenue, they just get a rush from the “cha-ching thing.” They love to buy and they are usually pretty generous, even buying things for other people. They are spenders. Money is a party!
And then there are the Security seekers. For them, money is a blanket . . . a security blanket, that is. These people are very, very careful. When it comes to financial decisions, they dot every “I” and cross every “t” . . . usually two or three times! They’re the kind of people you want as the executor of your trust. They are willing to sacrifice and they pride themselves on planning for every single possible situation that could happen. They are the “boy scouts” of the financial world: Always prepared!
Well, there are others, but this gives you the idea. Maybe you see yourself in one of these descriptions. Here’s the point. The difference in our different viewpoints about money is the thing that leads us to conflict, and to financial infidelity. It also may explain why some marriages survive terrible financial circumstances and never fray while others come apart so easily. It could be that the financial personalities involved have led the couple into financial infidelity and that is almost as hard to overcome as sexual infidelity, especially if it becomes a pattern of behavior.
This is where the Bible can help. The Scripture has a lot to say about faithfulness and honesty. One such verse we find in Ephesians 4:25. The Apostle Paul has gotten to this point in the letter of Ephesians. He has told them that they could bring glory to God by putting off their flesh and putting on Christ. To show them what that means in the specifics of their lives, he mentions particular behaviors that evidence the fact that one has truly put on Christ. The first thing he mentions is in our text. He says: Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another.
As husband and wife, that verse should encourage you! Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is telling us that, even though financial infidelity is one of the leading causes of divorce the believer really can avoid the trap. We can have financial integrity in our marriages, and this little verse gives us the essentials of that integrity. The first of those essentials is this:
D1: FINANCIAL INTEGRITY REJECTS DISHONESTY
Now to anyone who’s thinking, it’s obvious. Before you can have integrity, you have to stop the lies. That’s how 4:25 begins. It says, Therefore, putting away lying . . . In more general terms, Paul is saying here that your neighbor deserves the truth from you . . . as does your spouse. One commentator says that “to rob (your) neighbor of that right, and thereby of the freedom to respond to the real situation as it is, is to dehumanize him or her.” Another says it more graphically: “A lie is a stab into the very vitals of the body of Christ.”
You might say, “Well you make it sound so bad, but is that little white lie I told about my spending, or what I simply hid from my partner, is that really such a big deal?” Well, it really is because it is financial infidelity. So let’s take a look at our relationships for a moment, shall we? How do you know whether your marriage is financially honest or under the cloud of financial infidelity. Well, let me give you four symptoms to look for to tell if you may have an infidelity problem.
Just like sexual infidelity, financial infidelity usually flourishes in a particular kind of environment. For one thing, when there is a lot of overspending and debt infidelity is much more likely to flourish, especially if both husband and wife are not spenders. If one is a saver and one is a spender, and the spender is incurring a lot of debt, the resulting conflict may lead to hiding or lying about finances.
But it’s not the only symptom. Another is financial separation. There may actually be some bona fide reasons to have separate checking accounts, for instance, but it is often a symptom of financial infidelity. It often occurs as a compromise. For instance, when a saver is married to a spender, her need to control and his need to spend will often collide. When the fireworks are over, they may agree to have separate checking accounts so that the saver can control with out the frustration of her husband who constantly ruins her financial plans. The spender breathes a sigh of relief because he can spend without his killjoy of a wife ruining his fun. But what this couple has just done is set themselves up for financial infidelity. Separate often means hidden and certainly mans that the financial partnership a marriage is supposed to bring is divided. Financial separation and overspending and debt are telling symptoms of financial infidelity.
And then there’s tandem of control and secrets. These usually work somewhat hand in hand. If one partner for instance is a security seeker and uses money as a security blanket, he will always be seeking to direct every penney of the family’s fortune to preparing for the disaster that never arrives. That’s where the control comes in. He will feel threatened if every penney doesn’t get to its proper spot and the financial plan is thwarted. He may result to hiding income or savings so that others can’t get at it. If he has a wife who loves to spend, she may hide her spending from his greedy grasp because she doesn’t want to hear another lecture about how her need for that latte ruined their child’s college savings! And what results? Conflict, anger, resentment, and most of all infidelity.
Shannon discovered it in her marriage. She called up her financial planner to ask for help getting out of debt. The financial planner asked her, “Shannon, what kind of debt are we talking about?” Shannon replied, “$30,000.00!” How did she discover it?
Well, a few weeks before, she got a call from a video store telling her that one of their movies needed to be returned and the late fees needed to be paid. When she asked the name of the movie, they replied with some title that was obviously pornographic. Shannon replied that there had to be some mistake because they didn’t rent movies like that. A couple of days later, they called back with the same story. When she gave the same reply, the video store clerk said, Well, then someone stole yourcredit card because this is the account we have in our records.’ So she went down to the store to straighten them out. They showed her the rental agreement and she recognized her husband’s signature.
Shannon was devastated. She began to investigate and discovered that, not only was her husband renting porn flicks without her knowledge, he was behind on car payments and life insurance payments and had a stack of unpaid credit card bills. One of the cards had many charges from pornographic web sites. Shannon had never suspected anything, but she was now the proud co-owner of a 30,000.00 debt for many items that actually betrayed her own trust.
So she and her husband went to work on the problem along with their financial advisor. After three years, they managed to work their way out of debt. Dave Ramsey would have celebrated if they had called into his show, but guess what? Two years later, her husband has again run up more than 30,000 more dollars in credit card debt, back taxes, and loans against their retirement fund. Shannon could end up in legal trouble because of the tax situation. What happened? Well five years ago the issue was treated as a purely financial problem. Wrong. The money mess was a symptom of something else. It was a symptom of financial infidelity.
So let me ask you: Do you have a problem of financial infidelity in your marriage? Do you ever purchase items without telling your spouse? I’m not talking about a cup of coffee, I’m talking about a significant item? Do you ever lie to your spouse about how much something cost? Do you have a secret “stash” of cash that your mate doesn’t know about? Have you opened a credit card account that you haven’t told your partner about? Do you have separate checking accounts? Now, understand that I am not saying that separate accounts always mean infidelity. It really depends on the reason for them. But you need to ask yourselves these questions and, perhaps, others because the first realization about financial integrity is that it rejects dishonesty. The second realization is this:
D2: FINANCIAL INTEGRITY EMBRACES TRANSPARENCY
Notice v 25 again. Paul writes, Therefore putting away lying, let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor. That second phrase speaks to our embrace of integrity that may not be convenient. Notice he writes that it is for everyone who calls themselves a believer. He says let each one of you. Your integrity is not something you can lay aside when it’s convenient.
But it goes beyond avoiding the lie. It also speaks to being completely open in your financial relationship. Honestly, that’s not something that may happen by accident. It is something you have to work at. I guarantee you that, after you and your wife were married, there were some things you learned about one another that you may not have anticipated, especially in this area of money. Those issues cannot be swept under the rug; they must be transparently confronted and dealt with. Financial integrity flows in the stream of transparency.
So let me give you a few ways you can build this kind of transparency in your marriage. In the first place, talk about the tension. Obviously, the differences in your approach to finances can really cause some tension, and, instead of hiding that, you need to sit down and talk about it.
Closely related to open discussion is this second avenue to transparency: Be clear about your needs. If you’re a security seeker and money helps you feel secure, you need to share that with your mate and help them understand that if they push you too far from a financial plan, you will struggle with anxiety. On the other hand, if one of you is a spender, you need to help your partner understand how overly stringent approaches to spending stifles you and makes you feel as if you can’t even live. Regardless of the need, clarity is essential so that each of you will understand the other’s position.
Of course, if there has been infidelity, there may be a need for confession and forgiveness. If your mate has hidden things from you that need to be revealed, that needs to be confessed and forgiveness needs to be given along with a willingness to rebuild, over time and with accountability, the trust that has been lost.
Flowing out of this forgiveness and rebuilding of trust will be the need to set new goals and redefine your financial relationship going forward. This will include setting new goals and limits and making a commitment to one another to be willing to change as needed. All of these approaches can create an openness that can lead to a new trust, and that trust is what is really needed. In fact, transparency and trust is the only thing that can overcome financial infidelity.
Her name was Charlotte. She came in for financial counseling a few months before she and her boyfriend got married. She had done a great job of saving over the years and had a solid head start on her retirement. She was worried because her fiancé, Taylor, had about $20,000 in credit card debt. Charlotte admitted that Scott had a problem with spending, but she thought it would be ok once they were married. Of course, it wasn’t. Charlotte was a Security Seeker and Taylor was a Spender. Because they didn’t have that basic understanding of their different approaches to money, they didn’t have any idea of how badly their money personalities could clash. And clash they did. Charlotte assumed that Taylor would follow in her financial footsteps once they were living together.
Bad assumption! No, Taylor just kept doing what he had been doing his whole adult life—spending money—and now he had a bonus because Charlotte’s income added to his. He had more to spend! Charlotte and Taylor never talked about their financial partnership. Charlotte never talked to Taylor about his debt, never asked how he’d gotten in so deep. She’d never asked him to work with her to develop a budget that would help them pay off his debt while still maintaining some savings and investments. What she did do was fume in silence as Taylor blew through her savings and ruined their credit rating.
As Charlotte discovered, debt doesn’t go away when you cut up your partner’s credit card. It doesn’t go away when you give him an allowance. Those moves only make the tension and financial infidelity in the relationship worse. Getting out of debt requires both partners to commit to a plan of action, and that plan begins with a completely open and honest discussion of the differences because, if there is resentment and mistrust, it’s almost impossible to get the kind of commitment necessary for real change.
Yes, financial integrity requires that we reject dishonesty and embrace transparency, but also
D3 FINANCIAL INTEGRITY SEEKS PARTNERSHIP
After we are told in v25 to reject dishonesty by putting away lying and embrace transparency by speaking the truth, we are reminded of the reason for such actions: Paul tells us that we are to do this because we are members of one another. In other words, we owe honesty to our neighbor and certainly to our spouse because of the relationship that we have. In our first message in this series we dealt with the fact that the marriage bond really creates a new entity out of two people. They, through their joining together in the bond of marriage, become one flesh.
But there is a second reason why this is so important. Not only do we owe our spouse honesty because of the relationship that we have, we owe them that honesty because of the unity that we need. We are members of one another and, as such, we need to be on the same page when it comes to our lives and that begins with our finances. Lies and deceit have a way of separating us from others and building up walls of deception in our lives and, like we said earlier, it is not usually debt that ruins a marriage, it is deception.
One engaged couple went for marriage counseling. They had been engaged for a year but the guy had never told his fiancee about the $32,000.00 worth of debt he had racked up on credit cards. Finally coming clean he told her of the debt and then explained that the reason he had kept that from her was because he was afraid he’d lose her. Guess what? He did lose her. When she heard that, she felt completely betrayed. He was a good guy. He had not meant to hurt her. In fact, he probably justified his lack of disclosure precisely because he didn’t want to upset her, but by keeping that secret, he’d shown her that he could not be trusted. He didn’t believe she could be his partner and help him figure out a way to deal with that debt. His deceit ruined their relationship.
So just how can you create a financial partnership within your marriage that will allow you to express the best parts of your money personalities and leave the worst parts behind? Well, in that book, First Comes Love, Then Comes Money, the Palmers suggest three things:
First they say, learn to fight fair. They give several principles of communication when the topic might bring tension. First they say that, when there is a disagreement over money, you must diffuse the situation. If you are angry take time to calm down before talking. As you are discussing the issues, make sure you focus on the problem at hand. If your husband came home with a new toy that you’d both agreed you should wait to purchase, don’t bring up all the other times he’s been deceptive. Deal with the issue at hand. Third, remember your money personalities: Remind yourself that if your mate has a different view of money than you do that your job is not to turn her into yourself, but to harmonize your two views together. Also allow what you know about your personalities to help you analyze how each ones personality is contributing to the problem or the tension the problem has created. Fourth, search for a solution together. Be willing to compromise instead of imposing your will on your partner. Last of all, be willing to extend grace. Forgive the wrong that has been done.
With those communication principles as a back drop, here is the second suggestion for creating a financial partnership in your marriage. Have what the Palmers call a “huddle” over your finances. The first one may be the most difficult because it will be the one where you bring everything that’s been going on out of the closet and get it off your chest. It’s your chance to write out the good, the bad, and the ugly in your financial relationship. Before the huddle begins, you and your partner need to sit down separately and make two lists. On the first list, write everything that’s right with the way you and your spouse handle money. You can point to the car you may have paid off, or credit card balance you’ve reduced. When you’re finished with the list go through it and ask yourself how you made those good things happen and what that success tells you about the potential of your financial relationship with your spouse.
Then you should move to the second list. On this list you will write all the negatives about your financial relationship. Once you have finished that list, you should go through it and pick the two or three things that you really need to focus on over the next six months. Then ask yourself, What is my part in this? What is my partner’s part? and How can this be solved? With that information, you’re now ready to have your huddle.
To have a successful financial huddle you need to do the following: First, set a date. Now don’t put it so far in the future that you forget about your list, so make it a priority. Give yourself a couple of hours. Set a date.
Then, get rid of distractions. If you have kids, get a sitter or plan to do this after they go to sleep or before they wake up. Turn off the phones, don’t check email, leave the TV off. It’s time to focus.
Then, get comfortable. Grab a coke or a cup of coffee, turn on some soft music. Find a place to sit where you can look at each other and be comfortable. If snacks will make this a more pleasant experience, have snacks. Get comfortable.
Next, set the tone. This is the date part. Look each other in the eye, hold hands if you want to, and remind yourselves of why you’re doing this. You can say something like, “I love you. We are in this together,” or, “I’m so glad we’re starting over. I know we can do this.” If things have been really bumpy for you, do the best you can, even if it’s just, “I’ve unpacked my suitcase, and I am willing to try this.”
Now you’re ready to talk. Start with your successes. Using the first list you made, tell each other about the financial high points you listed and your thoughts on how you made them happen. The idea is to start the Money Huddle on a positive note. You have reason to be optimistic about your future, and we want you to remind yourselves that there are good things in your relationship you can build on.
Now on to the meaty, perhaps difficult part. Talk about your priorities. Do your best to stay calm, to avoid casting blame on your partner, and to be honest about the ways you have contributed to the problem you want to deal with. If you can only get through one priority the first time around, that’s OK. You will do this again, and it will get easier. Tell your partner what you discovered as you looked over your Money Dump lists. Talk about why you chose this issue as one you want to work on over the next year. When your partner does the same,try to really listen with the ears and heart of someone who wants to understand this person you love. Since you have both come to the Money Huddle with two or three priorities, talk about how many of them you think you can tackle in the next few months. Focus on one or two issues at a time so you can see improvement. Take on too much change and you will likely end up frustrated.
Then, Set goals. Having talked about your priorities, now you can do some creative thinking about how you can work on those issues. Break them down into concrete actions you can talk about at your next Money Huddle. Maybe you agree to go a week without fudging your spending totals. Maybe you promise to go a week without asking about your partner’s spending totals. Start with small goals you’re pretty sure you can meet. After a few weeks, you will start to notice some changes in your financial communication and your relationship in general.
Schedule the next Money Huddle. Eventually you will move into having your Money Huddle once a month. But for the next month, we want you to have a Money Huddle once a week. Then, move to a Money Huddle every other week for a few months. When you feel like you have a handle on what you’re doing and you feel like you’re seeing change in your financial relationship, go ahead and move to the monthly Money Huddle. You can always go back to every other week—or week—if you feel your progress is stalling out. In those regular huddles, you’ll do three things: Check your bookkeeping to make sure that everything is transparent in the way both of you are spending. Then you will celebrate your successes. Last of all, you’ll review your goals to see if you need to adjust them. Here’s the point: If there is going to be integrity, there must be transparency and if there is going to be transparency, there has to be regular, intentional communication.