Shared Financial Responsibilities in Christian Marriages and Families

by Van Richards , Christian Examiner Contributor |

(PHOTO: GABBY ORCUTT/UNSPLASH)

The Bible directs husbands and wives to respect and love each other. From the beginning, God told us "...a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one (Genesis 2:24, NLT). However, a couple's relationship can quickly become quarrelsome when it comes to the responsibilities of paying bills and dealing with money. Money is also a significant reason for problems in marriages.

Many families still have one spouse handling their finances. A way to take the stress of money out of a relationship is for one spouse to be the family daily money manager and the other spouse to be an accountability partner.

There can be variations on the accountability partner concept. Married couples can split the family money management responsibilities, or they can alternate the responsibility for certain periods of time. For example, one spouse can do the family money management for six months and then the responsibility can flip for the next six months. There is no definitive rule; the idea is for couples to discover a family money management arrangement that works for their household.

To face today's economic challenges, a married couple who works together to control their spending and savings will have better control of their finances and a stronger relationship.

Let's go even deeper into the development of the accountability partner concept. When one spouse takes most of the responsibility for family finances, learning to treat the other spouse as an accountability partner can take a lot of the stress of money out of a relationship. The idea is for couples to treat each other as equals when it comes to the daily management of a family's financial responsibilities.

From Gen X to Millennials to Baby Boomers, all generations face the same issues of managing their family's finances. Typically, one spouse takes care of most of the bill paying, keeping track of bank and investment accounts, and other financial documents for the family. There are many explanations couples give for only one spouse handling the family money. They often say that one person understands financial matters better. Or, some people just do not like taking care of the family finances. Other reasons are more democratic, with couples sharing other family tasks. One spouse takes care of the finances, and the other takes care of (you fill in the blank).

Being each other's accountability partners

One spouse can be the accountability partner, and one spouse can be the family daily money manager in your relationship. As previously mentioned, this arrangement can vary, and roles may be reversed as you see fit. It will help if you have a few ground rules. For example, both of you must agree in the beginning to avoid buzzwords that irritate the other spouse. For instance, agree not to say things like "I told you so" or "you knew that." You know how you communicate. Make guidelines for your discussion that will help you to find solutions during your conversations.

Relationships are as different as stars in the sky and so too is the unique communication between couples. Talking about finances will require husbands and wives to go outside of their comfort zone at times. Be open to having your ideas challenged. However, be kind and respectful of each other. For example, one may want a new car; one may want to keep the current car. Respectfully consider each other's opinion and desires. Be willing to compromise.

Keep in mind that all the hope in the world will not help if you are overspending. Overspending can cause a lot of tension in a marriage. Overspending or overcommitting your expenses can force couples to live paycheck to paycheck, drive up debt and lead to a very uncomfortable life. Live by this vital piece of financial advice, and live frugally. It is better to underspend and have a financial cushion than to overspend and live paycheck to paycheck.

The first step to being an accountability partner is to have a list of all the family assets and important papers. Your bank or credit union probably has some excellent budgeting tools that will help keep track of your money. If not, consider using a family finance app such as YNAB or You Need A Budget. If you use financial software, you can get a list of assets by setting up a special report. If you use your bank to pay bills electronically, you can get a list of whom you regularly pay from your account portal. Print out your budget that shows how much you are spending and share that information with your spouse. If either of you are not that electronically inclined, make a simple family balance sheet. Write down what you have, whom you owe and where your accounts are located.

If you use software or have online access to your accounts, make it a priority to write down your user IDs and passwords for each account. If you have several accounts, you should find a password vault that is an app or part of your software. Remember to give your spouse the user ID and password for that vault. It would help if you also had a calendar that indicates what bills are ordinarily due on specific dates.

Planning a money discussion date night or weekend retreat

You can turn your conversation about money into a fun event. Make it into an evening out or perhaps a weekend retreat. Spending time talking to your spouse about how your life is going will keep your relationship fresh. Treat it like you were preparing for an important client. Except you can skip the PowerPoint presentations. Those are not too romantic.

Taking time to talk to your spouse about how each of you feels about your future is an essential part of a relationship. The Apostle Paul wrote, "Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13, NLT). Talking about and planning to have a successful life together is the embodiment of love in a relationship. You have faith in God helping you to have a happy family life. You have hope about the success of your plans for your family. Moreover, you are doing all of this discussion and planning because you love each other and love your family.

Both of you should be on the same page when it comes to spending money. Sharing your perspective is one of the prime benefits of having an accountability partner. Part of discussing how your family is spending money should include agreeing upon limitations. You should both agree that if an item exceeds a specific dollar amount that you will talk about that expense before the money is spent. The agreed-upon limit may be $50, $500 or even larger. It all depends on your disposable income and what you as a couple feel comfortable setting as an accountability limit.

Reviewing your accounts and assets on a regular basis can also give the spouse that does not regularly take care of the finances a sense of comfort. What if there should be a time when the non-financial spouse needs to step in to take care of the family finances? Not knowing what to do is an awful burden to put on your spouse. Both spouses working together on a regular basis will make it easier if the spouse that usually handles the finances get sick, is out of town, or even dies.

It takes money to live in our society, and if you can control your family's finances better, it will help your marriage. Never assume that both of you understand how much is spent on expenses. Being an accountability partner means taking the time to know where you are both spending money.

Here is a perfect example, if you have children, you could be spending money, month after month, on extracurricular activities like sports or dance for your child. It is easy to begin paying $50 a month, and over time it grows to $500 per month. This is not an exaggeration. Having an accountability partner in your relationship gives both of you the opportunity to talk about what you are paying on a monthly basis. For some couples talking about family finances monthly is too much. That is why the special date night or weekend retreat is so important at least every three months. Putting that date on your calendar will help you stick to your plans.

Relationships can break down to the point of divorce over money. If you make discussing your finances more of a conversation about how you would like your future to be, you will be much happier.

It might sound like overkill. However, before discussing your finances with your spouse, you should write down or print out some numbers for your conversation about family finances. For example, if you talk about moving into a bigger house that will have a monthly payment twice what you can budget, that can be a problem. So, you should have some precise numbers to discuss. Both spouses should understand their family's expenses, much like the example that Jesus taught in the Parable of The Cost of Being a Disciple. Jesus used the example of knowing the cost of a building. "...For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it?" (Luke 14:28, NLT).

Handling uncomfortable situations

Sometimes talking about finances is not comfortable. Either of you may become unemployed, disabled or you may have a significant and sudden financial burden. You should be able to be open and honest with each other about your hopes and fears. Being an accountability partner at this point is a role for both of you. In dire times, you should support each other. Bring hope to the situation and always be each other's prayer partner.

As couples age, the drawbacks to only one person being in charge of the family finances become more evident. Even with young couples, circumstances can make it clear that having one spouse in charge of the family finances is not a good idea. Three bad things can happen. First, keeping the family budget can be harder than it looks, and some people can become overwhelmed. Second, everybody is human, and mistakes happen. Third, what happens when the spouse handling the money gets sick or dies?

At some point, one of the three situations listed above is going to happen. How does your family prepare for a time when the spouse that does not usually take care of family finances needs to take over or help? If you want to be ready in case something happens, try being an accountability partner.

Managing your family's finances can be a challenge. It takes time, effort and patience with each other. During Jesus' ministry in Judea, he reinforced the concepts that God taught in the Book of Genesis, "...at the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh" (Mark 10:6-8, NLT). When it comes to handling family finances, husbands and wives should work as one. Being accountability partners, prayer partners and friends to each other will help. The challenges that married couples will face will be more manageable if they are faced together.

–Van Richards is a Christian financial advisor as well as the founder of https://www.Advice4LifeInsurance.com and http://www.Advice4Retirement.com. Van draws from his 30 years as a financial advisor to write about financial issues from a Christian perspective. You can contact him at van@advice4lifeinsurance.com.