Picture an orchestra playing a magnificent symphony. All the different instruments make their entrance and play their respective parts. At the end, all come together in a swelling crescendo that moves the emotions and stirs the heart. It leaves you with an unforgettable feeling you can’t explain. You remember that high note that the flute hit perfectly or the rumbling of the bass. You don’t think about the mechanical bits like how many beats there were to a measure or what key the piece was in. Those mechanical bits aren’t even noticeable when the piece is played right, but if one player is playing to a different time or in a different key, the symphony is far from pleasant.
Finances are one of the mundane parts of marriage that no one likes to talk about. When they’re in order, your marriage can move on to more interesting pursuits. When there is dissension or unwise choices in this area, however, the marriage suffers in other ways.
Art and I are so blessed to have come from similar family backgrounds. Both of us were raised in Christian homes by parents who were faithful, fun, and frugal. That gives us similar ideas about finances and how to spend them. Handling finances can be a big problem, however. They lead to the breakup of many marriages. Even ministry marriages struggle with this.
Here again, balance is a key word in dealing with finances. Couples who spend more than they make get in huge financial trouble. But couples who are so frugal that they don’t provide for the needs of their families also have problems.
Living within a Budget
Somehow couples need to agree on how much they can spend and what to spend it on. They need to look ahead and prepare for emergencies that could come up. During certain times in their lives they might need to be extremely frugal. Seminary students with families often have to pinch every penny in order to get by. They may have to do very careful shopping at the grocery store and buy necessities second hand. Hopefully the situation will ease with time.
When you are on a very tight budget with no choice about it, you will have to work hard to stay contented. Everyone around you may seem to have more money than you have, but you must be happy with less. Wanting more than you can have will make your marriage unhappy and may push you to make unwise choices.
Hopefully you will come to a time when, even though you may have to be careful, you will have a little more freedom to make choices. Both husband and wife should have some freedom to use money for things they choose. A husband should be able to trust his wife to spend money freely within the guidelines that have agreed to. Part of being an adult should be having freedom to make financial choices.
Very often God puts a frugal person with someone who spends more freely so that they can balance each other out. If the money just isn’t there, obviously, you can’t spend it, but we can be too frugal as well.
I have seen ministry marriages in which the wife and family lived in unnecessarily harsh conditions, without enough heat in the house or without proper food. Sometimes the family never takes a vacation or goes fun places together. In some cases the wife has to account for every penny she spends and can spend little to no money on things she enjoys. This puts a strain on the marriage. Many marriages go through hard financial times, but I believe, if at all possible, a wife and family ought to be able to enjoy reasonable comfort and some fun things and activities.
Kids will also be less likely to resent the ministry if they don’t feel poor. Most ministry families have to be careful with their spending and may have less “things” than families around them. But when children grow up and they feel like they never had nice things growing up, that their Christmases and birthdays were pathetic compared to their friends, they may resent that. Giving them a few nice things that they really want and that give them good memories may really help their perception of the ministry. And a wife who feels she can’t give nice things to her kids won’t be happy either.
On the other hand, I know marriages that failed largely due to a wife who spent money too fast on things they didn’t really need. If you find yourself shopping for fun and buying more than you need, think about whether or not you can afford to do that or if you need to stop.
Marriages will be stronger if both husband and wife:
- agree to financial guidelines,
- live within their budget or guidelines,
- have freedom to make choices, and
- work to be content with the standard of living they can afford.
I hope you have found this series on ministry marriages helpful. If you and your spouse are in ministry, what have you found most difficult?