Wisdom for Wives

"Be diligent to know the state of your flocks …"

Where Does It All Go?

Budget Notebook

image credit: wikihow.com

As I discussed in last week’s post, a personal financial picture consists mainly of:  what you own (assets), what you owe (liabilities), what comes in (income), and what goes out (expenses).  If you have a good idea of these four things, I would say that you know pretty well the state of your flocks. I also talked about what net worth is (the “owned” minus the “owed”) and what it isn’t (the value of your life).  But even though, as the Bible says, life is not about our possessions, it does matter how we manage them.  So this week I will talk about the more dynamic duo out of the four: income and expenses.

Income

This probably seems pretty obvious; for most families, it’s the paycheck(s).  But there’s more to your income than how much goes into your bank account each week or month.  (If your family’s income is seasonal or sporadic, you can calculate a weekly or monthly average.)  It’s also helpful to know how much is withheld and deducted for taxes, health insurance, and other benefits.  How could that knowledge help? With some research (consult your HR, tax, or other professional as needed), you may be able to give your cash flow an immediate boost, or make changes that have a longer-term benefit.  For example:

  • If employer-sponsored health insurance is available to both you and your husband, are you enrolled in the more cost-effective plan?  Some employers impose a surcharge for covering spouses who can get insurance from their own employers.  Would there be any benefit in switching from one spouse’s plan to the other?
  • Are you contributing to your retirement savings plan to receive the maximum employer match?  Or, is it possible that you are investing too much given your current situation?
  • Could you benefit from increasing or decreasing your pre-tax contribution to your health savings account (HSA)?
  • Are you withholding too little or too much income tax?

If you and your husband don’t typically talk about money, these questions could be great conversation starters.  Or, if you’re like me, you like to say, “Hey! Look what I found!”  In that case, go ahead and gather all the facts and figures, then present your marvelous, well-researched suggestions to your husband.  🙂

Expenses

Knowing where your money goes every month can also boost your cash flow or impact the future for the better.  So-called “fixed” expenses like rent/mortgage take a little more effort to change, but they don’t have to be permanent.  Have interest rates or your credit score(s) changed significantly since you first financed your home or car? Would a re-finance be worthwhile?  Does it make sense to sell a car, or to relocate?  These are decisions you and your husband would make together, but you might have ideas that haven’t occurred to him (or that he doesn’t realize you are willing to consider).

If you do most of the family’s shopping for food, clothing, etc., you know that those expenses really add up.  So you can make a big difference in the monthly balances.  An important first step is keeping track.  Spreadsheets have been my tool of choice for years.  I have many times professed my love for spreadsheets, and there are links below to some real cuties (all Microsoft Office Templates).  Have you ever heard anyone refer to a spreadsheet as a “cutie??”

Monthly Budget with Bar Graph
12-Month Budget with Trend Chart
Simple Monthly Budget
Budget with Pivot Table and Pie Chart

But my husband and I are actually trying something new right now.  We’ve signed up for the free mint software and I’m in the process of entering our budget.  It is great for me because I can see all of the details, and my super-tech-savvy big-picture picture husband appreciates the UI (fancy IT term for layout).  After using it for a month I will come back with a review.  (I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am that we are budgeting together!  Miracles do happen.  :))  But you don’t need a fancy app or adorable spreadsheet to start keeping track of your expenses.  And if your relationship is not in a budget-conversation place right now, that needn’t stop you either.  When I kept track of what I spent on food alone, it was both humbling and eye-opening.  Start with what flows through your own hands.  Whether big or small, you can make a difference.

Thanks for stopping by,
Susan

 

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Where is Your Treasure (Re-post)

[On this last day of the blogiversary month, let’s take one more stroll down memory lane and search the depths of our hearts.]

Map:  X marks the spot

image credit: happilyeverafterinvesting.com

Last week, I suggested keeping track of your spending as a possible first step to becoming more involved in managing the family’s finances. And I am taking this step myself, since I know I need to be more conscious of my spending, especially on food, which is what I buy most. Sure, food is important. Food is essential. It is a blessing from God to be enjoyed. But it’s a little embarrassing to see how many times some purveyor or another of French fries appears on my bank statement. What does that say about me? I have heard more than one pastor say that you can tell a person’s priorities by looking at his or her checkbook. This seems to be supported by Scripture.

~~But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21-22, NASB)~~

Maybe that’s why it can be so difficult to discuss finances with our spouses. Maybe these conversations reveal the true conditions of our hearts, and who wants to talk about the true condition of our hearts?? It’s quite possible that when there are unresolved heart issues, money arguments aren’t really about money. One spouse wants to discuss a budget, the other one fears being controlled. Four little words like, “We’re short this month,” can really mean:

You don’t make enough.
You spend too much.
You shouldn’t have taken (or quit) that job.
It’s because you wanted to buy this house that we can’t afford.

Even if the speaker is not (knowingly) holding a secret grudge, the hearer could be filtering the words through insecurities about his/her earning potential, or lingering regret or shame over a financial mistake for which the family is still paying. Rather than churn up all these issues, it is easier (in the short-term) to avoid talking about money, or to just ignore it altogether.

My husband and I have both had to admit money-related mistakes, and confess resentment we’ve held for the other’s actions or inaction. Some things were acknowledged long ago and now we laugh about them, others have been revealed only in recent months. These feelings were not easy to admit. But even after we have received the Lord’s forgiveness, sometimes we need to “confess [our] sins to one another, and pray for one another so that [we] may be healed” (James 5:16a, NASB).

Then again, if money is a difficult topic, maybe it’s not because of unconfessed bitterness against our spouses. The conflict and tension could reveal an even deeper issue. Just between us and God.

If we sought the Lord for comfort, would we call out to Him instead of trying to eat or spend our way out of sadness?
If we truly trusted God as our source, would we be less tempted to try to control our spouse’s behavior?
If we were content with what He’s already given us, would we put less pressure on our spouses or ourselves to earn more?

May the Lord help us see what is truly at the heart of these issues, and may the Psalmist’s prayer be ours:

~~Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. (Psalm 139:23-24, NASB)~~

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Worth More Than Money (Re-post)

[Since a blogiversary month is a great time for reminiscing, today is a re-post! And it’s about R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means!]
Judge Judy

When one spouse bears all of the financial concern alone, money can be a source of great marital strain.  I learned this firsthand during the first few years of my own marriage.  These days, my husband and I discuss the bills on a regular basis, and he’s expressed more than once how grateful he is for this change. But ever since I began to understand how important it is for spouses to be partners in money, I’ve had it on my heart to encourage other wives to become more involved in their families’ finances.  Not only would I like to share why it is important to understand financial issues, I plan to give some practical suggestions for how to go about that.  Taking those steps will probably lead to some conversations with your husband about money, so before I get to the helpful hints, now is probably a good time to address that most famous of demands:  Respect.

~~However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:33, NIV)~~

My husband and I are probably like most couples in that we do not always agree on how much money to spend.  For example, he is usually more willing than I am to make a bigger investment in quality up front, which has sometimes saved us money on repairs or replacement later.  But some of those purchases were initially met by snark, a stinky face, or seething silence.  None of these responses is particularly helpful, or respectful.

One of the blessings of being informed about our financial situation is that I can offer input, support, and encouragement on money issues.  We can make decisions together.  But I know that it’s not just what I say; it’s how I say it.  My husband deserves my respect—not judgment, criticism, or stinky face—even when we do not agree.   Instead, I should “speak the truth in love,” and pray for us to be wise and united in our financial decisions.

Besides, nagging and scowling just don’t work, at least not with my husband! When he sees those “wheels of judgment” turning in my head (that’s our cute little name for it), I can see our communication shutting down.  Besides, I have found that the Holy Spirit is much more effective at changing hearts and minds than I am. It also turns out that sometimes I am the one whose heart and mind need to be changed, when I was sure that my husband was “wrong.”

As I said before, I’ve had it on my heart for years to encourage women in this area.  One reason for my hesitation all this time (ten years, give or take):  I often do not get it right myself.  That includes the Respect department.  But lately I have been reminded, and will likely have to keep remembering, that I don’t have to be perfect to share what God has been teaching me (sometimes over, and over, and over again).  I’m excited to finally open up about what He’s shown me so far, and to keep growing because the learning never stops!

Thank you for stopping by,

Susan
[P.S. Are we called to love our husbands, too? Of course! And aren’t husbands called to honor us? Absolutely!  God’s word has a lot to say about how husbands and wives should relate to one another.  By His grace and power, we can do it.]

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How Do I Look?

Woman looking into a Photoropter

image credit: wikipedia.org

Has a friend ever been telling you about a heated disagreement she had with someone else—perhaps her husband, mom, or a co-worker—and then presented the other person’s side of the story?  Expounded on the valid points on both sides?  Explained the other person’s perspective?  Yeah, it hasn’t happened to me either.  Come to think of it, I never tell a story that way myself.  The way I usually tell the story, I was perfectly reasonable, rational, and justified, and the other person … wasn’t.  Of course if you heard that other person’s side, I was probably the unreasonable one. Because we would each be assuming the worst of the others’ intentions, while viewing ourselves in terms of our best intentions. However, it’s supposed to be the other way around.  We are supposed to take a more critical view of our own motivations while being more generous in our assessment of others.

~~Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.  (Matthew 7:3-5)~~

As I discussed in a previous post, it is important to examine ourselves to discover those deep motivations.  How we handle money is often a reflection of unresolved issues in our own hearts.  Those issues can also unfairly color how we view our spouse’s financial behavior.  You may consider your husband’s spending irresponsible, when really he just isn’t worried about money and is confident that God will provide.  Or, it might feel like your budget-conscious husband is trying to control you, while he is trying to be a faithful steward and avoid unnecessary financial grief.  Sure, there are wasteful spenders and stingy hoarders.  If you truly believe that one of these applies to your husband, humbly pray for him instead of judging him.  But if your husband is neither miserly nor reckless, and you’re just at different points on the saving-spending spectrum (still pray without judgment), here are two things that may help alleviate some of the financial tension in your relationship:

    1. Give the benefit of the doubt.
      When we examine ourselves, we may discover some fear at the root of our intense budgeting, or some discontent behind our liberal spending.  But we are not in the place to assume someone else’s—even a spouse’s—motivations.  So don’t always assume that your frugal husband doesn’t trust you or is trying to control you.  Or if you are the more frugal one, don’t assume that your spouse doesn’t care about your family’s financial future when he’s willing to spend more money than you are.  Give your spouse as much grace as you would like to receive after going slightly over budget at the store.  Look for good motives behind your husband’s careful eye on the finances, instead of sinister ones.
    2. Seek the blessing in the difference.
      I have confessed to making a stinky face or two about my husband’s purchases.  But there are many blessings in being married to someone who does not pinch pennies.  Just three days ago, I discovered that I had ordered the wrong homeschool tests and essentially wasted $75.  I was upset about it, but my husband was gracious.  Without hesitation, he told me to go ahead and order another set of tests.  In fact, he never makes me feel badly when I make a mistake that costs us money.  And whenever we discuss a donation or financial gift, his number is always higher than mine, often significantly.  It S-T-R-E-T-C-H-E-S me, let me tell you!  But God always works it out!!  Furthermore, my husband trusts me to make decisions without him when necessary.  (Sometimes he even gives me a c’mon-you-know-you-don’t-need-to-check-with-me face when I check with him.)  We are both involved in the finances, he just doesn’t delight in the details the way I do.   So even though poring over a spreadsheet together is not his idea of a good time (It is mine!), there is no way that I would trade my generous, trusting husband for a spreadsheet-porer.  (Of course, if you are married a spreadsheet-porer,  you should thank God for what you have!)

So, great news! God did not make a mistake in giving you a husband who spends or saves more than you. In fact, we can learn about God’s grace through our differences with our husbands, if we are willing to open our eyes.

Thanks for stopping by,
Susan

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5 Ways to Get Involved in Your Finances

5 Ways to Get Involved in Your Finances

Welcome to the third and final installment of the 5-5-5 of Finances series!  I hope you’ve found it encouraging so far.  The other two posts discussed hindrances to, followed by benefits of getting involved in your finances.  And now, finally, here are some ways to get started.
 
Pray
This may seem obvious, but I have to admit that prayer is not always the first solution that comes to my mind when I’m facing a challenge. But prayer is absolutely where you should start, and continue (1 Thessalonians 5:17).   Pray for wisdom (James 1:5).  Pray for peace (Philippians 4:6-7).  You don’t even have to know what to pray for (Romans 8:26).  A cry of “Heeelp!” qualifies as prayer!  I have also prayed this prayer from The Power of a Praying Wife.
Lord, I commit our finances to You. Be in charge of them and use them for Your purposes. May we both be good stewards of all that You give us, and walk in total agreement as to how it is to be dispersed. I pray that we will learn to live free of burdensome debt. Where we have not been wise, bring restoration and give us guidance. Show me how I can help increase our finances and not decrease them unwisely. Help us to remember that all we have belongs to You, and to be grateful for it. I pray that [your husband’s name] will find it easy to give to You and to others as You have instructed in Your Word. Give him wisdom to handle money wisely. Help him make good decisions as to how he spends. Show him how to plan for the future. I pray that he will find the perfect balance between spending needlessly and being miserly. May he always be paid well for the work he does, and may his money not be stolen, lost, devoured, destroyed, or wasted. Multiply it so that what he makes will go a long way. I pray that he will not be anxious about finances, but will seek Your Kingdom first, knowing that as he does, we will have all we need (Luke 12:31).*
Renew Your Mind
Change is hard, and lasting change is even harder.  I know because I’ve changed a bunch of times!  😀  Some changes have been permanent (I don’t nag … as much … I don’t think?), but I long for change in other areas (confidence, and freedom from worry).  Romans 12:2 tells us how to not only change, but be truly transformed.  It happens when our minds are renewed.  When we are truly convinced of an idea, it shows up in our attitudes and actions.  And the best way to change our financial (and marital) attitudes and actions is to adopt God’s ideas, which can be found in Scripture.  Here are just a few:
In addition to reading what God has to say about money and marriage, I encourage you to memorize passages about issues that are especially difficult for you.  (Which means, I need to meditate more on God’s faithfulness!). Hide those verses in your heart (Psalm 119:11), and see if they doesn’t pop into your mind at just the right times.  When I’ve been tempted to ignore the bills on my desk, or put off a much-needed budget chat with my husband, the Holy Spirit has reminded me of Proverbs 27:23 and Proverbs 3:27-28.  When I’ve worried about my job, He has comforted me with Lamentations 3:22-23.

Get the Right Advice
Another way to dip your toe in the pool of finances is to get some good advice.  It could be tips for saving money or getting financially organized.  You might find helpful strategies for getting out of debt.  There are lots of books, blogs, and programs out there, which is not surprising—it’s something we all think about, even when we don’t want to!  But not all of the advice out there is Biblical (trying to get rich quick, for example, is discouraged in Proverbs 28:20), and it doesn’t all put marriage before money.  So find what I like to call “covenant-minded” resources that encourage you to work with your husband and for your family in managing money.  And, I must add, don’t feel condemned if someone’s highly successful approach doesn’t work for your family right now, or ever.  Unless it’s from God, you don’t have to do it, even if it worked great for someone else.  That also goes for anything on this blog, obviously. 🙂 Take what works for you and leave the rest!!

Track Your Own Spending
Recording your own expenses for 30 days, or even two weeks, is a relatively easy way to start learning where your family’s money goes.  I say “easy” because you can start right away and do it yourself. It can be a little painful, though. For me, it was a real eye-opener.  Keeping track of my spending for a few weeks revealed how much I was spending on fast food and unnecessary grocery trips.  It was surprising because I don’t consider myself a big spender.  But this little examination led me to make changes—meal planning and paying with cash—that saved 20% on my food spending.  And even though I didn’t ask him to or even suggest it, my husband started doing it, too!

Talk to Your Husband
To me, this one is the hardest.  My husband is an extremely kind and calm person, and he wants me to be involved in the finances.  Still, it is not always easy for us to talk about money, for reasons I’ve mentioned in this series and other posts.  But partnership requires communication.   Not about every expense and transaction.  But enough that both parties have a good idea of what is going on.

If the thought of sitting down at the kitchen table with your husband to TALK ABOUT THE BUDGET fills you with overwhelming dread, there may be other less intense ways for you discuss money.  There are also less intense aspects of finances than THE BUDGET; you can find small places to start, such as suggestions for reducing expenses (if that’s necessary).   And you may not need to start a conversation.  Your next step could just be having an open and willing heart the next time your husband brings up the subject of money.  But whoever brings it up, be respectful of your husband and appreciative of his efforts.  In other words, you might not want to say, “I’ve done some research and compiled a list of mistakes you have been making, in addition to changes I intend to implement.”  And if you do discover problems, pray for humility and patience.  Examine yourself (Matthew 7:4-5); it may be necessary for you and your husband to forgive.  Be led by the Holy Spirit, and consider asking God to show you your role in financial and marital restoration.

I pray that this series, and this blog, have been a blessing to you.  As I’ve said before, money may not be a fun topic.  But it’s not a bad word either.  Rather, know that God is working in your circumstances for your good (Romans 8:28).

Thank you very much for stopping by,
Susan

* Taken from The Power of a Praying Wife. Copyright (r) 1997, 2014 by Stormie Omartian. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon.  www.harvesthousepublishers.com.  Used by permission.
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