The Wall Street Journal has a helpful article by Jeff Opdyke called “With This Debt, I Thee Wed” on managing debt in marriage. It’s an adaptation from the new book Financially Ever After: The Couples’ Guide to Managing Money, which looks very helpful.
Here are a few nuggets to chew on:
“Couples today routinely enter marriage already laden with debt — student loans, car leases, credit cards. In a recent survey of seven major economies, PayPal, eBay’s online-payment service, found that American couples typically enter into their relationships with more debt than their foreign counterparts. This is akin to arriving on your wedding day with a negative dowry.”
Many couples accrue endless debt in this way:
“For instance, it’s Friday night and you want to eat out, and you’re choosing between the pricey sushi joint you’re craving and the much cheaper café. You’re carrying a combined $25,000 on two or more credit cards, and you think to yourself, “What difference is another $100?”
That’s the beginning of the end.
You’re digging a deeper hole because you think there’s no way out of the hole to begin with. As the debt grows, though, so will tension in your marriage, because just about every discretionary dollar you earn will be earmarked for some creditor. You and your spouse will feel increasingly incapable of living your life and end up mad at one another. This isn’t what you signed up for.”
It strikes me that many of us enter marriage with so much debt because we’ve been highly unwise in how we spend money. In addition, many of us carry so much debt going into marriage that we adopt a laissez-faire approach to spending–“Well, we’re already $40,000 in the whole, what’s another pair of expensive shoes?”–or the like. As Opendyke says, that will kill a couple’s financial prospects.
Many of us have so much from college expenses that it will take us decades to pay it off. This is a scary prospect, one that my generation must address as we raise our children. It’s great to get a name-brand education, but if that’s going to set us tens of thousands of dollars in the hole, I would seriously question if that’s worth it. Maybe the family as a whole will have to swallow some pride and the student in question will have to forego some opportunities, but the specter of debt many of my generation face seems to make that worth it.
One other matter: there is a huge need for men to step up here, pre- and post-marriage. Too many guys live like idiots before marriage and enter it without any clue, any plan, as to how to direct the finances of a family. They make dumb, sometimes selfish, decisions with their budget and put the family in the tank as a result. As one who does not naturally enjoy managing finances, I can say that it is imperative that men like me, sometimes lazy but commissioned by God to lead their families, set a strong course for the budget.
As a man, lead the way for your family not simply in devotions or getting to church–lead them budgetarily. Teach your children what restraint and self-discipline looks like, budget sacrificially to bless your wife and relieve her of totally unnecessary stress, and plan for the future so you can give sacrificially to the church and missions. Make the hard decisions about eating out, buying a new car, getting a new tv. Above all, save every penny that you can, like the rich do. The poor throw their money at things that deteriorate in value, while wealthy people by and large save.
And many of us would be wise to pick up Opdyke’s book–it looks very helpful. It would go a long way in helping both men and women to be wise with the resources God has given us to use for His glory.