I don’t think I know a single person who has not struggled at some point financially. Since finances remain one of the leading causes of divorce, it is important to come to grips with the stress associated with money problems in your marriage.
Many young people acquire a lot of debt, generally from student loans, but sometimes from credit cards, before marriage. Add an expensive wedding, a honeymoon on a cruise ship, and a baby or two in a couple of years, and it won’t be long until they are over their heads and headed for divorce court. However, if a plan is in place from the start, a lot of the stress associated with finances can be avoided.
I’m a realist. If the money isn’t there, it simply isn’t there. Couples need to sit down and be realistic about the money coming in and going out. If student loans are in place, then maybe the Cinderella wedding can’t happen. Maybe the rings become simple bands. There are priorities involved. If you’re going to get married (and stay married), you need to be responsible adults. The wedding doesn’t make the marriage, but can very often start it down a long road of debt.
Heber J. Grant, 7th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) said:
“If there is any one thing that will bring peace and contentment into the human heart, and into the family, it is to live within our means. And if there is any one thing that is grinding and discouraging and disheartening, it is to have debts and obligations that one cannot meet.” (Heber J. Grant, Gospel Standards [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1941], p. 111).
As with everything else in a marriage, financial responsibility requires teamwork. It isn’t what “I” want and what “my spouse” wants; it’s what “we” want as a couple. You need to sit down together often, talk about goals, and decide together what you are going to work toward. If you are both working for the same goals, you won’t mind the sacrifices along the way. It is also important to keep a sense of humor. There will be days when everything in the house breaks at the same time, and it will most likely be the same day a teenager totals the car. You can scream and cry, or you can laugh and plan.
You don’t need every new toy that comes on the market. This is a huge problem with couples today. You don’t need 140 channels on that television. As a matter of fact, if you can’t afford it, you don’t need the television at all. My home did not have a dishwasher when we bought it. We did without one for many years. After my dad passed away, my mom purchased a portable dishwasher for us for Christmas. It lasted a couple of years and went to dishwasher heaven. It died the same week our television broke. We could not afford to replace both, so we had a family meeting. I told the kids they had a choice to make: (a) wash dishes and get a new TV, or (b) read more books and get a dishwasher. Obviously, they chose the television. I’m sure they all thought I would eventually cave and buy a dishwasher. We are now empty nesters, and I still have not purchased a dishwasher. It just isn’t that important in the whole scheme of things.
We were married five months when we purchased our “starter home.” That was May of 1977, and we are still living in the same home. We did build an addition to the home, but we are still here. Living in this home allowed us to help children through college and serve LDS missions. Notice I said help. Our kids have worked very hard to pay for their education and be independent, and that’s as it should be.
Before the current economic crisis, we received a lot of peer pressure from friends (and some family) to buy a bigger, nicer home. It made no sense to us to incur that kind of debt for a home that our children would be leaving in a matter of a few years. One by one we watched people buy homes we knew they really couldn’t afford. When the recession hit, we watched as people went upside down on their mortgages. Some (too many) lost their homes. We are still here. Even after refinancing a couple of times to help kids with schooling, our house payment is currently $545 per month, and we owe less than $30,000 on the mortgage (basically the cost of a new car). In the city where we live, you can’t rent a decent apartment without paying twice the amount of our house payment.
Prior to building the addition to our home, we had two bedrooms and one bathroom. There was a time when we had three children in one bedroom with trundle beds. At night, it was wall-to-wall beds. I took the door off the bedroom to allow space for a dresser where the door would normally swing. Yes, it was crowded; but we all survived until we could afford to expand our home. Originally, we were going to buy a larger home, but financially it made more sense to stay here and add another bedroom, bathroom, and family room.
Would I have loved a large home and an updated kitchen with a garbage disposal and dishwasher? Of course, I would have enjoyed it. Did I need it? Not at all. Things don’t make a marriage, or a family. As a matter of fact, I look back on those days building extra shelves in closets and making old baby changers into toy organizers with fondness. I became a master at finding storage space. I also became adept at recycling or repurposing articles to save money. An old doll house sitting on an old bookcase became a headboard and knickknack shelves in one bedroom. Old laundry baskets were transformed into toy boxes. If there was a way to reuse something to save money and/or organize “stuff,” it was done. Side note: It was fun! I always felt such a sense of accomplishment at finishing a project—especially since I never had the proper tools to do anything.
My children ate beef liver and onions for years believing it was “steak.” Catsup (ketchup, if you prefer) was diluted with a little water. Frozen concentrated orange juice was mixed with frozen concentrated lemonade to make it go further because lemonade was cheaper than orange juice. A little milk was added to scrambled eggs to make them stretch. Toothpaste tubes were not discarded until Mom had cut them open and scraped every last bit of toothpaste from the inside of the tube. The cheap store brand equivalent to Listerine was poured over athlete’s feet (as well as over dandruff scalp) because it worked and was cheap. A squirt of Right Guard cured the itch from mosquito bites. Mom pulled loose teeth with a pair of pliers. Toys were often “freeway finds” (including tricycles and bicycles) because Dad worked as a highway worker.
Finances do not have to defeat your marriage. Be a team. Make a plan. Be willing to sacrifice for goals. Live within your means. Keep your sense of humor. There’s an old saying which I believe originated during the Great Depression and really needs to be passed down to the next generation: Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.
Tudie Rose is a mother of four and grandmother of ten in Sacramento, California. You can find her on Twitter as @TudieRose. She blogs as Tudie Rose at http://potrackrose.wordpress.com. She has written articles for Familius. You will find a Tudie Rose essay in Lessons from My Parents, Michele Robbins, Familius 2013, at http://www.familius.com/lessons-from-my-parents#.UYPhA6K.