An interview with Crown Financial Ministries co-founder, Howard Dayton.

Howard, money is a big deal in marriage, isn’t it?
Particularly these days. Money is such a huge challenge for most marriages. But God wants us to use money to become unified so that two shall become one, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and financially.

That’s really countercultural, isn’t it?
It is, totally countercultural. I’ve been married happily for 38 years to my beautiful wife Bev.  When we were newly married, money was clearly a huge area of tension because we didn’t understand God’s role. But when we both learned what God said about it, a lot of our arguments went by the wayside. Finally it wasn’t my opinion or her opinion on how to spend our income — It was God’s truth that dictated it.

What would you say to a couple preparing for marriage?
It doesn’t sound very romantic, but they should talk through their financial life. I tell engaged couples — or those who are thinking about becoming engaged — that it’s super important to be transparent and honest about their current financial situation. They should trade credit reports. They should exchange financial statements. Because if there is dishonesty, that dishonesty could undermine the relationship.

Live on one income — his income — and use her income for two things: to give to the Lord and to pay down debt.  Hopefully wiping out debt before that first child shows up.If they’ll use their income for those two purposes — and not to expand their lifestyle — they will have freedom for the wife to stay at home.

Tell me about “money date.” What’s that?
We encourage couples to have a weekly money date. Pick an appropriate time where you could do three things: First, to pray together. Invite the God of the universe to be part of your financial life by asking for His favor, for His guidance, for His wisdom on financial affairs.

Secondly, review what you earned that week, review what you spent that week, and don’t use this as a time to argue or nag each other. This is a time to get both of you on the same page.

And third: celebrate victories; celebrate progress. If you’ve got five credit cards and one week you paid off one, celebrate.  You need to create an environment of celebration, encouragement, and gratitude towards one another. Get away from the negative fighting.

What you want to do is create this environment where you’re thanking the other one for the way they have handled money wisely. When they make a good decision, be a cheerleader. Express gratitude. When somebody is working really hard, tell them. I affirm you. I really appreciate what you’re doing to help our marriage by working so hard. Create that environment of celebration. It really does help knit couples’ hearts more closely together when you do that.

What would you say about financial roles in a marriage?
The key from the husband’s perspective is he needs to serve his wife and love his wife, in a servant-hearted role. And the wife is to be a helpmate to her husband.

Whoever has the inclination to keep the books is the one who should do the accounting. But, again, have your weekly money date so everybody is on the same page. The husband is to be the leader of the house, but he should be the servant-leader, the sacrificial servant leader, to his wife.

Consistent communication is really important. If you don’t collaborate, the spouse that’s not involved with the numbers really has no clue. They don’t fully appreciate the impact they’re spending has on the family budget.

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Bev and I often talk of the time when I was newly married jogging in my neighborhood and came across Lyle Nelson, who at that time had been married probably 20 years. He had a wonderful marriage and was a great Christian guy. Lyle was bleary eyed that morning. I said, Man, Lyle, what happened to you? You didn’t get any sleep? He said, No. At 2 o’clock my wife Marge woke up. She wasn’t feeling well. She asked me to go way across town to this all-night pharmacy to get something for her. I stopped and I said, Man that is a bummer. And he stopped me and said, No, you don’t understand. If you don’t remember anything I ever tell you, you remember this: That was an opportunity to serve.

And that should be the way we look at every request from our wives. It’s an opportunity to serve them. It’s an opportunity in the financial arena for us to use money to be a blessing to our wives.

What is the top marriage-financial issue?
I think the biggest challenge for most couples is the area of debt. The average household has about $10,000 of credit card debt and 70% of all cars are financed today.

We made a once-and-for-all decision that until we were financially free we were going to buy used cars and drive them until the wheels fell off. Bev drove the same car for 17 years.

Think about it. The average new car payment is $378 a month.  That’s $378 a month that we didn’t have to pay for 17 years. Just think what could happen with an extra $378 for the average couple? Those kinds of decisions — those once-and-for-all decisions — are huge for the family’s financial health.

Are credit cards okay?
They’re not inherently sinful or anything, although statistically people spend about 30% more when they use credit cards — it just doesn’t feel like you’re spending money; You’re just whipping out the plastic.

The key is: Is the couple able to make the full payment each and every month — not the minimum payment — and get the cards paid for and then stay out of credit card debt?

If a couple is unable to do that, then we recommend plastic surgery. Any good scissors will do to cut up those cards. You have to recognize that credit cards, while they’re not inherently sinful, are dangerous.

In the Bible God gave us 2,350 verses dealing with how to handle money and possessions. And because He loves us like crazy, fifteen-percent of everything that He said had to do money. He knew that money would be a challenge and He wanted to equip us in such a way that we could handle money in a way that would both please Him and be the healthiest thing for us.

One of the best things you can do for your marriage is to learn what God says about handling money. It’s so different than what our culture says. Then begin to use money as a tool to bring the two of you closer together.

Copyright © 2009 by Jim Mueller, President and co-founder of Growthtrac Ministries.