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For Richer or Poorer…

May 27, 2010

For the first five years of our marriage, I decided to be a lone ranger when it comes to our finances. Michelle confessed during our pre-marital preparation, “I don’t get money,” and I, being the big strong man who I am, said, “don’t worry, I got this.” Five years later, I was still carrying the full weight of our financial life.

We talked about creating a family budget many many times. It seems like every time we found ourselves on a long car ride, talking about things we’d like to do better in our marriage, some mention of finances would arise. Unfortunately, talk never turned into action because every time I looked at our finances, I got stressed out, realizing that we spending too much and wasting a lot of money on stupid stuff. I’d begin asking questions like, “well, what did you buy at Target for $130?,” putting Michelle on the defensive and breaking off the possibility of us working together to put our financial house in order.

Things finally reach a breaking point at the end of last year. We welcomed our third child into the world in late September and, while we had never before had any significant debt, the medical bills piled up and put us behind by a few thousand dollars.

I told Michelle, “We need to watch our spending,” but didn’t take steps to let her know exactly where we stood. Even though we were only in debt about $2,000-$3,000 (other than house and debt on one car) I felt like we were trapped, and got really stressed about it. One day, I finally reached the point where I stopped trying to be the Lone Ranger, and let Michelle in on what I was feeling.

Shortly thereafter, I picked up Dave Ramsey’s, Total Money Makeover, and Michelle and I began our real financial life together.

Almost six months later, we’ve made some tough decisions and some sacrifices, but we’ve overcome all of our medical and consumer debt, adopted a family budget, put money in emergency reserves and cut lots of money from our monthly budget!

I tell you this, not to brag (though I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve done), but to make a point about finances and relationship. I know in my head that money and finances are an essential element of the martial relationship and, while I gave that idea lip service, I was obviously not embracing it with my life.

I honestly thought I was best serving my wife by keeping our financial reality from her while, in reality, I was refusing to allow her to be my partner in that area of our life together. Opening up to allow her to participate in that part of our life opened up a whole new aspect of our relationship. For the first time, I saw my wife as a partner in our financial life.

For many of you, this post will probably result in a “duh,” but I’m slow sometimes. Looking back, Michelle was asking to grow with me in that area through all of those conversations about finances, but I kept resorting back to the belief that I was doing the right thing by taking it all on myself.

Now, maybe you have your finances in order, but I want you to think about your relationship with your spouse and consider the places where you are not completely intimate. In what areas can you grow stronger?

Challenge: After thinking about the areas where you’d like to grow in your relationship with your spouse, sit down and ask him/her what he/she perceives to be the areas in need of greatest improvement. In most cases, he/she will probably recognize the same things you do but it takes someone committing to start the conversation before real transformation can begin to take place.

Further, if you determine that it’s time for you to get your financial house in order, start with these steps:

1. Figure out where you spend your money- find your last credit card statement, bank statement, etc. and write out where you spent every last penny. I think that experience alone is eye-opening.

2. Simplify- After you figure out where all of your money goes, you’ll likely realize that there is a lot of fat to trim from your monthly expenses and lifestyle. For help with this process, check out one of my favorite personal finance sites, Man vs. Debt, and his post 42 Ways to Radically Simplify Your Financial Life.

3. Plan- Whether you pick up the Dave Ramsey book or some other financial planning advice book, you need to find some resource to help you plan. Work with your spouse to figure out what your priorities are and build a plan around that. Remember the old rule: If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.

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