You can bet your bottom dollar that the issue of money will come up in a seriously dating, engaged, or marriage relationship. How do you approach such a tricky subject with truth and love? In today's podcast, Dr. Chris Grace and Dr. Tim Muehlhoff discuss the topic of finances within the context of engagement and marriage.
Chris Grace: Welcome to The Art of Relationships podcast, I'm Chris Grace.
Tim Muehlhoff: I'm Tim Muehlhoff.
Chris Grace: We're here to talk about all things relationships. Tim, one of the things that we have heard from couples and want to talk about, we have some stuff on our website, cmr.biola.edu, but it's about finances and the role that plays, money in general, how we spend, how we save. One's a saver, one's a spender, and the impact this has on relationships. We can talk about that today, I think in this podcast. The stress that money, finances and our perceptions and what money means to people and to couples, in particular. What do you think? Should we talk about it?
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, sounds great. We know that not everybody's in the same boat. For some people, there's financial stress, for other people this is a crisis situation. We want to recognize that there are different levels of concern about finances based on your economic situation. Here are some general principles that we hope will cut across every situation, broad principles. Let me ask you this, you and Alisa, is one a saver and one a spender? How does that break down?
Chris Grace: No doubt. We both save initially, but I save with a different end goal in mind. My reason to save is so that one day, we will have a savings account and it will be there in an emergency. I think Alisa has always thought of saving as a way to wait and save until she can buy something at the end of the year, or that special time to then spend that savings. Our biggest difference is, "Wait, you want to spend this?" I want to hold on to it in a way. I think there's a little bit of unhealth on both sides that we had to really navigate, Tim, here's the thing, spending for us, this is more than just money, man. I think when it comes to finances, it's about what it meant to us.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's good.
Chris Grace: Until we figured out what money meant to us, we were struggling. We'd just go round, and round, and round, on this. She would want to buy something after saving all year, and I would say, "No, it's time to keep saving it." We struggled.
Tim Muehlhoff: The biggest challenge to our marriage, Amazon Prime. Amazon Prime is God's gift to a fallen world, Chris. I love it. My, it's one click. The History of Yiddish Sheep Herders, who knows if it will be there tomorrow, Chris. One click, free shipping, and Noreen is like, "Honey, guess what? Another package came from Amazon today." I'm,
Chris Grace: Clearly a spender.
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, my word. The kids knew that growing up. It's like, "I'm going to go shopping with dad." We had to work that out. We almost didn't get married because of this. Noreen asked such an intrusive question when we got engaged. She said, "What do you have in your bank account?" I was like, "I have a graphite tennis racket that is just awesome man, it really improved my backhand." No, Noreen is very much a saver and she thinks long term. It's not just saving up for an event, it is like, "We need to really think about retirement." I'm like, "Think about retirement?" We've had to struggle with that and how to talk about it.
Chris Grace: I think even with those who aren't married and they're single and they're living with roommates, I think finances come into play a lot. One person is late with the rent and that puts an amazing amount of stress, or one person was given the rent money, but now they're asking for a little bit of a delay or time and now the one couple, or couple of roommates are struggling with this one roommate who constantly is late, who isn't paying their half of the bills, who is always needing to borrow. That puts stress on all kinds of relationships. Here, money also means something different to us.
Tim, when you were growing up, your view of money was very much involved in the way you see it today. That is the way you were raised, and the reason you want fun things, and to spend probably, has a lot to do with some other things that were going on with you.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, we grew up in Detroit. My dad was a factory worker for General Motors. I remember General Motors going on strike three different times and these strikes lasted a long time. The union would come and we'd wake up in the morning and there'd be food on our doorstep.
I remember one instance, my dad told me about finances more than anything else, we went into Kmart and there were these three rifles. My dad looked at the price and said, "Oh, all three of you can get one. This is great." We have it, we go up to the front cash register, he has misread the price. In fact, he can't afford it. We can't even afford one, let alone three. I'll never forget the look in my dad's eyes when he looked at us and said, "Hey, we can't do it." We're like, "Why? You said we could." He said, "No, we can't."
For me, my bank is, if you have money, because who knows if you're always going to have it. Now is the time to spend it, because you might not have it. Noreen's opposite reaction, "Hey, things are really tight. We need to really have a nest egg." My response is, "Hey, let's spend some money now and enjoy it."
Chris Grace: It's interesting, Tim, how similar kinds of backgrounds, and you and I talked about this, we have very similar backgrounds. I was raised in an area that was blue collar, lower economic standing, and that status. What had ended up happening is, without money around, oftentimes, my four brothers and I, we knew that things were tight and things were always going to be this way. I just developed this, not a fear that was that palatable and strong, but it was a thing. I don't ever want to be in the place where there's nothing there or we're going to go hungry. I'm going to always protect that and I'm going to always wait and save for that moment. I think what I developed is an unhealthy, almost relying on, the savings account, to trust in it.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's right.
Chris Grace: If it was gone, I worried and I felt like I wasn't providing or protecting. It's interesting how we can come out of the same circumstances and backgrounds and still have different views about finances. This causes problems for couples all the time. I think one of the big things that couples need to do is begin to identify what money means to them. If it's in a roommate situation and an engagement, the most important time is to have this conversation when you're not stressed out, freaking out about it.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's key.
Chris Grace: Have this conversation ahead of time and then talk about, "What does it mean to me? What does money signify? Is this something that is to be spent and enjoyed, because it's going to go away? If you don't have it and spend it, then it's going to disappear, or does this mean more for you security and safety." I think if you get to those and the heart of that, you can eventually begin to explore some of the things and your reactions to finances when the struggle really hits when pressures come in.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's our very first principle for discussing this. Book of Proverbs has, "How good is a timely word?" I would agree with that point. It applies to a lot of issues as well. When you're in the middle of it, it's hard to have a good productive conversation. When things are really tight, you're really wondering if you can pay the bills, that might be a really hard time to have it. It's better to have it more outside of that when you have some buffer time. We absolutely say, when you talk about sexual intimacy, when you need to talk about kids schedules, you need to talk about finances, but try to find a time when the pressure isn't breathing down your neck. That's the first principle is, carve out a time to talk about it when your not moving toward crisis state. I think that's a great principle.
Second one is this, and I think this is important, agree to disagree on this issue. There isn't anything fundamentally right about being a saver or a spender. Obviously, you can be a spender to the point that you're in deep debt and it's just irresponsible. I don't think we are talking about that. Remember Gottman said, we talked about Gottman a lot, but he said, "Like 67% of all of your marital issues will keep happening, reoccurring," this is one of them. I am a spender and Noreen is a saver. Let's agree to disagree on certain things. What are the crucial areas that we have to agree on? That would be things like, we cover all of our bills, things like that, but agree to disagree on some of this, I think is important.
Chris Grace: I think it's a great principle. If you're in a roommate situation and you're struggling in this, I think you can say, "Listen, we just see this differently and that's okay. We have to agree on some fundamental or foundational things."
Tim Muehlhoff: "The rent has to be paid. We're not going to be late."
Chris Grace: "We have to pay for the light bill. We have to pay for the light. We have to buy groceries. Beyond that, what you do or I do, is really honestly, so long as it's not impacting this kind of foundational, fundamental things and decisions, then it's okay to disagree." I think in a marriage situation, it takes some navigating. That line keeps moving. How much do we save? How much do we spend? What do we spend it on? We have to be set with that.
Tim Muehlhoff: It even hits, Chris, Noreen and I were in the car driving somewhere and we listened to a national survey on dating and they said, "What turns you off when it comes to dating?" Number two on the list was the amount of debt you were carrying, perhaps into engagement. Even for our listeners who are single, that debt amount is something you want to pay attention to and just say, "Well, I'll deal with it when I get married." It may actually impact who wants to marry you. I think is kind of an interesting thing.
Chris Grace: There's good debt and bad debt. The good debt, you've got tuition, and if you decided to buy a house, or at least there's some kind of debt that makes sense. There's other kind of debt, credit card debt, that's bad debt.
Tim Muehlhoff: Twenty part series on Yiddish Sheep Herders in Lithuania and Romania.
Chris Grace: Put you back a couple hundred grand?
Tim Muehlhoff: It was huge. Poster came. It was great and I loved it. Here's another principle, I think this is good and it's hard to apply, but focus on each other strengths. It's great that Noreen is a saver. We've really tried to be good about this. Noreen was a business major, so she loves it and I need to really appreciate that. Noreen appreciates the fact, because she's such a good saver, it's hard for her to pull the trigger and actually spend money. Sometimes, Noreen can look at my strength and say, "Oh, honey let's do this." Noreen's like, "Boy, it would be really fun to take this weekend trip. I don't know if we can afford it. Oh, hun, come on we can do it. Let's go do it. It would be fun to do."
Recognize each other's strengths. You balance out a little bit. I suppose there could be a marriage of two extreme savers or two extreme spenders that actually gets more dicey. It's good to recognize each other's strengths and weaknesses, and how we complement each other, and get rid of the rough edges.
Chris Grace: I think in general, Tim, in any kind of relationship, that kind of insight into the other person really does challenge us to put a perspective and to think about them, to be mindful of their thoughts. When you say to have in front of you what the other person might be worried or struggling with can actually be very important to start with. For me I would say, "Alisa, I know it's important for you to have fun this weekend. I know that we talked about going out to this thing and I just want to know I'm a little bit nervous and worried about our savings. I also believe this is a chance for us to have fun. Is that kind of what you're feeling and thinking?" She'll say, "Yes, Chris. I also worry about the savings." It's putting the other person's needs, and desires, and hopes up there. It's a dual thing that we do. It feeds back and incumbent on both of us to do that.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. It's good. Another principle, this is a foundational one, don't just talk numbers, talk values. Here's the biggest, single disagreement Noreen and I have, after 26 years of marriage, I will always value time over money. Noreen and I both agree that the yard needs to be done, of course. We have a neighborhood covenant that says, "Hey, you've got to care for your lawn." I will always pay the money to have somebody attend to that rather than me take the time to do that.
I remember one time, Noreen said to me, "Can you put this ceiling fan in?" Oh, Chris, Chris. One, I have no idea how to do it. Two, I'm literally praying for the rapture, because that would settle all of this including not having to put in the ceiling fan. I'm like, "N, let's just hire somebody to go do it. Come on, let's do it. No, Tim, come on, we can do this together. It will be fun. What? Get out of here. Let's hire," That's always our inclination. Now, we've not always had money to do that, but when we have any buffer money, I'm always looking at time saved over money spent.
Chris Grace: I'm assuming that came to you as time went on. This might not have been one of the first things you thought of, but that ultimate value probably became clear to you as you moved on and thought, "Know what? Tim, why are you always needing to have somebody come do this? Why can't we do this together?" I'm assuming, Noreen's value might me togetherness, or even saving. This would provide that kind of thing and that could be a struggle.
Tim Muehlhoff: I think it's both. I think Noreen would enjoy it. She loves, oh, Chris, she loves watching these home improvement shows, Flip This House. "Oh, a three-part series on grout." It's like, "What?"
I think as life became more hectic. Here we are, our kids are playing baseball, our kids are playing football, every weekend is gone. It's gone. A bunch of people know what I'm talking about. Then these things need to be done around the house, but I'm tired and I'd like to have some time to read. I'd like to try to write. For me, I'm always looking at the saving time part and that's interesting. Nobody's right and nobody's wrong on this one.
Chris Grace: I think that's exactly it. We go back to a favorite Psalm of ours, Psalms 139, when we know that we are made a certain way and God designed us a certain way. There should be, unless it's to the extreme, listen we just view this differently. Our way that we view money is kind of built in and it's almost like something that is hard to reverse and it doesn't make one right and one wrong. Those values are really what steps out. That's really important. Do you got another principle for us?
Tim Muehlhoff: This is interesting. This is based on a national survey. The national survey said, "With you and your spouse, do you ever suspect that your spouse is lying to you or being less than truthful?" The results of the national study, 25 to 35% of Americans admitted to being guilty about lying when it came to finances. So, "How much did that coat really cost? How much is," You and the boys going out for the weekend trip, like, "What's this really going to cost? How much was that coat?" All this different kind of stuff, people would just fib. They would tell half truths on this issue, which leads into a bunch of other problems.
When we do premarital counseling, we force young couples to come up with a budget. We force them to say how much money is actually coming in. How much money do you spend on a weekly basis? I want you to count everything for like ten days, two weeks. That tells me a little bit about that person. Are you really being honest, or are you fudging? Do you always round up, or round down? We need to have truthfulness when it comes to finances. I would say, even truthfulness before you get married when a person. If you're thinking about getting engaged, tell me what you think about this, if you are thinking about getting engaged to a person, I need to know what your debt is, don't you think so?
Chris Grace: I do. I think it's part of you're now joining together, not just your lives, in a spiritual, emotional, physical way, but you are also financially now becoming this new oneness. In that, I believe honesty, understanding, and going into it with a clear perspective, will just save you heartache. This is the issue couples argue and struggle with the most. I think starting off, Tim, as you mentioned, even early stages of a relationship about being clear and honest where you're at. I think it's so important because it provides people a better understanding of what they're getting into and what they're taking on. That stress can just get magnified when you bring together two people that might be a little bit more of spenders and they're dealing then with some debt that's out there.
I think the other thing, Tim, is young people who are really struggling in certain areas of the country. Southern California is very expensive and other parts of the country are hard to move forward, so there's going to be debt out there. It doesn't mean its a relationship killer, like, "Oh no, they're in debt." It just simply means you need to go deeper to the value to see, are they prepared and understand that to take responsibility. Is this something that's based on carefree, they don't really care, or is this manageable and understandable. There's some good programs and some good people out there.
Tim Muehlhoff: There is.
Chris Grace: That can lead and help couples. We talk a lot about some different programs like that.
Tim Muehlhoff: Tell me what you think about this scenario? We had some friends of ours, they were going to get engaged. They had the finance question, they had the conversation. She revealed that she had a lot of credit card debt, a lot. He said to her, "Let's postpone things for a year. I would like for you to work down that debt." She agreed to it. I've often thought about that. You gave me this weird expression. What's wrong with that?
Chris Grace: You have to get to the heart and the motive behind a lot of this. If it's done in the right way, it must've been a lot of debt, because it ...
Tim Muehlhoff: It was scary, man. It was bad.
Chris Grace: There might have been issues like that. This was an opportunity to see how serious this persons view was and it might have been a deal breaker for them if they weren't able to do this. On the other hand, there could be a time in which, I've heard couples navigate this by saying, "Listen, were going to join together in all ways. Your debt is now my debt. I'm with you on this and we're going to fix this together." It probably just depends on the other aspects of their relationship and how critical ... Was this one of the key variables or factors?
Tim Muehlhoff: Here's why I liked it. I say this to engaged couples all of the time or people who are thinking about getting engaged, it doesn't matter what a person says. What a person says is completely irrelevant, it's only what they do. I like the fact, because again what was she going to say. This woman was going to say, "Oh, of course I'm going to be disciplined and helping pay down the debt once we get married." Why not ask, "Why not start now?" She's, "Oh, no, because I want it ..." It's like, "Oh, okay." By the way, that's your marriage. You just saw your marriage. That attitude is following you in.
Now again, it's all about tone and attitude. If this was punitive, if the woman feels like you're withholding love towards me, because I'm not paying it down fast enough, I get that. There's something about it that I thought, students and single people need to know that debt is, the racking up of, and you said good debt, bad debt. I think that's really important. You rack up a bunch of bad debt, that's a character issue in some ways.
Chris Grace: Yeah, and I think that's something that listeners can really begin to work on now at times. That is their view and approach towards money. Their view and approach toward what it means to ultimately earn a living. Then, what it means to join two people together at some point and do this in a way that does not cause massive problems later on. I think it's a good lesson to start asking questions now, "Am I able to save? Am I able to put into practice some of these good habits now?"
Tim Muehlhoff: We have two left. Last one, second to the last, talk about earning the money, not just spending it. This is interesting. You might have two people, they both work, dual career family, and one person finds her job to be super stressful, high, high demand. That money she earns comes with great cost. Work is a tough place, it's a stressful place. The other person, "Oh, I love what I do. You kidding me, I love it. I get a cup of coffee in the morning, I go off to work. I love working with my hands, this is awesome. It's tough, it's demanding, but I love it." Those are two different people at the end of the day. One feels like, "Hey, my paycheck came with great emotional cost. Yours, you love your job." I think that just needs to be factored in a little bit to say ...
We've had to work with this with the kids. Noreen and I would go off, just like you and Alisa do, we go do marriage conferences. Our kids are like, "So let me get this straight, you went off this weekend, you stayed in a really nice hotel, and you spoke on marriage." We're like, "Dude, you need to come with us to one of these conferences. Man, it's demanding, it's tiring, delays in the airport, couples who have really tough issues and we're giving, giving, giving. Then, we come back home and you guys think, 'Oh, mom and dad just kicked back for a weekend.'" I think that's important for people to know. This wears on me, so don't view my money in such a cavilier way, that it came at great cost. I think that kind of perspective taking, I think, can be really helpful for couples.
Chris Grace: I think that's what it is, it's perspective taking. Sometimes we have to recognize that the costs may actually be too high and too damaging in a relationship. At some point, you might say, "All right listen, this is hurting us. I know it's helping our savings account, but I'd would rather have nothing pay off our debts. Not be saving that much, but to have a home life that's more peaceful." Maybe a three-quarters time position, or maybe not working full time, but halftime if it's doable. There are tough questions that have to be asked, depending upon the couples strengths, and also some of the struggles that they may be having.
Tim Muehlhoff: My father, we had a rocky relationship. He's the one that worked in Detroit as a factory worker at GM. Between my freshman and my sophomore years, I went and worked in his factory, Chris, for three months. It was the most back breaking, dehumanizing stuff I've ever done in my life. You stand in an assembly line and it was just horrific. It was hard and the foreman was just mean, and pornography is everywhere. My respect for my dad, say "Hey, you did this not because you thought, 'Hey, this is a great job and I just love my job.' No, we need to keep the lights on, we need to pay the mortgage." My respect for him ... I think that's what we're advocating a little bit is ...
Hey, the last one has to do with Christian couples. The Bible's pretty clear that with wealth comes responsibility. With money comes responsibility. I do think couples, and I think this does cut across all economic strata, I'm kind of thinking of the widow that Jesus's observing and she gives all she has. I do think couples, Christian couples, Christian families and roommates, this would apply to college students as well, to sit down and say, "How do I view this money? Is this all my money? I have all discretion where it goes, or is part of the reason I have this money is that I also need to look around and help those, the disenfranchised."
We get these stories all across the world of people who virtually have absolutely nothing. I would encourage our listeners to go to globalrichlist.com and punch in your salary. Even if you're a college student who works in the summer, I guarantee you the money you make is going to put you in the top 10%, 5%, because they're comparing you to workers everywhere in the entire world. With wealth, with money of any kind, God is saying, "Now is this my money or is it just your money?" Let me ask you this, do you guys tithe?
Chris Grace: Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: Have you ever done that? Do you tithe, even now to this day?
Chris Grace: To this day, yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: Can I ask how much you tithe?
Chris Grace: We tithe, for us, we picked a number that we felt was important for us, such as 10%. Giving to a variety ... We spread it out. I think some years we're a little bit better at it and other years we, by that I think we tend to find and wait for those opportunities. We also have those things we just set aside that certain percent and then there's a little bit extra that we like to do, for as needed basis.
Tim Muehlhoff: I got rid of hair products and just used that money for the Lord. No, we've always taken a certain amount, not necessarily 10%. We've always felt like, we were on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ for almost 30 years. We raised our money, it was going to families, churches. We've always had a soft spot for people that raise their own support. We've always felt like a certain amount of our paycheck are going to people who are still raising support and stuff like that. Interesting.
Chris Grace: It is and I think the last point, Tim, that you're making for couples and for anybody out there, is to recognize that the way we see and view our finances is a gift from God to be used to further His purposes, is extremely important. There are times when we simply need to let control of that, go and put it into His hands and say, "Lord, use this. This isn't mine. This is what you can do. If this can further your Kingdom when I help this person." Even if it's a meal, even if it's a monthly support to this mission, whatever it is, and we give control of that to Him. I think at the end of the day we're going to find that His purposes are further, but our hearts grow closer to Him because we're going more dependence on Him.
Tim Muehlhoff: Let me close with two quotes. Paul says this, what a fascinating verse, he says, "The root of all evil is love of money." Isn't that interesting. Think of all of the wars that have been fought over money, over things like that. Corrie ten Boom said this, I think it was a great quote, she said, "Money belongs in your wallet, not your heart." That's a great balance.
Chris Grace: It really is. It shows the value, the perspective, and where we need and how we need to view this very important topic that impacts a lot of people.
Tim Muehlhoff: It does, and it's a character root.
Chris Grace: It is.
Tim Muehlhoff: It reveals, your language or speech, and money are two huge indicators of what we really care about.
Chris Grace: Tim, thanks. These are great principles and we're out of time. We hope you can come visit us again in future podcasts. We'll keep looking at issues like this and it's impact on conflict. Go to, cmr.biola.edu and check out some of the other tools and resources we have there.
Tim Muehlhoff: Absolutely. It's been great being with you. I'm Tim Muehlhoff.
Chris Grace: I'm Chris Grace.
Tim Muehlhoff: Always great being with you guys.
Christopher Grace serves as the director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and teaches psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology. He and his wife, Alisa, speak regularly to married couples, churches, singles and college students on the topic of relationships, dating and marriage. Grace earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Colorado State University.
Tim Muehlhoff is a professor of communication at Biola University and author of several books, including I Beg to Differ and Marriage Forecasting. For the past 18 years, he and his wife, Noreen, have been frequent speakers at FamilyLife marriage conferences. Muehlhoff regularly writes and speaks for the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships. Follow Dr. Muehlhoff on Twitter.