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Welcome To My World: Tips to Help You and Your Spouse When You Disagree About Money

I remember the first time my wife turned to me, bewildered, and said, “You want to do what with our money?”

“Honey, let’s go for 2 weeks to Europe! It will cost about $5,500, and here is where we should go.”

“Come again? How is it that you hound me every time I spend $10 more than our grocery budget, but you are willing to spend $5,500 just like that?”

This is not the first time that a married couple has been confounded at the financial decisions of the other person. This is because a husband and a wife can have significantly different attitudes and values about money.

"A husband and a wife can have significantly different attitudes and values about money."

Professor Miriam Tatzel, from Empire State College in New York, was able to condense all of the various attitudes and values into two primary characteristics: [1]

  1. Degree of looseness with money
  2. Degree of materialism

If am loose with money that means I am willing, or even eager, to spend. I believe that by spending more, I will get the best. If I am tight with money that means I am always reluctant to spend money, and any large outlays of money need to be thoroughly justified.

If I am high in materialism that means that I derive particular pleasure from material things that improve my quality of life. If I am low in materialism that means that I view material things, like beds and cars, as relatively neutral tools, and delight more in experiences that improve my quality of life.

When combining these two characteristics of looseness and materialism, Professor Tatzel was able to map four possible “money worlds” for people:

When looking at the chart above, I tend to be an Experiencer and my wife is more of a Value Seeker.  

My low materialism and looseness with money means that I don’t mind spending money for experiences (like going to Europe), but I do mind spending money on anything that does not involve my self-development (like groceries or clothing). My wife likes nice food and wants quality items for our home and is willing to spend to get these things, albeit, after a lot of bargain hunting and research.

What is your money world?

Once we have identified our money world, there are two steps we can follow that can drastically improve our marriages.

  1. Appreciate the good in your spouses’ money world
  2. Grow more like Christ in your money world

Step #1: Appreciate the good in your spouse's money world

If I find myself in a money conflict, one of the most important steps in reconciling that conflict is for me to realize that there is no “correct” money world; every money world has both a healthy and unhealthy behavior.

For example, if my wife is a Big-Spender and I am a Non-Spender, there will likely be lots of financial conflict. In order to manage this conflict, a good first step is to acknowledge that my wife’s money world is a legitimate way of viewing money.

Big Spenders tend to be great at hospitality. They are naturally able to create beautiful places and comfortable spaces because of their high materialism.

In the same way, Big Spenders may think there is nothing good about being a Non-Spender, painting them as a cruel Scrooge character. However, the simple living of a Non-Spender can be an inspiring example to us all, like Maria from Sound of Music, getting off her bus to her new home with one bag, one guitar and one big smile.

Step #2: Grow more like Christ in your money world

Once I have acknowledged that my spouse has a legitimate way of viewing money (i.e., money world), it is important that I do not then try and “work on” changing the unhealthy parts of my wife’s money world. My focus should be on me becoming healthier!

To do this, I need to grow more like Christ in my money world. How can this be done? In general, I become more like someone when I spend time with that person and imitate him or her.

"I need to learn how I should view money by watching closely the money world of Jesus."

Just like a child learns how to eat, drink, and speak by spending time with their parents and imitating them, so I need to learn how I should view money by watching closely the money world of my Jesus and imitating him.

What is the money world of Jesus Christ? It can best be described as a “holy looseness” that leads to a “holy materialism.”

In Luke, Jesus calls for a radical “holy looseness” with money when he says, “give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to.”[2]

This is a holy looseness with money that is fueled by the truth that God is the owner of all our stuff, and we are simply stewards who should respond to God’s abundant generosity to us with a generosity of our own.

Many people hate this idea of being loose with money, fearing that it will inevitably lead to them becoming an irresponsible Big Spender. This will certainly not happen because, as we are generous with God’s money in response to God’s generosity, we gain a “holy materialism.”

If I have a typical materialism, I am not necessarily unhealthy since it means I derive a lot of pleasure in material things, which God created for our enjoyment. However, there is a danger that my enjoyment of these material things will overshadow my enjoyment of the Giver of those material things.

The antidote that Jesus provides against this malady is to first consider the great generosity of God, and then respond to that generosity with a generosity of our own.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.” - Luke 12:33-34

The more I take a hold of the kingdom of God (seeking it first and being generous with God’s stuff), the more my love for Jesus will eventually overshadow my love for material things (where thieves steal and moths destroy), and I will love material things in a healthy way.

In conclusion, let us apply the two steps of this paper to my earlier argument with my wife about traveling to Europe:

“Honey, let’s go for 2 weeks to Europe!  It will cost about $5,500, and here is where we should go.”

“Shane, I love that you always think of amazing experiences for us. However, since I am a Value Seeker, it makes me extremely uncomfortable to spend so much money on one event that is so foreign to me (pun intended).”

“Honey, I appreciate how diligent you are when making budgeting decisions. I think this particular experience is worth the investment. You have said that you need time to make any big financial decisions, so how about we take the month before we make a decision and I can provide more reasons for why I think this would be a good return on our investment?”

“That sounds good, Shane. Also, before we make any decisions, I want to protect myself from loving God’s stuff more than God himself, so I need to spend time with the Lord, seeking his kingdom, and responding to his generosity with a generosity of my own.”

"That sounds great. I will do the same, and make sure I understand that Jesus is my greatest treasure and no European trip will ever be as exciting as getting to know my Savior."

If this is an area of your marriage that needs more attention, go through this recommended resource with your spouse: Master Your Money: A Step-by-Step Plan for Experiencing Financial Contentment by Ron Blue.

[1] Tatzel, Miriam, "'Money worlds' and well-being: An integration of money dispositions, materialism and price-related behavior," Journal of Economic Psychology 23 (2002) 103–126

[2] Luke 6:38, ESV