You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Kregel Publications (February 16, 2009)
Marybeth Whalen is a speaker and contributing writer for Proverbs 31 Ministries. The author of For the Write Reason, Marybeth has also written for Parent Life, Money Matters newsletter, The Old Schoolhouse, Hearts at Home magazine, and Homeschooling Today. She contributes regularly to the daily online devotions of Proverbs 31 Ministries. She and Curt are the parents of six children, which has taught them much about how to stretch a dollar.
Curt Whalen is a trained financial counselor through Crown Financial Concepts. He has years of experience helping couples establish budgets, solve financial problems, and learn to communicate more effectively. He has written articles for TEACH Magazine and Money Matters Newsletter and has contributed to books by authors Lysa TerKeurst and Melanie Chitwood.
Visit the authors' website.
List Price: $11.69
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Kregel Publications (February 16, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Several years ago, my husband, Curt, and I traveled to Florida to visit my stepsister, Becky, and her husband, Chuck. Curt and I enjoyed a few days away from our kids and reconnected with family members we don’t get to see very often. One evening the four adults snuck away for a nice, leisurely dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s at Pleasure Island in Disney World. The environment was festive and fun, and all of our spirits were light as we sat around the table enjoying the sights, sounds, and delicious smells.
At one point during the conversation, we got on the subject of struggles we’d experienced in marriage. Curious as to the low points of other couples (we’ve certainly had our share!), I asked Becky and Chuck what their lowest point had been. Without even pondering, Becky blurted out, “When we didn’t have any money. Chuck had just taken a job with his dad and wasn’t making much as a starting salary. I can clearly remember one time when I went to the grocery store and my card was declined because it was maxed out. I’ll never forget having to leave my groceries behind. I felt like every eye in the store was watching me. That was the lowest point in the history of our marriage—and it took awhile for it to get better.”
Becky and Chuck’s financial situation did change. They became financially independent and now enjoy a lifestyle few people do. Yet as they sat at dinner that night—years after that difficult time—Becky could easily recall the humiliation of struggling with money. That period still haunted them and still counted as the roughest trouble they had ever faced—beyond the divorce of his parents, issues related to children, cross-country moves, and several health problems. Not having enough money and struggling to pay for basic needs had left an indelible mark on their marriage.
I never forgot that moment with Becky and Chuck. I think of it often, as it is a telling commentary on the power that financial issues can have in a marriage. Marriages break up every day over money. Mismanagement, miscommunication, and misunderstandings drive a wedge between husband and wife. Instead of getting in the ring and fighting for their finances together, many couples throw their hands up and walk away—from the problems, but also from each other. In a study done by Money magazine, 84 percent of those surveyed said that money causes tension in their marriage, and 13 percent said they fight about money several times a month.1 Another study cited that 37 percent of couples say that debt is the number one issue that will spark a fight. “Numerous studies have shown that money is the number one reason why couples argue—and many of the recently divorced say those battles were the main reason why they untied the knot.”2
Curt and I teetered on the edge of throwing in the towel on our marriage many times. We’ll tell our story throughout this book, and we’ll also share the lessons we learned during our time in the ring as we literally fought to get our finances under control. Our prayer is that this book will help other couples find the freedom that can result from living financially sound lives. The truth is, money is not an isolated issue within a marriage—it infiltrates every other area of the marriage. From the kitchen to the bedroom, money problems will follow you. Once you get a handle on this area of your marriage, you’ll find that other problems seem to evaporate into thin air. It’s been our experience that the stress of money problems adds an air of negativity to the marriage as a whole. Working together to eliminate those problems can breathe fresh hope and life into what seemed like a lifeless, hopeless situation.
If you’ve picked up this book, then chances are you need to make some changes in your finances. And you’re not alone. Our country as a whole is in a downward financial spiral that is picking up speed with each turn of the calendar page. “On average, today’s consumer has a total of 13 credit obligations on record at a credit bureau. These include credit cards (such as department store charge cards, gas cards, or bank cards) and installment loans (auto loans, mortgage loans, student loans, etc.). Of these thirteen credit obligations, nine are likely to be credit cards and four are likely to be installment loans.”3 “Revolving consumer debt, almost all from credit cards, now totals $957 billion, compared with $800 billion in 2004, according to the Federal Reserve. Average car loans are up, too, to $27,397, from $24,888 four years ago. Home mortgages total $10.5 trillion, compared with $7.8 trillion in 2004.”4
Our personal financial choices are now being reflected on a national level. As we write these words, our nation is experiencing one of the hardest economic challenges since the Great Depression. For decades we have lived beyond our means, using debt as a tool to obtain our wants. And now our house of cards is crumbling around us. We find ourselves with a national debt that has surpassed the ten-trillion-dollar mark, a banking system that is undergoing radical change, and billions of dollars of value that has been lost on Wall Street as the Dow plummets from over 14,000 down to lows we never thought possible. Economists have stopped asking if we’re going to be in a recession and started asking how bad and how long it will be.
The national climate of anxiety and uncertainty is also the climate of many homes.
A Commitment to Change
The reality of our poor financial choices hit Curt and I one night four years ago, a few days before Christmas. What should have been a time of festivities and celebrating became just another cause for stress. We didn’t know how we were going to afford the expensive presents on the kids’ lists. We didn’t want to tell them no, yet to buy gifts meant adding to our already overwhelming debt load. Because of our faith, we took God at His word when He said that nothing is impossible with Him (Luke 1:37). And yet, from where we sat, our situation looked impossible.
For years, we’d been trying to do something to change our financial picture, to no avail. We desperately wanted to stop using credit cards, yet financial emergencies always cropped up that drove us back to credit card purchases. We wanted to begin tithing and saving, yet there was never any money left over to do that. We wanted to begin chipping away at our debt, and yet we saw no way to do so. We felt trapped at every turn. We’d gotten ourselves into a financial mess. Never before that night had we felt more strongly about getting out of our mess.
As we sat in our parked car at a shopping center near our home. I watched as the other shoppers bustled past us, intent on their lists and last minute errands. I vaguely wondered how many of them were slipping deeper into debt as they charged purchases they couldn’t really afford. Meanwhile, Curt and I talked for over an hour, working through what it would take for us to change our spending habits and take steps toward achieving our dream of being debt free. Though neither of us realized it yet, that night was the beginning of a major change in our lives. We were embarking on a journey that would enable us to escape the bondage of debt and begin to enjoy financial freedom. It would be a journey of many years as we endeavored to live differently from the rest of the culture and swim against the current on money issues.
I’ve often wondered why that night was different than our many other conversations throughout our marriage that had begun, “What are we going to do about our money problems?” Although some of our past efforts had resulted in temporary changes, nothing we did ever stuck. We quickly slipped back into our old ways and debt always seemed to creep back in. Even if we closed a door, debt seemed to find a window. So what made this night—this conversation—different?
First, just a few days before, we’d learned we were expecting a baby. This news had prompted us to evaluate how we could become more financially stable as we prepared for this additional responsibility. In short, it was time to get serious. Second, this impending life change and the urgency we both felt resulted in a unity of purpose that we’d never had before. In the past, our convictions about getting out of debt and making hard changes were usually separate, with one person not as sold on the necessity of the plan. We had never been on board at the same time.
Finally, and most importantly, God met with us that night in the car, allowing Curt and me to feel the same conviction and urgency. God went before us and prepared our hearts, as He is faithful to do. We looked across that car at each other and decided that, not only could we do this, but that together we would do this. Whatever it took. In our ignorance we were actually excited about working together to slay this debt monster and change our financial picture. God created unity where once there had been anger and blaming.
Since that night, I’ve learned that getting out of debt requires allowing several basic attitudes to take root in our hearts. Notice I did not say in our minds. The Bible points to the heart as the center—the very essence—of who we are. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” All of our thoughts and actions flow from our hearts. It’s funny how we seem to relate money to our heads and not our hearts. But we miss the mark when we do that. Without allowing these attitudes to take root in our hearts—at the very center of our being—our plan for debt reduction would have quickly fallen by the wayside as unexpected expenses and “opportunities” came our way. By presenting a united front in our battle with debt and allowing these attitudes to determine our actions, we’ve been able to stick with our plan. Though we’ll go into the specifics of our plan in other chapters, I first want to cover these four heart attitudes.
An Attitude of Commitment
Because we saw the necessity of reducing our debt and were committed in our hearts to doing that at all costs, we were not tossed about by the waves (Eph. 4:14) when real life hit. We set a goal and held each other accountable to reaching that goal. We are committed to God and to each other as a team. Our plan to become debt free was a long-range plan. In a world of fast food, microwaves, and instant access, it’s not easy to walk out every agonizing step in a long-range plan. We knew that results would be long in coming and that we had to fix our eyes on the goal, not the circumstances, and hang onto the Lord to get us through. We’ll spend all of chapter 4 talking about how to become a team.
An Attitude of Obedience
A key to obedience is recognizing God’s ownership of all things. We were both convinced that God would help us get out of debt if we were obedient to Him. This obedience required me especially to obey not only God, but my husband as well. Though submission is a dirty word in most circles, it was essential on our journey. I had to let my husband lead—even when I doubted his decision and even when he made mistakes. I couldn’t step out of the chain of command, and at first I had to continually confess this struggle to the Lord. The good news is, it got easier for me, and my husband became a natural leader for our family. The more power I handed over to him, the more I saw him grow. I am the direct beneficiary of the blessings of obedience. Through this journey, I’ve had many opportunities to show my husband my respect, trust, and honor as our provider and leader of our home.
An Attitude of Surrender
This period of getting out of debt hasn’t been all rosy, as we’ll relate later in this book. Obedience has required sacrifice. I’ve had to surrender my wants and reduce my expectations. I’ve had to learn to go without, to trust God to provide, and to lay down my desires. We’ve both had to make adjustments in our spending and truly “count the cost” of every spending decision. We’ve learned to surrender our desires in the name of honoring God’s plans for our family, trusting Him to continually bring about the best outcome possible—more than we can ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20).
An Attitude of Prayer
As we’ve laid down our wants, we’ve had to go to God and cast all our anxiety on Him (1 Peter 5:7). He has shown Himself to be a great listener and comforter. We are learning to go to Him with our specific financial concerns and to give Him all the praise when He meets our needs in miraculous ways. Our time of financial readjustment has truly increased my prayer life as I’ve become more intimately acquainted with Jehovah-Jireh, my provider. I have learned what a detail-oriented, personal God He is. This experience has deepened my faith—a benefit I did not expect.
As we’ve walked through this time of going to God for everything we need, I’ve learned to trust in Him more completely. Though I’ll talk about this in more detail later, I want to share some things that happened just last summer that illustrate how God answers even what most would call silly, insignificant prayers. Know, though, that nothing we pray is silly and insignificant to God!
• In past summers, we’d gone to a farm and picked buckets of blueberries. But it was not cheap to buy the blueberries—and I knew that we didn’t need to spend the money. So I told the Lord about how I wanted blueberries. I didn’t really ask Him for blueberries, per se, I just told my Daddy how I was longing for some blueberries for making pancakes, muffins, cakes, and other dishes. Just a few days later, I was talking with a woman I barely knew, and she mentioned that she and her family would be going out of town for a few weeks. She said that she worried about their large blueberry bushes with no one to pick them—and would we like to come and help ourselves while they were gone? Would we! We were able to pick bags of blueberries—for free!
• My son needed a new bike to ride up to our neighborhood pool because his had been stolen. We simply did not have it in the budget to buy the new bike—and yet the mother’s heart in me broke every time I saw him walking up to the pool while all the other kids rode past him. I told God how much it hurt and asked Him to provide my son with a bike when I could not. Just a few days later I was at a children’s consignment store and there, for a very inexpensive price, was a bike that looked almost new and was the perfect size for my very tall son. Why was this bike at a children’s consignment store that day? Because God orchestrated it so that I would find it. At least that’s what I believe, and that’s why I praised Him that day for answering this mother’s prayer and taking care of yet another detail in my life.
• One day I was craving a good, old southern tomato sandwich, a staple of my summer diet. But we had no tomatoes. I was just about to get in the car and drive to a produce stand to buy the tomatoes when I felt God tell me not to go, but to wait for the tomatoes. What a strange response, I thought. But I obeyed, wondering what God was up to. Within the hour, my son ran in from the neighbor’s house with several large, juicy ripe tomatoes in his hands. “Mom,” he cried. “Miss Joyce had too many tomatoes and I told her you’d love to have some!” I didn’t miss that opportunity to let my son know how God had used him to answer his mom’s prayer.
• A new necklace was all the rage and caught my eye several times as I saw it on the necks of other women. Usually I’m not much of a jewelry person, but there was something different about this particular necklace. I even found one for a reasonable price at a little home jewelry show and had it in my hand to buy it when I felt God nudging me to put it back. “But it’s a great price,” I told God—as if He didn’t know that. Again, I felt Him telling me to put it back. I will provide, I heard Him say. The following month we were visiting my stepsister, Becky, in Florida and I noticed that she was wearing that same necklace. I told her how much I liked it. “Oh,” she replied. “Do you want one? Because I got one for a gift and certainly don’t need two!” And just like that, I was the proud owner of a necklace I really wanted. And I didn’t have to spend a dime.
These are a few just examples of the countless times that God has shown us that He hears our prayers, He cares about the details, and He will move on our behalf. Sometimes we just have to be patient. And sometimes we have to learn to take no for an answer. Because I’ve seen God provide in miraculous ways, I’ve learned that when He says no, there has to be a good reason. And I must accept his no and move on instead of brooding over it. This process has taught me much about holding the things of this earth lightly—and has drawn me closer to the Father’s heart in the process. Through it all, we’ve indeed found hope in what could have been seen as a hopeless situation.
Do you need to find hope for your finances? The God of hope (Rom. 15:13) is waiting to show you the way out of debt and into freedom.
Read Genesis 6:5; Luke 2:19; and Hebrews 4:12. How do these verses relate our thought lives to the condition of our hearts?
Reflect, Discuss, Plan
1. Was it a different concept for you to think of money as being tied to your heart attitude instead of your thought life?
2. What heart attitude do you struggle with the most—commitment, obedience, surrender, or prayer? Is there a part of you that still wants to control the situation and is hesitant about involving your heart in the process?
3. In the car that night prior to Christmas, we took a big step toward getting out of debt, as we verbally committed to each other to do whatever it took to get out of debt. Has there been a time when you’ve taken this step with your spouse? Does there need to be?
4. Have money problems been the lowest point in your marriage? If so, why do you think that is?
Are you facing a particular situation that feels hopeless? (A bill that’s due, large amounts of debt to pay off, a purchase that needs to be made but no money to make it, etc.) Write down Romans 15:13 and then spend time praying that verse aloud. If you’re working through this book with your spouse, pray together.