Making no effort to be quiet, Graham comes to bed. It's about 1:00 A.M. Anna has been asleep for three hours, but she's wide awake now.
"Anna," says Graham, "we're never going to make it if you keep spending so much money."
Stress squeezed Anna's stomach. She knows Graham has been working on their finances. She'd like to pretend she didn't hear him, but figures she can't.
She turns toward him. "Honey, what can I do? I try not to spend too much. There are things we need."
Graham sighs. "We need $50 worth of makeup from Dillard's? We need $120 worth of groceries a week? We need to buy new furniture for the living room and put up new curtains? These are not needs, Hon."
Anna stares at the ceiling, "Okay, the furniture and the curtains may not be needs, but my makeup and --"
Graham interrupts, "Honey, you're beautiful. You don't need to spend that kind of money on makeup."
"But that's what it costs. And I don't buy it that often." She tries to snuggle next to Graham, but he pulls away.
"Are you kidding?" he says, "I'm so stressed out, and you think you can just cuddle up and be cute and it'll all be okay. You've got to take some responsibility here, Anna. Things are not okay."
As Graham and Anna have found, it can be a huge problem between husband and wife when one of them spends -- or seems to spend -- too much. But it's a problem the two of you can face and conquer together, especially if you keep the following principles in mind.
1. Understand that you're on the same team when it comes to finances. Chances are that neither of you wants to be told by your spouse exactly how much you can spend or where you can spend it. This doesn't communicate a respect or trust for one another.
You can start by agreeing that you both want the same things concerning money -- a certain amount of security and a certain amount of freedom. Those amounts may not be the same, but the general goals are. More importantly, you both want to emphasize the health of your relationship over the details of accounting.
When you're on the same team, it's easier to come up with creative solutions to spending disagreements. For instance, Graham and Anna might decide that each spouse will have a certain number of dollars set aside for grooming supplies each month or each quarter -- rather than spending "as needed" on a "need" that hasn't been agreed upon.
2. Understand the underlying reasons why your spouse overspends. Let's say a husband and wife go to the mall. The wife buys face powder and the man buys a computer program. Neither accuses the other of overspending.
But what if these people feel compelled to go back to the mall the next day or week? What if the wife buys the newest trend in eye makeup and lipstick? What if the man buys another piece of software he doesn't really require and a memory expansion card that allows him to use it? They may be trying to meet needs that purchases can't satisfy.
You've probably heard a variety of reasons for overspending: deprived childhood, privileged childhood, depression, anxiety, the thrill of the hunt. All of these have one thing in common: a search for security. Consciously or not, the spender thinks something like, "If I have this, I'll be in style." Or, "I'll be accepted." Or, "I'll be safe." Or, "I'll be okay."
Buying things doesn't provide real security. It does nothing to change God's love for us. Due to the consumerism so prevalent in our culture, it's an ongoing battle for many people to let go of the fleeting gratification of things for the long-term security of a relationship with God through Christ.
Before making a purchase, husbands and wives need to ask themselves, "What am I trying to do?" If the answer has anything to do with finding fulfillment or escaping stress or pain, don't buy the item. It will never meet that need. Instead, take your quest for security to your heavenly Father and find it in Him.
If your spouse struggles in this area, support him or her in seeking security from God instead of goods. A pastor or counselor can help.
3. Understand what things cost and how often they must be purchased. People often enter marriage with very different experiences of spending, saving and tithing -- and preconceived ideas about what things should cost.
Take that husband and wife at the mall, for example. He buys a piece of computer software; she buys makeup from a department store. Each experiences "sticker shock" over the other's purchase.
"How can you spend that much for a little eyebrow pencil?" the husband protests. "You can't get a whole box of Magic Markers for the same price!"
"Look who's talking," says the wife. "You just spent more on that computer tax program than it cost to hire that guy to do our taxes last year."
Both partners end up on the defensive.
Marriage counselors sometimes have couples go through lists of purchases, mark down what they think the price of those items would be, and compare notes. Something like this may be worthwhile if the two of you struggle with the costs of each other's purchases. You may also want to divide the same list into wants and needs, indicate how often you think each item should be purchased, and compare results.
Knowing a certain computer program is purchased once, with upgrades bought every year, for example, will help spouses agree on the real cost. So will learning that $20 worth of powder could last three months for some women and six months for others.
4. Understand that you must live on less than you earn. Living from one paycheck to the next isn't comfortable for anyone. It can lead each of you to feel taken for granted, used, and insecure about the future of your marriage and finances. That insecurity is heightened when you ask the question, "What if I lost my job?"
The real problem may not be your spouse's spending or earning, but a failure to budget. That was true of Graham and Anna.
Let's look in on them three months later.
They've been working on their finances, reviewing their spending and goals once a week. They've disciplined themselves to take from one area to cover another so that they don't bust their new budget.
Over a cup of coffee Graham says, "Okay, Anna, I've finished looking at our finances for this month."
"I think we did better," Anna says. "I spent more on groceries than we planned, though. Like detergent and fabric softener and stuff."
"So," Graham replies, "that explains the $150 bill at Sam's instead of the usual $100."
"Yeah," Anna says.
"How long do fabric softener and detergent usually last us?"
"At least six months."
"So it's not something we have to buy every 30 days," says Graham.
Anna shakes her head. "No, no."
Graham sighs, relieved.
Excerpted from The First Five Years of Marriage (Tyndale House Publishers.). Copyright (c) 2006 by Focus on the Family. General Editors: Phillip J. Swihart, Ph.D. and Wilford Wooten, L.M.F.T. All rights reserved. Used with permission.