Other Husband & Wife Articles

Financial Fix


The trouble money can cause

By Dennis Poust and Mary DeTurris Poust

Even in homes with no serious money issues, finances can become a point of contention. Add a little economic insecurity into the mix, and you have the makings of a potential disaster. In these troubled times, there’s no doubt that money matters can turn wedded bliss into dreaded stress. Here’s our take on how finances can make or break a marriage.

Mary’s View: When it comes to finances, I tend to be the more frugal one in our family. Truth be told, if not for Dennis’ relentless badgering about updating our technology, I’d be writing on a 12-year-old computer and talking on a cell phone the size of shoe. Whenever Dennis suggests we invest in something new, be it a new laptop or a new gas grill, my knee-jerk reaction is to say, “No way.” Not because I don’t like nice things, but because I worry about money.

So at our house, it has come down to real give and take when it comes to navigating the rocky waters of consumerism, budgeting and debt. After 15 years of practice, Dennis and I are like a well-oiled machine. Almost every week he puts the Best Buy flyer in front of me as I clip coupons across the table so I can see the fabulous deals with interest-free credit that extends for years, and every week I hand it back to him and say, “We don’t need it.” Eventually, usually months or years down the road, there will come a point where we reach an accord and either head to the store or decide it’s something we can do without.

Finances can be a real stumbling block for couples. If one or both spouses spend with abandon and rack up huge credit card bills, the whole family can suffer. On the other hand, if no one is ever willing to part with a dollar, even for necessary purchases, things aren’t going to be much better. There has to be a balance, an agreement on how much you can afford to spend on typical monthly expenses, on luxury or recreation, and on long-term savings.

Even if one partner is in charge of paying the actual bills, both husband and wife need to have a firm grasp on the overall financial health of the family. And both have to be able to trust that the other partner will honor the family’s budget, even if – or especially if – that budget is just about getting from one month to the next without falling behind.

Dennis’ View: Recently, we weathered a bit of a financial crisis in our family, when, without notice, Mary found out that a job payment she was expecting would not be coming any time soon, if at all. 

We were counting on the money to cover numerous bills and had to quickly make some tough decisions and reprioritize quite a bit as a result. We’re not big spenders to begin with, so we weren’t just trimming fat, we were cutting into bone. Those were tense days, as we sorted through how to reduce or eliminate living expenses to weather to storm. Adding to the tension were Mary’s feelings of guilt that somehow she had let me and the children down.

We’ve been lucky though. Many people face this kind of crisis all the time. For us, we’ve always had enough to get by, even if our long-term planning for our children’s college education consists solely of prayers for scholarships. It gave us a glimpse, though, into how financial problems can strain a marriage and impact a family. We were more short-tempered with our kids and each other as a result, and we found ourselves obsessing over the whole situation in an unhealthy, even un-Christian, way.

We hear all the time that finances are a major cause of marital discord and now I can really see for the first time just how that occurs. Our family life was strained from just a temporary financial hiccup. What must it be like to always be in fear of losing your home or not having food to put on the table? In our current economic crisis, with so many people losing their jobs and their security, marriages are going to be tested more than ever.

Pride is a strong emotion. Men, in particular, are conditioned to be the breadwinner in the household, and when that is challenged, problems can follow. It’s critical that when financial crises hit, spouses support one another emotionally and work together to simplify family life until the worst is over.

Dennis Poust is director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference. Mary DeTurris Poust, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Catholic Catechism,” blogs at www.notstrictlyspiritual.blogspot.com. They live in upstate New York with their three children.