Brigham Young taught that we cannot separate the spiritual from the temporal, an idea that is the key to creating a successful financial management plan within an eternal marriage.
Within a marriage that is eternal, a spouse’s number-one priority needs to be spiritual. The greatest desire of each partner must be to develop a Christ-centered relationship based on loving and giving to the other. When this is the case, nothing (no thing that money can buy) will ever be allowed to come between them. However, in a marriage where the primary goal is temporal, to make as much money as possible and then use that money to accumulate as many things as money can buy, then the marital relationship, like the earthly goods obtained, is more likely to be temporary. Love and money are two great motivators that can contribute to creating a marriage that resembles either heaven or hell.
The nature of the connection between finances and feelings in a marital relationship is reflected in the way a family’s limited resources are allocated–how many of the resources are devoted to satisfying one’s own needs versus the needs of others. Depending on where a couple places their priorities, their relationship can be characterized as based on selfishness, convenience, commitment, charity, or devotion.
When a relationship is based on selfishness, satisfying one’s own needs becomes a top priority, and the needs of others are seldom, if ever, truly considered. A selfish relationship is based on getting rather than giving, and communication may include statements such as, “This is my money. I earned it, and I can spend it any way I want.” President Spencer W. Kimball declared:
The marriage that is based upon selfishness is almost certain to fail. The one who marries for wealth or the one who marries for prestige or social plane is certain to be disappointed. . . . But the one who marries to give happiness as well as receive it, to give service as well as to receive it, and looks after the interests of the two and then the family as it comes will have a good chance that the marriage will be a happy one. [Marriage (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), p. 44]
The give-and-take that President Kimball speaks of in a happy marriage is founded on Christlike love. Those who believe they can fill the emptiness in their lives with what they can get rather than what they can give will never know true satisfaction. An old adage still rings true: “You can never get enough of what you don’t need because what you don’t need can never satisfy you.” Yet many of us continue to consume at an unprecedented rate.
Milton Friedman, a Nobel Prize–winning economist, proposed that we do not consume based on our current earnings but on our expected future earnings. As a result, we tend to consume at a rate that exceeds our current income, fully expecting to pay off our ever-increasing debt with our future earnings.
To maintain this type of financial management plan, many couples use an “open-ended” budget–one in which expenditures increase as income increases, with no financial limit placed on either one. For example, if a couple earns $40,000 one year, they spend $50,000. If their income increases to $50,000, then they increase their spending to $60,000, and so forth. With this kind of budget, a couple will never arrive at a financial destination. Expenditures and income will merely become higher and higher, and those involved will occasionally look back with wonder at how they ever managed to get by with less than they are currently earning.
In contrast, those who use a “closed-ended” budget are able to reach certain financial goals and thereby attain a sense of having “arrived.” These couples may also experience an increase in income, but because they have answered a critical question, “What is enough?”, their expenditures will tend to level off as they reach a point of satisfaction. These individuals have determined what is sufficient for their needs–what is enough house, enough car, enough stereo equipment.
As a consequence, even though their ever-increasing income means they could qualify for more expensive items, what they choose to purchase is based on what would meet their needs and not on what they could afford or what would impress their neighbors. And since there is more money coming in than going out, the excess money is discretionary income, available for any purpose, including savings or investments.
Relationships based on financial convenience are those wherein one partner is allowed only limited access to the other’s resources. In these relationships, the needs of the partner are sometimes considered; however, the partner’s needs are acted upon only when it is convenient to do so. The prevailing attitude in such relationships is, “I’ll allow you to satisfy your needs as long as it doesn’t inconvenience me.”
For instance, one spouse may be “too busy” to stop and pick up clothes at the cleaners or “too strapped” to share a $10 bill with the other. In such relationships, it never seems too inconvenient to borrow money for something one spouse may think is important, but somehow they “can’t afford” to incur debt for items the other spouse may wish to buy.
Unfortunately, far too many loans are granted to couples who do not actually qualify for the loan. Among the more important information requested in a loan application is a list of current financial obligations. The applicant normally lists all current monthly installments–mortgage or rent, credit-card payments, car loans, etc. The loan officer then compares the total monthly outgo with the monthly income.
For many frugal, responsible Mormon couples this procedure concludes with the loan officer saying, “Even though your income-to-debt ratio is right on the edge, you seem to be stable and trustworthy, so I will stretch things a little and grant you the loan.”
As good as this may seem, in reality it is a blueprint for financial disaster. This family has just gone from barely making it to being buried. “How come?” you may ask.
The answer lies in the fact that most faithful Mormon families do not list tithing, fast offerings, and mission payments when they fill out their loan applications because these payments are considered voluntary, charitable contributions rather than contractual debts. But as Brigham Young pointed out, the spiritual cannot be separated from the temporal. If these spiritual obligations were listed in the same way as a boat or RV payment, the applicants might not qualify for an additional layer of debt, and their loan application would be denied.
A relationship based on emotional and financial commitment is created when each spouse allows the other unlimited access to his or her resources, even when it is inconvenient. In such a relationship each partner sees the other as both an eternal companion and a friend. In essence, each is declaring, “When you have a need, my friend, come to me.”
Unlimited access means, “If I have it and you need it, then it’s yours.” Each person consents to be vulnerable, trusting that his or her partner will not exploit such unlimited access, and having faith that the partner will reciprocate in kind.
A fourth kind of relationship, one that is even more Christlike, is based on charity–a willingness to give without expecting to be repaid. In this type of relationship, the needs of others are considered as important as one’s own. In such a relationship each partner finds joy in sacrificing in order to satisfy the needs of the other.
For instance, one spouse may sell a treasured personal item in order to buy something needed by his or her loved one. This kind of charitable love is illustrated in the classic Christmas story “The Gift Of The Magi,” in which the husband, having no money to buy his wife a Christmas gift, pawned his watch to buy a comb for her beautiful long hair. Not knowing this, the wife, also penniless, sold cuttings of her hair to buy a chain for her husband’s watch.
Devotion is the keystone to a truly loving, Christ-centered relationship. In a relationship based on devotion, each partner actively seeks opportunities to serve the other. Each spouse tries to anticipate the needs of the other and attempts to gratify them even before they arise.
Partners in such relationships might say things like, “I thought you might be getting thirsty, so I brought you some lemonade,” or, “I thought you might need time alone, so I took the children to the park.”
Such love is most often expressed in serving the other, and neither partner ever feels diminished by his or her service. On the contrary, each finds fulfillment and completion.
President Kimball, counseling a young married couple, admonished:
Your love, like a flower, must be nourished. There will come a great love and interdependence between you, for your love is a divine one. . . . It is devotion and companionship, parenthood, common ideals and standards. It is cleanliness of life and sacrifice and unselfishness. This kind of love never tires nor wanes. It lives on through sickness and sorrow, through prosperity and privation, through accomplishment and disappointment, through time and eternity. [The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. by Edward L. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982), p. 248]
Bernard E. Poduska is a BYU associate professor of family life.