If you think about it, every family has a financial policy, written or unwritten, even if it’s a policy to live in chaos and make it up as they go along. Yet every family needs a well-conceived financial policy—the guardrails that keep a couple on the same route going up the mountain. Following are the principles—the beliefs that came from our thinking separately and together—that inform the Peel family financial policy.
1. Responsibility. Taking care of things is not only wise stewardship; it’s a smart move financially. As I came to learn, cars last longer when you change the oil every 3,000 miles. Like the mechanic comparing a $25 oil change to a $4,500 engine replacement: “Pay me now or pay me later.”
2. Personal productivity. From the beginning, Bill and I were in lockstep on the work ethics we each inherited. If something we wanted was outside our budget, we brainstormed ways to earn extra income—tutor, house-sit, start another home-based business. When our family changed houses, we found do-it-yourself moving options. We bought used furniture and refinished or reupholstered it ourselves. We bought home repair books and got handy with wallpaper, fixtures, and even the mysterious region under the sink. Saving money became a game, and we like wearing the same jersey.
3. Honesty. Here’s another one Bill and I both grew up on: honesty is the only policy. Nothing worth having is worth fibbing or fudging to get.
4. Generosity. It was Winston Churchill who said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” We knew we wanted to live with open hands and be a family of givers, and we brainstormed ways to do it.”
5. Personal identity. We are not what we own, wear, or drive. If a fad, fashion, or activity becomes a must, a red flag goes up in our minds right away. Bill and I both believe character is identity; when we allow circumstances to mold us into lesser versions of ourselves, that’s the touchstone we return to.
6. Relational equity. Spending time and/or money to build relationships and create shared memories is a good investment. Think of it as a dollar cost averaging for your marriage or relationship with a child, where you make small investments over time. If you wait until you think you can afford it, it could be too late. For example, a woman told me that in 30 years of marriage, she and her husband only went on two vacations alone together. In the early years of their marriage, they created an elaborate plan to save money every month so they would have a significant nest egg when it was time to retire. Not a bad thing to do, but not if a plan controls your life and harms relationships. If putting a certain amount of money away each month (and not touching it) is always more important than spending money on date nights, romantic weekends, anniversary trips, or couples’ retreats, something needs to be adjusted. Now that their kids are out of the nest and her husband has retired, they have their nest egg all right, but their relationship is cracking.
7. Definition of a bargain. I grew up wearing nice clothes because my mother owned dress shops and her daughters were walking advertisements for her business. In addition to inheriting her taste, I learned that well-made garments, though more expensive, usually last longer. It took me a while to convince Bill that one well-made suit was better than several bargain versions.
8. No “yours” and “mine.”Marriage is a total commitment of all you are and have to each other. Holding on to “your” money sends a clear signal that you’re not fully committed to the relationship and often leads to separate lives and little accountability. If you decide to have separate checking accounts, do so with an attitude of openness and answerability.
9. Enjoying God’s blessings.Although the Bible outlines a number of uses for money, one purpose is for the enjoyment of God’s blessings. Wealth isn’t meant for our wasteful indulgence, but God “richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17).
10. Contentment. None of us always gets what we want or think we deserve. Welcome to life. Sometimes we get more, sometimes less, but most of the time we have more than we need. The goal is contentment.
Life is predictably unpredictable. Every one of our children had birth complications; each birth drained our resources. Years later unexpected business circumstances threw us into new financial peril. A few years after that, my four breast cancer surgeries set off insurance company fireworks. With each crisis, as the Family Manager, I had to ask myself hard questions.
Would I let tough times make me bitter or better?
During a crisis, what would be the tone in our home?
If something positive was to come from difficult situations, I knew that to a large extent, the possibility rose or fell with my attitude. As a family, we resolved to pull together and keep our collective attitude creatively and consciously focused on our blessings. Scanning past the things we couldn’t do, we fixed our gaze on the long list of things we could do—many of them free or low cost. As it turns out, three of life’s greatest gifts bear neither price tag nor bar code: laughter, music, and nature—all are free. So what if we couldn’t take the entire family to a traveling Broadway play on opening night? We could rent a video, pop popcorn, and prop our feet on the coffee table. For that matter, we could catch a matinee.
Now that you know our family’s fiscal policy, I urge you and your spouse to begin working to articulate your own. Make separate lists of what you each think matters and then look for the items that overlap—that shared real estate in the Venn diagram of the things you both value. When you’re finished, you’ll feel new energy from information, insights, and ideas that may not have occurred to either of you at the start.
Taken with permission from The Busy Couple’s Guide to Sharing the Work and the Joy by Kathy Peel.