Monday, November 13, 2023

Anonymous Asks (275)

“Should a couple be financially stable before getting married?”

Anybody who reads here regularly probably knows I have repeatedly encouraged young men to get their financial house in order not just prior to marriage, but prior to getting into any serious relationship with a young woman. The reason should be obvious: if you find yourself without sufficient self-control and employability to manage your own finances, what business do you have inviting someone else to share your life with you?

And that’s before we even consider the cost of bringing children into the world and raising them together.

A Man’s Responsibility Before God

The New Testament is quite clear about a man’s financial responsibility to his wife and family. “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” “Owe no one anything, except to love each other.”

Most young Christian men grasp that we can sum up the teaching of the New Testament for men in the words “work hard, live debt free and generate a surplus”, and so develop a positive work ethic and a recognition that they have an obligation before God to be the primary income source for their family, as well as an ongoing financial blessing to others. Still, financial instability can arise from a number of sources: debt incurred in the past, living above one’s means in the present, risk taking, poor spending priorities, inexperience, investments that didn’t pan out, bad employment choices, laziness or even an unexpected change of circumstances.

Ideally, any of these encounters with disaster produces a “Once bitten, twice shy” mentality in a young Christian man.

Financial Stressors in Marriage

Every list of stressors within marriage includes finances, and it’s usually right at the top. A couple that goes into marriage with one or both parties financially unstable is asking for trouble. I would say to every young man, clear up your school debt before you even think of entering into a serious relationship. If you can’t wait to do that, then don’t incur debt to go to school. If you want to calculate how long clearing up debt may take, consider that most student loans are structured to be paid off in ten years, which is an awfully long time when you are young and eager to be married. In reality, it’s much worse. The average length of time it takes to pay off a student loan is in the 21-year range. The argument is often made that borrowing to get a degree increases your chances of getting a high paying job. This may or may not be true, but one thing is certain: the more high-paying the job you are trying to get, the longer it takes to acquire the necessary accreditation, the more money you have to borrow, and the likelier you are to take twenty years to pay it back rather than ten. The resulting impact on home and vehicle ownership is significant.

I have known men who borrowed for school and paid off their debt in less than ten years, but they didn’t borrow much, they were very disciplined about repaying it, and they didn’t get into a serious relationship until the debt was discharged. It can be done, but it’s hard work, and if you miss out on somebody you were very interested in because the time is clearly not yet right for you, you may regret having borrowed at all.

This is not to say that a Christian marriage burdened with major financial stress is doomed, but it is something to consider carefully. Single women especially should consider that carrying large amounts of debt is likely to hurt your chances of marrying a high quality man. For most of the committed young Christian men I know, a woman in debt is giant red light, or maybe a fire alarm.

Getting Practical

So let’s get practical:

Knowing what I know now, I would never counsel a young man to marry a woman who cannot manage to live within her means, or has invested heavily in qualifying for a high paying career. The first shows lack of self-control, the latter sub-Christian priorities. Either problem will come back to hurt you as a couple later on. Instead, look for a woman who is currently living debt free and working in a modest job she is willing to discard at the drop of a hat in order to raise a family.

For women, never marry a man who is carrying debt. Marriage will only get him deeper in. Even if you are super-careful about keeping your finances in order, he is already showing evidence he hasn’t learned that lesson yet. Never marry a man who is unsure how he is going to earn a living, or who quits jobs when he has no income source to replace them. You will wind up carrying him on your back. Never marry a man who thinks you need to keep working for his financial plan to pan out. He’s not taking his responsibility to provide seriously enough. Never marry a man who lets his job satisfaction determine whether he will carry on with it until something better comes along. He will always put himself first in your relationship. Be very careful about marrying an entrepreneur unless he has proven himself financially. There can be many unexpected bumps in the road along the way.

For both of you, never put the other through college or university. Whatever the potential payoff, it’s not worth the risk.

The Cost of Children

Now, I am not saying you have to save $100,000 before you think about getting married, or that you should ever consider some of the nonsense statistics floated around in the secular world to discourage young couples from having children. For example, CNBC suggests you should have a year’s salary socked away before having a child. TheBalance advises not to have a child until you have $1,082 in disposable income every month that you are ready to part with for ongoing costs, and until you are able to save for their college or university education at the same time. If everyone took such gloom-and-doom-mongering seriously, nobody would have children.

I would ignore all that. Concentrate on staying out of debt and learning to give generously to the work of the Lord. If you are committed to living within your means, the rest will take care of itself. In my experience, older Christian couples are very generous with committed young people in their churches. It’s amazing how the cost of having children diminishes if you are willing to accept what your fellow believers have to offer rather than demanding the latest and best of everything for your children. I grew up wearing hand-me-downs and donated items, and suffered no great loss because of it. Being financially stable is a responsible thing to do, but being too terrified to attempt a life together unless you’re in the top 20% of income earners is the opposite problem.

Truth in Advertising

“So Tom,” you say, “Did you actually apply any of that good advice to yourself in your twenties?” Good question. The answer is a resounding “Not even slightly.” Sometimes you learn by doing things right. Other times, you learn by doing them catastrophically wrong and having to live with the consequences. Nevertheless, a lesson learned is a lesson learned, however painfully truth has been drummed into your head along the way. If the only way you learn is by trial and error, well, have at it.

I do think there are safer and happier methods though.

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