Last year, two-thirds of American women identified financial strain as a major threat to their families, according to a survey by Meredith Corporation and NBC Universal. Without a doubt, money woes are widespread.
As all young couples soon discover, managing combined finances is a challenge, and debt can quickly take control. Before realizing what's happened, a couple may find that credit card and loan payments are eating up each month's paychecks.
If this has already happened to you, it's not too late to turn it all around. Take the opportunity of a new year to start afresh with your finances.
How big's the hole?
First, get a clear view of your situation by compiling a debt list and a financial statement. On your debt list, write everything you owe, including credit cards, student loans, mortgages, other loans and past-due bills. Once you've filled out the debt list, transfer the information to your financial statement under the category of "total liabilities."
Your financial statement is also the place where you'll list your assets, including cash, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, cash value of life insurance, coins, real estate, cars, furniture, jewelry, pension and retirement, and so forth. Add these to your financial statement as "total assets." Scan your completed financial statement to see what you might sell to help you get out of debt faster.
Where's it all going?
Next, keep track of every penny for the next 30 days. Carry some paper with you and write down everything you spend. Then, get together with your spouse each day to review what you spent and record it in a notebook. Begin each of these daily meetings by praying for the Lord's peace and for each other. This can be an emotional process through which you need to love and encourage one another.
You may find that you're spending more than you make and using credit cards to cover the shortfall. The average American spends $1.10 for every dollar earned. Cut expenses so that your income exceeds your spending.
Plan your spending
Finally, complete a monthly income and expenses form. This spending plan will help you decide where you want your money to go, rather than wondering where it went. Your form begins with your gross income, from which you will deduct taxes.
I also recommend that you deduct a tithe (10 percent of your income) to give to your church. Although tithing may seem counterproductive, your generosity is actually a key to becoming debt free. Acts 20:35 tells us, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
After these deductions, the remaining amount is your spendable income, which you use to pay for housing, food, transportation, savings, and so forth. You can download the debt list, the financial statement and the monthly income and expenses forms for free at Crown.org.
Work as a team
As you and your spouse work together on a spending plan, engage in open, honest communication. Strive to be unified in every area of life, including finances.
Be patient with each other and your different approaches to money. One spouse may like to get things done quickly; the other may need time to process and discuss. The key is flexibility and honesty. Don't rush the process. The hard work now will pay off later.
Finally, once you've drawn up your spending plan, the spouse who's more organized should do the accounting. Then, meet together weekly to examine your progress, discuss challenges and make needed adjustments.
Armed with a solid financial plan and plenty of healthy communication, you can achieve financial stability.