Missionary Marriage Issues:
You Spent It on WHAT?
Dr. Ronald Koteskey
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these two plausible vignettes. Which one would occur is a matter of timing.
Following a devastating flood in a nearby slum he often drove through,
John went to the bank to get money from their account to provide relief for
flood victims. He was shocked to find that nearly all the money had been
withdrawn a few days before.
When he asked Mary what had happened to the money, she told him she had
used it to buy a prom dress for their daughter Julie. He said, “You spent it
on WHAT? It could have helped many flood victims. Now it will just be worn
once and then packed away.”
Vignette 2: (You can see this coming)
Near the end of the school year Mary went to the bank to get money from
their account to buy Julie a prom dress. She was shocked to find that nearly
all of the money had been withdrawn a few days before.
When she asked John what had happened to the money, he told her he had
used it to provide relief for the flood victims. She said, “You spent it on
WHAT? We had been saving that for months for Julie. Now she will have
nothing new to wear to her last big social event at school.”
The use of money is a major source of disagreement in many marriages. This
may occur even more in missionary marriages, especially if poverty is more
noticeable than in a couple’s passport culture.
What does the Bible say?
Though it is not in the context of marriage, the Bible deals specifically
with the “You spent it on WHAT?” question. Look at the implications of these
dramatic events in Jesus life as recorded in Matthew 26, Mark 14, and John 12.
While eating dinner in Bethany, a woman came and poured a bottle of very
expensive perfume on Jesus. Note the difference between his followers’ reactions
and the reactions of Jesus himself.
First, his followers’ reactions:
- They were indignant, furious.
- They asked, “Why this waste?”
- They said, “Sell it for a year’s wages.”
- They suggested, “Give the money to the poor.”
- They generally criticized what she did. Second, Jesus’ reactions:
- Aware of their actions, Jesus intervened.
- Jesus said, “Why are you bothering her?
- Jesus praised her for her actions.
- He went on, “You’ll always have the poor, but not me.”
- He concluded, “What she has done will always be remembered with
We must remember that God counts offerings very differently. The disciples
saw the woman’s offering as wasted, but Jesus saw it as wonderful as indicated
when he saw the poor widow put in two small coins. He noted that she had put in
more than anyone else, even those who had put in large amounts of money (Mark
12, Luke 21). Now consider some things that couples can do to reduce the
conflict over how money is spent.
Plan your spending.
Most people refer to this plan as a budget. Budgets for missionaries vary
widely depending on where they live since the cost of living varies from country
to country. People living in a jungle village will probably have smaller amounts
and different categories of expenses than those living in major metropolitan
areas. Make a list of your necessities, including at least the following, plus
other categories relevant to where you live.
- Tithe and offerings
- Transportation “home”
- Other anticipated expenses and savings.
Most of these are obvious, but some need explanation. Malachi 3 cautions not
to rob God. If you do not include at least your tithes in the budget, you are
unlikely to have any “leftover money” for these, not to say anything about an
offering. In marriage two become one financially, and your offerings are part of
your stewardship together.
People remaining in their passport countries do not have to budget money to
go home. However, expats often return to their passport country every year or
two, and they need to plan for that large expense.
Agree on a limit.
Husband and wife should agree on a limit as to how much money each can spend
without discussing it with the other. This is to prevent problems, such as, “You
spent it on WHAT?” If both of them have similar views of money, setting a limit
may be easy.
However if they have different views, this may require considerable
negotiation. The “spender” (shop-a-holic) may want the limit set at $200—while
the “saver” (control freak) may want to set it at $10. This couple needs to
talk, listen, negotiate, and compromise to reach an amount they are comfortable
with, at least one they can live with.
The budget and the limit may be revised at any time, but it should be
reconsidered at least annually. Other things need to be discussed more often,
Have money meetings.
The budget is a plan, and it is rather theoretical. After the rent and
utilities are paid, groceries are purchased, clothes are bought, money given at
church, etc., then the couple is faced with what to do with the money left (if
any). This is “where the rubber meets the road.” It is no longer theory, but
What is left is your discretionary income, and you can choose how this is
spent. It will be different for each couple. One person wants the latest
electronic gadget while the other wants cable TV. One wants to buy books while
the other wants to buy rhe latest DVDs. One wants a flat screen TV while the
other wants to go out to more movies. One wants to go on a cruise while the
other wants to hire a guide to hunt. Of course, do not forget about setting
aside some savings. All of these require discussion and compromise.
One couple may want to cut back on “necessities” by moving to a smaller
house, eating at restaurants less, or wearing old clothes longer. Another couple
may want to increase income by taking a second job or the spouse taking a job.
Share the responsibility.
If missionaries lived in their passport countries, many could pay their
utilities from the comfort of their homes by mailing a check, calling in their
credit card number, via online access to their bank accounts, or even having
them automatically deducted from their accounts each month. They can buy
groceries for the whole week at the local supermarket in an hour.
However, in their host country, paying utility bills may take many hours
spread over several days and buying food may be a daily task of going to the
market and negotiating prices with vendor after vendor. In these cases it is
best for husband and wife to share these time consuming money tasks.
Avoid credit card debt.
Missionaries today face a temptation not available before 1950, credit card
debt. Credit cards are very convenient and help avoid carrying much cash, but
they may become a problem for some people. If you charge so much that you are
unable to pay the card off in full at the end of each month, you are living
beyond your means.
Credit card interest is nearly always higher than interest from a secured
loan. Therefore, not being able to pay off the card is not only a first warning
that you are headed for trouble but also it means that you are taking on higher
interest—interest that may be raised at any time by the credit card company.
It is little wonder that Romans 13:8 cautions, “Let no debt remain
outstanding.” If you cannot pay the card off a second month, you begin paying
interest on the interest added at the end of the first month. That first month
is the warning. If no action is taken, the compounding of interest tends to
become a vicious cycle.
Find the problem.
Conflicts about money are often over other issues, and it helps to uncover
these deeper issues. Here are some examples.
- “Spender vs saver:” “Let’s do… vs. No, that costs too much”
- “Now vs later” “We need a new…vs. Why, our old one is OK for a while”
To each his and her own
but not least—and probably MOST important. Each person needs some “No questions
asked” money. This is an agreed upon amount that is literally given to each
person each pay period, and neither one has to account to the other for how it
is spent, or not spent. Savers can save it. Spenders can spend it. Givers can
give it. Procrastinators can hide it under their mattress until they decide what
they want to do with it. If they want to do random acts of kindness, they can
walk along the street and give it to anyone they meet.
The amount is not nearly as important as the fact that the money is just that
person’s. He or she does not have to ask for it. Neither is there need to
justify it. Each is the full steward of it, responsible to no one but God as to
how it is spent.
Money is a leading cause of marital conflict, but it can also be a part of
marital satisfaction. Talking about money and agreeing together how to use it
can improve your marriage relationship.