16 May 2012

Two cents’ worth

A student recently wrote in his paper that he was worried if he did not provide well for all his new bride’s material and financial needs and wants, he might ruin their relationship.

Wow.

Is this what marriage has become in the U.S.? Meeting the material needs and wants of your spouse? Is that why so many marriages fail? Because women want to be able to spend $150 on a purse and can’t abide a husband who disagrees? Because the husband spends $450 a month on a brand-new car but can’t afford to pay the bills on time?

I remember our premarital counselor—as much as we ever had one—telling us that finances are one of the biggest problems in marriage. Another friend told me that it is one of the five things that couples most often fight about.

This has me completely floored. As an American, I am definitely materialistic. There is no sense in pretending I’m less worldly than those around me. I used to stand on a pedestal in my mind, when I first came to the U.S. in 2000. I thought I was better than my fellow college students because I didn’t “need” so many things, because I could do without. Who was I trying to fool?

Yes, I have lived in financial constraint for most of my life. Yes, I grew up with conservative (and poor) parents who spent their money wisely and saved it even more wisely. My mom was a penny-pincher, plain and simple. She learned it from her mom, who was also a missionary, back when that meant something different than it does today, back when missionaries were very poor, when they didn’t get to furlough every other year or go on retreats to Switzerland.

I grew up learning to do without, wearing hand-me-downs and thrift store clothing, eating generic brand cereal, and riding around in a not-quite-so-new station wagon. Of course, living in Nigeria was another world altogether, where we had a million times more materially than those around us. And yet I still managed to feel like we were in want. We didn’t get to take vacations to Europe or other countries in Africa. We still wore many thrift store clothes.

So I’ve always had this mentality that I can survive without stuff. Now that I’m grown up and live in the U.S., of course I want stuff. It accumulates. Much of it I get on sale or free, but it’s still just stuff. And yet I can’t think of a single time I’ve felt that a lack of stuff would ruin my marriage.

While I do of course think it is vital for a family to be able to survive on their income(s), it is survival that matters. Everything else is just frosting on the cake. If I want a $150 purse, I will find a way to work and make that money myself! As long as we are fed, clothed, and sheltered, what else truly matters? My heart aches for a young man who thinks his family might fall apart because he can’t provide for his wife’s whims. Even in the midst of unemployment when even needs are barely being met, when food is scarce or credit card debt is mounting, it seems like that should be a time of unity, a time of solidarity. Being poor is so much easier to tolerate when you’re not doing it alone!

So, Mr. Newlywed out there, if your wife would leave you because you can’t afford that $150 purse, you’ve got serious issues you need to work through. I truly hope she is a keeper and someone who will shake it off and love you even more for being money wise.

There, that’s my two cents’ worth.