A financial crisis like a job loss can put enormous stress on a marriage and a family. But it can also bring deeper problems to the surface that can turn it into a blessing in disguise.
For instance, Sara and Tom always considered themselves a typical American family when it came to their household finances. They each worked full-time, carried some credit card debt, and generally lived within their means.
But in the back of her mind, Sara knew something wasn’t right. Whenever she sat down to pay the bills, she felt a sense of fear and insecurity. “We’ve always been okay financially. We didn’t overspend and we are not extravagant people, but we didn’t have an emergency fund,” she said.
In a financial bind
Like many people, Sara and Tom [I’ve changed their names to respect their privacy] felt there was no reason to expect a financial crisis. They both have good jobs—Tom is in the New Jersey state government, Sara is a sixth-grade science teacher—where they’ve worked for more than 20 years. But in the spring of 2004 Tom had to stop working due to a serious illness, putting the family in a bind.
“We needed to learn how to live on one salary when we were just doing okay on two salaries. We didn’t know how we were going to do it,” Sara said.
I met Sara and Tom through Good $ense, a financial counseling ministry I serve with through our church. While a crisis had prompted them to seek counseling, it was evident that Sara and Tom often were not on the same page financially. Sara is more of a saver, Tom more of a spender. Money was often a source of conflict in their marriage.
Accountable to their budget
As their counselor, I helped Sara and Tom examine their income, assets, and spending patterns. They learned how to create a spending plan for their family each month, something they had never been able to do before. Each time we met, they stayed accountable as to how well each was sticking to the plan. As they began to monitor their budget and plan together how to pay their bills with less income, the stress and conflict caused by the money problems subsided.
“[The counseling] put us on the right track,” said Tom. Sara agreed, “It helped me to feel secure and safe when everything felt out of control.”
A catalyst for positive change
Thankfully, Tom has since recovered from his illness and is working again. Though the emergency is over, the lessons on budgeting and getting on the same financial page have stuck with them. A crisis turned into a catalyst for positive change in their marriage and financial life.
“The funny thing is, we were more financially together during that time of our lives than ever before,” Tom said.
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