How I Turned My Financial Ship Around
This post is going to be somewhat personal. I don’t like to talk about myself or the past but it is on my heart to do so because it relates to the topic I want to talk about.
I’ve encountered many married couples stressed out about their finances. Said another way, there was stress in the marriage and messed-up finances were seen as a cause of the stress. In most cases, there was more to the story than just money causing the stress. But mismanagement of money was the most visible thing the couples could point to.
Statistics vary but almost every study about divorce in America concludes that “money issues” are one of the top reasons why couples split. Sadly, that was the case for me in my first marriage.
The Back Story
I was married to my first wife for six years. We never had kids, thankfully. My career was advancing nicely and I was getting paid more and more each year. She was trying to build a business.
We were very busy people. As I was taking on more responsibility in my career I was often working 12-14+ hour days. Get in at 5:30am and leave at 6:00pm or later. If I wanted to keep up my ‘success’ this was the price I was determined to pay to keep the funds flowing in. Since she was building a business, she was also very busy and would work as many hours as I would.
Almost from Day 1 of us getting married we were a financial mess. We had no budget and zero control over our spending. She was plowing money into her business and I was enjoying the “fruits” of my career success by engaging in relentless materialism. Remember those lines at the Apple store for the launch of the iPhone 3G? I stood in line for four hours and paid whatever I had to pay to get that phone. One for me, one for her.
At first, it didn’t dawn on me that we were living a lie. Even with all the money I was making we “needed” my bonus to be good at the end of the year to pay off credit cards. Nor did it strike me as odd that her business still wasn’t profitable even though we had invested tens of thousands of dollars into it.
The Lightbulb Goes Off
This lasted for about four years before a lightbulb finally started to flicker in my head. We were on an unsustainable path financially and as a couple. Countless hours spent working to maintain our income had taken their toll. I didn’t know her and she didn’t know me. Once we got to that point the only thing we could agree on was that money was a problem.
There’s “more to the story,” as there usually is in cases of couples divorcing for money reasons. But by the time our sixth anniversary was approaching, we were getting divorced. Luckily, it was an amicable split, but a costly one both emotionally and financially. I wouldn’t wish that trauma on anyone.
36 and Broke
I was sitting in a Cook County courtroom waiting for my name to get called so that we could finalize the divorce. That was the moment everything started to sink in. I spent three hours watching one broken family after another walk up to the judge’s bench. Each spouse would spend a couple of minutes explaining their side of the story. Emotions were high and anger was the norm. And then their marriage was over.
I was 36-½ years old. As I started to look at taking my first step into the future as a divorced man, my reality became very clear to me. I was penniless despite all the career success and the hundreds of thousands of dollars of income that I had earned along the way. The divorce was costly. And as I took inventory, this is what I had to my name:
- No cash
- A house that was $100,000 underwater (i.e. my mortgage was more than the house was worth)
- A Chevy Tahoe that was $30,000 underwater
- A small retirement account
- My dog, Molly
If I had died that day, my “estate” would have owed money. Crazy. I didn’t own a damn thing other than my dog.
God is Graceful
Being at wit’s end and not knowing how on earth to begin my new life I decided to try out this “God thing.” I found a great church that happened to be two blocks away from my underwater home. As I started reading the Bible I came across Psalms 51 which forever changed me. I was at rock bottom and gave my life to Christ.
Not long after, I met Glenda. We’ve now been married for over 6 years. She is such a gift I don’t have the words to describe what she means to me. As she told me early on in our relationship “I’m just a woman from Guatemala with three kids that loves Jesus.” She lives that life every single day.
When we decided to marry, I was determined not to repeat the same mistakes I had made before. My emotions were still raw so I wanted to make sure that Glenda and I started off our marriage with a firm financial foundation. We took Financial Peace University at our church. We started a budget. We started paying off all the debt I had built up during my free-spending years. And I started to take advantage of the 401k I had at work.
The most difficult financial decision we had to make – correction….I had to make – was to begin tithing at church. When we did our first budget, we had exactly $200 left over to “play” with for each two week period between my paychecks. Glenda said we should start tithing. I couldn’t stand the thought of giving away what little extra money we had. But I trust Glenda, so we started to tithe and support some other Christian ministries.
My words alone cannot fully explain what transpired after making that decision. All I can say is that God’s grace and mercy are neverending.
“He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”
2 Corinthians 9:10-11
Money isn’t everything
Let me be 100% clear here. Money is NOT the key to happiness. The fact that Glenda and I have a great marriage today is NOT because we are on a budget, have retirement savings, or tithe.
But I learned in my first marriage that money can be used to paper over more fundamental, emotional issues. Lack of trust. Lack of communication. You can spend money and buy short-term material happiness to paper over these issues for a while, but not forever.
Once the real issues become too big to ignore, money becomes the convenient scapegoat for what’s wrong in the marriage. Don’t let this happen to you.
Getting on the same page with your spouse about your family’s finances is so much more than dollars and cents. This is where you plan your future – together. This is where you make important family decisions – together. This is where you deal with short-term struggles – together. Trust builds and lines of communication open up when you work together on something as important as your family’s money.
It’s NEVER too late to start turning things around
I share this story because I’ve seen other couples struggle with the same issue. The good news is that it’s correctable.
Are money problems causing stress in your marriage? Do you feel like you’re “too old” or that things are too far gone to fix? I get it. You’ve made mistakes. You’re in a financial pickle and it’s causing friction between you and your spouse.
But I’m here to tell you that it’s never too late to turn your marriage and your money around. I don’t care if you’re 36 or 46 or 56. You can turn the ship around. Don’t make the mistake that I did by waiting until my marriage was already in ruin. You don’t want to go through that, I can promise you. But if that ship already sailed, you can still turn your financial life around.
Find some common ground with your spouse. If money is an issue, come together as a couple and decide – together – that fixing this problem is Priority #1. It takes a lot of effort and a big dose of humility. Leave the past in the past. Confess your sins to one another and forgive each other. And then get on with it.
When I work with couples on their finances I always like to start with the fundamentals. Getting on a budget. Paying down debt. Building up emergency funds and financial cushion into your life. And then – after all that – we plan for the future. Actually, YOU plan for the future. Your shared future as a couple. It’s the right way to do things and it’s Biblical as well.
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”
Take the Next Step
If you’re ready to take this on, I call upon you to contact me. No obligation. It’s your chance to ask questions and see what my guidance can do for you and your family. Click below and let’s have a talk.
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