5 Personal Finance Tips for Blended Families
by Christy Schutz
In 2003, due to circumstances outside my control, I suddenly was thrust into the life of a single mother. Not only did I have the emotional turmoil of divorce but I faced the difficult task of rebuilding my life financially. My relationship with Christ Jesus saved me during this difficult time, allowing me a peace that passed all understanding. By God’s grace my heart slowly healed, and eventually God led me to open my mind to the idea of finding a new partner.
When I first met my current husband, Don, several things about him struck me. A reluctant divorcé himself, he was a believer, had a great sense of humor, and was madly in love with his daughters. In the earlier times of our relationship, most of our “dates” happened at church, where we worshiped and grew in our knowledge of the Word of God together. He proved himself to be a wonderful dad to his children, embraced my two kids with open arms, and eventually proposed. The rest is history, as they say, and we were married in 2007.
I thought merging our finances would be easy. Before we wed, we were transparent with each other about our financial situations and any debts or assets we held. We made a plan for where to live, started looking for a tenant for his condo, and even took out a small loan to make improvements to my home (so we could renovate and upgrade it, ultimately making it our home, together). Things were smooth sailing; that is, until the first un-budgeted expenditure for his daughter popped up. Our picturesque financial relationship came crashing down, and we spent the next several years learning some hard lessons about blended families and their finances. Here are some tips that may help you or someone you love.
1. Start with the 10 Percent
This is actually one thing we did correctly right from the beginning. We automatically tithed 10 percent of our earnings right off the top. I cannot recount the number of times when we’d sit down to our monthly bills filled with dread and worry. We’d stop, pray, and write our tithe check, and then watch in wonder as every penny of the remaining 90 percent seemed to fall into place. I don’t have a logical, scientific explanation for this, though others could probably give you one. For us, it has been a truly supernatural experience, with God delivering on His promise in Malachi 3:10 and opening the windows of heaven to pour down blessings upon us.
2. Ditch Your Financial Baggage
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I brought some emotional baggage about finances from my first marriage into my relationship with Don. I found myself checking the account multiple times a day to see what money he’d spent. I worried about squirreling away a “what if” budget in case I’d need it should he leave. Overall, I was distrustful and overly controlling. I finally shared my fears with Don and we agreed on a few solutions. First, we set some boundaries with our money. For example, we agreed that we wouldn’t spend more than a specified amount without first notifying the other person. Second, we agreed to sit down at the beginning of each month to review our budget together so we would both be on the same page. Third, I learned I had to give my thoughts and fears to the Lord. I had to meditate on the fact that Don had never done anything with our finances to make me question his integrity.
3. Forget Your Assumptions about Other People’s Financial Situations
One of the complicated things about a blended family is that you often have the ex-spouse in the wings to consider. Money is a touchy subject to begin with, so transactions like child support, alimony, or money for the children’s medical expenses can be difficult for all parties involved. In my case, I would often get bitter about having to fork more money over to Don’s ex-wife. I was supportive of him providing child support, but any request for additional funds irked me. I had this perception that she was in a better place financially to begin with, especially since things were often tight for us financially, so how could she ask us for additional money. On the flip side, I was hesitant to ever ask for additional financial help from my children’s dad. I had the perception that he was struggling to make ends meet as it was, so how could he help contribute toward an acting class or put some money toward a more costly gift on my children’s Christmas list. What Don and I learned was that we had no idea of our ex-spouses financial situations. They most likely had less (or more) money than we thought, and who knows what kind of perception they had about our finances. Rather than go on assumptions, we found it best to communicate honestly. If things were tight for us, we’d explain what we could do to help. Or if we needed help, we opened up dialogue and talked about what we were trying to accomplish and how we could all work together to make it happen. Things didn’t always work out perfectly, but maintaining peace and civility and leaving behind the bitterness has helped my marriage and made us all more effective parents.
4. Accept the Premise That It’s Not Yours or Mine, It’s Ours
In the beginning of our marriage, I noticed we both seemed to keep score. If we did something for one of my children, Don would wonder why we weren’t doing something for one of his children (or vice versa). While I believe in trying to maintain a certain amount of fairness between all the children, even in nonblended families this doesn’t always work out perfectly. For example, Don’s daughter was active in softball. She is a talented athlete, so as she continued to progress during her teen years, Don wanted to invest in better gear, batting lessons, or fees for better league teams. When we were keeping score, I would fret about the fact that we weren’t doing the same for my children. All the money seemed to be going for one child, and resentment started to take seed in our relationship. Because of our strife, even the children felt animosity toward each other. Over time we have realized we can’t think about our family as “yours” or “mine.” We need to be equally vested in the best interests of all of our children, because they are “ours.” We stopped keeping score. The kids stopped bitterly competing against each other, and we learned to work together to support and celebrate everyone’s accomplishments. We also quickly learned that things usually balanced out in the end. Maybe we were investing a lot for his daughter at the time, but now my daughter, the youngest of the bunch, is in her teen years and happens to be a talented musician. We have invested in piano lessons, voice lessons, cello lessons, a new cello, competitions, camps, and the list goes on and on. We are happy to do this because she, like the rest of the children, is ours, and we all want her to be successful.
5. Work from the Same Game Plan
One of the most impactful financial decisions we made in our marriage was to complete the Financial Peace University (FPU) course at Grace Family Church. My husband and I quickly learned we were not on the same page financially. We didn’t know each other’s financial goals, fears, weaknesses, and strengths. If you aren’t aware of these things, you cannot make meaningful progress toward each other’s goals because you are operating independently. We learned how to write a monthly budget and follow it; we established an emergency savings accoumt; and we paid off both cars, my student loans (which had been hanging around for more than a decade), and one of our high-balance credit cards. This allowed us to make some major life changes too. We were financially able to allow me to leave behind a stressful job and join the family business. We are still working on some debt, but we’ve come a long way, and I don’t know if we would have accomplished all those things had we not made a point to establish a game plan.
God’s not finished with us yet. We learn more and more lessons about having a successful blended family every day. Our children are older now, with three of the four out of the house. We pray we’ve instilled some important financial lessons in them that they will find useful for years to come. So far, they’ve done some wonderful things. First and foremost, none of them have credit debt. The oldest still has the same paid-for car, is getting ready to graduate college with no debt, and is paying her way through grad school next year. The second oldest is in the navy and supporting himself with an apartment, roommate, car, insurance, and all those other “adult” things. The third oldest is also graduating college with no debt, bought her car with cash she earned during her high school years, and self-funded a missions trip to Nicaragua. In fact, she was so changed by mission work, she figured out a way to get paid on the mission field and will be leaving soon to spend two-plus years in Africa with the Peace Corps. Our youngest daughter, who just turned 16, will soon open her own checking account and learn how to budget her money.
I think the biggest accomplishment we’ve achieved, despite all our mistakes, is the close relationship we all have. The children consider each other sisters and brother, and they are all unwavering in their support and love for one another. God has blessed us for sure!
Give it some thought.
- Do you have a blended family?
- What lessons have you learned about merging your families AND your finances?
- What were your biggest financial challenges?
Want to win with money in your blended family?
Join Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University at Grace Family Church where you can change your money and change your life. You can register at GFConline.com/purpose.