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How to Make Lifestyle Choices as a Married Couple

In our culture, the pull of materialism often leads to decisions which limit future choices.

By Dennis Rainey

For many reasons I’m really glad my mom and dad were my parents. Oh, they weren’t perfect, but they modeled a lifestyle that honored God and valued family, modest living, and generous giving.

Mom and Dad grew up in families that were “dirt poor.” When I was a child we took trips to visit their parents. Their homes were modestly appointed and humble. They weren’t rich in terms of money, but they enjoyed the vast wealth of family relationships.

Mom and Dad owned the same small home they started their marriage in, which was built for less than $3,500 during the Depression. I never heard Mom complain about their home even though it was very small. I grew up there and really didn’t think about it because our home was adequate. They weren’t rich, but they weren’t poor either.

Every Friday night Dad would splurge and take the family 15 miles north to their favorite restaurant in Springfield, Missouri, “The Cat and The Fiddle.”

As I recall, we only went on one true vacation as a family.

They were content with what they had.

I was content as well. They didn’t train me to be a materialist.

In 1970, when my dad turned 60, he applied for a credit card and was turned down. The reason? He had never borrowed money. He had no credit rating!

To this day, I wonder what their financial model saved Barbara and me from as newlyweds and beyond. When Barbara and I married in 1972, we made $560 a month. We knew it wasn’t a lot to live on. But it was enough.

And when we started having children, six of ‘em in 10 years, we didn’t run the numbers and estimate how much it would cost for us to raise them. We just received them gifts from God and somehow got the job done with what we had.

We took God at His Word. He provided.

Over the past 48 years Barbara and I have talked with a lot of young couples just getting started in their marriages. Many of whom made lifestyle choices we knew would impact them later on.

Lifestyle choices, such as:

What kind of home do you want to live in? What neighborhood?

What kind of vehicle(s) do you want to drive?

Where do you want to send your children to school?

Where will you go on vacation?

If your income increases over the years, how will your lifestyle change?

Ultimately, a lifestyle represents a series of choices driven by underlying values: the way we choose to use our financial resources … how we spend our time … the importance we place on marriage and parenting … our worldview and the causes we consider important. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to focus on our financial decisions.

In this materialistic culture, couples often fail to understand the long-term consequences of their lifestyle choices.

For most couples, questions related to lifestyle surface early in marriage about whose tastes will determine the appearance and furnishings of the new love nest. Barbara and I were no exception as our differing tastes became apparent even before our wedding.

Barbara chose a silver pattern called Old Master. I visited the silver department at a department store where I walked up to a distinguished elderly clerk and said, “I’d like to see Old Master by Towle.”

“Of course, sir,” said the woman. She showed me a setting of Old Master. It was pretty.

“Ah, that’s really interesting. How much is it?”

“It’s $59.95,” she replied.

“That’s not bad for eight place settings of silver.”

The woman pushed her glasses back, looked at me a bit condescendingly, and said, “Son, that’s for one place setting.”

“You mean $59.95 for one place setting! Lady, do you realize how many plastic knives, forks, and spoons that will buy?” (My reaction was to 1972 prices. Today I probably would have a stroke on the spot!)

Later I called Barbara. I tried to be tactful, but I was actually trying to discover if she was losing her mind. She assured me that the silver was a bargain. So out of my love for her, I embraced the decision. We registered for Old Master and have enjoyed that sterling silverware for nearly five decades. No regrets.

This searching for common ground in a new marriage can be humorous. The question for every couple is: How should you go about deciding the values in your marriage and family related to financial lifestyle?

The pull of materialism

For followers of Christ, the spiritual should be more important than the physical. If couples do not make a point of defining what’s important to them, the culture, peers, advertising, and a host of other influences will rush in to inform and accomplish the task. Three powerful influences work together to drive many couples over the financial cliff.

First, we live in a culture that worships material things. Every day we are bombarded by advertising and other materialistic messages that shout:

  • “You can have it all!”,

  • “You are what you own!” and

  • “You haven’t lived until you’ve taken this trip or had this experience!”

As we surf the web we marvel at sun-drenched promotions for European river cruises. On HGTV we watch enviously as a couple pours $120,000 into renovating their home—tearing out walls, replacing carpets with hand-scraped wood flooring, and installing the latest in “high-end finishes.” Running through all of these shows is the quiet, continual philosophical viewpoint that what we have and what we’ve experienced is definitely not enough! We should aspire to bigger and better things.

Second, we compare what we have with what friends and family have accumulated. We want the latest smartphone. We want that new SUV we saw a friend driving to church last Sunday. We want a better vacation—the kids deserve it. This temptation to compare is so woven into the fabric of our lives we rarely even notice it.

Third, we are selfish. We want nice things. I’m reminded of Winston Churchill who once remarked, “I am easily satisfied with the very best.” And with instant credit available in abundance, couples are able to satisfy their latest cravings. Many have grown up having just about anything they wanted.

The gravitational pull of materialism affects us in every season of marriage. You feel pressure to purchase bigger and better homes as your family grows. You want your children to be dressed in the latest, most popular clothes. They need a new car at 16, just like their friends. You want them to attend expensive private schools or colleges. And of course, you want to enjoy a comfortable life when you retire.

Your choices will empower or hamper future options

Whether you’ve been married for six months or 60 years, please remembe