Friday, February 11, 2011

Thirty One Thursdays - A Wife and Mother's Financial Responsibility

New to Thirty One Thursdays?  Start by reading the Intro Week and The Value of Virtue.

Proverbs 31:16
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.

Verse 16 is represented by the Hebrew letter Zayin.

I am a financial dummy.  Seriously.  I have to ask the bank teller to slow down her explanation of opening a savings account because I just don't get it.  Go ahead and laugh, it's ok.  I've accepted it.  My husband, on the other hand, is a financial genius.  In another life (one where he was married to someone who supported a 65 hour work week) he should have been a financial advisor.  Ya know, the guy you go sit down with because you have no idea what a 401K or 502C or avujAEGGN4583 is.  And then he explains it to you, and you nod your head and say, "oooh, it all makes sense now!" but you leave the office feeling like you just came out of a higher math class and the only thing you remember is the first two decimal places of pi (and you only remember that because you were thinking about pie the whole time).

A lot of women, though, experience the exact opposite in their marriages.  Maybe this is you.  Maybe you just "get" the finance stuff... or have been forced to figure it out because hubby doesn't want to.  If this is you, I applaud you!  You are quite literally my hero.  And maybe this little diddy isn't for you today.  But we'll see...

Financial issues are discussed more than any other topic in the description of the Virtuous Woman.

Verse 16 is one of seven from our poem that discuss buying, selling, trading, or profit (verses 11, 13, 14, 16, 18, 24, 31).  This is not including verses that merely allude to the necessity of the woman's financial involvement or understanding (verses 19, 20, 21, 22, 27).

Surprised?  I am!  So many times, especially in conservative Christian circles, we are confronted with the idea that women do not have a place in the financial business of the home, and the "career woman" is the only image we get of a woman exercising financial authority.  The man should be responsible for "providing for his family" in the way of money in (paycheck!) and money out (check's in the mail!), and the woman should be responsible for "issues of the home."  In my marriage I have never really minded accepting this "norm" because I am so bad with all that money stuff, and frankly never had to be responsible for it while growing up.  I have been content to let my husband be the financial guru because he loves it so much and is just so darn good at it!  But I can't ignore the fact that our Virtuous Woman seems to be heavily involved in family financial business.

I am currently reading A Woman's Place, a challenging book about women in house churches in the first century.  The authors discuss several ideas about the role that Hebrew and Greek women played in their own homes at that time, often drawing from earlier evidences like Proverbs 31.  One idea brought to the table is that a woman was the chief manager of the home.  The man was not, as we so quickly assume, considered the "head of the household."  The woman was.  The home was the woman's domain, and she was responsible for managing everything that went on in that capacity - including any and all financial decisions that affected the family or home.

It seems sometimes that the "Christian" ideas we have about men and women's financial roles in the home stem more from 1950's television than they do from the Bible.  The Virtuous Woman was not only capable of managing money, but responsible for doing so.  She considered the best ways to spend money for the family and she worked hard to make sure her trading and purchasing was ultimately profitable for the family.  As much as I can gather, the situation wasn't one of "his and hers," with the Virtuous Woman making financial decisions divided from her husband, but instead the husband could trust his wife to make such decisions on behalf of their family, and they had a mutual understanding about what part of the finances fell within her domain.

We might read this verse about the Virtuous Woman buying land and planting a vineyard and think about what an enormous responsibility that was!  And it might seem foreign, especially for us married gals, that she would just go out and do it on her own.  But I think our poem is simply describing a normal category of household management for a well-off woman of that time.  Maybe your husband trusts you to do the laundry on Mondays, as that is just part of household management.  Well, perhaps the Virtuous Woman's husband trusted her to make profitable purchases for the family.  It was just part of the expected role.

This means a few things for us in our marriages today.  If you are the woman who manages your family finances, take heart in knowing that this was one of the Virtuous Woman's central responsibilities.  Often times, a woman can grow resentful in managing finances because she feels it should be hubby's job.  But in all reality, finances affect the family more than most things, and the family is clearly the Virtuous Woman's primary concern.  Be encouraged this week that you are doing an excellent thing for your family when you fill this role!  If you are the woman, like myself, who has been somewhat removed from your family finances, I want to challenge you (as I challenge myself) to take up a more active role in this area.  In our family's budget, for example, we have a category called "gas/food/allowance."  It is really the only unfixed portion of our budget every month, and it seems to be all over the board from month to month.  What if it were solely my responsibility to ensure we stayed on track in this area of our budget?  Would my day to day spending look different?  Could my husband be under less stress over our budget, knowing that I was doing my part in managing an appropriate portion of it?

Finance management is not something for us wives to shy away from or resent in our marriages.  It is something to embrace, following the example of the Virtuous Woman, because money is a great steering wheel for the culture, focus and success of our families.  So... go buy a field!!
(please don't actually go buy a field this week... I'm just trying to be encouraging.)

THIS WEEK'S ACTION STEP:  Sit down with your husband and talk through your family's budget.  (This might be a normal exercise for you in your marriage already, so no extra work there.)  Evaluate together if there needs to be a shifting of responsibilities anywhere.  Maybe you should take more responsibility for miscellaneous spending and he should take more responsibility for investing in college funds.  Whatever you figure out, make sure it's an arrangement that involves both you and your spouse appropriately, according to your strengths.  If you, as wife, have remained uninvolved in finances, it's time to make a change!  No beginning is too small, even if it's just learning the password for your online banking.  Discuss with your husband an area that you are interested in piloting, and take one step toward making it happen.

"She dresses herself with strength
and makes her arms strong."
Proverbs 31:17

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