What You Want and What You Need
How do you balance wants vs. needs? How do you negotiate that balance in a marriage? What has Baha'u'llah given us to help us reach that balance? Dan C. shares some insight that he's found on his journey, both on his own path and working with others.
Management of money and material resources can be a great stressor in marriage and family life. When it comes to resolving money issues I encourage couples to study the institution of the Fund, "a fundamental spiritual obligation,"* and the Law of Huququ'llah, or 'Right of God,' "the source of blessings, and the mainspring of God's loving-kindness and tender love vouchsafed unto men."**
To fully engage with and receive these blessings from Baha'u'llah it is helpful, and necessary in the case of Huququ'llah, to make and keep a budget, to learn how to keep a net worth statement, and to set life goals toward increasing one's wealth. An important lesson we can draw from the Fund and Huququ'llah, that actually brings couples together and reduces money fights, is to understand and agree as a couple on what is a 'necessary' expense.
For example, Huquq'u'llah is calculated on net increase in wealth after all 'necessary' living expenses have been deducted. What is deemed to be 'necessary' is left to the spiritual maturity of every believer and their innermost consciousness -
"...it is left to the discretion of the individual to decide which items are necessary and which are not."*** Similarly, with the Fund the amount given is based on the spirit of love and the level of sacrifice, which are all left to the prayerful meditation on the needs and wants of the individual believer.
Needs are usually defined as something we can't live without, things like air, water, food, shelter, transportation (sometimes), and clothing. Everything else we buy is based on our wants or desires. And even when it comes time to purchase needful items, like food and clothing, our buying decisions are usually based on wants. (We want a certain type of bread, a specific brand of clothes, a house in a particular style, etc.)
It can be very difficult for two people, raised in two completely different home environments, who probably complement each other's strengths and weaknesses but are still two very different people, to exchange marriage vows and begin to live as 'one'. Most couples really work at being 'one', and unfortunately there is no guideline for combined money management handed out at the wedding ceremony.
People spend money on what they value, on what's important to them. And each person's spending habits reflect their life values, and to a great extent, money lessons are learned watching Mom and Dad, and how they managed and spent the family money. If mom or dad was a saver, you will probably consider saving important. If your parents didn't save but dealt with money crises as they occurred, and vacations were on the spur of the moment, you will probably manage your money the same way.
However, now that you're married you are likely emotionally connected to your money alter ego - one of you is a spender and other is a saver. I'm a saver and my wife is a spender, but that's okay. If I wasn't connected to her, I would probably hibernate in the house and come out once a week for a trip to the store to stock up on frozen pizzas, coffee, canned soup, chips and popcorn. I still own clothes I had when my 29 year old daughter was born.
My wife makes sure I have not only a healthy diet, but a life too. When we were making our annual goals list this year she insisted on including social goals such as 'Make at least one home visit' or 'A date out with non-Baha'i friends once a month.' That's why I love her so much. She encourages me be all that I can be.
In today's consumer-oriented society many couples have different ideas about spending and what constitutes a necessity or a luxury. For Baha'is this is important because it directly influences how we engage with such things as fundamental spiritual obligations. Most money conflicts are really about personal spending priorities and values, not about the item itself that created the conflict. What one sees as a necessary expense the other may perceive as a want, and other items have a higher spending priority in their opinion.
This takes us full circle back to the blessing of the institution of the Fund and the Law of Huquq'u'llah. If we can develop a family definition of 'necessity' many money conflicts can be worked out. When helping couples with budgeting and money management, one exercise I employ is to have the couple jointly compile a detailed list of everything they spend money on. Detailed means the Netflix subscription, movie theater, eating dinner out, etc., not just a line item that says "entertainment."
Once the list is completed, and the spouses agree that it is complete, then a copy of the list is made. Each spouse, without consulting the other, goes to a separate room (no peeking) and marks an N (Need) or W (Want) next to each line item...
"Let them act with moderation and not impose hardship upon themselves. We would like them both to enjoy a life that is well-pleasing."****
After completing the list the couple compares notes. Surprise! You'll find that your spending priorities are in agreement on 95% of the line items. Where the rubber meets the road is the one or two items where there are differences of opinion, and these differences must be resolved in loving consultation with each other and fine tuning your personal definition of "necessity."
I'll conclude with a real life story. One couple I was working with, married for more than ten years, took six weeks to complete the exercise - they both kept avoiding the issue. When they finally completed the exercise they had one issue that took several days of prayer and consultation to resolve, and a compromise was finally reached. But they confided in me that this issue had always been a contentious issue, they felt like a great weight had been lifted off their backs, and that for the first time in their married life they were both rowing their life's boat in the same direction.
*The Universal House of Justice, November 18, 1991
**Baha'u'llah, Huquq'u'llah, A Compilation, No. 29
***Written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, Huquq'u'llah, A Compilation, No. 106
****Baha'u'llah, Huquq'u'llah, A Compilation, No. 57