Defining Great Defense
Stanley-Danko’s book on The Millionaire Next Door spends an entire chapter on the lifestyle spending habits of modern day millionaires and encapsulates them with the words: Frugal Frugal Frugal. According to Stanley and Danko, “being frugal is the cornerstone of wealth-building.” They spent a good number of pages examining the millionaire’s spending on watches, suits, cars, foot-ware. On the subject of “Playing Great Defense” they posed three questions:
- Were your parents very frugal?
- Are you frugal?
- Is your spouse more frugal than you are?
To the duo, this last question is “highly significant.” They write:
Not only are the most prodigious accumulators of wealth frugal, their spouses tend to be even more frugal. Consider the typical affluent household. Nearly 95% of millionaire households are composed of married couples. In 70 percent of households, the male contributes to at least 80 percent of the income. Most of these men play great offense in the game called income generation. Great offense in economic terms means that a household generates an income significantly higher than the norm, which in America is an annual realized income of approximately $33,000. Most of these households also play great defense, that is, they are frugal when it comes to spending for consumer goods and services.
One frugal high-income producer within the married-couple category, however, does not automatically translate into high level of net worth. Something else must be present. A self-made millionaire stated it best when he told us:
‘I can’t get my wife to spend any money!’
They establish the critical role of “great defense” here:
Why aren’t you wealthy, you ask? Well, let’s examine your lifestyle. Is it one of great offense? Are you in the $70,000, $100,000, $200,000 income category? Congratulations you play wonderful offense. But how is it that you keep losing the game called wealth accumulation?
Be honest with yourself. Could it be that you play terrible defense? … Millionaires play both quality offense and quality defense. And quite often their great defense helps them outscore/outaccumulate those who outearn/have superior offenses. The foundation stone of wealth accumulation is defense, and this defense should be anchored by budgeting and planning.
While high-income earners and low-income earners both highlight the “benefits” of a mortgage tax deduction and often do not know what their domestic consumption is, such as the specific amounts they spend on food consumed at home, food consumed away, beverages, birthdays and holidays gifts, etc. Millionaires surveyed (62.4 percent) answered yes to the question: Do you know how much your family spends each year for food, clothing, and shelter?
Millionaires also answered yes for having clearly defined set of daily, weekly, monthly, annual, and lifetime goals. High income and inherited wealth types generally answered no.
Dating Seminar Advice
After financial seminars, my next favorite seminar to attend are the Dating and Marriage enrichment seminars. Like the financial seminars, these dating seminars often cover a narrow set of topics that skirt around the realities of married life and life in general.
Despite a plethora of excellent advice from finances to child-rearing, from sexual issues to conflict resolution in Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy, few seminar speakers care to dwell for too long, if they ever do, on the taboo but very real issues of dating and marriage in an imperfect world.
Especially in conservative ministries/youth and young adult conferences it almost seems as if there is this game of make-believe that goes on between the seminar presenter, the organizers, and the audience. For example, it seems as if, despite national research data and general statistical calculations, seminar presenters and organizers pretend that the members of the audience don’t engage in behaviors that are contrary to Scripture.
Nobody talks about the effect of evictions or bankruptcy on a marriage. No one talks about the realities of paying for birth control and healthcare insurance. We pretend that our girls don’t have sex and our boys don’t have affairs. We look away until we are forced to see realities like when someone gets pregnant out of wedlock, divorced, or runs away to live with their boyfriend, or some guy has a baby with what was supposed to be a one-night stand.
The redeemed never seem to want to acknowledge that these issues come up in dating and marriages inside our church. When did we collectively decide that not having conversations on these issues was in the interests of our attendees? Given the financial repercussions of failed marriages, you would think that our presenters would place a greater emphasis on reality rather than some 1950’s era dream that never really existed, even back then.
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Unfortunately, the advice that is often given in dating seminars regarding finances is often just as misguided as well. Case in point, some time ago, on a warm summer night, at a grocery store, I was talking with a girl that I secretly hoped would one day become my wife. As our conversation continued, she asked me about the state of my finances and what I thought about debt in a marriage. I told her where I was at financially, gave her my credit score, and current bank account balance. It has been my policy that my girlfriend should have access to my financial records, and credit reports at any time she requests.
After answering her question, I asked her the same question back. She replied in a very transparent way regarding her financial status which included $60,000 in student loans, $18,000 in vehicle payments, $18,000 a year for an apartment, and paid for on a $30,000 salary after taxes. I told her that we could work both to pay down this debt. She demurred. It was the man’s job to work and the women’s job to stay at home. I must have visibly blanched at the thought of having to pay down this debt because she told me she would pray about it and our future.
A few weeks later, she let me know that her father had consulted his Catholic priest and the priest had determined through a process unknown to me, that I wasn’t a suitable match for his daughter. That was the end of that possibility for marriage for me. I considered myself lucky.
Few things can doom a personal finance session than a philosophical disagreement on the way forward. I’ve witnessed some desperate couples try to work out problems in the finances that actually have roots elsewhere: their habits, their mindset, their conflicting philosophies, and their upbringing. Sometimes the wife wants to change while the husband is resistant. Or the wife cannot see why cuts have to be made in her budget for clothes and shoes while he cannot come to grips with the fact that he needs to sell his over-priced truck.
Early on, I would try my best to help the couple think logically through the issue, but people rarely make decisions solely based on logic alone. Usually, they “sell” themselves on the case for change based on emotion and then “close” themselves using logic. But now I usually sit back and let them debate whether bankruptcy is more preferable to the less painful choice before them. All this is nothing compared to those couples who are truly mismatched in their marriage.
Finding a Perfect Match
Marriage is a partnership between two individuals who are in the process of becoming one flesh over the course of their lifetime. No one can truly prepare themselves completely to the point where they can live in a frictionless relationship with their spouse. But one can increase the odds in their favor. Here’s how. I’ll give you my admittedly partisan view.
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Know What to Look for in A Girl
I first look for dedication to God because there is no substitute for that. She must have at least what appears to be an active relationship with God through personal prayer and devotions. She must be active in ministry in some capacity in the local church. Educated. Have a job. Want kids or at least open to them etc.
But after these things here is specifically what I like to look for. I prefer a girl who drives an older car that is paid off. She has an older smartphone. She cycles through her wardrobe by mixing and matching her clothes. If you observe her long enough, you will see repeats in her choice of wardrobe. Limited pairs of shoes. Judicious choice in eating. Uses coupons and other money-saving devices for shopping. Tells you when she is close her “budget” on an item or purchase choice. Continually suggests cheaper alternatives for dates.
While being frugal doesn’t guarantee a successful marriage in an of itself, it reduces the chances for conflict and clash of purpose when it comes to playing “Great Defense.”
Women are often the decision makers when it comes to household spending. In our economy, women are marketed to constantly because they are the ones that decide on the kid’s entertainment, food choices for the home, clothes for the family, gifts and other holiday-driven entertainment.
But more than that, if you want to be wealthy and you are focused on “Great Offense” you need a wife who is focused on “Great Defense” and eventually when you are wealthy on giving away that wealth to sustainable causes that support your religious calling and values as a person.
Even if she has debt and may not have yet learned how to pay it down or the ins and outs of personal finance, she needs to be willing to learn, to change, grow, and adapt. If you can find a girl that meets this [financial] criteria, she is priceless.
Know What to Look for in A Guy
Far too many guys are brought up to believe that it is their responsibility to put on a show. Consequently, guys who have high incomes gather around them as many material possessions as possible. Spending big on accessories from clothes to toys to gaming equipment is encouraged before marriage. But after marriage, it is extremely hard to convince a guy that what attracted the girl to him must now go in return for a stable and prosperous future for the family.
Nevertheless, there are things that I see that make certain guys a catch. Here they are:
Education and or Vocational Skills:
It doesn’t matter to me if a guy has a Ph.D. or a blue-collar vocation, they need something with which to bring in money. Major family issues develop when husbands are unemployed or unable to find meaningful work. In the area of education, unfortunately, the trend is reversing today to the point where women are outnumbering men in getting advanced degrees. This is great for women and they should get advanced degrees but bad for men, in that fewer men are going the distance in school.
Money Management Skills:
Guys generally have a good sense of how much money they have: flush with cash after a payday, or broke and waiting till the next payday. There are however some guys that sit down with me who truly have thought through their financial condition and have the knowledge if not the know how to bring about strategic changes.
They plan for Parents and In-laws:
Some guys truly provide for their parents and plan for their in-laws while others are oblivious to the needs of their family members. This can be a great source of conflict when working out finances. Wives tend to think holistically about their families while some husbands are more resistant or emotionally distant. Aged parent care, nursing home care, and other realities need to be planned for with contingencies in place. Funeral costs, while never the best of subjects, need to be accounted for long before such needs arise.
Some guys take the reins and empower their wives. Others are utterly incapable of organization or are emotionally destructive. Morning and evening worship, prayer and Bible study, involvement in church are all signs of maturity and inner strength if they are backed up with a consistent lifestyle outside of church and in the home.
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There are Three Chances to Have this Conversation
I usually tell couples that are dating that they need to have a few dates where they talk about money and their goals. Most are resistant to the concept but I think it is absolutely necessary. I even advocate having a ‘dating budget’ that is written out in all its detail. This budget includes parameters for spending and saving. It involves very real discussions about where the other person in the relationship is regarding money, philosophically, culturally, socially, etc. I usually say,
you can choose to have this conversation [on finances] before you marry, after you marry, and/or before with someone like me or the divorce attorney. But you will have this conversation on finances.
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Budgeting, planning, and both playing great offense and great defense are critical to the accumulation of wealth. You cannot win if one side is pulling the other way. The inertia will sap the relationship eventually. I’ve personally met very few true millionaires who were divorced. California’s divorce laws award half the assets after a certain time in the marriage. You cannot accumulate wealth if you keep getting divorced. The alimony payments alone will kill you.
Mrs. White has excellent advice on dating, relationships, marriage, child-rearing, and other topics that need to be seriously discussed in our seminars. Scripture’s principles of marriage and divorce are unequivocal. Sexual affairs are a dead-end to successful wealth accumulation.
When you are still searching or have found someone you think may be a match, take the time to talk with them about finances. Read Financial Peace University together. Read the Millionaire Next Door. Talk about your upbringing and your cultural views on spending, saving, thrift, and investments. Write out a budget together of what your life would look like. Build plans together to slay that debt and create wealth. Pray and ask God for guidance.
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Have that conversation early in the relationship so that you don’t get emotionally invested to the point where you rationalize serious faults away. If you have that conversation and work things out, then speaking to a competent financial fiduciary advisor will only enhance your marriage and wedding plans.
Have the difficult conversations, so that you never have to sit in front of someone like me and wish that you had talked about this before you got married.
If you do, then perhaps the conversation will be focused on growing and giving the wealth God has entrusted to accomplish His work on earth. That’s a conversation I enjoy having, I hope you will be in a position to have that one with someone like me.
 Stanley, The Millionaire Next Door, p. 29.
 Ibid., p. 37.
 Ibid., p. 41; emphasis theirs.
 Ibid., p. 42.
 Ibid., p. 45.