Indebted to Love
About the Guest
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Brian and Cherie LoweBrian and Cherie Lowe love to encourage couples to manage their finances well – together. The Lowes paid off over $127,000 in debt in just under four years, learning powerful lessons about communication, patience, organization and connection. Married for eighteen years, the Lowes still like each other. Their story has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Redbook, NBC News, Focus on the Family and more. Writing and speaking together, Brian and Cherie long to bring hope to the hope...more
Could arguing about money be negatively affecting your intimacy? Cherie and Brian Lowe think it can. It certainly did theirs. The Lowes encourage couples to slay the debt dragon and fall more in love!
Indebted to Love
Bob: Cherie Lowe knew she and her husband, Brian, had some debt. She just didn’t know it was six figures of debt until her husband told her it was time for a talk.
Cherie: I don’t think I really knew the totality until he had that legal-pad moment, where everything was written down. It hit me like: “Wow! This is a huge amount of money. If we keep living the way we are living, it’s not going to get any better; it’s going to get bigger/that number’s going to grow instead. We have to do something. We can’t just stay here.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, June 25th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. If there is money stress in your marriage, it’s affecting your oneness/your relationship with each other. We’ll talk more about that today with Brian and Cherie Lowe. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Did you guys ever have money conflict in your marriage?—money issues?
Dave: Bob, does any couple not have money conflict in marriage? [Laughter]
Bob: We rarely had—
Bob: —money conflict. Part of that’s because my wife is very thrifty, so she—there was never any overspending stuff.
Dave: Ann, did you hear that? His wife was thrifty. [Laughter]
Ann: What is that word?! What’s that mean?
Bob: Okay; we’ve touched on the nerve here, haven’t we? [Laughter]
Dave: Oh, boy; we’ve had some conflicts.
Ann: We’ve had some doozies. I can’t wait to talk about this book.
Bob: Well, we’re going to talk to Cherie and Brian Lowe, who join us. They’ve written a book called Your Money, Your Marriage. Guys, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Cherie: Thank you so much.
Brian: Thanks for having us.
Bob: Your story is a part of why you wrote, not only this book, but the book, Slaying the Debt Dragon.
Bob: I asked you, Cherie, earlier: “How far in debt were you?” What did you tell me?
Cherie: We paid off $127,482.30.
Bob: When she said 30 cents, I go, “This was a hallmark day”; wasn’t it?
Cherie: Fun story: we actually overpaid Sallie Mae by 33 cents, so we called them and tried to get the 33 cents back. [Laughter]
Dave: Did you really?
Cherie: Yes; they didn’t think we were very funny.
Brian: I wanted interest. [Laughter]
Bob: This is your second foray into this subject because there was some stuff, when you wrote about Slaying the Debt Dragon, that you really didn’t get to talk to about the relational dynamic of all of this; right?
Cherie: Definitely. We really learned so much through writing that first book. It was interesting to get feedback from readers, who said, “This is a good book about money, but we think there are some better ideas in here about marriage even.” So we wanted to further explore that a little bit and to do that together.
Ann: Well, it’s interesting because the subtitle is The Secret to Smart Finance, Spicy Romance, and Their Intimate Connection. I am so intrigued!
Brian: If you think about it, arguments about money pull us apart. We started considering: “Agreements about money can’t help but push us together,”—well, that’s anecdotal—so then we dug into some empirical data to see if we were right about that.
Ann: Oh! So you have evidence? [Laughter]
Brian: Sure; it turns out: “People fight about money.” [Laughter]
Cherie: But if you think about it, personally, the last time that you had a fight about money probably didn’t end in a night of passion. We began to dig deeper into that. Certainly, we know that sex and money are two of the top reasons why people get divorced; but was it possible that the things that you learned about managing money well together could be transferred into more intimate areas of your marriage as well?
Bob: Let me back it all up—because for folks who don’t know—how did you get $127,000—[Laughter]—whatever the number was—how did that happen in the first place?
Cherie: By not paying attention; that’s the main way. Certainly, we had a lot of student loan debt. I think a lot of people in the United States, especially, are saddled with student loan debt. We had credit card debt to the tune of about $16,500, which is actually the national average. If you have that, you’re not alone—a lot of people do. We had car debt; we had medical debt, because we had actually just had our second child at that point. Babies are beautiful and a blessing, but they’re also very expensive. [Laughter]
Cherie: We had purchased furniture on a payment plan, so we had that. We had a gap loan, where we were unemployed. It was just this mixed bag of assorted debt, where we were taking everyone else’s advice about money and really not paying attention.
Bob: Brian, how long into all this debt accumulation did it take for you move from, “I’m okay with this; we can manage it,” to “Uh-oh. We’re in trouble, and I’m starting to panic here”?
Brian: We started April 2nd of 2008 really being committed, because you should never start anything on April 1st. [Laughter]
Bob: This is paying down the dog.
Brian: Two years prior to that, I actually communicated with Cherie that I wanted to get out of debt—that’s exactly how I communicated it to her—and it failed. One of the things I realized—and it took a couple of years to realize—is that if you don’t approach something in love, you’re never going to succeed.
Bob: You didn’t go to her and say: “Sweetheart, I’ve been praying about this; and this is something that is on my heart. I’d like us to just kind of come together and see if this might be what the Lord would want for us to get out of debt,”—that’s not how you handled it?
Brian: I should have talked to you first. [Laughter] That was really good, Bob.
Ann: Dave/Dave, did you hear that? That was good.
Dave: I didn’t hear a thing. [Laughter]
Bob: How did you go/you just went and said, “I want to get out of debt”?
Brian: It was more by fiat than anything else—
Brian: —it was more: “Here’s what we’re going to do. I want to do this; let’s do this.” And two years later, we still hadn’t begun.
Dave: Two years later, you—what did you do?—you changed something.
Brian: Changed everything. I started thinking about casting a vision—or what a lot of folks call “Postcards from the future”—“What will it look like if we pay this off?” “What could we do for the kingdom of God?” “What could we do to change our family tree?” “What could we do to send our kids to college?” “…our community?” “…things that we wanted to give to?” “Could we retire early?” “Could we spend more time together?” “Could we go on vacation?”
Those types of things were more inviting Cherie into the journey, with love—is really the approach that I took.
Ann: Cherie, did that help you? Was that motivating?
Cherie: Oh, my word! That set my heart on fire because, when he encouraged me to dream big, and really answer that question of: “What would we do if we weren’t putting so much money every month toward payments and interest?” I was like, “Yes! I want to be there! I want to do that!”
Dave: Now, was this a planned like evening that you decided to do this or over time? I’m thinking of the couple out there, that’s thinking, “I want to do this.” Do you go out to Ruth’s Chris® [Steak House] and spend a whole bunch of money and say, “Let’s do this,”—no; I’m kidding, obviously—[Laughter]—but did you really/did you sit down and say, “Today’s the day”?
Brian: Yes; there was no distraction. I mean, it’s one of those things, where you have to set an environment up. In the book, we talk about popcorn: “Everything is better with popcorn,”—so having a snack. I don’t know that we actually had popcorn in that moment—but having a meal/breaking bread together; a literal communion with your spouse—to talk about important things and to dream big together. I think it was a few of those [times]—
Brian: —where we talked about it.
And Cherie, as a practical matter, couldn’t wrap her brain around it; because she did the day-to-day finances, and I didn’t. She did the grocery shopping, and I didn’t. So that’s something, where I really had to listen to her concerns and her needs, too.
Dave: Now, you said it was approached this time with love.
Dave: Let me ask you this: “Was there any anger? I don’t mean bad anger but holy discontent anger—like, ‘This is enough!’”
Brian: I think anytime that you start a big journey—this is going to sound weird—but it comes out of a place of disgust.
Brian: This was not where we wanted to be; we were disgusted with our present situation. It was overwhelming. It was really the first time—you know, I had a really long legal pad—it was the first time that we wrote everything down, and added it up, and looked at how long it would take—the loans that I had were 30-year loans—the student loans.
Brian: That’s a long time. Our kids would’ve been in college or done with college by that point in time, so that was overwhelming; and then the weight becomes heavy. Then it becomes, “No, I’m not going to let this bring us down.”
Bob: Cherie, the first time that Brian came to you and said, by fiat, “We are getting out of debt,” and you didn’t react well to it, were you comfortable with the debt you were in?
Cherie: I don’t think I really knew the totality until he had that legal-pad moment, where everything was written down. It hit me like: “Wow! This is a huge amount of money. If we keep living the way we’re living, it’s not going to get any better; it’s going to get bigger; that number is going to grow instead. We have to do something. We can’t just stay here.”
I always tell people: “There is no good time to begin paying off debt; there is only today. If you don’t start doing something today, it’s never going to change.”
Bob: What you’re talking about in your new book is a subtle and sometimes invisible connection between how we’re handling our money in marriage and how we’re doing, as a couple, in our personal relationship in marriage. I think we tend to look at those as separate and distinct like: “Those two don’t fit together. Our money and our relationship should not be intermingled.” But if two become one in marriage, then this is all in the same blender; isn’t it?
Cherie: It is; it’s so intertwined together that you can’t pull it apart, even if you try. We really began to look at the different areas where couples struggle. We found eight key areas where, really, it’s difficult to manage money; but it’s also difficult to approach intimacy as well—things like communication, and trust, and vulnerability, and leadership, and even organization—that lead to either a happier marriage or a not-so-harmonious union.
Dave: You’ve got to talk about a phrase I’ve never heard in my life: “Financial foreplay.” What in the world is that?
Brian: To us, “financial foreplay” simply means husbands and wives investing in smart financial habits and relational capital to clear the way for spicy sex and meaningful togetherness. It’s complete trust, vulnerability, and connection when it comes to both our bodies and our budgets. It results from continued mutual pursuit of improved shared money habits and communication.
And if you think about some of those words that are used in that definition—communication, vulnerability, trust—those words are both about money, and they’re both about intimacy. When you build, those transcend one another. So if you build together with money, and you communicate well about money, you will communicate well about your finances.
When you achieve goals together/you are faithful in your finances, then the other spouse trusts you even more. For us, working together to pay off the debt and accomplishing that together brought us closer together because we had to be closer together to accomplish something.
Ann: Yes, you have to be on the same page.
Brian: You have to be on the same page together, so that brought us closer together as a couple.
Dave: And you’ve actually found out this isn’t just you.
Dave: Other couples have experienced the same thing.
Cherie: Yes, definitely. Brian has some statistics that he can share specifically about the broader base of people and marriages within the United States, and they are kind of jarring when you read them.
Brian: If you fight about money, once or more per week, you’re 30 percent more likely to get a divorce than other people. One of my jobs is that I’m a family law attorney. I help people going through divorce situations, and the number-one reason people come into my office has to do with money.
Ann: I’m a spender on other people.
Ann: It wasn’t necessarily on myself, but I like to—
Dave: That’s true.
Ann: —I’m very generous to others.
Ann: Where Dave was like, “We need to get our—no, you need to get a handle on this.” I would get defensive, thinking, “I am doing this for other people; this is nice of me”; but what I came to realize, the more we talked—I asked him, “Do you feel like this is disrespectful to you?”—and he said: “That’s it!
Ann: “This makes me feel like you don’t care about us.” I was shocked by that answer.
Cherie: That’s very vulnerable to admit that—like, “Here is this place where I feel betrayed in some ways.”
Cherie: When it comes to both our bodies and our bank accounts, we are fully on display. Every mistake, every flaw—everything is visible—and that’s scary. I think, for a lot of us, both being able to vocalize: “Here’s how what you’re doing makes me feel…—as well as—“Will you still love me even though I’m not perfect and I’m a mess?”
Dave: Yes; what you guys are tapping into—which is so almost deep and profound—the sex aspect of the human is soul. We teach this all the time; it’s like God didn’t give us the gift of sex—and it’s just body to body—it gets to the soul. That’s why it’s so intimate and so beautiful.
Ann: —and vulnerable.
Dave: You need to protect it in the covenant of marriage.
The interesting thing about money is that it’s about soul, too; think about that! You guys have tapped into that, and I think it’s beautiful to help couples understand that. This is at the heart. Again, why did Jesus talk so much about it?—because He knew this gets our heart.
You’re showing people: “Wow! Just as much as money pulls us apart, if you get on the same page, it’s going to bring you together—not just in the bedroom—but in every area.” What a great motivation for couples to say, “I want to pick up this book and want to start doing what you did to get where you got.”
I have to ask you this, though—
Dave: —because when you hear your story—okay, you paid off $127,456.30; I don’t think I got it exactly right; but you know, every penny—a lot of people are thinking, “Do you have a life anymore?”
Ann: “Do you have fun?”
Dave: “Do you enjoy life, or are you just stingy/you can’t enjoy anything?” I mean, talk about that.
Ann: That’s because I used to say that to him. [Laughter]
Brian: That’s what people think; I mean—
Cherie: I think so, too. You know what? If you look at the word, “frugal”—which you said your wife was very thrifty; frugal is another adjective that people use sometimes—the root word of it actually means “to enjoy,” which is mind-blowing. It’s the same place we get the word “fruit” and “fruitful,” too; frugal comes out of that.
I think the number-one thing I learned, while we were paying off debt, was what I really loved—which is crazy because I love a good bargain—and I was chasing all these other things. We weren’t crazy spenders every—but I’m like a clearance warrior—“You know, I’m going to find it out there.” But I was buying things I didn’t necessarily always love, which is crazy.
As we whittled down, I thought: “I love to laugh,” “I love a good glass of iced tea,” “I love my kids,” “I love my husband,” “We certainly love our community: our small group, our church.” I think, as things got stripped away, God opened my eyes to: “You know what? There’s a lot of stuff out there you could have; but in the end, when you lay it all down, you’re not going to long for the stuff. You’re going to long for the people and the experiences you love.” That was an eye-opening moment for sure.
On the other side of debt, we have been able to do some fun stuff. We’ve gone on vacations—a lot of those things that I think people dream of being able to do. We’ve given money away like crazy. Now, we have an account that we call the Generous Account. If I’m in the grocery store, and I see a mom struggling, I just buy her groceries.
We have an understanding here; see, she loves that/she loves that radical generosity—[Laughter]—but if you set up the account for it—we even have a debit card for the Generous Account—
Cherie: —that is just for that.
Ann: that’s a good idea.
Cherie: Four classifications of people we love to bless are veterans, young families, pastors, and teachers. If we’re out for dinner, and we see one of those four, you’d better believe they’re going to get their check picked up.
Cherie: It’s kind of amazing to be able to do that and not feel that stress or worry of, “Do we have enough in there to be able to do that?”
Ann: You’ve become very intentional.
Brian: Oh, absolutely; yes. But four years is a long time. It took us four years to pay off that debt. We had a child that went from an infant to being literate and ready for school in that timeframe. We always measure how long the journey has been; we had a daughter born right before we started paying off debt. It’s been that long/that high since we’ve been doing that.
But the four years—we still had a blast in the process. There were rough times, but we had a blast in the process. God blessed us with amazing opportunities while we were paying off debt, too.
Bob: There was a season in our marriage, where we had moved twice in the course of a year. We still had not sold the house that we owned in our first city. We had bought a new house in the second city. We had now moved out of the second city to a third city. We’re renting in the third city while we’re paying two mortgages in the previous cities. We were right at the thin edge of what we could get by on, so there was a lot of ramen, a lot of mac and cheese—it was those moments. We were not—
Here’s what we started to do. We would still have the impulses we had always had that: “I need a new suit,” “I need this…” We would start to say, “When we have money again, the first thing I’m going to buy is this”; but we didn’t have the money. We were committed—I don’t know why this happened early on—but we have never, in our marriage, not paid off a credit card immediately; somebody told me that years ago. We’ve stuck with that; we’re not going to do that—we’re not going to take on credit card debt.
We started writing a list down of the things we were going to buy when we had money again; because I knew, “One of these days, these houses are going to sell. We’re going to have a windfall. We’ll go to the list, and we’ll prioritize.” Mary Ann and I—for months, we’d get out the list. I’d say, “If we had the money today, what would you buy first?” and we’d circle that. Then the next month, we’d get out the list again; and say, “Okay; if we had the money today, what would you buy first?”
I said, “Last month, you said it was this”; and she said, “Yes, I wouldn’t even buy that anymore.”
Cherie: Love it.
Bob: That was an “Aha” moment for us when we saw how much we were doing on impulse—
Bob: —that four weeks later, we wouldn’t even think about. It changed the way we related to our own desires. Even when we had the money again, we would say, “Okay; we’re just going to keep the list there, and we’re going to wait and vet that desire for a period of a month and see if we still have the desire a month later,” rather than just doing it impulsively. It was huge for us.
Cherie: Yes; and I think you can even do that with so-called needs, too. One of the things that happened to us, while we were paying off debt, was our microwave blew up. We pressed “Pause”; and we said, “Let’s just wait 30 days; we don’t have to run out.” I know almost every household has a microwave, but I’m sure my grandma survived just fine without one. [Laughter] We waited 30 days to see if we could work our way around it. Turns out—we decided not to buy one, and we still don’t have one to this day.
Dave: Wait, wait, wait. You cannot live without a microwave. [Laughter]
Brian: I’m glad you’re sitting down for this.
Dave: You guys can do that?!
Brian: Eight years or so?
Cherie: Yes; at least, eight years.
Dave: You have to cook something up for like ten whole minutes; wow.
Cherie: I know it’s crazy, right? Yes, we use the oven; or I pop popcorn on the stovetop, which tastes so much better anyway.
Brian: It does; it does.
Cherie: There are plenty of ways to work around it. I think always just pressing “Pause,” and pushing back and saying, “Alright; I know that’s what everybody else does, but does it make sense for us?”
Bob: I just have to wonder how many listeners—
Bob: —are motivated, like Dave’s motivated, where they go, “Okay; if I get out of debt, my marriage will be better; and I’ll have spicier romance”; right? Nothing else has worked to try and get them out of debt, but the thought of spicier romance might be enough.
Dave: Got to have some motivation. [Laughter]
Bob: To get a copy of the book, Your Money, Your Marriage—and I’d say, get a copy of Slaying the Debt Dragon and read both of them together—these are great books to help you be thinking about the relationship between your money and your marriage; but also to be thinking about, strategically, “How do we overcome the mountain that’s in front of us?” We have copies of both books: Your Money, Your Marriage and Slaying the Debt Dragon in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online to order either or both books. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
By the way, Cherie has a personal finance blog; it’s called “Queen of Free”;and we have a link to her blog, again, on our website, FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can order either of the books, or get more information about the blog, when you call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com; the phone number: 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
We know, for a lot of you, the last several months have been months where you’ve experienced some challenges at home in your relationship/in your marriage. Some of those challenges may be related to what we’ve talked about today with your finances and debt; but there may be other challenges you’ve been facing that have put a strain on your marriage relationship.
We talked earlier this week with Jeff and Sarah Walton, who shared with us their stories of going through hard times together, as a couple, and how they face the choice of either isolating or pursuing one another. They’ve written a book called Together Through the Storms that we’re making available this week to FamilyLife Today listeners, who can help support the ministry with a donation.
FamilyLife Today is here because listeners, like you, have made it available for all of us; and we’re asking you to do the same thing. Consider making FamilyLife Today possible for people in your community/people all around the world, who are in need of practical biblical help and hope for their marriage and their family. That’s what FamilyLife Today is all about.
If you can make a donation today to support the ongoing work of this ministry, we’d love to send you a copy of Jeff and Sarah Walton’s book, Together Through the Storms, as our way of saying, “Thank you,” for your ongoing support of this ministry. You can donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate—again, the website, FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” When you make your donation, be sure to request your copy of the book, Together Through the Storms, as our thank-you gift; and we do appreciate you.
We hope you’ll join us back again tomorrow when Brian and Cherie Lowe will finish the story they started today and let us know how their marriage is different and how they are handling money differently today. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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