When my father, a savvy businessman, first met with my then-boyfriend-and-missionary, Cliff, to get to know him better, he told Cliff to bring along an Excel sheet of all his savings and monthly expenses.

Over coffee, my father gave Cliff some advice: “You should take time to save more money before asking for my daughter’s hand.”

But when my father returned home, he promptly told me to break up with Cliff.

… as a missionary, Cliff’s budget allowed him $7 a day for food.

“What kind of future can you see with someone like that?” my father said. “You’re going to be a doctor!”

I later found out, that as a missionary, Cliff’s budget allowed him $7 a day for food.

I realised then, that the objection not only revolved around financial concerns but also around the frowned upon idea of “marrying down”.

With Singapore being one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, a question many young, godly women have asked me is, “What if my partner is poor?”

Hear me, please: These are not materialistic women who want a high standard of living who are asking the question.

Once, a young woman we knew seriously considered ending her relationship with a godly man with a lower income, because of crippling anxiety about their financially-strapped future and a desire to help relieve her family of their growing financial burdens, not add to them.

With family debts and student loans to pay, inflation and rising costs of living, a spouse’s financial standing has become a serious consideration in our time and age.

Besides practical concerns, is also the flak received from people raising their eyebrows at a girl “marrying down”.

A few questions for clarity

1. What do you value most?

If you value highly a life of fine things – exquisite holidays; expensive restaurants; designer clothes – then the answer is straightforward.

Run away from anyone who doesn’t earn a paycheque of less than $X a year.

But if you most value a person’s heart – his fire for God; his sincerity to serve others; his love for you – then remember that as a core value in your search for a partner.

Write down a list of values that go beneath your surface requirements.

For example, if you want someone who plays the guitar, you might dig deeper and discover your value of appreciating music.

If you most value a person’s heart… then remember that as a core value in your search for a partner.

Ask yourself how important that is and rank your values.

When I discovered that a person’s love for God and love for the poor was more important to me than how much he earned, that discovery helped me clarify how I could move forward with Cliff.

2. Can you adjust your expectations?

Adjusting my expectations was far harder than I thought.

Even though I considered myself a tough girl who could rough it out in pit latrines in Africa and survive brutal winters in Nepal with little more than rice and dhal everyday, I discovered that when it came to a romantic relationship, I did have unconscious expectations.

While growing up, my Dad expressed his love for me by taking me to nice restaurants.

So when all Cliff’s $7-a-day budget could afford was eating caifan (mixed rice) at a hawker centre on Friday date nights, I found myself struggling to accept this.

Outbursts were frequent, because the disparity between my expectations and reality was simply too great.

However, over time, as I uncovered Cliff’s authenticity, going back to my list of values helped me focus on what counted more.

3. Can you embrace your emotions?

The problem with becoming a doctor was that everyone around me seemed to be able to afford the finer things in life.

Whenever friends posted up photos of exotic holidays, fast cars and romantic dates, I would be overwhelmed with envy, then shame for feeling envious and finally, sadness.

Not having what they had was hard.

If I go back to my younger self 10 years ago, I’d tell her that instead of bottling up how she feels, what could be helpful would be to bravely, compassionately and non-judgmentally confront how she feels – and allow herself to grieve.

Feeling envious, sad or hurt for having a partner that cannot afford the luxuries that others can is normal.

Grieving is not only healthy, but can help us embrace our whole selves healthily, enable us to discover what we value and then bring us through the emotions to accept our new reality.

When I finally allowed myself to grieve over the fact that Cliff could never drive me to fancy restaurants in that season of his life, I could move on.

Grieving helped me accept my losses, but also to celebrate my new reality and move forward with peace.

4. Can you quit making comparisons?

If you’ve ever felt crummy about your life after scrolling through social media, remember this.

What counts in the end in a marriage is not the highs themselves, but the highs wrought from the valleys, the everyday mundane moments of life – strung together for eternity.

If you know you’ve found for yourself a keeper, surround yourself with couples with similar experiences who can encourage you and give you ideas for fun and low-budget dates.

Consider limiting your social media intake. It’s okay to unfollow people, really.

5. Can you trust God for the impossible?

When Cliff and I got engaged, we felt God asking us to give away all our wedding angbao to two anti-sex trafficking ministries in Cambodia and India. People thought we were nuts.

True enough, it seemed unwise to do so, especially when we were already financially strapped to begin with.

But as we said yes to God, we realised He was unchaining us from the fear of lack and helping us build faith instead.

God showed us, that when we follow Him in obedience, He will provide above and beyond what we dare dream or imagine.

We had a simple church wedding, with only two tables for a simple wedding dinner.

I regretted not being able to afford my dream garden wedding.

Yet, though giving away $50,000 worth of angbao money that could have been ours was painful – it was also strangely freeing.

Six months later, when we returned to Canada (where Cliff grew up in and where his family is based), the most unexpected thing happened.

While we had planned to have a simple wedding ceremony in his friend’s backyard, Toronto Botanical Gardens (one of the world’s top 10 wedding destinations) had watched our viral courtship video and offered us their newly launched floral gardens and an auditorium for a total of only $1,500.

God showed us, that when we follow Him in obedience, He will provide above and beyond what we dare dream or imagine.

When Cliff and I decided to surrender ourselves to a life serving in missions, we knew our chances of owning a house would be slim.

While our friends climbed their career ladders and bought property, we found ourselves nearly homeless with every cross-continental move we made.

The year we returned from volunteering a year in Uganda, we had nowhere to stay.

Rentals were exorbitant and we could not find available homes in the neighbourhood we had shortlisted, mid-distance from both our workplaces.

A month before we returned, a mentor texted us photos of an old but beautiful bungalow.

“Would you and Cliff like to stay in for the year you’re back in Singapore?” he asked.

“The owner is looking for a house sitter until he sells it and requires you only pay the gardener $80 a month to maintain his yard.”

I cried when I found out, that the bungalow was in that very neighbourhood we prayed for.

Only God knew.

God takes care of all our needs, above and beyond our expectations, if we choose to put our trust in Him.

Later, we discovered the bungalow was being sold for eight million dollars.

On reflection, I asked myself how many of my peers would have the privilege of staying in a mansion for a year.

It boggled my mind to realise that God would take care of all our needs, above and beyond our expectations, if we choose to put our trust in Him.

Today, God continues to show up in our lives and provides for all our needs.

Acquaintances would leave bags of children clothes for us, even when we told no one of our lack.

We now own a little property, gifted miraculously to us.

Over the last 10 years of marriage, I learnt that what we want or expect materially from our partners, often isn’t what matters most in a solid marriage.

My advice? Clarify your values. Embrace your emotions. Adjust your expectations. Quit social comparison. Focus on what counts.

Above all, know that you can trust God. He will come through for you both.

  1. What do you value most in a spouse?
  2. What stood out to you from the author’s sharing?
  3. What might God be speaking to you through this insight?