How to Prevent Debt From Ruining Your Marriage
One of the most common reasons for fighting in a marriage and a leading cause of divorce is money. It’s pretty rare that you will ever find two individuals with the exact same opinion on every possible financial situation. This is for a combination of reasons including how you were raised, your financial goals, and your understanding of personal finance among many other factors. So how do you stop these differences that affect your everyday life from tearing apart your relationship. What works for one family may not work for another, so try implementing these tips and see how many and which ones make a positive impact for you.
This is so important, and not just when it comes to finances. Open and clear communication is such an important part of any interpersonal relationship. This is exponentially true in a marriage and when discussing such an important and personal topic.
As with any other serious discussions with your partner, do your best to avoid accusational and “always/never” statements (i.e. you always spend too much money/ you never let me choose how much money I can spend). Also, along these lines, don’t place blame. It may be difficult if the debt is one-sided or was accrued prior to your marriage. Try to see things from your spouse’s perspective and know that they probably did not intend for the debt to affect you and your marriage.
Especially when there has been a recent change in your family’s finances or when you are just starting out it is very important to have conversations frequently. Mr. LLB and I probably have a few conversations each week but we sit down and look at our spending about once a month. We also recently just purchased our forever home and have only made a couple payments so far so we are still adjusting to our new budget. I may not know where every single dollar goes, but I do know that he is honest with me and I am honest with him and we can share suggestions without fear of it triggering a fight.
Keep an Open Mind
There will be multiple occasions throughout a marriage in which you will not agree, it is part of life. It does not matter what the issue is or why you don’t agree, but how you approach it and work together to problem solve. Sometimes you will be right and your spouse will come around, other times your spouse will be right and you will have to suck it up and admit that you were wrong. Sometimes you may even both be right or both be wrong and you will need to compromise to find your solution.
While we were looking to buy our house, we found one that I LOVED. It was a foreclosure and had so much potential but we would not be able to move in for awhile which would have meant two mortgages for a few months and the renovation costs would have added up to the amount of buying a move-in ready house. I did not want to hear it at first but my husband was completely right. On the other hand, he wants to cancel cable and I truly consider TV a hobby of mine (judge me if you want) and when we added up everything we would need to be able to watch the shows we watch, it didn’t really save us enough money to be worth the trouble. Also, we saved $600 on our cable and internet bills. He said that he has not given up on cutting the cord yet, and with the vast improvements of online television it is only a matter of time until we jump ship on cable.
Make a Plan
Now here is where you take action to correct your past and set out on your journey to becoming debt free for your future together. Create a budget and re-evaluate it as needed. I am a huge fan of the half-payment method for debt (student loans, cars, mortgage). We also have our finances set up as agreed which allows us to pay joint expenses together, separate expenses separate and have our own spending money each week. This works for us and given that we looked at our budget before buying our house to determine what we could afford while using this strategy we knew this would leave enough money to make our individual bill payments (for me this is my car and for him it is his car and his student loans) while contributing equally to the joint account. Determine what you feel is fair to both of you. Once you have made a plan, stick to it. Remember that the two of you are on the same team and have the same goal, even if along the way you may disagree how to get there. If the two of you absolutely can not agree on a plan you may want to meet with a professional financial advisor or marriage counselor.
Decrease Your Debt
Well if it were that easy, I would need a new topic to blog about. If there is no debt to argue about, then you will have one less stressor on your marriage and less to fight about. This is not something that will happen overnight so you and your spouse must commit to reducing your debt together for the long haul. Review your budget to see where you can cut spending and look into options to increase your income to pay off your debt faster. Once you begin paying things off, implement the snowball or avalanche method until you are debt free. Calculate your debt free date and see if you can beat the clock by adding any windfall money like a tax return or cash from a birthday or holiday gift.
Treat Yo’ Self and Each Other
I am basically like a dog, I can do anything if I know I can get a treat. I am VERY indecisive so leading into our wedding my bridesmaids took me out for ice cream every time I made a major decision. For you psychology nerds, this is classical conditioning in action. When I paid off my student loan, we went to Disney World. Your treats do not have to be anything quite that expensive, but that was a vacation we were planning to take in the next few years so the treat was not necessarily the vacation itself but the splurges while we were there.
Determine what motivates you and use that to reach your goals. For me, travel and ice cream usually do the trick. Make sure your reward is a good reflection of the amount of work it took to meet your goal. Going out for $5 ice cream may not be sufficient to you for paying off thousands of dollars in debt, but also don’t increase your debt trying to reward yourself either. Even if you just make a purchase you have been pushing off that is a lower priority than debt payoff to you like a new outfit, just use the reward to help you stay on track. Make sure that you do not lose your motivation because you have stretched your budget too thin. One of my favorite ways to stay motivated is by reading personal finance blogs and seeing other, real people get out of thousands of dollars in debt.
Has debt been a problem in your marriage? What has helped you work through it? Would you have any advice for a married couple struggling with their debt?