Tom and I got married when I was still in college and, subsequently, in the process of accruing $14,000 of student loan debt. While I was able to keep the amount I borrowed over $10,000 below the national average at the time, it was still not ideal. We were very blessed that Tom was able to go through school without taking on any student loan debt. However, he did have a car loan at the time. We combined our debt, got married, and moved to a new city where we purchased a house. Our debt was very quickly escalating. We didn’t think much of it though, because we had a 5 year plan.
Well, let me be the first to tell you that God doesn’t care about your 5 year plan. He has plans for you and they are always better than your own.
Six months after we were married, I was at the beginning of my student teaching semester. We had every intention of me finishing school, subbing in the spring, and finding a permanent, decent-paying teaching job the following year. We knew we had some debt, but our income would soon double, so we didn’t think it was a big deal. Then, God’s plan came into play.
Just over a month before I was set to graduate, I found out I was pregnant. I was due the following July so our big plans changed drastically. However, our financial situation didn’t.
The debt that we have been slowly, but surely, working to get rid of has put a significant amount of stress on our marriage. You see, Tom and I rarely argue or disagree … except when it comes to money. We are so much better now than we used to be. However, debt can drown your marriage if you let it.
So why do we go into debt in the first place?
Causes of Debt
Wanting more than we need and not having the money to pay cash for it causes debt. Do I think buying nice things is bad? No! I’m all for buying quality over quantity. However, as a population, we are very consumeristic. The “I deserve it” mentality has started to creep in. However, that can often times mean you also “deserve” the debt that goes along with it.
One of the wonderful things about marriage is that you combine your finances. However, it’s not so wonderful when one spouse is spending more than they should on “stuff” that they don’t need. This can cause a major stress in a marriage.
I enjoy a fun trip to Target as much as the next girl! However, I’ve learned that spending money I don’t have on things I don’t really need is not worth the stress it puts on my marriage.
2. Lack of Planning
When you don’t plan for large expenses, you will most likely incur debt to pay for them. Forgot to save for Christmas? Didn’t plan on replacing your tires? Nothing in your account for those yearly property taxes? All of these are example of lack of planning. You have to prepare for these expected expenses or else they will creep up on you and you will be forced to pull out the plastic.
This will lead to the “blame game” in a marriage. You will blame your spouse for spending all the money. They may blame you for not making enough money. The simple fact of the matter is you are both to blame. However, you can fix it. By writing down all of your large expenses that you have throughout the year and dividing that number by 12, you can save a small portion each month to cover these large expenses so it’s not such a stress when they come due.
3. Poor Money Management
One of the easiest ways to go into debt is poor money management … also known as NO BUDGET. If you don’t live on a budget, you will no doubt spend more than you bring in causing yourself to go into debt. Budgeting doesn’t have to be scary. Just tell your money where to go and when it’s all gone, stop spending.
4. Lack of Savings
Similar to lack of planning is the lack of a savings account. When you don’t have a savings account, you don’t have a way to cover Murphy when he comes knocking. And let me tell you, Murphy will come knocking sooner or later so you better be prepared!
Maybe your furnace breaks down in the middle of an ice storm. Or maybe your battery dies in your car. Your washing machine begins leaking, you find termites around your patio, or you have an ER trip with your 3 year old. (These are all things we have experienced in the past 2 years alone!) Without savings, these small emergencies become major ordeals.
While it’s never fun to pay for these types of expenses, it’s much more bearable when you can write out a check rather than charge it on a credit card.
Obviously, there are several other reasons people go into debt, many of which are unavoidable. Things like the loss of a job, reduction in income, or medical expenses are often times unexpected and unavoidable.
How to Improve Your Financial Situation in Your Marriage
1. Talk about Money
This may seem like the simplest of tasks, but unfortunately many marriages just aren’t doing it. We’ve been there. Maybe your trying to avoid a fight or you don’t want to see the state of your finances. You may think that if you don’t talk about money, then the problems you have don’t exist. Whatever the reason, you need to push past it and start talking.
While it may be a struggle in the beginning, talking about money with your spouse will help your financial situation. You can’t solve any problems without first talking, sometimes arguing, and finally setting up a plan.
2. Set Financial Goals Together
Setting financial goals is one of the best ways to begin a stronger and healthier financial journey. However, if you aren’t communicating with your spouse what your financial goals are, then you will never be able to reach them together.
If there is something you want to achieve financially, then tell your spouse about it. Maybe you want to pay off your student loan early or save up to pay cash for your next car. You can set up a plan together to reach that goal. If you try to do it alone, you will inevitably fail because of lack of communication.
Set a time to sit down with your spouse to set goals. Dream big. Look 6 months, a year, 3 years, 5 years, and 10 years into the future. What do you want your finances to look like? What do you want your life to look like? Set realistic goals. Then break them down into bite-sized pieces and start chipping away at them.
3. Live Below Your Means on a BUDGET
By first living on a budget, you will start to tell your money where to go. After you have worked your budget for 2-3 months, you will start to see if there are any places that your budget can be trimmed. Are you spending more than you are bringing in each month? Is there more month at the end of your money? If so, you need to start finding places to cut back or increase your income to cover your expenses.
Living within you means is great, but living below your means is ideal. By living below you means, you are able to save money each month. This gives your budget room to breathe. It also allows you to save for expected and unexpected purchases, which will in turn help to keep you from going further into debt!
4. Don’t Keep Secrets
Don’t hide purchases from your spouse. Don’t hide debt from your spouse. Don’t hide money from your spouse. Keeping secrets about your finances is the best way to drown your marriage.
Maybe you are the spender and your spouse is the saver and you are afraid to communicate your purchases for fear of the dreaded money fight. (Been there, done that!) But it’s not worth the stress and anxiety is causes on you and your marriage to keep secrets from your spouse. While a money fight may commence, you will at least begin to talk about money and hopefully create a plan to work towards your goals.
5. Get Out of Debt
The best way to keep debt from drowning your marriage is to work together to make it go away! Set the goal of becoming debt-free, make the plans, and then work like crazy to make it happen! Every time you pay off a debt, you will have another boost of energy and encouragement to keep going.
We are following Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball to rid our finances of debt. It’s so freeing when another debt is paid off! Not only is getting out of debt a weight off our shoulders, but it’s also improving our marriage as we work together to achieve this goal!
Getting out of debt can be a huge hurdle that many think is unattainable. However, if you and your spouse work together, it can have a lasting impact on not only your finances, but also your marriage!
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on The Mom on Purpose. It has been republished here with permission.