“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage!”
The ‘marriage song’, the wedding vows; have you noticed none of them include any discussions about money? Probably because there is nothing romantic about discussing our money habits, debts, and credit scores with our prince/princess charming, until… we want our fairy tale home, our fairy tale coach (car), and our lovely little baby carriage; all of which costs MONEY! And if one of us has any looming debt that is reflected in our credit scores, all of those lovely dreams can easily come to a halt – which can eventually foster resentment.
So how should we handle the debt of our partner?
The most common thing I’ve seen lately is the partner-in-debt being left alone to handle it. The concept is: “You made the debt so why should I be responsible for it?” Although I can understand the concept, the truth remains that debt kills any potential we have for our money, and if we want to accumulate any assets, make any investments or plan a solid future, that debt needs to disappear.
Further, you two are one now, and although your credit reports will never merge, in actuality the debt that has accumulated is now both of yours. Now, before you start yelling at me through your computer screen, bear with me for a moment. As long as ANY funds are taken away from the household in order to meet any debt obligations – whether it’s yours or not- your partner’s debt officially became BOTH of your debt because it’s halting the amount of financial progress you guys can make together. So, why not start off creating a debt pay off plan together from the start?
Two minds working together to accomplish a common goal will always be better than one.
By working together to get rid of your partner’s debt, you’ll be able to accomplish 4 things:
1. You show your mate that you have his/her back. Support is supreme in a relationship, especially a marriage; as long as your partner knows they have a non-judgmental cheerleader in their corner, they’ll feel as if they can accomplish anything! Plus, who wants to feel like they are the sole cause of their family not being able to accomplish their money goals? The partner-in-debt may have feelings of embarrassment, shame, and guilt for bringing this financial stress into the marriage; showing them that you are an active supporter who will work with them to get past this, rather than leaving them to handle it alone, will bring you two closer together. (This does NOT mean that you treat the debt itself lightly. Show your discomfort, disdain, and irritation with the debt itself, just ensure that those feelings don’t cross over to the feelings you display towards your spouse.)
2. You’ll have an early start to setting financial goals together. A couple that plans money goals together, stays together (cheesy I know, lol, but true). Money woes can destroy a relationship. Therefore, starting your marriage out setting goals for your money, writing them down and visualizing why it’s imperative to get out of debt so that you guys can bring those goals into fruition is so important. Leaving that to ‘chance’ by letting your spouse take care of their debt alone ruins your chances of building a stronger bond and financial future.
3. You’ll learn how you both view and manage money. The process is a true eye-opener. You’ll have a chance to see what both of your priorities are when it comes to making financial choices between Needs and Wants. Does one choose pleasure over necessities? Are there any tell-tale signs that led to the debt in the first place? Seeing these things now can assist in identifying habits that need to be adjusted to ensure you guys are on the same page financially.
4. You pay off your debt faster! People in debt are stressed, add to the fact that they feel their mate is viewing them as the sole reason they are not advancing financially, and you have a spouse feeling overwhelmed, which can lead to immobility. Immobility creates arguments as the person that ‘has their finances together’ becomes irritated that the partner-in-debt isn’t doing anything to get out of the situation – umm a little help would be nice! Create a get out of debt plan together and you’ll see better results.
So, what should be involved during this initial debt discussion? Simple, write a budget to see where you’re at. Identity how much money you can set aside to destroy the debt, which may involve cutting unnecessary expenses and/or creating ways to generate more income. Decide how you’re going to pay the remaining bills – create a bill paying account, keep separate accounts for yourself, use a cash envelope system, etc. Discuss how you’re going to track your progress – an application such as Mint or my fav You Need A Budget (YNAB), or excel spreadsheets. Don’t forget to always pay yourself first! I don’t care how much your debt is, no creditor should get ANY of your money before you do. Make savings priority #1.
Hope this helps!
Have some more tips? Feel free to share them with me 🙂