February 21, 2013

Q & A: 1 Debt + 0 Debt = Y'alls Debt

I decided to go with a pretty picture since today's topic is not fun. Please hear me out. This is one of those we are engaged plus life after marriage posts. It is real. I am inserting myself into this Q & A session. The post includes numbers, money and things that no one likes to talk about. But here goes...

Today's reader wrote:

Q. My fiance and I are set to get married in a few months. We are absolutely thrilled! Other than wedding planning, we have been dealing with combining bank accounts, setting up a joint savings account, make financial plans for the future and debt. My husband has student loans and a lot of them. I don't fault him but it is time for us to face the music and pay them off. Realistically it is going to take 10+ years. We are young and want to have fun but we know with debt we have to be responsible as well. I come to the marriage with no debt so paying off his is hard and frustrating. Any advice on how to put a positive spin on this?

A. Oh girl. I can say I know 100% what you are facing. You are just like me. I met Rusty fell in love, he proposed and two weeks after our proposal I checked his mail box to find the first letter informing him that he owes a lot of money (pesky student loans). I remember sitting down in the parking lot and crying while reading the letter.

You have to understand that Rusty and I came from totally different backgrounds when it came to money. Most couples do but you learn what system and methods work best for you. Let me give you a bit of background on us:

Rusty grew up in a wonderful home with two parents who worked extremely hard so that their kids could play just as hard. Rusty always got great gifts at Christmas, a new bat at the start of each baseball season and Doc Martens. (A little 90's reference never hurt anyone. Ha!) Rusty never had a job during high school because he was very involved with summer sports. He went to college, played collegiate baseball and took a bit longer than most but he graduated and started working. When we met, I was in awe of Rusty because he had a big kid job making a big kid salary while I worked hard hours at a job that paid nothing but I loved it. He didn't pay bills other than rent and utilities when he got his first job.

When I was growing up, I was spoiled. Still am to be perfectly honest. (I know my brother is going to roll his eyes at that last statement.) My parents and grandparents gave me my every whim (almost always) but they reinforced need versus want right from the start. My mom bought me gifts for every holiday i.e. Easter and my closet was stocked with Limited Too everything. I do remember at a young age noticing that my mom worked longer and harder hours than all the other moms. There were even nights that I slept in a hospital bed while she directed the staff in the ICU. I knew that my mom was not only working hard hours because she loved her job but because she wanted to give me the best. I still am in awe of her work ethic and drive to provide for our family. The summer that I turned 12, I started working in a snow cone shack. I loved working. I loved earning my own money. I knew what punching in and out meant at a young age. My family found it important and I loved being grown up. I worked my butt off in high school to get a good scholarship. I applied for local scholarships, got accepted into various colleges but went with the one that offered a full tuition guarantee, tried out for a vocal scholarship and received one plus applied for Journalism scholarships at my university. I worked 20+ hours a week, went to school full time and was active in a wonderful sorority. Man, I am tired just thinking about all that. I left college and got a job working my way up at a news station as a morning producer. I made hardly any money. I lived within my means. I didn't have a credit card. I stayed on budget. I even put a little to savings each month. I loved it.

Fast forward a few months and an engagement later, Rusty and I knew we needed to be aware of the debt he had because...wait for it....it was going to be my debt once we tied the knot. To say I was angry was an understatement. This may make me sound like a brat but my whole life I was raised not to have debt. I was raised that you worked hard but never got anything you couldn't afford out right. My husband didn't live that way. He didn't even have a savings account until we started dating and I forced him to get one. We came from two different backgrounds but my bad attitude didn't make anything better. We sat down and ran a credit check for Rusty. More tears. It was not just one loan but multiple loans all for different things. This was not how I wanted to live my life. I wanted to get married and buy the little house and vacation and shop and live in a fairytale. People, you are not alone. All sorts of people have debts. People lose jobs. People get sick. People have times in their life when they are irresponsible. I get it. The biggest lesson in this post is to realize there is a problem and fight for a solution. A solution equals success in your marriage, finances and life. Your solution and end result is being debt free.

So how did we fight our debt? To be honest, we are still paying on it. We have tried various things and methods to pay off debt. You know once you get married there is not a handbook on how to handle life. But who wants that? What fun would it be if there was an answer for everything? The beautiful thing about life is everyone is different and unique. What worked for Rusty and I may not work for you. I am here to tell you that financial peace is real. I know plenty of people who have and are experiencing it. It is not a mythical creature but a real goal and life for many. Rusty and I have been married for almost 2.5 years and have paid off a total of $35,000+ (a combination of things i.e. student loans, car payments, credit cards) in debt. We are still here and alive. We still have more to pay. We will get there. That day I will probably burn my bra. I don't say that number to brag but to encourage you. I have never had a job where I make more than $25,000 a year and we still manage to do things we enjoy plus live modestly.

With all this talk, where do you start? What can you do? Dry those eyes and write this down, pin it, email it, whatever it takes. You are a partnership. You are one family. You are a sweet couple who has debt but debt doesn't define you. You make the rules. You can do this friends!

{Be Honest}
I held in so much frustration from Rusty over our debt that I blew up at one time. It wasn't pretty. It didn't help anything. Anything. Sit down and talk about it all. Express your feelings the right way. An honest and united front is the only way to get through debt. Want another piece of advice? Sure you do! Once you set things in motion and have expressed your feelings, drop it. Do not bring it up and complain to a girlfriend or co-worker. I am still learning this lesson. Get it out and let it go.

{It Takes Two}
Simple as that. You have to do it together and happily. Be a big girl. You have it in you!

{Make A Game Plan}
This is HUGE! Make goals. Write down things. Sign a contract stating your goals and post it to your fridge. The biggest thing is sticking to this goal. Rusty and I recently redid our budget. I say redid but what I mean is actually stick to it. We use certain aspects of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace though we have never attended a class. We use cash for everything but our bills which we pay online. Each couple is different. I have friends who love Dave Ramsey because he not only teaches you how to pay off debt but also teaches you how to plan for your future i.e. retirement, Roth IRA's and investing. Whether you believe in his principles or not, find your method. Reinforce them. Do what works for you but stick to it. It may take you 10 years of sticking to it but that is worth it compared to your lifetime. Stick to it. Stick to it. Stick to it.

{Attitude Is Everything}
Change your attitude right now. Understand there are going to be times where you are upset your other half or vice versus because of your payments. Guess what? Life happens. Your attitude makes a world of difference. Get over it now. You have to pay it all off anyway. Why not face reality and know that it is something that takes time? Encourage one another. You are in this as a team and not enemies. Push yourselves for excellence. Again, your attitude is everything.

This is one of my biggest struggles. Rusty and I will pay something off and move on to the next thing without even blinking. We have a lot of determination but it is okay to celebrate. Whether that means you have dinner out one night or spend the day antiquing, celebrate your accomplishment. That doesn't mean pay something off then celebrate by putting debt back on. If you don't have the money for a nice treat at the time, skip it. We have found it is so important to have a happy moment when the balance shows $0. Enjoy your time together. We have debt but that doesn't mean you have to sit at home. It just means you practice budgeting better and save for each little thing.

We went to New York this year. I struggled really hard with this decision. We have debt but how can we go on a vacation? I kept telling myself we didn't deserve it. We started setting aside money for our trip a little at a time. I researched for hours on how to save. We booked a small apartment on the cheap versus staying right in Times Square. The trade off is we walked more. We didn't mind at all. We had all our meals paid for and cab fare covered from the cash fund we set aside. We treated ourselves to the first vacation we had taken since our honeymoon. Now some may not agree with this but we needed it and once we landed never felt guilty for our trip again. We worked hard to go and the rewards were endless! We even paid it off (i.e. plane tickets and lodging) before we even got there. Be smart but you have to enjoy life.

{You Will Pay It All Off}
There will be an end in sight. I promise. It will come. It may take a long time but complaining or crying or getting in an argument about will not help. You will pay things off. One day the balance will be $0 on your car payment. $0 on your credit card. $0 on your 30 year fixed mortgage. Yes, that can happen. You have to believe it too!

{Watch Out}
Debt is so easy to obtain. This world thrusts fashion, big homes and a lazy lifestyle in our face. Yes, I would love to own a pair of Louis Vuitton but $800+ dollar shoes aren't in the budget. No offense to anyone who has them but I do know the world turns if you don't. You can just pin them. ;)

Be careful what you do, who you associate with and the images you let fill your mind. Debt isn't just student loans but also credit card bills and car payments. Do not think less of yourself because you don't have it all. Secretly, none of us have it all.

{Do You Really Need Another ________?}
Really? Do you need another: dress, pair of shoes, meal out, insert here. I started living with the motto if you don't love it, don't buy it. This also goes with if you don't have the money, don't buy it. Do you really need more? Just think about. Stop impulse buying.

{Reevaluate Every Month(s)}
 We recently sat down to redo the budget. I suggest doing this every month. Each month looks different and holds different needs. For example, our January budget didn't include anything extra but February made us plan for Jane's annual vet check up plus an oil change. Tailor your money for events and circumstances that happen with each new month. Reevaluating helps you refocus on your main objective of being at a $0 balance.

I hope that these tips help. I am in no way an expert but I do know what it is like to be pinching pennies and working to pay off debt. I also know what it is like to take on someone else's debt. The good news is we all survive. You are the biggest factor in paying off debt. Be smart and love life. Be your best. You will get there. As a couple, you will succeed. This is your life together and you deserve bliss. Being debt free is a part of it all. 

Image via Elizabeth Anne Designs by Taylor Lord Photography


  1. We are dealing with the same exact thing as we approach marriage ourselves. I have a very small amount of student debt and my sweet fiance has quite a bit. To be honest, if you're going to have debt.. student loan debt is on the top of the list to have in my opinion. I find that if it's a federal loan they will work with you and are very accommodating. I guess it doesn't stress me out as much because it's not "frivolous" debt. I get more concerned about the fiance's car loan - we could get something much more affordable it just wouldn't be so *super* nice. Anyways, all we can do is our best :) Also I am the frugal one and he's always like, "HEY WE SHOULD GET A SEADOO" .. in the middle of winter ;) Lol! It's just a constant learning curve!

    1. We trade off on being the frugal one. I agree...it is a constant learning curve. Thank you for sharing Margaret :)

  2. Wow - what an important question to ask before getting married and what fabulous advice.

  3. Katie,

    Your post really hit home with me! My boyfriend of two and a half years and I recently moved in together. While it's not marriage, it's a step closer, and in doing so, we learned a lot more about each other's financial situations. I definitely have more debt than him (thanks to a private university education), but his credit score isn't that great due to some previous credit issues.

    Recognizing that neither of us is perfect really helped us. Now, we're getting our budgets straight and paying off the debt that can be tackled immediately.

    Irrational me seemed to think we were completely alone in this battle; however, your post made me realize, we're far from it. We're not alone, and it's completely normal.

    1. You are so kind Jessica and I am happy that this post helped. I am proud of you for tackling debt and making the most of it. It shows character in yourself and strength in your relationship! You are never alone either dear! Best of luck to you :)

    2. Thanks, Katie! Have a wonderful week.


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