When it comes to paying off debt with your spouse, do you see the glass as half empty, or half full? In other words, do you see combining debts with your spouse as doubling up on the amount of debt that needs to be paid off, or are you relieved and happy to be doubling down with a solid team member?
If you’ve been following along, then you know what my perspective is: paying off debt with your spouse equates to a glass half full. That’s because my husband and I had a great experience working together to pay off the remaining $25,000 of our individual and couple debts. We saw each other’s strengths, and dealt with the weaknesses. We kept each other motivated, and celebrated after each creditor was successfully paid off. In the end, the rewards were far greater than getting the debt monkey off of our backs; we learned how to work together in our new marriage towards a common, awesome goal.
We took away so much from our experience that I would like to show you and your spouse how you can double down and successfully pay off your debts together.
Agree on a Target Date
Just like when you were engaged and came up with a date for your wedding day, you need to spend some time together brainstorming when each of you would like to be out of debt. Don’t put restraints on the date; just like projects tend to swell or contract based upon the allotted time given, debt payoff can be achieved sooner rather than later with fierce determination and a shorter timeframe than you may think.
In fact, see how far you can stretch yourself by signing up for a free account with ReadyForZero, adding in each of you and your spouse’s debts, and sliding the debt payoff bar closer to today. This will quickly tell you what your monthly payment needs to be in order to reach various debt-free target dates.
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Determine How to Fund Your Monthly Debt Payments
Have you combined your finances, or do you keep your finances separate? While this process may be easier when your finances are combined as all of the funds and bills are paid out of one pot, you can certainly make it work if your finances are separate. For couples who keep their finances separate, you must first determine what percentage each of you is going to pay towards the debt. Next, open up a checking account and link each of your individual bank accounts to it. This account is specifically so that you can each funnel the agreed upon percentage of income that goes towards debt payoff. If the income plays out right, then perhaps throughout the payoff process you can use one spouse’s income to pay all of the household bills, and the second spouse’s income to make all of the debt payments.
Designate the Maverick and the Goose
There is real camaraderie gained by working together to conquer some sort of external force. The movie Top Gun showed this in action, as it turns out F-14s are such complicated planes to fly that it takes two people to do so—a pilot (Maverick) and a co-pilot (Goose). Debt repayment can be just as wily and difficult. Doing it together helps to solidify you as a couple, gives a common experience from which to bond, and builds confidence in your marriage. One surefire way to succeed is to designate roles between you and your spouse.
Something we figured out while paying off our debt was that one of us naturally gravitated towards finances (me…could you guess?) while the other did not want to be so hands on. I became the Maverick, and Paul, my husband, became the Goose. Determining who was going to be the pilot and who was going to be the co-pilot paid off for us because it is equally difficult to have two people in charge at the same time as it is to lead with no support or help at all.
Pull Your Resources
While you may have more debt to pay off now that there are two of you, you also have more resources at your disposal. Two heads, two bank accounts, two sets of eyes are better than one. For example, one of the nice benefits in our household is Paul is paid bi-weekly while I am only paid monthly. People who are paid bi-weekly have two months out of the year when they will receive three paychecks instead of two. This helped immensely in our debt payoff. While my husband did not receive a raise that year, I received a one-time $600 cost of living increase. Once again, by involving two people in debt payoff it is more likely that these things will occur.
Take advantage of having two sets of resources in your household to pay debt off with, including two possibilities for raises/cost of living increases, two potential health insurance plans to choose from to figure out which is cheapest and effective, two sets of ideas and perspectives on how to pay off the debt, two sets of hands to bring in extra income, etc.
Meet-Up to Stay on the Same Page
Even though one person may be the pilot and the other the co-pilot, paying off debt with your spouse only works if you each put in the effort and stay on the same page. Set up weekly or monthly meetings where you both get to talk about any issues you are having, expenses coming up, as well as see the progress that’s been made. These meetings don’t need to be long, and can be as fun or as dull as you wish to make them. To add a little excitement, you could build anticipation for these meetings by using them to reveal the amount that’s been paid off since your last weekly or monthly meeting.
Take Turns Picking Out Your Reward
Something that will keep you motivated in your debt payoff journey is rewarding yourself along the way. Choose how you wish to reward yourselves for your hard work and sacrifices—say after each creditor is paid off, or after a certain spending threshold is paid off—and then take turns choosing what your reward will be. Remember that it should be for both of you, but can favor one or the other (since you are taking turns). For example, after we paid off our first creditor, I got to choose a place to eat. Then leading up to paying off our next creditor, Paul chose a restaurant he had wanted to try out. We both got to enjoy food, good company, and a night “out on the town”. And the bonus was that these reward nights also dubbed as date nights!
It may sound like we breezed through our debt repayment together without a blemish. This was certainly not the case, and probably won’t be for any couple dealing with finances. However, going through this process taught us so much about our own strengths, our partner’s strengths, and the strength we can find through our relationship. We became a powerhouse financial couple due to aligning forces against that $25,000, and I hope you and your spouse will become one as well.
Image Credit Will Foster