When you think of a healthy marriage, I’m guessing debt didn’t cross your mind. When you said, “I do,” you signed up for everlasting love, and all the subsequent challenges that face you and your boo. And a big challenge is how to pay off debt as a couple.

Debt, and money for that matter, shouldn’t be passive in your marriage. In fact, it should be a staple in your conversations as a couple. Whether you keep your finances separate or together, there’s no hiding debt from your partner. 

Eventually, payments are due and your bank account takes a major beating. In order to keep your marriage stable, financial communication and healthy relational communication are important factors, according to research from Brigham Young University.

So, it’s time to be honest with yourself and with each other. Are your finances on the back burner? Is debt swimming in the background while you lazily allow Netflix to continue the next episode of The Office? It’s time to bring harmony in your marriage and make a plan to clean up your financial burdens.

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Come clean about financial woes

Lauren Lane, a 30-year-old from Colorado Springs, knew something had to give. While she and her husband bring in a combined six figures, she felt a pit in her stomach when it came to the amount of debt they had. “We both had debt but it was out of sight, out of mind,” she admits.

Lauren felt surmounting pressure when she realized their credit card balance was ballooning more quickly than the payments they put towards it. “We finally had to sit down and come clean with each other about our spending habits. We are suckers for Amazon Prime so we had to give ourselves reasonable limits,” says Lauren.

If you and your spouse haven’t had the money talk yet, I highly suggest you do so on a full stomach and with a tasty beverage in hand. Approach your partner honestly and receive feedback without judgment. A great way to start the conversation is to ask your partner, “I value your feedback and I’d love to know, how do you feel about our finances?”

Once you open the door to the financial conversation, you can more easily make a plan to clean up the money mess together.

Define your money values

You know the old saying, “opposites attract”? The saying can also be true for the way you and your partner view money. Drs. Brad and Ted Klontz, founders of the Financial Psychology Institute, broke down financial values into four belief patterns. The patterns, including money avoidance, money worship, money status, and money vigilance, can form around childhood and carry well into your adult years.

Do you value money in the same way that your partner does? Take a look at each belief statement and see which one you resonate with the most.

Money avoidance

I believe that I don’t deserve money while others have less than me.

Money worship

I believe that the more money I have, the fewer problems I’ll have.

Money status

I believe that social status comes from owning the newest thing, like the latest iPhone or the latest Tesla model.

Money vigilance

I believe that it’s not appropriate to talk about money.

Define your money values and open up to your partner about your beliefs. Chances are your belief patterns led you to where you are now. Awareness can help you identify habits in the moment, even if you aren’t where you want to be financially. Once you are aware of your money belief patterns, you and your partner can make better financial decisions for the future.

Tackling Debt as a Couple
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Bust open that budget

It’s true: we manage what we monitor. Do you monitor your Disney+ account? You bet you are also managing it! It’s the same thing with our finances, minus the princesses and cuddly talking animals.

In order to become a power couple with your debt, the first thing you should do is track your income and expenses. This is normally done through a budget, but budgeting doesn’t have to be confined to block cells in a spreadsheet.

Talk to your partner about how you want to manage your money. This could be in the form of a budgeting app that you both have access to or it could be a whiteboard that’s hung up in your kitchen. Every time you get paid and every time you spend money, write it down. This activity can be a big eye-opener for couples who don’t normally look at their spending habits.

Find and list all of your debt

One of the best ways to pay off debt as a couple starts by listing out your debt and making a plan to pay it off. Look up your monthly bill payments. How many bills have a balance? Make a list of debts and the total balance for each.

Jen Bohler of The Budget Bounce wrote out every single debt on one sheet of paper. When you make a list, one of two things can happen. First, you get a very clear picture of what debt you have. Second, you might freak out. Your partner might freak out. In fact, you should freak out.

That’s because money makes people emotional. In fact, 87% of Americans agree that nothing makes them happier or more confident than having their finances in order. A great way to get your debt in order is to pull a free credit report. You can do so through AnnualCreditReport.com which is recognized by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Make sure you pull a credit report for you and your partner to get an all-inclusive list.

Gamify your debt payoff plan 

Once you have a list of all of your combined debt, you can get creative with how you want to pay it off as a couple. Anyone a fan of coloring? A visual tool, like debt free charts, could help you and your partner stay on track. Each time you make a payment, color in a new line. Keep your chart where both of you can see it, like on the refrigerator or taped to your bathroom mirror.

Another way to gamify your debt payoff plan is to pick how you want to pay it off. You can either pay off debt using the debt snowball method or the debt avalanche method. Remember that all-inclusive debt list you put together? You can use it to select your method. 

Debt snowball method

You can organize your debt by listing the smallest loan balance first regardless of interest rate. Then, using the debt snowball method, pay off your debt from smallest to largest balance. The idea is to give you a quick-win that can motivate you to pay off the next smallest debt.

Debt avalanche method

The second option would be to reorganize that list by highest interest rate first and pay off debt using the debt avalanche method. You should focus on the debt that has the highest interest rate and highest balance first. Make minimum payments on everything except for that debt. Then, once the first debt is paid off, focus on the next debt with the highest interest rate.

One important note for both plans

Before you and your partner decide on which plan works best for you, you will need to have some money to throw towards the debt. Kristin Wong, author of “Get Money,” calls it your “Debt-Bustin’ Money.” Ideally, you should calculate your discretionary income which is the amount of money left over after paying your basic living expenses.

Once you have an idea of how much discretionary income you have to work with, you can decide as a couple how much money you want to allocate towards the debt.

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None of this works if you don’t talk

It’s nice to make a game plan for how you’re going to pay off debt as a couple, but you both need to be on the same page. Communication about your financial history is essential to building healthy money habits within your relationship.

Wong also points out that when you sit down to discuss money with your partner, cover your financial past, present, and future. Her checklist is a great starting point.

Your financial past

  • Credit cards you’ve opened
  • Loans you’ve taken out
  • Foreclosures, bankruptcies, debt that’s been settled or charged-off
  • How you’ve dealt with money in the past
  • How your parents dealt with money when you were growing up

Your financial present

  • Outstanding debt you owe
  • Debt you’re actually paying off, including credit cards, student loans, mortgages
  • Interest rates on those debts
  • Your income or salary
  • Money owed to you
  • Active financial accounts
  • Your budget
  • Your money personality

Your financial future

  • Debt-payoff goals
  • Savings goals
  • Retirement goals

Bottom line, if you want to clean up your financial mess in your relationship, you must be willing to talk. As uncomfortable it can be to admit to your financial blunders, it’s the first step to achieving financial wellness between you and your partner. Work through some of the activities mentioned above so you can pay off debt as a couple and create financial peace in your relationship.