When people ask me for marriage advice, I tell them this: Make a budget and start paying off debt.
Now I know this sounds bonkers. Especially when the main thing that many couples fight about is money. But in my experience, starting a budget and tackling our debt payoff was one of the best things we ever did for our marriage. Doing so brought us closer together and established habits that we still have that keep us on the same page when it comes to goal setting and managing money.
My husband and I were together for about eight years before we got married. In this time I had racked up a lot of debt with credit cards and student loans from being a young mother getting a degree. He had some debt from school and credit too; however, mine was much larger and he was always eager to pay the debt off. I was the type to put it off for later, so by the time we got married it was abundantly clear we had very different attitudes about debt.
After we married in 2012, we were both working, and it was time to put off the inevitable and start paying off my student loans. It became clear quite quickly that I was going to be chucking money at them from the grave at this pace, since my minimum payments did nothing but cover the interest. My husband took the initiative to bring up the topic of paying off our debt, which I opposed staunchly. What I said was, “How can we afford to?” But what I really meant was that I didn’t want to readjust our lives.
My husband set up a spreadsheet template where we would use the debt avalanche method to approach our payments. With this method, you take all of your minimum payments and arrange them in order of interest rate, highest to lowest. You start by making all your minimum payments monthly, but to the one with the highest interest rate you add some affordable amount each month so it gets paid off faster. Once that bill is gone, you take the amount you were paying towards it and add that the the next minimum payment on your list. And so on and so on. By the time you’ve paid off your first item, you are throwing so much money towards your subsequent debts that it starts to go relatively quickly. As in, quicker than you’d ever imagine when you just look at that giant number.
My husband and I have never had any hobbies together. We are similar enough to be a good couple, but different enough that we still have a healthy amount of not understanding each other in the slightest. Although I was resistant to tackling our debt, ultimately it became this amazing thing we did together. And what’s so amazing is that we actually enjoyed it.
The reason that this worked so well for us is that my husband set up a spreadsheet that showed us how much we were saving on interest as we went. It auto calculated when we would be all paid off, and we would play around with the numbers often to see if we put “X” amount in, how much sooner would we be debt free. This became addictive. There was a strange rush when we would add a lump sum and see those numbers change, showing us we were closer to our goal. We started eliminating unnecessary bills just so we could plug those amounts into our debt payoff spreadsheet and watch the totals dwindle.
This payoff system became like a game to us. He would sit at the computer and I’d sit on the floor beside him and we’d watch the amount of interest we’d owe shrink as our payments got larger. When we would go on dates, we’d inevitably start talking about our debt payoff. How we could do more, how we’d been doing, and ways to save money to keep us on our streak. For a couple who had never had a hobby together, we dived right into this one, together.
I believe that being able to chase a singular goal while remaining on the same page is a skill that can enhance your marriage. We started off our debt freedom journey on very different pages, but this experience helped us learn to work together and communicate about hard things. By turning our debt payoff into a “game” of sorts, we were able to approach it in a fun way, which made it easier to stick to. Although we still may have different approaches to money, this experience made it so that when it comes to personal finances, we work together as a team. Overall our marriage was improved by this experience, and our quality of life has only become better since becoming debt free.
So if you’re looking for some advice on spicing up your marriage, try making a budget and paying off debt. You never know what might happen.