After watching many of episodes of ‘Til Debt Do Us Part by Gail Vaz-Oxlade (I love her so much), I started thinking about how it is so important, as a couple, to work together towards your common financial goals.
Money problems is the number one reason couples break up. Money, whether we like it or not, is symbolic for our values. We spent our money on things or experiences that we value. When one person in the relationship is spending like crazy on shoes, clothes, material items and the other person is busy saving up for the future, this is essentially where the values can clash.
When values clash, individuals within the relationship clash. It makes for some very stressful situations and arguments. It's so easy to just want ‘out' of the relationship to start off fresh and with a clean slate, just like it might be easy to want ‘out' with the debt by filing for bankruptcy.
However, it's not always about taking the easy road. Bankruptcy has serious stigma associated with it, and for good reason. Filing for bankruptcy should be the absolute last resort. The bankruptcy scar will remain on your credit report for 10 years. It's life changing and ranks up there along with death of a loved one, serious illness, changing jobs etc. as one of the most stressful events in our lives.
I think when you're in the amount of consumer debt like the couples in the Til Debt Do Us Part show, it's hard to realize how much debt you're actually in, and how much paying the minimum payment will cost you in the future.
Serious change needs to occur as a couple to avoid continuing down the path to more debt.
I know this can't be stressed enough, but it's so important to communicate. To set a time to talk (so both of you can concentrate), talking while watching television doesn't count. I think grabbing a pen and paper will help so that how much you owe and how much you need to pay to get out of debt can be written down. It's very important here to work as a team. Communicate what each of you is willing to do, and what each of you is willing to sacrifice. I think it's very important here to move forward and not focus on “well, you spent all that money on that boys trip last year!” or “you spent so much money buying that iPad last month”. What's done is done and the only way you as a couple can go, is forward.
Talk to the Creditors.
One way to try and reduce the debt you already owe is to slow down the interest and accumulation of that debt. Many creditors are willing to negotiate with you and you can consolidate the debt you have to a lower interest rate. So instead of paying 19.99%, many creditors are willing to decrease it down to something like 9%.
Use Cash Only & Budget.
One of the great ways that Gail seems to teach couples how to work as a team, is to set out a budget (well, she sets the couples' budget on the show). For example $300 for groceries for the month, and $10 for entertainment. She suggests that they use cash jars. I like the concept of this because you can see the money and you can see how much money you have left (very finite, easily manageable amount). I think that if I were to use cash and put it all in my wallet, it wouldn't have the same effect because I'd be losing track of the money in my wallet much more easily.
Hustle it up with some Side Income.
There are many different ways people can make money on top of their 9-5 jobs. This is where your entrepreneurial spirit can come alive 🙂 Keeping busy will also keep you from spending money (at least for me, that's the case).
Get Professional Help.
Debt as a couple doesn't have to be dealt with alone. There are lots of credit counseling agencies (many of them not for profit and run by the government) who can be of great service. Oftentimes professional help can be the “mediator” between you and your partner. Sometimes things can get really heated when you're talking about money, values, and what you're willing to give up in terms of lifestyle. It can be hard to be objective because you're right in the middle of it, so someone who is looking in from the outside can help.
Although I haven't been in consumer debt … we do have a large mortgage. I for one know that it can be difficult to talk with your significant other about setting goals together for the future, especially if the other person doesn't seem to want to talk about it, or if they have different values (e.g. for me, he doesn't want to pay down the mortgage ASAP like I do).
Readers, are there any other suggestions you might have in terms of how to tackle your debt as a couple? Any tips on how to communicate with the significant other with these issues?