Relationships are hard enough as it is, but throw money into the mix and it becomes a recipe for certain disaster. It doesn’t have to go down like that though. Your relationship can survive a financial crisis — yes, even a menacing mound of debt — if you can both get on the same page and work together to solve the problem.
Avoid the Blame Game
Remember, it takes two to tango; in most cases you didn’t get into debt all alone. Before tempers flare and you say something you regret, take a breather, regroup, and recognize that your current situation isn’t the fault of one person. Even if a recent debt is the sole work of your partner, getting angry won’t help. Check your emotions and concentrate on nipping the immediate issue in the bud — counseling may be necessary — before coming up with a plan of attack to get back in the black.
Pay Off Your Worst First
Once you resolve yourself to proactively eliminate your debt, go hard. Debt is a monster that will not go away with a meek approach. Attack the problem head-on to keep it contained.
“Pay off your worst first,” says Steve Anzuoni, financial expert at Fairway Financial. “Gather your statements and pay down the higher-interest cards first.”
Financial expert Harrine Freeman suggests a similar approach.
“Set up payment plans with creditors,” she says. “Pay off old accounts first, then focus on paying down current debt. Keep credit card balances at 20% or less of the credit limit.”
Shun Future Financially Stressful Situations
Hindsight is 20/20 as they say, and this adage should absolutely apply to your finances. Be wary of new situations that can affect the hard work you’ve done to get back on track.
“I coach couples that financial stress can bring out or aggravate problems in a marriage that would not have otherwise have arisen,” says Elliott Katz, author of Being the Strong Man a Woman Wants: Timeless Wisdom on Being a Man. “They should avoid getting into financially stressful situations even if it will be profitable in the long term but will cause stress to them in the short term.”
Reduce Your Spending — Stat!
It may seem like an obvious tip to considerably cut back on spending when you’re in debt, but many people keep swiping those cards even when there’s an obvious problem. Freeman suggests reducing overall household spending by 30% to increase your monthly cash flow for paying off debt. It’s a sacrifice — but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Accept That You’re Not the Joneses
A lot of the time, couples go into debt trying to keep up with friends, family, and neighbors — but that’s a fool’s game, plain and simple. Spending money on things you can’t afford just to look like you can will come back to bite you eventually. Learn to be happy with what you have, or else work harder to improve your financial situation by picking up side gigs, furthering your education, asking for a promotion at work, or getting a better-paying job — that way you can actually afford the things you want to buy as status symbols.
“A person is rich if they’re content with their share,” Katz says. “Running up debt doesn’t bring happiness. Let others envy the peace in your home.”
Set Up Payment Alerts
If you have trouble remembering to pay bills, let technology help you. Set reminders when bills are due and get notifications when account balances are low, Freeman advises. Also, avoid fees for overdrawing your account by setting up overdraft protection.
Assign Financial Responsibilities
Nobody really wants to accept the responsibility of handling the relationship’s finances — especially with all that can go wrong — but somebody has to do it.
“Discuss who will manage the finances, who pays what bill, which finances will be joint, how the finances will be managed, and how the bills will be paid,” Freeman advises.
Enlist the Help of a Financial Planner
If you’re already in debt, the last thing you need is another expense. However, if it will help you get out of the red, then you get a pass. Sometimes you need help — especially if you have zero idea what you’re doing with your money or how to manage it. Just make sure you’re hiring a reputable financial planner.
Photo Credit: Keoni Cabral