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, and in most cases you didn’t get into debt all alone. Before tempers flare and you both say and do things 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 – say, from a gambling addiction – getting angry and blowing your top won’t help. Go through your emotions responsibly and concentrate on nipping the immediate issue in the bud – counseling may be necessary for this – before coming up with a plan of attack to get back in the black.
- Pay Off Your Worst First
Once you have a handle on your debt and resolve yourself to proactively eliminate it, go hard. Debt won’t dwindle away if you’re passive about it. Attack the problem head on to keep it contained.
“Pay off your worst first,” says Steve Anzuoni, financial expert at Fairway Financial. “Sit with each other and gather your statements and pay down the higher-interest cards first.”
Financial expert Harrine Freeman suggests a similar approach.
“Set up payments plan 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.”
- Steer Clear of Financially Stressful Situations in the Future
Hindsight is 20/20 as they say, and this adage should absolutely apply to your finances. If you’ve gotten yourself in a hole, start digging yourself out and don’t look back. Also be wary of new situations that can affect the hard work you’ve done to get back on track. Your relationship can only handle so much stress, and it’s not fair to either of you to go into situations – even ones that seem like good moves financially – that will put the whole arrangement in jeopardy.
“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. “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 cut back your spending considerably when you’re in debt, but you’d be surprised at how many people keep swiping those cards even when there’s a problem. Freeman suggests reducing the overall household spending by 30% to increase your monthly cash flow to pay off debt. It’ll be a sacrifice for a while, but desperate times call for desperate measures if you want that debt burden off your back.
- Accept That You’re Not the Joneses, and That’s OK
A lot of the time, couples go into debt trying to keep up with friends, family and neighbors – perhaps even more so for queer couples. You may be able to keep up for a while, but if you’re spending money on things you can’t afford just to look like you can, it’ll come back to bite you eventually. Try to be happy with what you have or else work harder to improve your financial situation (picking up side gigs, furthering your education, asking for a promotion at work, getting a better-paying job, etc.) so that you can actually afford the things you want to buy as status symbols. Or, ya know, finally convince yourself that money doesn’t buy happiness.
- Set Up Payment Alerts to Stay on Track
If you have trouble remembering to pay bills, use technology to help you. Set reminders when bills are due and to be notified when account balances are low. Also set up overdraft protection if you’re prone to overdrawing your account so you can at least cut back the fees you’re charged.
- Make It Clear Who Handles What Financial Responsibilities and When
Nobody wants to accept the responsibility of handling the relationship’s finances – especially with all that can go wrong – but somebody has to do it. Make it clear which one of you that will be and create a budget and bill-paying schedule together so you can hold one another accountable and stay on track.
“Discuss who will manage the finances, who pays what bill, what finances will be joint, where finances will be managed, when finances will be managed, how finances will be managed currently and in the future, and how expenses and bills will be paid,” Freeman advises.
- Enlist the Help of a Financial Planner If You’re In Too Deep
If you’re already in debt, the last thing you need is another expense. However, if the expense is to help you get out of the red, 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. You don’t need some hack all up in your bills charging you an arm and a leg for advice and planning that has no merit.