It’s not unusual for couples to have different approaches to personal finance — particularly when it comes to credit cards. For us personally, my husband does not have a credit card, while I’ve had a few. He pays for everything with his debit card. In recent years I have gotten rid of most of my credit cards, but I find that holding onto one makes my life easier on certain occasions.
We have several friends who also have different perspectives on credit cards. One spouse can be very conservative with debt and try to avoid it as much as possible, while the other may be accustomed to having it as a part of their lives. It doesn’t mean their finances are doomed, but it does mean the have to work harder to get on the same page and tackle their high-interest debt together.
While every couple has to find their own particular tactics, here are some strategies that have worked for many as they pay down their debt:
Talk About Your Money History and Habits
Each of us has a history with money and how we view it. It’s not something most of us are aware of, however, so it’s usually best to get everything out in the open as a couple.
How much debt do you have? That’s the big question- you both need to be completely honest with each other if you’re going to do this as a team. Find out exactly how much debt you’re in by either calling up your creditors or compiling all your current bills. You need to know the balance, interest rates, and the due dates for each credit card.
How did each of you get into debt? Some people get into debt by splurging when they shop, others get into credit card trouble with eating out. The point is not to judge, but to see what areas are your weakest.
How do each of you feel about the amount of debt you have? You may be surprised to know how much your spouse does or doesn’t worry about your debt. Some people can’t stand having a balance on their shoulders while others will see how long they can ride out the 0% interest rate.
Please understand that there’s a good chance you won’t agree with each other’s viewpoint, but it’s vital that you know exactly how each other feels about the debt. Only with honest communication can the two of you develop a plan that works for both your styles.
Decide on How Aggressively You’ll Pay Down Your Debt
One of you may be determined to live on rice and beans to get this debt out of your lives, while the other doesn’t see the big deal. Understand that there will have to be some compromise to get both of you aboard.
If it’s keeping one of you up at night, consider being more aggressive at least until you have some buffer room in your monthly cash flow. If you’re not as stressed out about it, then focus on a realistic timeline that works for both of you. Perhaps using your next anniversary as a deadline to eliminate one credit card or make it a goal to be credit card debt free in 3 years. This is a personal decision that you both have to weigh.
Find Money in Your Budget
If you can increase your income, that would be beneficial, but many times couples can find money by optimizing their current spending habits. Here are a few places you can examine to see if you can increase your debt payments:
Car Insurance: You can save a significant amount of money by comparison shopping for your car insurance.
Cell phones: Double check the plan you’re using to see if it’s still a good deal. I would also see if you can switch providers if your contract is over. Carriers will compete for your business. You can also consider going with no contract providers to maintain more control over your monthly bills.
Entertainment: Look at your spending habits and see if ditching your cable TV is a viable option for you two. Perhaps you can use services like Hulu and Netflix to supplement your entertainment needs. the key is not to eliminate your entertainment budget, but to get more bang for your buck.
Use the money saved to go directly towards paying your balances off. I prefer the Dave Ramsey method and attacking the smallest balance first to give your team some momentum.
For us, getting our credit card debt paid off was only the beginning of our personal finance team work. My husband and I managed to pay off our car loan, and we’re now working on the student loan. We have improved our monthly cash flow and have some more buffer room in the budget for other goals.
I’d love to hear from other couples and how they work together to eliminate debt in their lives. How many of you are working trying to reduce debt? What success stories have you had so far? What hurdles did you overcome?
Photo: Andres Rueda, Creative Commons 2.0
Elle Martinez is the blogger behind Couple Money, where she shares tips on how to live on one income and have fun with the second. Couple Money focuses on topics such as baby expenses, debt reduction, giving back, and mortgages.
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