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Relationships & Money

4 Minute Read

Bringing Debt Baggage Into A Marriage

4 Minute Read

Grace was a completely debt-free gal with $10,000 in the bank before she got married. Awesome! But when she said “I do” to Drew, she also agreed to $44,000 in student loans that Drew brought to the table. Ouch!

“It was a challenge combining our money. I knew I needed to view it as our debt because we were now one,” Grace said.

This situation is not unusual for a newly married couple. It is all too common for at least one person to bring a significant amount of debt baggage into the marriage. Yes, you or your spouse-to-be may have made some stupid money mistakes in the past—like we all have. But now you’re a team, and it’s time to attack it together. You two can get to the point where you say, "This is our debt now. And it’s our money, so we will pay this debt off together,” just like Grace did.

What about the Wedding Costs?

Can you put your debt snowball on hold to slightly enhance a modest wedding? Dave says yes. “If you were putting an extra $50,000 on this wedding instead of getting out of debt, then we’d have to talk,” Dave told a radio show caller.

No more money fights! Get on the same page with your money!

The average wedding in America right now is $28,000, but you don’t have to spend nearly that much to plan a beautiful, memorable day. Having a modest, reasonable wedding in a modest, reasonable situation is wise on your part.

Get Your Baby Step Bearings

When combining your money, Dave says not to pay anything on the other person’s debt until you’re married. Just keep paying on your own debt (if you have it) or save up a pile of cash if you’re already debt-free. But as soon as you come back from the honeymoon, realign your money to reflect your Total Money Makeover as a couple.

Make sure that “we” have $1,000 in the bank as a baby emergency fund to complete Baby Step 1, and then work on paying off the debt. If one of you had a $1,000 emergency fund before, don’t use that money to pay off debt—you’ll just be digging out a hole that’s going to fill back up when life happens. Keep $1,000 in the bank together, on purpose, from the start. Then, start a long-term strategy for navigating through the Baby Steps as a couple.

Never, Ever Play the Blame Game

After three and a half years of blood, sweat and tears, Grace and Drew became debt-free! By making a plan and sticking to it as a team, they reached freedom—as a couple. “I never had debt when I was single, so once we paid off the debt together, it felt like a huge accomplishment!”

Grace and Drew made a poster of a thermometer and put it on their fridge to track progress. Every time they paid off some debt, they colored it a little higher, which showed them that every little bit made a difference.

“Seeing that was really motivating,” Grace said. Having the same end goal and working themselves silly to accomplish it made them feel closer to each other.

But it wouldn’t have happened if they had not avoided the blame game that so many couples fall into.

Here are some tips to keep you out of the trap:

  • Don’t refer to it as “your” debt. That one little word makes a big difference in both of your perspectives.
  • Don’t hold over their head the fact that they had debt. Trust us, everyone’s happier this way! If you were the one who brought the debt in, don’t hold it over your own head!
  • Don’t give up! Stick to the plan, and stick together. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely worth it. Find ways to motivate each other to stay gazelle intense about living without debt for good!

When it comes down to it, taking on some debt is a small price to pay to be with your lifetime love. Talking about these things now will strengthen your relationship and keep debt from getting in the way of a wonderful marriage.

Dave Ramsey’s class, Financial Peace University, is a great resource to get on the same page financially with your spouse. You’ll laugh and learn as Dave teaches you valuable lessons each week and helps you create a solid foundation for your money. Learn more about Financial Peace University.