Don't let money get in the way of love.
Debt is like a high school reunion; it creeps up on you before you know it. (And no one is really that thrilled about it.)
But the average American household lives with $16,061 in credit card debt.
And just like high school, we can’t wait to get out of it.
Is it possible to get out of debt if you're a normal couple with no ailing rich uncle ... and no desire to live a tent?
Yes. You can definitely do it.
And as an added bonus, you might improve your relationship too.
We asked our readers what their number one money goal was this year and the resounding majority said, “pay down debt”.
So take heart in knowing that you are not alone.
And even though you can’t avoid the high school reunion invitation, you can avoid fighting with your loved one about your debt.
Here are 6 steps to follow to help you get out of debt, before the strain becomes too much:
1. Get on the same page.
Reducing your debt is a good thing, but so is eating kale and drinking apple cider vinegar (toilet cleaner, anyone?).
So be honest about your desire to really tackle debt.
Take the time now to discuss your goals and some of the benefits of reducing your debt. Talk it out and get excited because you can tackle this together.
Getting out of debt isn’t easy, so once you’re there, celebrate.
Circle the date on the calendar in green, post it on the fridge, agree to celebrate on that date each month as you make progress, but realize how great it is that you both agree — debt is going down.
2. Be specific about how you're going to get out of debt.
They say you are 80% more likely to follow through on a goal if you write it down.
And when you write down “reduce our debt” you realize, that sounds good, but how? So be specific about how you’re going to get out of debt (and write that down too).
Are you going to pay off the smallest balance first to get some high-fiving going on? Do you want to tackle the card with the highest interest rate? Do you want the largest balance paid off before the end of the year? Do you want college to be a distant memory so you want to pay off those student loans first? Be specific.
Look that minimum balance in the face and know that you can do better than that.
You’re not a minimum person! If you carry a $15k credit card balance and pay a typical 15% APR and make only the minimum monthly payment of $625, you will pay on that account for over 13 years.
No more minimums!
3. Pick a habit to kill.
Every household has at least one area where money “leaks” out like a tire with a nail in it.
Own your own “leaks” (avoid helping your partner identify theirs — you know how that might turn out!) and be honest about your commitment to kill that habit to put some cash and life back into your future and your finances.
Once you start honestly thinking through your day, each of you will be able to identify at least one area that probably is not helping your balance sheet at all.
Ask yourselves the tough questions ... is Starbucks really worth $6 a day or $120 a month or $1,440 a year?
4. Make some money on the side.
If changing parts of your lifestyle sounds too restrictive and not at all attractive, you could reduce your debt by adding to your income instead of cutting back.
Part time jobs, freelance, contract labor all add to your available funds to chip away at that growing debt number.
Sites like Task Rabbit connect workers with people willing to pay for work. If you can walk a dog, hang some shelves, run errands, paint an apartment or a masterpiece, there is cash to be made.
Another way to generate money is to sell what you’re not using. The options are endless: unused tools, the weekend Jeep, clothing, furniture, sporting equipment, collections, antiques, kids’ toys or clothes, books, or electronics.
If you’re paying to store items, start there first.
Liquidate, pocket the cash, and stop paying for stuff you don’t use!
5. Get back on the debt-reducing wagon if you slip off.
What should you do if you’ve decided before to pay off debt, but then it didn’t really happen?
Hop back on the wagon. It’s okay if you fell off.
A lot of people do, but get right back on it. Maybe you set the bar too high, maybe the habit you decided to “kill” has nine lives.
Whatever it was that threw you off — be honest with yourself, readjust your plan and tackle it today, and tomorrow, and the next day.
Pretty soon you’ll have a month under your belt and then two.
There’s a reason the rearview mirror is so small and the windshield is so large. Look forward and move on.
6. Ask for help.
You may be special and unique in a lot of ways, but being in debt is not one of them.
Lots of people are digging themselves out of debt. Bethany and I dug ourselves a big hole years ago with a project that went south. We accumulated a lot of debt, but we worked on it little by big by little and dug ourselves out.
Sometimes when you’re digging, you need a hand.
Call your credit card company and ask them for help. Sure, they like your interest payments, but they’d rather have you pay off your card than default on it. So ask your lender to help you restructure things so you can pay off your card.
Maybe you should consider a consolidation loan to get a lower interest rate or a balance transfer to a zero interest card to pay off all of your debt in one place.
If you do this, resist the temptation to feel like those old cards are now zeroed out and ready for swiping!
We have a friend who freezes their empty cards in a block of ice, so they still have the card for emergencies, but they have to wait until the block melts to use it. It gives them time to consider how necessary the purchase is.
So far, the cards are just chillin’ in the freezer.
Don’t be discouraged. The vast majority of people we talk to are fighting debt too. You can get rid of it. We did, eventually.
Just like the hole of debt wasn’t dug in one night neither will be the process to get out. But, you can do it together.
Remember your relationship is worth more than any minimum payment or monstrous debt number. Work with one another, not against each other, and you will find yourself on the other side of this challenge richer.
To get a better handle on how you feel about debt and some insight into how you got here, you can take our free, online FREE online Money Personality Assessment. The Money Couple, are financial planners, authors, and speakers who help couples tackle money issues in their relationship. Grab a copy of their book, "The 5 Money Personalities: Speaking the Same Love and Money Language."