Saying “I do” can be a big step in your relationship — but if both of you have student loans, it can also mean having a big debt load.
After saying “I do,” Jen and Ben Hayes found themselves with $117,000 in combined student loan debt — $75,000 from Jen’s degrees and $42,000 from Ben’s degree.
Jen’s first job paid so little, she was putting 50 percent of her income toward her student loans. Eventually, she got a new job with better pay, so she and her husband decided to take the next step in their marriage and start looking for a home to call their own.
The Moment That Changed Everything
Purchasing a home can cost a pretty penny. Once Jen and Ben began to look at the true cost of homeownership, they realized how expensive it would be on top of their hefty student loan debt.
“After running the numbers, we realized it was a terrible idea,” Jen says. “We were drowning in debt – our monthly student loan payments were as much as a mortgage, and we couldn’t afford two mortgages.”
Jen and Ben realized that if they went down the path of homeownership, while paying back $117,000 in student loans, they could easily succumb to the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. Doing so would leave them on the edge of acquiring further debt, something they did not want to do.
Once their dreams of homeownership were dashed, Jen and Ben thought long and hard about what to do. They couldn’t exactly afford a home, but didn’t love the idea of renting, either.
Making Sacrifices to Pay Off Debt
After confiding in a friend about her situation, the friend recommended she read The Total Money Makeover by finance guru Dave Ramsey.
Reading that book changed their lives and was a lightbulb moment for Jen and Ben. They fell in love with the the Debt Snowball method, which focuses on paying off debt with the smallest balance first and paying the minimum on the rest.
Once Jen and Ben committed to paying off $117,000 in student loans in just three years, they knew they had to make some big changes. Jen and Ben decided to move in with her parents to save on rent, which saves them a lot of money each month. The money saving move isn’t ideal, as you can imagine.
“It is certainly a unique challenge living with in-laws,” says Ben.
Being married and living with your in-laws may be tough, but for Jen and Ben, it’s worth it.
“It’s not as bad as it could be,” Ben admits. “In the long run I know it will be worth it financially, and I am very grateful to them for allowing us to live with them.”
While moving in with the ‘rents ultimately helps their bottom line, Jen admits it’s still not enough to reach their goal.
In addition to living with her parents, the couple also practices extreme frugality and have found ways to earn more money on the side.
“We have a complete spending ban on nonessential items and outings with friends,” says Jen.
Even though they are on a spending ban, they don’t let it limit their fun. They still see their friends often and find frugal ways to have fun.
“We get together with friends often, but we have found free things to do with them – such as going to free yoga classes, having board game nights, and going hiking,” she adds.
Though the couple has found ways to be frugal and have fun, the spending ban is tough, particularly for Ben.
“My husband’s spending habits have been a big hurdle,” Jen says. “He’s naturally a spender, so it’s hard for him to be extremely frugal while we pay off debt.”
The couple combats this issue through accountability and communication.
“I curb my spending by having weekly budget meetings with my wife on what I am spending my money on,” says Ben.
The meetings provide much-need motivation for their debt repayment and keeps the couple on-task.
“This helps me track my spending habits and makes it easier to control my money,” he says.
Cutting back is just one strategy the couple has used, but they have also focused on earning more money as well. Jen admits they both earn an entry-level salary, so they have gotten creative with making extra money on the side.
To earn more money, Ben works as a freelance graphic designer, web designer and photographer while Jen earns extra income from freelance writing and through her blog Frugal Millennial.
Advice for Couples Looking to Ditch Debt
Throughout their journey, Jen and Ben have learned a thing or two about paying off debt. Getting out of six figure student loan debt requires discipline, patience, hard work, and most of all, forgetting about the status quo. Little by little, the couple started to notice their debt diminishing.
“I’m not the most patient person, and seeing those quick wins is incredibly motivating,” says Jen.
To make progress on your debt, you have to make changes in your life and not let others’ lifestyle influence you.
“You may have to do some things that other people won’t understand – like living with your parents (or in-laws), driving 20 year old cars, living in a less than desirable neighborhood, working a lot of overtime, or living extremely frugally,” Jen adds.
Living an unconventional life and letting go of things you “should” buy and “should” do can help you make progress on your debt.
“Stop caring about what other people think and do what works best for you,” she states.
Sometimes what is best for you may be out of the norm, and that is okay. While it may seem extreme to some people, Jen and Ben know they are doing what it takes to reach their goal of being debt-free in three years.
“I don’t care what other people think – if people judge me for driving an old car, not having nice things, or living with my parents, that doesn’t matter,” says Jen. “What does matter is that we will be debt-free in just a few years.”
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