As Valentine’s Day approaches, many couples are making plans to celebrate their love and commitment with lavish dinners, red roses, and teddy bears. While I’m never opposed to celebrating love, I find that there is an even more important issue looming in the background — one that can make or break your relationship — and that is money. Money is a leading cause of divorce, yet so many people don’t want to talk about it.
And if money wasn’t taboo enough, debt seems to be an even less desirable subject to talk about. Yet debt is having a real impact on our relationships, derailing such life goals as marriage, retirement, and homeownership. According to a CNN article on the effects of student loan debt, “Even marriage has been put on hold, with 15% of respondents saying they delayed tying the knot because of student loan debt.”
While dealing with debt as well as the responsibilities of being in a relationship is decidedly unsexy, talking about it and coming up with a plan could be the one thing to save your relationship. This Valentine’s Day, join forces and make a plan to conquer your student loan debt together. Here’s how to get started and how to make it fun:
Pick Your Battles
When working together to pay off debt, pick your battles wisely and choose a plan of attack. Will you focus on low balances or high interest, which is typically referred to as the snowball and avalanche methods.
The snowball method, which was popularized by personal finance guru Dave Ramsey, focuses on paying off debt with the lowest balance first. To get started, make a list of all of your loans as well as interest rates (this is easy to do with Student Loan Hero). Using this method, you will pay off the smallest balance first, and the next smallest, and so on and so forth until your debt is completely wiped out. This method is a popular choice because of the psychological wins — it’s easier to pay off small balances, which help you build momentum. Momentum and motivation are key to inspiring you to work as a team and pay off debt.
Another method is the avalanche method, which focuses on paying off high interest debt first. Interest is what can make paying off debt feel like you are taking two steps forward, and one step back as it can add up so quickly. Mathematically, this method makes sense as it will save you money over time. My partner and I have chosen the avalanche method to pay off our student loans, because it is what makes sense for us. I’ve calculated my monthly interest as well as my daily interest, and at its highest, it was costing me about $10 per day. That’s a ton of money, so it motivates me to put that money back into my pocket and pay off high interest debt first.
Choose a plan that works for you as a couple and your financial situation. The snowball method is great for psychological wins, but it may take longer to pay off your debt. The avalanche method will lower the amount you put towards debt, but can also feel like a slow climb. The most important thing is to pick a plan and support each other.
Before you choose a plan, sit down and have a money date to discuss your plan of action. Open up a bottle of wine, put on some music, and sit down to have a candid talk about debt. Here are some things to discuss.
- Look at your interest rates and calculate your monthly interest.
- Understand your repayment plan (Standard, Graduated, Income Based Repayment, etc.)
- Ask each other: What debt is the most painful? For us, it’s his private loan and my graduate loans. Pay that off first.
- Look at private vs. federal loans. Private loans often have less lenient repayment terms.
- How can you support each other financially and emotionally, while getting out of debt?
- What are your Big Dreams? What inspires you to get out of debt?
- Schedule regular money dates and make it fun! Print out pictures of your debt free life, discuss over coffee or wine, and be each other’s biggest cheerleader.
Say Yes to Eliminating Debt
As a couple, it’s so important that you are on the same page about getting out of debt. You both need to commit, not only to each other, but to getting out of debt. Paying off debt is like a marriage — you need to be in it for the long haul and not quit at the first sign of tough times.
Climbing out of debt is often seen as something purely financial, but your mindset plays a huge role in your success. When times do get tough and you feel like you want to give up, or like it’s not worth it anymore, you need to support each other and remind yourself of the big picture. Imagine your life after debt. What does it look like? Does it involve travel or other spontaneous adventures? Or does it mean buying a home, or pursuing a hobby you’ve pushed aside?
Whatever your debt free dreams are, keep those close. Support each other and say yes to getting rid of debt together.
Fall in Love with Paying Off Debt
Paying off debt, especially if one or both of you are dealing with the perils of student loans, can seem so tedious. It’s just one more thing that is taking away your hard earned money. But in order to stay motivated and stave off debt fatigue, you have to work together to pay off debt and make it into a game. Set up a rewards system so that you can indulge in small pleasures after you hit big milestones. Pay off $1,000 in debt? Go to the movies! Pay off $5,000 in debt? Book a couple’s massage. I firmly believe that you have to have some fun while paying off debt, so come up with a rewards system to help you accomplish your goals.
Make It Work
There are a few things you can do to expedite your student loan repayment. Follow these tips below to jumpstart your repayments and pay off debt even faster.
- Round up your payments to the nearest dollar.
- Make biweekly payments, instead of monthly payments.
- Put all windfalls such as birthday money or a tax refund towards debt.
- Earn more money through side hustling, downsizing, or selling old items.
- Use Student Loan Hero and our nifty calculators to track your payoff progress and test repayment strategies.
- Understand your WHY as a couple. Why is it so important to get out of debt?
- Find your people. Look for a community of people who can support you. Explore personal finance blogs, get a financial coach or advisor, or talk with close friends about getting out of debt.
Dealing with debt in a relationship can be a challenge — it can cause friction, depression, and can feel like a hopeless situation. But the beautiful thing about love is that all relationships require teamwork, and with that teamwork you have the opportunity to conquer your debt together.
How do you work together to pay off student loans? Let us know on Twitter @StudentLoanHero!
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