I was young, smart, had a college degree, a great job, and drove a nice pickup truck. I had a rental property full of tenants. On the outside, it appeared that everything was going well. But I had a secret: I had debt. And lots of it.
Sadly, all of my debt was a result of poor planning, but most of all, poor self control.
From the time that I began dating my then soon-to-be wife, I knew that this was a topic that would need to be discussed. One day, on an 8-hour drive to my hometown, I decided that would be as good a time as any to bring it up. Mostly because I knew she couldn’t jump out of a moving car at 70mph to escape me.
My apprehension stemmed from already knowing how she viewed debt. Financially, she was doing very well. Her car was paid off, she worked as a nurse full-time, and had just recently built her first home. Aside from her house, she was entirely debt-free.
“I have something to tell you”, I said to her.
Though difficult, I disclosed to her the amounts of all the debts I owed. A particularly sore one to share was how I had rolled negative equity from multiple vehicles into a personal loan, which I still owed thousands on.
Fortunately for me, she didn’t break up with me right then and there. Instead, she was incredibly supportive and thanked me for being up-front and transparent with her.
Confessing Your Debts to Your Partner is Important
While the amount of debt that I carried wasn’t insurmountable, we both learned that day that honesty is the key to overcoming any struggle. The first part of tackling an issue comes with the acknowledgement of it in the first place.
A marriage requires full disclosure
A marriage can’t be built upon a foundation of lies. Not just regarding finances, but everything. You might attempt to justify your situation, telling yourself that you’re not “lying” to your spouse — you’re simply not disclosing all the dirty details. But if you were to swap roles and discover that your partner was withholding information from you, how would you feel?
Complete transparency of all your debts is key to forming a long-lasting, trust-filled relationship. And the sooner you get it over with, the easier it will be.
Marriage requires financial commitment
Marriage is about commitment, as much as it is about love and family. With the moral decline of our society, I may be strange by the fact that I take wedding vows seriously. Whether or not you thought about them at that time, you agreed to love your partner “for rich and for poor.”
As I was preparing to get married, I enjoyed ‘interviewing’ various friends and family members on their perspective of money. Did they combine finances? Who was in charge of paying the bills? How did they handle large or impulse purchases? I was shocked to find that many people I spoke with kept finances separate. There was a common phrase tossed around of “his money” and “her money”.
It is, in my opinion, impossible to fully commit to someone with whom you’re not sharing the most intimate aspects of your life — the debt and finances. To maintain a successful relationship, you can’t have any reservations. You can’t jump in the water, but keep your hand on the dock. You either jump in feet first, or not at all. There is no in-between.
If you plan to be together forever, you must first plan for forever. Part of that plan requires taking inventory of where you’re both at financially. This requires effort both in the initial process, but also at various checkpoints throughout your relationship.
Working together, you can get rid of debt
If any of you follow Dave Ramsey, you’ll hear him mention this fairly often:
“Personal Finance is 80% behavior and only 20% head knowledge” -Dave Ramsey
I believe that with all of my heart. Money is not just about math. The majority of it has to do with emotions and behavior. Is it difficult to live off $20k a year? No doubt. Can it be done? Absolutely.
While single, my money was “mine”. There was no sharing. There was no system of checks and balances. If I wanted something, I could go out and buy it without any accountability. In a partnership, all this changes. You have to be selfless with your funds. You begin to think of “my money” as “our money” instead. You begin to analyze your purchases more closely. And you now have a second party to talk you out of any stupid situations you may be tempted to enter.
I like to picture “single finances” as a bike driving down the road with a wobbly wheel. You’re making it, and you have a generally straight direction, but you may swerve to the left or right occasionally due to your wheel. Marriage, on the other hand, is a well-oiled machine. With both of you working together as a team to carry the weight, you have the potential for gaining momentum and paying off debt that you never would’ve had on your own.
Having the “debt talk” prevents problems later
It’s astounding to me that couples can tie the knot without asking the tough questions beforehand. Things like, “How many kids do you want to have?” and “What are you views on politics?” are, in my mind, imperative to know beforehand. Alas, many marriages begin without asking these questions, and finances are often an overlooked topic as well. By beginning your marriage with the “debt talk”, you can ensure that you’ll be on the same page as your partner. Or if you’re not on the same page as your partner, you at least have a general expectation on where their ideals land.
One of you might be the spender, while the other is the saver. Or you both very may could enjoy splurging on the daily. These are important to know beforehand.
Everyone can attest to the fact that no marriage is perfect. Everyone has their struggles, but the couples that plan out their future together ahead of time, are usually the ones that last. Couples who openly discuss goals and desires grow closer together as you both work to achieve the same end result. If you’re not open about your financial situation in the beginning, this isn’t possible.
In all, it boils down to this: Disclosing your debts is the first step in a long journey of paying them off, and building your lives together. Confront your finances head on, and begin working towards the financial freedom that you and your partner have always dreamed of.