Most married couples have debt at some point in their marriage. But for many couples debt isn’t short-lived. Instead, it grows and multiplies, bringing high levels of anxiety and stress to the marriage. Have you ever felt this? According to Ramsey Solutions, money is the second leading cause of divorce after infidelity. So how can you and your spouse reduce or better yet, eliminate debt?
Here are 10 principles we believe are important to reduce debt:
1. Develop a budget and stick to it.
In your budget allocate a predetermined amount of your income to God and debt reduction. We believe in tithing since it’s commanded in the Bible and also a significant way to honor God. In our home we tithe first, then we spend. (For more on tithing, see our article here)
After designating a portion of your income to God and set expenses like your home, utilities, insurance, etc. make debt reduction your next priority. Pay off debt each month. Make sure you’re paying more than the minimum payment each month. Your goal is to get ahead of debt. Dave Ramsey has “7 Baby Steps” for saving and debt reduction. You can see them here.
2. Save money.
Any amount you can save, even $5 or $20, adds up. Save money and apply it quickly to your debt. Perhaps you can do a month-long spending freeze where you don’t spend any money on clothes, vacations, entertainment, dining out, or any other discretionary items. We’ve done this at times in our marriage and it’s amazing how much “extra” money you can actually accumulate by the end of the month.
Also, know how much you spend on insurance, groceries, and services. Shop around. Perhaps you could save several dollars each month by changing insurance companies or grocery stores. Several years ago Heidi told one of her sister-in-laws where she purchased groceries and what she was paying for some items. The sister-in-law was shocked because she was spending much more for the same items at her grocery store. She switched to Heidi’s store and saved money each week, which added up to a significant amount of money over time.
3. Get a part-time job.
Talk to your spouse. Decide how many hours and for how many months/years you will work. Then put all of your income from that job towards eliminating debt. We have friends who did this for four years and eliminated $60,000 worth of debt. During that time they also paid cash for three weddings and purchased three used cars without going into debt.
4. Can you sell something?
Perhaps you have a used computer, clothing, or unused furniture. Sell items you no longer need or want. You’ll be blessing someone else while you become financially more healthy.
5. Evaluate your choices.
Are there some services you can eliminate from your budget? Can you hire someone to do a job less expensively? Do you pay someone to mow your yard while you have teenagers at home? Perhaps you drop the lawn mowing service and have your own kids mow the lawn. Do you have a housekeeper? Explain to them that you’re on a plan to reduce debt and so for the next year you’re going to clean your own house and then re-evaluate. Choices add up to dollars saved or dollars spent.
6. Refinance your home if you plan to stay in it for a while.
Mortgage rates are historically low right now making this a great time to refinance your home at a lower rate. We did, and it’s saving us money each month.
7. Hire a financial advisor and/or attend a financial class.
Learn from someone who has managed money well. One of our son-in-laws works for
Ramsey Solutions and we’re big proponents of Financial Peace University. Accountability and knowledge are essential in eliminating debt.
8. Discuss all major purchases with your spouse.
First, determine what constitutes a “major purchase.” Is it anything over $100 or what’s your definition? Second, recognize that financial agreement is an important aspect of trust and unity in a marriage. Your marriage will be stronger if your financial goals and values are in sync.
9. Cultivate contentment.
Most of us enjoy having the newest iPhone, purchasing fashionable clothes, driving a fancy car, or going on a nice vacation. If you can afford those things and they’re in your budget, great. But if you’re accumulating debt because you want, rather than need, those things you could be creating stress in your marriage.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “…I have learned how to be content with whatever I have” (Philippians 4:11). It’s a learned attitude. Make the decision together to learn how to become content together.
Talk together about purchases ahead of time. Save for your vacation and pay for it with cash. Ask yourself, “Do I really need that pair of shoes?” or “We already own 3 watercrafts. Is it necessary to buy another?” We know people who have acquired debt (and things!) because an item was on sale. Don’t purchase something just because it’s a good deal. A good deal isn’t always a good deal especially if it brings conflict, stress, and disunity into your marriage. And it’s not a good deal if you didn’t need it and just accumulated more debt or could have put that money toward your current debt.
Plan your major purchases together. When you suspect an item may be nearing the end of its lifespan save for its replacement. Then plan and purchase the replacement on sale.
10. Pray together about your finances.
Ask God to provide you with good deals and wisdom. Pray that you can eliminate debt and grow in generosity at the same time. Pray that your appliances, cars, and other items last a long time and work well. (Our washer and dryer are 33 years old. They’re not fancy but they work.) Ask God for unity and understanding in your financial decisions. Pray that God is honored in how you steward your money as a couple. As you do, you will build your marriage.