I’ll pay for your debt

Couple putting coin into piggy bank

I felt so embarrassed to be telling my husband (boyfriend at the time) that I was in debt… Let’s be real, there are certain conversations that we’d just rather not have for fear of exposing our vulnerabilities and ruining the perception that this person has of us. The newness of a relationship is like buying a new car – we notice all the beautiful things about it and we can’t wait to take to the road! But as soon as a warning light comes on that signals an issue, then we have to find out what is causing the problem. Issues like this are usually hidden, and we wouldn’t see them just by looking at the car.

Debt is one of those hidden issues that will soon become very apparent, whether you are willing to open up to your partner or not.

When you get married, you realise how crucial it is to have someone in your life who is willing to approach your finances as a team. As I opened up to Liam that day, I felt so exposed in that moment. Why is it that the topic of finances can make some people feel so uncomfortable? For me, it was because I never had to face up to my spending habits before and consider real change.

I may not have been the type to to splash the cash, but my issue consisted of making lots of smaller payments on a regular basis, which of course always adds up. I guess you could say I was a habitual “blind spender”, and I had never learned about the importance of budgeting. I remember when I had one of my first jobs in retail, and they gave us a 50% discount on everything in the store. Saving? What’s that! My salary each month pretty much went straight back into that same store, and my wardrobe was filled with clothes, shoes and accessories that sat with the labels on. I had way more than I needed, and I’ll never forget when a close friend came to stay and she didn’t pack a full case. When I asked why, she said it was because she knew I would have plenty for her to wear! At the time, I found this cheeky but hilarious. Looking back, I think about how much money I could have saved if I had been more financially literate…

Of course there are certain lessons in life that we need to learn through experience, but I also believe that there are many lessons that we miss out on because our parents never received an education in these areas either.

I’m not knocking them, as many parents try with what they have, but the life skills (or lack of) that we gain in the home can have such an incredible impact on the kind of life that we then go on to lead.

I see many similarities between myself and my mum, and it is insightful to be able to look on as an adult now with more understanding and see where my spending influence came from. At one stage, my mum was clearly concerned about the way I was spending money, so she decided to buy me a book that highlighted the importance of money management. I won’t lie, I laughed when I saw it, but I still read it. At the time, I just didn’t feel like what I was reading mattered to me. I didn’t have a mortgage or rent to worry about, and I had hardly any bills to pay. I wanted to spend, so I did.

There’s no point in me thinking “could or should have” now as I can’t rewind time! But my experience has definitely taught me how valuable financial education actually is. Now that I am a parent, this is a life skill that I know is essential for me to teach my daughter, but I can only do that if I continue to challenge and educate myself to do better. Far too many couples are starting married life completely oblivious to the weight that comes with the financial responsibility of establishing a stable foundation together. With finances being one of the top reasons why divorces happen, it has never been more important to set your sights on financial stability for your marriage, no matter what your finances look like now.

Contrary to popular belief, more money doesn’t bring more stability. What tends to happen is couples just end up moving the goal posts. A bigger house, bigger car, more expensive clothes, holidays and the like.

Until you learn to live within your means and become a true steward of your money, it will never feel like you have enough to live an affordable life.

I don’t know about you, but I always told myself that I never wanted to be one of those people that just feels like I’m working to live, and living to work. One of those people who just about gets by at the end of each month, but has nothing available to allow for a “rainy day”. If this COVID-19 period should teach us anything, it’s the importance of saving…

The phone was quiet for a moment while I waited for Liam to say something in response to what felt like an ugly personal truth. “I’ll pay for it” he said. I felt so overwhelmed in that moment. I was deeply touched by his generosity to want to take his money and pay for my debt. I was more inclined to refuse, but then he said something that I will never forget. He told me that because he saw his money and my money as “ours”, he didn’t see it as giving me money to pay off my debt. We were taking our money to cover our debt. His attitude blew my mind, but it was everything that I needed to start understanding what financial management in a relationship really looked like. Long before marriage, it was actions like this that helped me to develop the confidence in our ability to handle our money together as a team.

What about him? It must have been concerning for my boyfriend to need to “bail me out” and consider a future where that might be a common theme. All I know is, in that moment it wasn’t about me or him, it was about us. That was enough to encourage me to start taking this area of my life more seriously, and of course, if I continued down the same road then no doubt this would have put a huge strain on our marriage. When a saver meets a spender, there is always room for contention, but when both can find middle ground then you will be in a good position to remain a strong team.

If you aren’t doing so already, then I’m challenging you to set up a “money date” for your marriage in the near future. You decide on the frequency, but this will be a dedicated time for you to just talk openly about your finances. To share about any concerns you have or anything that you would like to start doing differently. The more intentional you are about sharing the good and the not so great reality of your finances, the more you can start building your financial literacy together and stay on the same page for the health of your marriage. Remove the “mine” and “yours” money mentality, and instead focus on “us”.

YOUR THOUGHTS

This can be a touchy topic if conversations aren’t being had, so try to begin with the basics rather than jumping in at the deep end with potentially triggering questions. The following sentence starters will hopefully help you and your spouse to start opening up about your finances – maybe even during your first money date:

  1. When I think about my financial education, I think about…
  2. When I think about your contribution to our finances, I feel…
  3. In our marriage, the thought of dealing with finances makes me feel…
  4. If I could change one thing about our finances right now, it would be…
  5. In future, I would like us both to be financially…

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