Tackling debt is hard. It requires the persistence to change long-held habits, fight through ups and downs, and celebrate small wins along the way. But that battle gets even harder if you aren’t on the same page with your spouse. So, how can you learn to work together with your spouse and recognize each other’s struggles? Today, Steph from StephShares is here to share her story!
Steph is on a debt-free and weight loss journey alongside her husband. It hasn’t always been easy for them, but they are learning to trust each other and find a system that works for them. If you have trouble talking to your spouse about money, there is a lot you can learn from Steph and her husband!
Without further ado… Take it away, Steph!
StephShares’ Personal Debt Journey
Tell me a little bit about you and your husband? What do you do for work? Do you have kids?
My husband and I met while I was in high school, so we’ve basically grown up together (along with our oldest as I was technically a teen mom). I run my blog, StephShares and my husband is a physics/Astronomy professor at a local college. We have four kids (21, 12, 12, 8).
What is your history with money? What were you and your husband good at handling as a couple and what was more difficult?
I grew up incredibly poor and never knew anything about money management. My husband grew up in a solidly middle-class family but had a father who NEVER spent any money at all. So, both of us have done without, and we spent every penny we brought in once we lived on our own. Credit cards were like the gold at the end of the rainbow. It doesn’t help that we are both spenders which can be a recipe for disaster.
[Note from Mama Fish: Amazing what kids learn from watching their parents with money! We need to show our kids that you can save responsibly, but also find balance to enjoy what you have.]
On most things, we work well as a team. When it comes to cleaning or managing the kids, we divide and conquer and get things accomplished. We have similar parenting beliefs, and we both like a neat house but aren’t meticulous when it comes to overall cleanliness. And we’re both animal lovers, thus our house full of pets (which make their own kind of mess!).
Where did you start with your debt free journey and where are you today?
When it comes to money, we’ve gone through a debt free journey twice. The first time we almost finished but failed because we can not do the gazelle approach that Dave Ramsey suggests. Neither one of us does really well with an all or nothing approach, but it took years to learn that about ourselves.
This is true when it came to losing weight too. I needed a cheat day, one day where I didn’t have guilt or stress or pressure about what I ate. Along the same lines, that’s why we now practice a more modified, slow gazelle approach. Our gazelle meanders but with a set destination in mind!
We started on this most recent financial journey together as my husband became more of a spender and started hiding money spent. In marriage counseling, he finally allowed me access to all accounts, and I made a plan that he was able to agree with. Today, we have paid off all but one store card (and that will be paid off by November!). Then we move on to bigger credit cards. We’ve snowballed almost $800 a month to apply to debt right now.
Do you think you and your husband have different money personalities?
At this point in our lives, we are both still spenders, but I have an easier time saying no.
He still hates to tell me no, so I am in charge of all discretionary money and it’s up to me to say no. Knowing that the sooner we can pay off debt, the more trips we can take, that is a huge motivator for me. It helps me cook at home and stop shopping for things we don’t need. This has taken a huge weight off my husband’s shoulders, and he can focus on other things, letting me handle the responsibility of day to day money management.
What did financial rock bottom look like to you?
Financial rock bottom came when he told me we had an excess for the month of June, but by the end of the month, we had gone over by several hundred dollars. I was blown away. He had no answers and was defensive and angry. Since I didn’t have access to the accounts, I didn’t know either.
We had a huge argument, and he finally allowed me access after another heated marriage counseling session. It really hit me that we bring in a low five-figure income every month and are in the red. That’s just craziness!
So, I looked over everything and made some suggestions. Once he realized I didn’t want to place blame, I just wanted to help fix the problem; a weight was lifted off his shoulders. From that point on, we have worked together, and I’m clear on where the money is going. I don’t freely spend, and now he knows that he doesn’t have to handle this alone.
How did you get your family money discussion started positively?
We were in counseling, and that was the only place we could talk about money for awhile.
After that, I brought it up and suggested some ideas how to close the gap for one of the two months of the year we are very short on money. Due to my husband’s pay schedule, the beginning of each semester is brutal as he doesn’t get paid by every school. My suggestions didn’t cause much in terms of cutbacks and the only cutback was getting rid of cable. He agreed to try it for a short time.
The aha moment was realizing that neither of us misses cable and the kids can watch stuff on Netflix and Hulu. Things we were already paying for in addition to expensive satellite TV!
I think the key was bringing up a hot topic with reasonable solutions in mind. I was proving that I’m willing to try and solve these problems we’ve created, not just complain.
Why do you think your first attempt at your debt-free journey didn’t work?
I wanted to take a much more strict, gazelle-like approach, but the idea completely pushed my husband away. It took a long time for me to compromise my position and agree to pay off debt at a slower pace and allow us to still take vacations. I finally realized that being so strict made us both rebel, kind of like when we were young. We needed a more reasonable approach and accepting it might take a bit longer to pay off debt.
Even though I’m glad we are on the same page, I’m still nervous about taking things a bit slower. Having just returned yesterday from a very short two-day trip, I do realize how much our family needs to step back and just breathe sometimes. No sports, no school, and no teenage drama for them to have to deal with. The timing of this trip has shown me how important it is to live life in balance. I needed the reminder.
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Creating a plan for debt freedom is the first step!
Did you read any books or take any classes as a couple to get you started on the right foot?
We utilized the Dave Ramsey method about seven or eight years ago, and it took a couple of years, but we almost completely climbed out of debt before we lost motivation.
We are currently following our own modified version of Dave Ramsey. With two schools of very sporadic scheduling, when my husband gets one of these classes, and we are in the black at the end of the month, we take that money for vacations rather than paying on debt. It’s our compromise to hopefully not fall off the wagon this time.
[Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover is a top-rated and successful book and course for helping families achieve financial freedom. While many of his principles are sound, his hard and fast rules don’t work for everyone! Steph and her husband aren’t the only ones who struggled to go full-out, but I’m glad they found a way to adjust it and get back on track!]
What advice do you have for couples who struggle with money?
My top tips are:
- Work together – You must be a team. Listen to all concerns about cutting back and what can/will be given up. Both people must be on the same page. Use your strengths to form a solid team. I am better with big picture ideas, and I’m in charge of food money. I do all the shopping and cooking. I’m not particularly fond of cooking, but he works all day, so it’s reasonable that I have that responsibility.
- Budget – My husband tracks all the bills and all his pay dates in an excel spreadsheet. This is his strength, and so he’s in charge of that, and we’re both okay with it. Know where your money MUST go each month.
- Know your debts – List them, know them and order them in terms of payoff. Seeing them being taken out is such a reward in of itself!
Finally, where can readers follow your story? How does your blog tie into you and your husband’s journey of getting healthy physically and financially, together?
I write a weight loss/healthy living blog. Although my priority is on providing tips for losing weight, I also spend a lot of time trying to educate people to be kind to themselves and that there will be good days and bad days.
I don’t currently talk about our debt story, but I am going to start because there are so many things that overlap. Losing weight and paying off debt are both mental challenges, the journey requiring an internal strength to have faith and push forward, one day into the next. There will be hiccups, there will be distractions, there will be derailments, and it comes down to getting back on the path and picking off where you left off.
Throughout the journey, it is important to be kind to yourself and your spouse. Life happens, and it won’t always follow your financial plan. I know this firsthand as I look at the new car in my driveway. My husband totaled his just six months before it was paid off requiring us to get another car and a new loan we weren’t counting on. But, it’s okay. It’s not the end of the world; we got a great car at an amazing price with not even 1% finance rate. Things could’ve been much worse. We’re back to paying off debt.
Thank you so much to Steph for stopping by today to share some insight on her journey! We all have to walk our own paths to a financially stable and debt-free life, but it is invaluable to learn from the experiences of others. I will be wishing her and her husband the best of luck to succeed in achieving a debt-free life this go around!
Are you and your spouse on the same page with money? Do you have a plan to get out of debt? Share your experiences below so we can all learn from and help each other!