If you've taken advice from wedding planners like me, and professional financial planners who preach this stuff, you've sat down with your fiancé before the wedding to reveal and discuss all of the personal debt each of you has, if any, prior to actually getting married. Sometimes, this conversation can be a real eye opener, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Going into your marriage with your eyes wide open is the best way to start your lives together, even if you don't like everything that you see. Tackling debt as a unit is the best way to start off the marriage on the right foot.
Occasionally, one half of a couple has significantly more debt than the other. And sometimes, the more financially stable partner didn't have a clue. Debt is not a reason to freak out or end a relationship, but it does call for an organized approach to paying off what is owed so that it won't haunt you both through the first 10 years of your marriage, or longer.
Try these four strategies to reducing the debt you will face as a couple:
1. Evaluate what is owed, and see what can be managed better.
There are a lot of options, for example, to helping to reduce student loans or pay them off faster, but it takes research and diligence to actually utilize the programs. With that said, the result will be worth it if it means getting the monkey off your back in five years instead of 15.
2. Look carefully at all of the credit card interest rates and fees.
Do you have other cards with better rates where you could transfer balances and pay them off? Sometimes, a new credit card will offer free balance transfers with no interest for a period of time. As long as you don't use that new card to rack up a whole bunch of new debt, switching over may mean you can reduce what you owe without paying a lot of additional interest. The savings over a year or two can be tremendous.
3. Figure out WHY there is so much debt.
Sometimes it's entirely legitimate because of a job loss or other emergency that impacted your monthly income. Unfortunately, lots of pre-marital debt can be attributed to free spending and enjoying the finer things in life a little too frequently. One couple realized, in the course of evaluating their spending, that combined they were spending $500 a month on Starbucks. They bought a fancy coffee machine and reduced their monthly spending to $100.
4. Establish a realistic household budget, and try to budget for "entertainment" as well.
If you're tackling a big debt, "entertainment" will include going out to dinner (or ordering in) on a regular basis just because you'd rather not cook. But planning ahead to eat at home or carry lunch can save you together almost $1,000 a month, depending on how often you were doing it. Keep your eye on the prize and realize that you'll be able to play more often once you've paid for all the fun you've already had.
Sandy Malone is the owner of Sandy Malone Weddings & Events and author of How to Plan Your Own Destination Wedding: Do-It-Yourself Tips from an Experienced Professional. Sandy is the star of TLC's reality show Wedding Island, about her destination wedding planning company, Weddings in Vieques.