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Money Advice for Life
How debt can impact your relationshipd
Over half of Saskatchewan people say that they would have no issue pursuing a relationship with someone if they had a high level of debt. Debt may be low on your list of deal breakers, but it can severely impact the health of your relationship if it isn’t talked about or there isn’t a plan in place to pay it off. This blog recounts how debt struggles negatively impacted the author’s relationship with their partner and the small but impactful steps they took to fix it.
Let’s talk about debt baby
How much debt would be too much to prevent you from exploring a relationship with someone? According to 52% of Saskatchewanians, no amount of debt would stop them from dating or marrying a partner.
Though debt may not impact you from choosing a partner, it could have an impact on your relationship. According to Canadian divorce statistics, Canada’s divorce rate has increased by 44.15% over the last 20 years, and it’s estimated one out of every 309 adults are divorced in Canada. As to the reason for the divorce – many say money!
While you may not chat about money on your first date, finances should be a topic that is talked about as your relationship becomes more serious. From the assets you possess to the amount of debt you have, it’s important to be open and honest with your significant other to ensure both parties know what they may be getting into. It’s important to continually have this conversation with your partner in order to reduce any stress or tension that may negatively impact your relationship.
This advice is something I wish I knew and started talking about sooner. This is my experience.
How it started
I met my husband when I was 15, and though we didn’t start dating until a few years later, money was not even a topic of mind. I mean, is it for anyone at that age?
Skip forward 21 years to where we are today and money is something we talk about regularly. However, this wasn’t always the case, and up until about 5 years ago, money was not part of our conversation. Looking back, I realize how not talking about money with one another was putting a lot of stress on us and taking a heavy toll on our relationship.
Five years ago, we were in debt and struggling to get a hold of our finances. We each had our own bank accounts, individual vehicle payments, different credit cards and line of credits – everything was separate. Because of this, we didn’t have a full grasp on our finances as a whole. We continually tried to pay our debt down, but no matter what we did it seemed to continually go up. There was tension. There were fights. Our relationship was rocky. We knew we needed to do something before our debt and our relationship got worse.
With our mortgage up for renewal, we decided it’s now or never to make a change. We sat down with our financial advisor and looked at what options we had.
Consolidating our debt
After talking with our financial advisor, we decided to consolidate our debt. What this means is that you take all of the debt you have – loans, credit cards, vehicle payments, mortgage, etc. – and roll it into one monthly payment. Consolidating your debt doesn’t make it go away, however, it can help you gain control of your finances a bit easier.
Now that we had all of our debt in one spot, we needed to be able to manage all of our money from one channel, so we decided to join our bank accounts and have a joint credit card. While joint accounts may not be for everyone, it was the best option for us and showed us how each of us was spending individually. This wasn’t something we hid from one another when we had individual accounts but it also wasn’t something we talked about. With time, we started to get a grasp on our spending habits and were able to hold each other more accountable.
Tip: The one downside with having a joint account is that each of you can see all the transactions in the account and it can ruin the surprise if you buy a gift for your loved one. We recommend using cash for any gifts in order to keep the element of surprise.
To see change, you must make change
We had gotten ourselves into debt before because of our spending habits and behaviours, and if we didn’t change, we’d most likely wind up in a similar situation. To see difference, we needed to change how we talked about money and how we spent money.
The first order of business was introducing the word “money” into our conversations. It was UNCOMFORTABLE, to say the least, and didn’t begin well. We started with financial goals and quickly realized we were on two separate pages: one of us wanted to save for trips and a new vehicle and the other wanted to think retirement. It was frustrating and we wanted to give up immediately.
Once we figured out our financial goals, we started to create a plan on how to change our spending habits. This included building a budget and actively tracking our transactions each month.
Creating the budget was the easy part. The challenging part was changing our behaviours and the first few months were tough. Over time it got easier and after making some significant changes in our spending behaviours, openly talking about our money, and ensuring each other knew where we were at in our budget, we started to see some positive changes. This included starting to actively put money into our savings and seeing it grow – something we hadn’t really done until this point.
Tip: Build your budget together and be realistic. The first few months will be tough, but if you do it together, you’re able to support one another and hold each other accountable where needed. This allows you to celebrate and succeed together.
How it’s going
It’s unbelievable how much of a positive impact a few simple conversations about money and behaviour changes have had on our household.
We continue to set a monthly budget and compare our spending to these amounts which keeps us on track to reach the goals we set. Though we still have our consolidated debt, in five years we have not gotten ourselves into any new debt and are even actively working to pay our mortgage and debt down faster!
What used to cause us stress and a lot of tension has turned into an ongoing positive conversation and even celebrations when we hit our goals. Where we were previously embarrassed to talk about our situation with friends and family, we now openly talk money and do so together (my husband’s even sitting beside me now and helping me write this blog as we speak). And the best part of all, our relationship has never been better.
Looking back, we wish we would have started the conversation a lot earlier. All we can do is share our story to help others learn from it. Money is something that needs to be talked about. No matter how uncomfortable or awkward it may be, it’s important to talk about your financial goals and spending habits– trust me, you’ll thank yourself and your relationship for it later.