If you’re married with student loan debt, you’ll want to read Fo Alexander’s debt free story below. She paid off over $78,000 in student loans at a great clip.
First $31,000 prior to getting married, and then she really kicked it into high gear after joining forces with her husband. They paid off the remaining $47,000 in just 6 months!
Along the way, Fo learned some valuable tips about how to overcome student loan debt as a couple. Here’s her story, along with 6 tips to make paying off your student loans go so much more smoothly.
How I Got into Student Loan Debt
By the time I started dating my now husband, I managed to have amassed over $78,000 in student loan debt. Though I finished my undergraduate degree with only $24,000 in debt, I borrowed over $54,000 more to avoid adulthood.
I decided to attend graduate school at a private institution. When it was all said and done, I landed a great job in a booming career field, but was still living paycheck to paycheck.
Getting Serious About My Student Loan Debt
It wasn’t until I started dating my husband that I met a real life millennial without debt. He was a unicorn among a debt-ridden generation.
Knowing that I’d probably end up marrying him, I decided to get serious about paying off my debt so that I didn’t bring a financial burden into our marriage.
With some strategy and a bit of grit and sacrifice, I paid off $31,000 in about 2.5 years. The kicker? Well, I did this while also cash flowing our wedding.
Six months into our marriage, we were completely debt free. Using the same principles that allowed me to pay off over $31,000 on my own, we paid off the remaining $47,000 in six months!
Here are the best tips that I can offer if you want to pay off debt with your spouse.
6 Tips for Paying off Student Loans as a Couple
1. Decide to do it
As simplistic as it may sound, you have to decide that you’re going to do the work necessary to get out of debt. Many people are in debt today because they’re still vacillating with the idea of paying it off later.
The reality is that your debt isn’t going away until you decide to do something about it. Just as you made a joint decision to get married, you must make a joint decision to get rid of debt.
Prior to our nuptials, my husband and I decided that before any other major financial move, we’d pay off the rest of my student loan debt. We were on the same page with our financial goal and that laid the foundation to our success.
2. Relinquish fault
Once you’ve decided to pay off your debt, bringing up the past is no longer an option. That means no more finger pointing around who caused all or most of the debt. Think of it as forgiveness.
Though I brought in 100% of the debt into our marriage, my husband was very keen on calling it “our” debt. He fully believed that when we got married, we became one—debt and all.
Knowing that I wasn’t being held hostage to my poor and uneducated financial decisions was a relief. It made a difference knowing that my husband was working with me to clean up the mess, even though he didn’t help create it. That’s what partnership is all about.
Forget who created the debt. Just work together to get rid of it and never get in debt again.
3. Combine incomes
If two heads are better than one then you can believe that two incomes are even better!
Increasing your income is a huge factor in paying off debt quickly. I made this happen a couple of ways. For example, it’s why I sold my unused clothes and handbags on Instagram and Facebook to make extra cash to put toward my debt. It’s also why I sacrificed my Friday nights to work overtime as a night shift manager.
Our ability to pay off debt so quickly stemmed directly from our decision to combine our incomes. Whether from our 9 to 5 salaries or from side hustles, we shared 100% of the money we made. Combining our incomes gave us more free cash flow to put toward the debt.
Even if one spouse doesn’t work a traditional job, but manages the home, there are tons of ways to make money online! The key is pooling together any income source available to bring in more cash.
4. Create a payoff plan
There’s a quote that goes, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” If your goal is to pay off debt, you must have a plan!
There are different schools of thought when it comes to paying off your debt. Some experts recommend paying off your debt from the smallest to the largest—also known as the debt snowball. Others suggest the avalanche method of attacking the highest interest debt first. Just remember, they both have one end goal: to get you out of debt!
Decide which method you’ll use and create a plan that you can stick to.
Your plan should include:
- A budget. Your budget is a tool to direct your money. Leverage it to plan your expenses so that you know how much extra cash you have to put toward debt. (Jackie’s note: You can get a free budget template here.)
- A timeline. Goals are only good if they have a timeline attached to them. Based on your budget and your debt amount, estimate exactly how long it will take you to pay off your debt. Write down milestone dates and work to achieve them sooner.
The great thing about living in a tech-centered century is that there are tons of mobile apps that will allow you to do this with ease. I used Excel spreadsheets to create my debt payoff plan, but there are now tools that will do it for you. Leverage these resources to make your debt payoff journey easier.
5. Reduce your expenses
An increase in income becomes null and void if expenses go up too. So while you’re working to get out of debt, you’ll need to make a few sacrifices.
I believe that as humans, we only need four core things to survive. Those four things are food, shelter, clothing, and transportation. Apart from that, everything else is a luxury.
If you want to pay off debt fast as a couple, learn to live with a lot less of these luxuries for a short while. In no way am I suggesting that you go back to the caveman’s standard of living. But cable, subscription services, Starbucks, and dining out can all take a little vacation from your expenses.
Though my husband and I combined incomes, giving us a lot more cash to work with, we didn’t double our expenses. Instead, we opted for a lower than market rate apartment, cable-less television, our furniture from college, and homemade meals for lunch. A temporary sacrifice for a lifetime of financial freedom.
6. Celebrate along the way
Paying off debt is hard work! I won’t dare neglect to say that. That’s why it’s important to celebrate along the way to remain encouraged.
As you hit a new milestone in your debt payoff plan, stop and bask in your accomplishment. It doesn’t have to entail spending money, but it should include reflecting on how far you’ve come.
Remember not to get so caught up in the goal of paying off debt that you forget to live, laugh, and most importantly love each other!
Life on the Other Side of Student Loans
Now nearly 3 years after paying off our debt, I can truly say that it was the best financial decision that we could have ever made. We continue to leverage the same principles from our journey to manage our finances and now pay off our mortgage.
We will be 100% debt free (again) in less than five years. And we have absolutely no plans of ever going back into debt—not even for our next home! It’s crazy to even say that, but we know that it’s possible.
I encourage you to lock arms with your spouse and begin tackling your debt today. It starts with a decision! You have too many success stories and resources at your fingertips to not make it happen. Do yourself, your spouse, and your future a favor and get out of debt and simply live!