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Getting Your Spouse On-Board to Get Out of Debt

Are you revved up to get started on your journey to become debt-free?!?!  Can you already feel the grass between your toes walking through the yard of your paid-off house and being able to scream, “I’m a debt-free millionaire!”.  Can you see the dream becoming reality on the day when you will be able to do whatever you want to do, instead of doing what you have to do?  We can assure you that when that day comes you will have become a transformed person – one who thinks and acts differently when it comes to your life and money. 

So how revved up is your spouse?  Do you have more excitement about the journey than he or she does?  Don’t worry, you’re not alone if he or she is not jumping up-and-down with excitement to start the journey.  In fact, it’s quite normal one of you is not totally committed to taking the first step, or any steps for that matter, in freedom from your debt. 

A common challenge faced by many who want to get out of debt and start building wealth is convincing your spouse to get on board with your plan, and therein lies one of the early challenges – taking it from your plan and making it into our plan.  In this post we’ll discuss what we believe is the most important element of staying out of debt forever – working together on your finances.  Even if you and your spouse are on the same page with your finances, read this post for ideas to make sure you stay on the same page. 

Same Page = Getting Out of Debt + Staying Out of Debt

Notice we didn’t say getting out of debt is the goal, but instead getting and staying out of debt!  Getting out of debt is only half of the same page equation – it’s a start, but not the end.  Anyone with enough perseverance, and the majority of control over the household finances, can get out of debt.  However, if your goal is to stay out of debt you will have to work together with your spouse to do so – you will need to be on the same page with your finances. 

Before we get into what you should do let’s talk about what NOT to do because it’s all too easy to fail before you even get started.  No one begins this process with bad intentions.   Getting out of debt should be viewed as a positive thing (unless you’re in Congress:-)), but quite often the approach taken is not well thought out, and before you even get started, you’re going backwards.

Here's some real conversation we’ve heard more than a few times as one of the individuals in the marriage gets excited about crushing the family’s debt, and one day after reading or hearing something about getting out of debt says something like, “Hi honey, I’ve been thinking about how great it would be to get out of debt and start living free from all the payments sucking our accounts dry every month, and the first thing we need to do is sell your <insert something expensive with high monthly payments here i.e. car, motorcycle, etc.> so we can get a little breathing room in our finances.” 

Another approach sounds something like this, “Hey hon, I’ve been reading about how great it is to get out of debt and here’s what we’re going to do starting now to get out of debt…”  Can you see the looming battle about to take place?

Or maybe, “Hi sweetie, our debt is killing us, and we need to do something about it, so I decided we need to…”  You can all but guarantee someone is not going to be sweet when this conversation ends!  

Chances are you’ll be fighting an uphill battle going forward in your debt-free journey after a conversation like this.  One of you will end up doing most of the work, and the likelihood of staying out of debt will be low in a household where only one of you is bought into the process.  Remember the tandem bicycle analogy we presented in our last post?  If only one of you is pedaling it’s going to be a long, tiring, and mostly uphill ride!

Additional tactics we’ve seen fail as a starting point include:

  • Making them read books on finance, especially if they are not a reader to begin with.
  • Creating a presentation using PowerPoint to summarize books, websites, etc. on personal finance (yes, people actually do this!).
  • Making it overly complicated with lots of graphs, charts, and spreadsheets.
  • Complaining about the other’s spending and making them feel like they are the cause of the debt burden.
  • Using the words, “I think we should…” or “My idea is…” or “I want us to…” or any other words that are individually focused.

Some of these may seem like rational ideas (i.e. reading about finances, tracking spending), but what we’ve discovered is getting out of debt is not a rational problem – it’s a behavioral problem; a problem with how we think about money. 

Getting out of debt is not a math problem, it’s a mind problem! 

If it were simply a math problem, we wouldn’t need any help getting out of debt.  We’d just trim our expenses to the bare minimum and throw all the remaining income toward our debt (that is a valid plan, btw).  However, for most it is far more than simply doing the math.  For the majority it requires a complete change in how we think about our money and debt.

Same Page = Your Why’s + My Why’s = Our Why’s

One of the best starting points for doing anything in life, like getting and staying out of debt, is answering the question, “Why do I want to be debt-free?”.  Chances are both you and your spouse will have different why’s.  We all have different ideas about what debt-freedom will mean, and that’s OK, in fact, we’d be worried if both of you had identical answers to this question (this usually means you haven’t thought deep enough about it).

Take a few hours over the next week to answer the question about why you want to get out of debt.  Find a quiet place where you can get alone with your thoughts.  We also suggest doing it in the morning when you have more energy and a fresher mind.  Don’t rush it! 

We strongly believe you should do this individually because you’re more likely to get to the true reason(s) why each of you want to be free of debt.  Doing this together will often times bias one another’s opinions and ideas before they have been fully shared.  It could also lead to a fight if you have some serious disagreements.  Don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of time later to fight about it:-) 

A simple approach is to brainstorm a list of answers by finishing this sentence:  

I want to become debt-free because…

You will have your own unique answers, but just in case you need to see an example here’s some possible answers:

  • I want the ability to say “no” to the things I don’t want to do, and “yes” to the things I do want to do.
  • I’d like to change my family tree; to leave a legacy behind for my children and the organizations I support.
  • I’d love to be free of having a boss tell me what to do.
  • I want to be able to work when I want to, not just because I have to.
  • I want to spend more time with my wife / husband and children.
  • I want to have less stress and worry in my life.
  • I want to have a more secure financial future.
  • I want to be a better steward with what God has blessed me with.
  • I’d like to explore entrepreneurial ideas I get, but don’t have the money to.
  • I want to start earning interest instead of paying it!

Keep in mind there is no right number of answers.  Technically, you only need one why, but you’ll more than likely have many, and that’s OK.  In fact, the more reasons you want to be debt-free the more likely you may end up succeeding!  Each of the why’s provides additional motivation to keep moving forward when it gets challenging to stay on track.

Next, schedule a Millionaire Money Date with your spouse to share your answers.  Click here to download our guide to having this conversation with your spouse.  Getting on the same page is centered around communication between you and your spouse, and a monthly or quarterly money date is a great way to open up the communication channel between the two of you.  Our guide provides a simple approach to starting this conversation that can sometimes be a challenge and awkward. 

Who goes on dates to talk about money?  Debt-free millionaire doctors, that’s who!

You may have heard that when the why is clear the how and what will begin to materialize.  Too often we start with what we want to do (i.e. get out of debt) and never think about why we want to do it.  Your why is the fuel you need to make the what become reality, so don’t overlook the power of asking why!

Parting thoughts. 

A few final thoughts as you move forward with discovering your why’s.  First, focus on the future.  Think “big picture” when it comes to getting out of debt and starting to build wealth.  Getting out of debt (i.e. consumer debt, student loan debt, etc.) is really a short-term goal for most people (2-5 years for most if they get serious).  Picture the day you are standing hand-in-hand with the one you love totally free from the debt holding you back, and in some cases, creating a barrier between the two of you.  What will being debt-free do for your relationship?  Dig a little in this space and you’ll find many why’s.

A second place to focus is on those who are looking at you, assuming you are a parent.  Many why’s can be found in your children.  We wrote a few weeks ago about habits, and much of the research suggests we get many of our habits from our parents.  What kind of habits do you want your children to have?  One solid way to start them on the path to success is letting them see you living out great life and money habits.  Are a few more why’s starting to come to mind?

Now, plan that date and get started talking about why you want to be debt-free, and before you know it, you’ll be there living the life you want to live instead of living the life you have to live!  Share this post with someone who could use a little motivation, and if you haven’t already, sign up for our weekly blog post to arrive in your inbox each week. 




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