When TJ and I met, I could tell right away we came from different financial backgrounds. He had worked hard every summer doing sales in California to pay for his tuition and living expenses, he had thrifty parents who had been able to help him along the way, and he may have had a reputation among his roommates as the one who would do anything for a free meal. I once gave TJ some leftover McDonald’s bucks coupons I got from a babysitting job, and to this day he insists it’s the greatest gift I’ve ever given him. (I’ll try to forget the $200 air compressor I got him a couple Christmases ago…)
On the other hand, I kind of flew by the seat of my pants when it came to money. I wasn’t a huge spender, but I didn’t like keeping track of things either, which meant going weeks and weeks without checking my bank account balance. I liked eating out, I liked hanging out with my friends, but I didn’t pay attention to how those things added up. I was mostly broke even during my undergraduate and graduate years. I also had about $12,000 in student loan debt lurking in the trenches, patiently waiting for me to graduate with my masters before it pounced.
TJ knew this but didn’t seem too troubled. He and I believed the debt wouldn’t be due for a while because I was still technically a student, even though I was also working full-time. I took a year leave of absence from my master’s program once we were married to move to San Francisco to be with TJ, which meant leaving my school counseling job and hoping I could somehow finish my graduate degree at a later date. Little did we know student loans don’t really care if you’ve taken a leave of absence and are “hoping” to come back soon. As soon as you’re not taking classes, they come a-knockin’. Quite rude of them, if you ask me.
Sure enough, six months after we tied the knot, a discreet little letter from my university showed up in our mailbox, politely asking for $12,000 or else I’d wake up in bed next to a severed horse’s head. (Not really, but it felt like that.) I remember feeling so guilty. Here I was, a financial burden on this really responsible guy. I felt like I needed to somehow come up with the total on my own. As I started typing “Which organs can humans live without?” in the Google search bar on our desktop, TJ gently stopped me. “Ash, we’re a team now! Let’s just pay it off and stay out of debt. And in return, just promise you’ll love me forever.” I gave him a big hug and agreed. (He still throws this in my face when I’m mad at him about leaving his socks on the floor or his electric razor on the counter: “Ash, you promised you’d love me forever, remember?!”)
Luckily, because we had had a pretty frugal honeymoon, no car payments, inexpensive housing (for the Bay Area), and two good jobs, we had saved up enough in just six months of marriage to pay the debt off in full as soon as the letter came in the mail. It took us down to not a lot left in our bank account, but it was definitely worth it to not have the burden of debt weighing on our shoulders. More than anything, though, paying off this debt together was such a bonding experience for us. I wasn’t in this alone anymore, and neither was TJ. We each had each other now, as partners, companions, and teammates.
I also learned the immense value of our budget. Yes, it was difficult and annoying to follow at first, but all that annoyance and difficulty had an end result — freedom, peace of mind, and security. It was totally worth any and all sacrifice to get there. Most getting out of debt stories are more comp
How has getting out of debt (or working to get out of debt) changed your partnership? Or, if you’re going solo, how has it changed you?