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Debt isn’t sexy, and other marriage lessons

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About Kara Fleck

Kara lives in a small town in Indiana. She is the editor of Simple Kids. You can also find her writing about creative living at K.Elizabeth Fleck.

This week my husband Christopher and I are celebrating lucky anniversary number 13.  If you had told me on our wedding day about the things we would face over the next thirteen years, like getting into and then paying off $95,000 in debt (and counting), I’m not sure I would have made it down the aisle.

(Though I’d like to think I would have at least been smart enough to re-think that whole put-the-wedding-on-the-Visa decision).

I’m just kidding about not making it down the aisle, of course, but I had no idea of the impact that our finances, especially debt, would have on our marriage.

In honor of anniversaries and doing better when you know better, I’m sharing what I have learned so far about marriage and money.

ChrisKaraSimpleMomPhoto by Jillian Fleck

Get on the same page.

I can’t say it enough: get on the same page when it comes to your money.

Our marriage isn’t perfect, but I do know that we didn’t start making real progress until we stopped fighting about money and starting working together to fix our problems.

That isn’t to say the issues dividing us have disappeared, but we’re working to be mature enough not to lose our tempers and play the blame game. We share the same goal.

Don’t stop talking about it, but don’t let it be the only thing you talk about.

Once you’ve decided to work together toward getting out of debt, keep talking about it.

  1. Remind each other of your goals, big and little, and set aside time to talk about your progress.
  2. Always be working on the next step. Life is going to happen, issues will come up. Open lines of communication and those “what if?” conversations help you work out a back-up plan for your back-up plan, which helps you sleep better at night.

But, don’t let money become the only thing you talk about. Let’s face it: debt isn’t sexy. Who wants that to be the focus of your marriage? Um, no one. So no talking about budget spreadsheets or rolling debt snowballs in your bedroom, okay?

Make sure you’re on the same page, check in regularly, but don’t obsess about money. You will get there (you can do this!) so focus on the positive things while you work through the negative.

People can tolerate different levels of frugality.

For example, after my last post, some expressed concern about our kids not taking a bath every night. At our house, some days a good once over with a wash cloth will do (don’t worry, truly dirty babies and grubby children are scrubbed in the tub). That works for us, but for some skipping the daily bath might be a bridge too far. And that’s okay. Respect that.

Whether it is saving the apple with a bite out of it, second-hand clothes, or scrimping on utilities, we each have our own line in the sand. What is no big deal to you might actually make your spouse squeamish.

At our house, we deal with those things on an individual basis, usually deferring to the squeamish one. Staying realistic about our financial situation, we adapt so we are both comfortable with our level of frugality.

Note: when we were living less than paycheck to paycheck, we each had to do things we weren’t comfortable with. Neither one of us regrets that. When your life needs radical change, you must be willing to make radical changes.

FleckFamilySimpleMomPhoto by Kara Fleck

Trust each other.

There have been times in this debt-free journey where I couldn’t see the forest because of some massive trees blocking my view (that sleep deprived new baby phase is a pretty mighty oak to try to look around, right mamas?)

During the times I didn’t have faith in myself, I had faith in my husband who was there reminding me “a year from now it will be better.”  He promises me that every anniversary and you know what? He’s usually right.

I may not always trust our situation, but I do trust him.

Fun money with NO judgement.

It isn’t much, but every time we sit down to work out the budget Christopher and I each have a separate but equal “fun money” fund. Now, the equal part of that last sentence is important, as there’s no need to be a money martyr, but so is the separate part.

We can spend our fun money on whatever we want  – with no judgement from the other person.

Otherwise, conversations like this happen:
“You spent HOW much on yarn? Does the sheep come with it?”
“I don’t understand why you’d pay good money to take a long walk in the sun while hitting a little ball around a field with a stick.”
“Honey, why is ‘ice cream’ a category in our budget?”

You love each other. Remember that.

Living with debt is hard. Why make it harder by screaming over forgotten coupons or holding a grudge about a past mistake?

You’ve got a lifetime to live together, and it’s going to be that much sweeter because you’ve chosen to do this hard thing right now.

Give each other grace, speak to each other with kindness and respect, and know that this is only part of your love story.

Join the Conversation

Comments

  1. I loved this. Our issue isn’t debt, but learning to live on less, since I lost my job and started my own business. The part that spoke to me was not obsessing about finances and also giving each other some fun money. For my husband it’s golf and for me it’s my barre studio membership. Those things keep us same! Thanks for the great post!

  2. I’ve definitely increased my comfort level of frugality as time has gone on. Suddenly I find myself appalled anyone would pay more than $5 for anything!
    I also LOVE your ‘no judgement’ rule on fun money, my husband and I both have difficulty seeing each others vices as worth anything. lol

  3. These are great tips, not just for people in debt but people trying to prevent getting into it. We’ve just become a one income family now that I have become a stay-at-home mom to our newborn girl. We have a very tight budget so are trying our best to be frugal and compromise. One compromise I have made is that I have given up my daily bath, don’t worry, I’m having a shower instead! I’m definitely a bath person though, love to relax in the tub. I now instead only get to have two blissful soaks in the tub a week. This should hopefully in time bring down the water costs. For my husband he cancelled his bootcamp and now only carries out exercise that is free, such as jogging, yoga and weight training at home. It’s very tight but your post is very encouraging. It’s also made me realise we need to wiggle in some fun money into our budget!

  4. Love the advice about not talking about money all the time. When my husband and I first got married I thought the Dave Ramsey plan was the greatest and talked about it so much that my husband said he didn’t want to hear it anymore. Now we have a much better balance in our conversations.

    • Yeah, I had to have it gently pointed out to me that I was talking about money/debt/Dave Ramsey like ALL the time. Kind of a mood killer ;-)

      It is good to talk about it, and I’m so glad that this is something that I’ve been able to stay enthusiastic about, but I did need to tone it down a little bit.

      • I enjoy talking about money and how we can save. For my husband- he’d rather talk about almost anything. I kept bringing up our budget when we would go out on date nights (since those were times when we could talk uninterrupted, when it wasn’t late at night) and he would get so frustrated. Well, SHOCKER. He hates talking about the rules and all the things we can’t do…and that’s all I wanted to talk about.

        We’ve had to mutually agree on “meeting” times when we talk about money.

        Things went much better from there:)

  5. The concept of fun money without judgement has been crucial to the success of my marriage. When we first implemented the concept of fun money, it came with judgement. It wasn’t until we were almost out of debt that we learned to not judge what the other’s definition of frivolous was. The clouds rolled back that day.

  6. This is very wise and balanced, cara. Thank you for being so open to share your story. Many of the things you have mentioned are things we have found in our own marriage, but I find it is sometimes easier to remember them when you’re not in the heat of the trouble! Reminders are good.

    Our kids don’t have daily baths either. ;) They are a relatively new phenomenon, historically, and also unusual globally!

  7. This couldn’t come at a better time for me and my husband. We are just starting down that path as I just recently had a major panic attack over our finances, no help to the wrong anxiety medication either. It has opened his eyes to the affect it has had on me but also how it affects our family. It will not be an easy path to go down and I have tried avoiding it for too long. You see, he is in love with Star Wars and all the toys that go with that, as well as a few other toy lines… I want to live a more simple life but it is going to be difficult for me to explain to our kids that you can’t keep so many toys as they eventually will call me out about their Daddy and all of his toys. This is something I know will happen and when it does I am trying to be prepared for how to deal with it. They toy thing has really become a resentment and he knows that.

    We will persevere.

  8. Congrats on your Lucky 13!!

    I’ve got nothing to add to this, but I love it so. So proud of your journey and your willingness to share it. Thank you for that!

  9. Thanks for sharing your story, Kara – I think it really helps other people – way more than pretending that everything is honkey dorey.

    And by the way – our kids bathe every other day – it is so very ok.

  10. I love this post. I wish that I had had this advice 20 years ago. None-the-less, this is where my fantastic husband and I have landed. I want to forward this to everyone I know that is just getting married! Thanks.

  11. I’m dying to know what concerns people have over kids not having daily baths. My kids are 9 and 7 and have never in their lives had a daily bath. Babies can easily go every other day because they don’t get dirty ( exceptions being diarrhea). Children as well until they reach puberty or get especially dirty outside. My kids have always been very healthy and rarely get sick. I’ll have to go check out those comments. Loved your post.

    • I was wondering the same thing. When my daughter was little, she had eczema pretty bad. Her pediatrician said, “STOP with the daily baths!” Kid skin doesn’t produce the same oils as adult skin and daily baths dry theirs out too much. On that advice, we went to every other day unless we had been doing something messy (mud, sand, etc.) She was never stinky (kids don’t have the same sweat as adults) and sickness was never an issue.

  12. Daily baths don’t happen at our house either!

  13. This is such a great great article! I think its the best I’ve read that touches on debt, frugality and marriage. Truly. I have never thought of avoiding squeamish frugality practices or even asking/paying attention to what my husband thinks. I’m so glad to hear this. I should totally chat with him on this, as well as incorporate fun money back in. I recently reduced his by 50% and its been a rocky few days. I don’t have any…and of course I make purchases here and there have to be returned. Thanks for reminding me we still have to live while scrimping. :)

  14. I read Simple Mom via email, but I had to click over just to say that I have never given my kids daily baths! I have 4 children and they are all healthy and clean. There is no need for a child to have a bath every day, and it’s actually not good for their skin to do so. I’ll have to check out those comments on the other post.

    • I couldn’t find any comments of that nature, so I wonder if it was just people she knows in “real life” that said something to her.

      • Actually, it was on facebook, and it was just one person (I believe). Really, everyone has their own standards and it is totally okay :-) I get where the person was coming from, it is just different in my home.

        For me it has a little to do with the amount of laundry and the expensive/effort of that that daily showers/baths for a family of six comes with, too ;-)

        Best wishes!

        • I agree. And where laundry is concerned, it’s taken me forever to train my kids to wear their clothes twice before putting them in the hamper. I routinely wear my clothes twice before washing, because I’m not rolling around in mud or anything, and unless I get especially sweaty, they never stink. This has helped reduce our laundry a lot.

  15. Awesome post! I’m a dad (not a mom) and I just found your blog. I’ll definitely be coming back. Thanks for sharing …

  16. We don’t bathe our children every day and we’ve been debt free for a few years. :)

  17. it is interesting how much money does affect a marriage! i still remember some of our first big fights were about money. we have definitely grown and work together now so much better than before, and we want to be on the same page and love each other through the journey.

  18. Thanks for sharing your journey with us. We signed up for the Total Money Makeover but the makeover has been less than total. Every time you write about your experiences relating to debt I am reminded and re-motivated to actually follow through.

  19. Great post! My husband and I are in the process of cleaning up our finances and working our way out of debt after 2 big moves followed by 2 years of unemployment. Ick. One thing that really resonated with me was understanding each others’ frugality level. So many times I want to say “We could make more progress if we just cut out _________” but I have to remember that he works hard for the money we have and being able to enjoy the fruits of his labor having/doing something he enjoys makes our sacrifices more bearable.

  20. Daily baths? What a funny concept!! Haha!!

    Seriously though, what a great, encouraging post, Kara. Love you!

  21. A very well-written post. I agree that every one is comfortable with their level of frugality and no point judging others but rather keep the final goal in mind and move towards that.

  22. Laughing over the “does the sheep come with it” comment and the “ice cream” category. In our family it is “how much airsoft equipment can one really use at once” and “seriously that is how much those running shoes cost”. I agree personal money is important.

  23. It’s really interesting to me that baths are considered a money sucker. I would never have thought that. Maybe because for the first number of years of my married life water was free here in NY

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