I jumped on the debt free bandwagon quickly after reading a copy of The Total Money Makeover * by Dave Ramsey in 2005. It made sense. It felt doable. It seemed like a no brainer.
My husband wasn’t so convinced.
To be clear, he realized that we could be doing more with the money we were making. We’d also just taken a significant reduction in income because I’d quit my job to open a business. At the time we had over $40,000 in consumer debt.
Fast forward a few years and the business – a Laundromat – wasn’t doing so well. The country was entering a period we’ll collectively refer to as the Great Recession. We’d also added another $60,000 in debt to that total. A couple of cars, poor decisions with taxes, and an unfortunate case of vandalism adds up quickly.
I agreed with the debt free message in theory. Working toward that idea was another story. That is – before my husband and I joined forces and began working together as a team.
I found Dave Ramsey’s message freeing, informative, and encouraging. My husband found Dave Ramsey – the person – obnoxious, insulting, and extreme.
I can see his point.
The difference in how we related to the person and the message ultimately created a rift in our approach to personal finances and thus our progress. Even though I drank the Kool-Aid in 2005, it took over 7 years before we were able to finally pay back $107,000 in debt.
Many couples struggle when trying to find financial common ground. We were no different. It took over a year for my husband to stop debating the merits of snowballing your debt to debating how best to reach our debt free goals. He’s a debater. We just had to refocus that energy in a productive direction.
If your spouse is reluctant (or even resistant) to joining you in a journey out of debt, try the following suggestions:
- You start and stick with a budget. Showing consistency with a financial plan beats talking about it any day of the week. Instead of suggesting areas where your spouse can (or should) cut back, find ways to save cash on items that most directly impacts you. This is not a quick fix and will take patience and persistence. In time, you’ll be able to demonstrate your level of commitment. This will be more effective than any amount of arguing, manipulation, or nagging could ever be.
- Celebrate the small wins. Early on, we were only able to apply about $400 dollars extra towards our snowball. The movement toward debt freedom was slow and not very exciting. However, each small credit card paid off became a cause for a mini celebration. I even found excitement in almost reaching a goal. Accomplishment, no matter how small, can be very motivating. Whoop it up a little more and invite that reluctant spouse to share in ownership of each accomplishment. Use phrases like “we are making progress” or “we only have this much left on a bill”. After all, you are in this together.
- Give in sometimes. Two very rational beings can have a shared goals and approach things from opposite directions. This doesn’t mean your spouse is an idiot (not always anyway). The my-way-or-the-highway approach to finances as a couple does not work. You’ll likely increase the amount of resistance to your ideas and spark rebellion against decisions that have been forced on the other person. Sometimes your spouse will come up with a brilliant idea that you didn’t see coming. If the idea bombs, well…you tried and now you know what doesn’t work. A minor setback is not the end of the world especially if it builds goodwill and teamwork along the journey out of debt. I had to acknowledge that I didn’t know everything, that everything Dave Ramsey preached wasn’t good for our household, and sometimes great ideas occurred to my husband because he has a different point of view.
Ultimately, you’ll need to be patient with a reluctant spouse and the debt free process in general. You didn’t get into debt overnight and working your way out of thousands of dollars in debt will take time. We also have to give our spouses the time and respect to meet us at our level of enthusiasm. Try one or all of the above strategies to – with patience – bring a reluctant spouse on board to reach the family’s debt free goals together.
Toni Husbands is a financial coach with the Debt Free Divas on a mission to help 1 million families dump consumer debt. My family dumped over $100K in debt and you can too. Download our free book, “Give Yourself a Raise in 21 Days”, for money saving tips!
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