My significant other has a lot of credit card debt. I want to help him, but avoid handing over cash from my savings. What’s a smart way to support him that benefits the both of us in the long run? I see us getting married and want to secure our future to the best of my ability.
As the saying goes, “love is blind,” but don’t let it derail your personal finances.
When in a relationship, your emotions can sometimes compete with logic. You may rationalize paying for your partner’s hardships as the “loving” thing to do. And since you’re hoping to build a future together, erasing your partner’s debt once and for all may seem like the easiest and fastest way to move forward with all that you want to accomplish as a couple, from getting married to buying a home and starting a family.
But it’s important that you let him do the hard work of digging himself out of debt. You can help, but it’s best to avoid writing blank checks or handing over cash.
Not to be harsh, but he needs to know what it’s like to make a financial plan and stick to it. He needs to understand the necessary trade-offs involved with managing debt. He needs to go through the motions and feelings of resolving his finances. It’s the only way he’ll learn and it’s the only way he’ll truly appreciate the efforts and rewards of becoming (and staying) debt-free. It’s for his own good – and the good of your relationship.
Instead, consider these other efforts that will still prove your loyalty and support, as he works to pay off his debt.
Be a Good Listener
Before suggesting your own ideas, ask him what he needs. It’s important to offer your ear, as much as your big ideas and thoughts. In talking through his concerns with you, you may discover new ways to help him that have nothing to do with writing him a check.
Maybe he needs help structuring his pay off plan or negotiating with his creditors. Could you offer advice or support in those areas? Maybe he wants to ask for a raise at work to help pay off the debt and you can help him to prepare and practice his conversation.
Showing that you are there to listen can provide him the confidence and reassurance he needs to see himself through the payoff process.
Reduce Your Shared Expenses
If you’re living together, think about how you can save more in joint spending categories like food, rent and utilities that often eat up the biggest portions of our budgets.
Taking the lead by planning out more meals at home, negotiating with your utility companies to earn a reduced rate and even minimizing your housing expenses (either by renting out a 2nd bedroom, renegotiating your lease or moving to a more affordable place) can shave hundreds of dollars off of your monthly expenses per month.
Enjoy More “Free” Time Together
At the same time, discover ways to reduce your activity costs (date nights, movies, eating out) by proactively suggesting less expensive ways to spend time together. Netflix nights, potluck dinners with friends, staycations and visiting free museums and gallery openings can be great alternatives to pricier events like concerts and trips.
Important: Keep track of how much you’re saving and do actually save the money each week and allocate it towards the debt. For example, if you normally go out to eat three nights per week, but cut back to one night per week as your partner works on his finances, automatically save the, say $30 or $50, you would have probably spent on those restaurant meals (don’t forget tip and tax) towards his debt.
Cover Some Joint Expenses… Temporarily
Finally, if you’re currently splitting cable, would you be comfortable and able to take on the entire bill yourself? Saving him $50 a month or more by having you shoulder a little more of the shared expenses could provide him with the extra savings to get out of debt faster.
This is different than just giving him the money because it would require him to use his own cash to pay down his bills. You’re effectively helping him save more so that he can erase his debt sooner.
For this strategy to be successful, it’s important that you lay out your expectations up front. Let it be known that the reason you want to take on some of the expenses is because you want him to be able to use that money to address his debt – and only that. Have weekly or monthly check-ins to review his debt. If you’re going to entirely pay for one or some of the household expenses, show how the math can work in his favor. For example, “In 3 months, that means you can put an extra $1,000 towards your credit card debt.” Keep him accountable!
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Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.