Married Money Management Step 4: Pay Off Your Debt (Damn It!)

By Dustin | Finances & Careers

Pay Off Your Debts, Damn It! (here's how)Do you want to be debt free?

Seriously, do you really want to have freedom from monthly payments, calls from creditors and the feeling of being a slave to your lenders?

Well, I can tell you it’s absolutely worth the effort, but for most couples the journey toward debt freedom will be a difficult one.  It simply requires a lot of hard work and sacrifice, and you have to be fired up and passionate to make it happen.

If you can say, “I want to pay off my debts” and you don’t yet feel the urge to follow by screaming “DAMN IT!” then you may not be ready yet to make it happen.

If you think you have the burning desire required to kill your debts without mercy, then read on.

Why I Care So (Damn) Much

There are few topics that get me fired up as much as the idea of helping other couples experience the freedom and power of a debt-free marriage.  Bethany and I have been right where you are, and we may have been in worse shape.

Several years back, we found ourselves over $54,000 in non-mortgage debt and pregnant with our first child.

We were scared.  But we were also fired up and ready to make major changes for the good of our family.  I’d encourage you to read our entire debt-free story, but here’s the main points that you need to understand if you want to follow our path:

It takes passion, energy and commitment to pay off a large amount of debt.  And it takes a lot of hard work.  There’s really no substitute for effort if you want to make a major change in your financial future and live a debt-free marriage.

For us, this meant a firm commitment to incurring no additional debt and a new mindset focused first-and-foremost on paying off our stupid debts.  Practically speaking, the real key for us was building and strictly following a family budget that reduced our spending on things like shopping and eating out at restaurants.  We didn’t take vacations and we kept our entertainment on the simple side.  In a word, we got frugal.

I also worked a LOT, and we used any small amount of money we could come up with to pay off the next debt in our debt snowball (see below for details).  There weren’t many big moments of major progress.  Instead, it was all about being consistent and maintaining our intensity over the course of several years.

Now you know the basic strategy we used to get debt-free over a long and trying 3 1/2 year period.  Let’s dig a little deeper into why you want to accomplish the same.

5 Fantastic Benefits of a Debt-Free Marriage

1. Contentment

A funny thing happens when you get control of your money – you cling to it less.  With financial freedom comes a renewed focus on the things that really matter in life.  And when your values are in the right place, you depend much less on “stuff” and the false happiness that comes with it.

2. Communication

If you are married and you want to make substantial changes to your financial situation, you will need to talk…a lot.  The process of getting out of debt will require a real intimacy with your spouse and a deepening of the trust between you.  The spirit of teamwork you develop on your financial journey together carries over to other areas of your marriage as well.

3. Courage

If you have a lot of debt to pay off and/or you are already on a tight budget, achieving debt freedom will be a significant accomplishment.  When you meet a major goal, it fuels your faith in yourself and your ability to work alongside your spouse.  And it fills your relationship with the courage to face any challenge.

4. Change (for your whole family)

When you decide to shed your payments, you are breaking a cycle that most of us have witnessed throughout our lives, and you are setting a new example for your own kids.  With a solid financial plan, you’ll actually have resources available to help with your children’s future, retire with dignity and have the freedom of time to spend more with your family.

Personally, the best benefit that we’ve experienced since paying off our consumer debt is an increased ability and desire to give.  When we are generous with the gifts we’ve been given, we can change not only our own family tree but a little piece of the world as well.

5. Comfort

I will be the first to say that money doesn’t solve all of your problems, and no one should expect that debt freedom somehow brings instant happiness.  However, we certainly do sleep a little better at night knowing that we owe no one (other than our mortgage company :) ) and we have a healthy emergency fund in the bank.  This feeling of security and comfort is what financial peace is all about.

I’m Ready to Kick Some Debt-Ass…Tell Me How!

The bottom line to paying off debt is you need to live on less than you make and use the extra money to pay off your existing debts.  Wait, that’s not real exciting, huh?

Well, the somewhat sexier answer that we used to get out of debt is a little system known as the Debt Snowball.

Although my opinions vary in some cases from those of Dave Ramsey, I think he is spot-on in his advice for paying off all non-mortgage debts.  In his famous Baby Steps, he places the Debt Snowball as the second step along the journey.

While I’ve placed it at #4 in our Married Money Management series, I think his recommended system for getting debt-free is great.

To complete your debt snowball, you simply do the following:

  1. List all of your non-mortgage debts in order from smallest to largest.
  2. Pay minimum payments on all debts except the smallest one.
  3. Crank down your expenses and ramp up your income, throwing all extra money each month at your smallest debt.
  4. Once you kill your first debt, you take that extra money plus the old minimum payment and you kill your next smallest debt.
  5. You continue down your list and the “snowball” grows in size and picks up in its speed at killing debts.
  6. Keep it up until all of your non-mortgage debts are eliminated.
  7. Yell as loud as you possibly can, I’M DEBT FREE! (we actually did this live on Dave’s radio show to celebrate)

The process is easy, but the implementation is certainly not!  Again, the real key to making this happen is that old hard work and passionate sacrifice thing.

The reason I prefer Dave’s Debt Snowball approach to the many other options out there is its focus on motivation.

Mathematically speaking, the smallest-to-largest payoff loses out to an approach that attacks the debts with the highest interest rates first.  However, as Dave likes to say, if you were so good at doing math you wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with!

As an engineer, I resisted this idea for a while as we “played with” our debt payoff by putting a little extra toward our high-interest balances, while also saving some money, investing in retirement and maintaining an inflated lifestyle.  Well, it didn’t work.

Our real progress came when we put the math aside and went “all in” with intensity, focus and (frankly) anger at our debts and stupid mistakes of the past.

This is why we do Married Money Management step #3 before we pay off our debts and #5 (investing) after our non-mortgage debts are eliminated.  You need to focus on this Debt Snowball with all of your financial energies and let your momentum continue to motivate you as you kill your first debt and follow it up with larger and larger payoffs.

Can YOU Really Do This?

Hell Yes!

The real question for you is, “How bad to you want it?

Any other questions? 🙂

Please share your own debt-payment struggles and successes in the comments below as we break this vital issue wide open within our community!

Here’s a rundown of all the posts available to you in the Marriage Money Management series:

(photo source)

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About the Author

Dustin Riechmann created Engaged Marriage to help other married couples live a life they love (especially) when they feel too busy to make it happen. He has many passions, including sharing ways to enjoy an awesome marriage in 15 minutes a day, but his heart belongs with his wife Bethany and their three young kids.

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