Essays & Confessions/Relationships

Confessions of A Bride Who Went From Debt-Free To $300k In Debt

By | Saturday, February 06, 2021

I wholeheartedly believe marriage means, “What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is yours.” So for me, as soon as my husband and I said “I do,” I went from $0 in debt to over $300k in shared student loan debt. As a millennial getting married, my partner’s debt also moved into our new life together.

Student loan debt is at a record $1.6 trillion and rising, according to the Federal Reserve, and vowing “for richer or poorer” took on a whole new meaning for me. With that said, here are seven lessons I learned on loving my spouse as we entered into newlywed bliss, despite the -$300,000 price tag that came with it.

1.  Don’t play the blame game.

Check your privilege. It’s easy to say, How could you take out so many loans? or What were you thinking? and It’s your problem to pay off. I have to admit that I have said some of those things in the early stages of our relationship. However, it took acknowledging my debt-free privilege and extending a sympathetic level of understanding, towards my spouse, to move past these thoughts and attitudes.

I’m even more thankful now than ever that my parents started saving for my college education since birth, encouraged me to work to pay for room and board during school, and were my safety net when money was tight for books or transportation. Meanwhile, my husband never had any of these advantages.  Accepting this huge lump sum of student loans started with learning why it happened in the first place.

2.  Get prepared and then make a plan. 

Early into our relationship, my husband and I talked often about our individual financial situations. I’m not suggesting a full-on interrogation about finances or swapping bank account numbers on the first date. But knowing about his situation early on allowed me to understand and accept the debt load, student loan payments, and potential household income before heading down the aisle.

The second step to this was making a plan. After we were married, we combined our finances and made a plan to attack his loans, and bring them down. This included everything from: cheap date nights, meal planning, and sometimes saying ‘no’ to hitting the town with friends.  

3. Budget, budget and budget!

Before budgeting, I would beat myself up about buying a coffee before work or going for drinks with friends. I thought II was sabotaging paying off the student loans if every extra dime was not being spent on paying down the debt.

However, a set budget allows us to spend guilt-free, while working towards our debt-free goals. At the start of each month, we take 10-15 minutes to budget every dollar from our paychecks, starting with how much money we are putting towards the standing debt,  to the cost of our pet bunny’s supplies. We each also have a “fun money” amount that we spend 100% guilt-free on things we want.  

4. Don’t keep up with the Joneses, Kardashians, or Instagram.

Scrolling through social media and seeing Instagram friends buy brand new beautiful homes, new cars, or sporting cute clothes would put me in a tailspin of resentment. Reminding myself that everyone is on a different journey helped put my bitter feelings in check. Better managing these feelings sometimes meant turning off social media to stop comparing my life to others.

Being a good person, wife or friend isn’t tied to money, and I often remind myself of this by saying the age-old cliché, “The best things in life are free.” 

5. Dream BIG… but enjoy the journey.

During a premarital session, we were asked the question, “What would you do 20 years from now with no debt?” After this question was asked we stared blankly at one another. This was tough; we hadn’t imagined a life without the weight of debt. We dug deep to find our “why” and what we wanted out of life, post-loans. In the end, we realized that our goal for financial freedom is  to live without financial stress, enjoy a fun and early retirement (AKA beach house and traveling), and create generational wealth for our family. 

Tracking our progress and celebrating our wins has helped keep us motivated and on track. Celebrating doesn’t have to break the bank. When we paid off $50,000 of the student loan, we celebrated with a homemade dinner of surf-and-turf and a $20 bottle of wine.

We jokingly refer to the student debt as, “Our $300,000 lesson.” While I seriously don’t wish that amount of student debt on anyone, having a shared goal has made our relationship stronger. We have learned to work together, sacrifice together, and put in the work now, to pay off later.

6. Lean into love.

Above all, lean into love.  We all bring different things into our relationships and marriages. My husband brings his patience, discipline, and his unwavering love for those he cares about most. A sidebar is his student loan debt. There are over 300,000 reasons why I love him and working together to tackle student loan debt is only part of our journey.

KB Burkett is a 20-something living in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and bunny rabbit. When she is not working a 9-5 job you can find her exploring the PNW, hiking, fishing and trying to destroy six figures of student debt. Follow their debt free journey @downwithdebtduo.

Image via Unsplash

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