An $80,000 Debt Almost Broke Us Up—Here's What Saved Us
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 We looked at our budgets.

Well, we looked at his budget. Mine was loose, with the only things set in stone being rent, food, utilities and debt payments. Jordan, on the other hand, budgeted every single penny. I’d always known I had a cushion, but not precisely how much—so we filled in the gaps. Once we knew how much extra I had each month, I made it clear that I needed to be able to help, and he finally accepted.

I wish I could say that during this conversation, we brainstormed ways for Jordan to lower his debt somehow—with a payment plan, balance-transfer card or by consolidating, for example—but we didn’t. We were young, and didn’t know much about personal finance. If we were to repeat this conversation today, we’d certainly explore these things.

What we did do was identify ways for me to take some of the load off Jordan. We adjusted how much we each paid for rent, utilities and groceries each month. Instead of a split that was proportional to our incomes, we bumped mine up about $300 a month until he felt more stable—about a year later.

This isn’t because I’m some selfless hero. I have never once let Jordan have the last bite of ice cream. We just agreed that this was part of the ebb and flow of relationships. Plus, we knew it wouldn’t be one-sided forever.

Jordan found non-financial ways to support me.

As I was shouldering more of our joint expenses, Jordan made it a priority to show his appreciation in non-monetary ways, like planning our meals each week—a chore we used to share but I hated.

Even today, many years after that first conversation, we remember that supporting a partner isn’t only about offering to pay more. Now that I’m in graduate school and working, he’s again picking up more household chores than our usual 50/50 split. We remind ourselves that balance doesn’t always translate to down the middle.

We checked in regularly.

We also committed to checking in with each other every month to see how we were feeling, and to make sure our plan still made sense—which is something we still do to this day. And it’s in these conversations that we’ve worked out new arrangements to support each other.

For example, when health issues took me out of work for a few months in 2014, he picked up the slack and shouldered much more of our shared expenses. (At that point, he had enough cushion that he could divert his “fun” money toward joint priorities, and keep paying his loans as usual.)

It’s now been five years since we graduated from college, and Jordan’s made a dent in his debt—about $12,000—which took care of most of his credit cards. And his income is finally at a point that he can increase his monthly payments a few times a year and afford to go to a movie or dinner without checking his account balance.

His debt still weighs on him, but he knows he has an ally in me. While I’m not financially contributing to his debt anymore, the option’s always there, should he need it. And I know the opposite is true, too.

*Name has been changed.

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