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Don't Marry Your Partner's Debt

Don't Marry Your Partner's Debt

Why is debt a deal breaker?

Committing to marry someone includes more than just building a future together. What assets and liabilities a person has will come along in to the relationship. When someone carries debt into their marriage, it puts an immediate strain on a new family. Marriage between two financially equal partners is hard enough without the burden of debt. Financial stress is one of the major triggers for conflict between partners and a risk factor for divorce. After a couple marries, there is a pressure and tendency to combine everything into one combined pot of resources. Having a partnership start with a handicap, one that would reflect on both partners if the marriage ends, is a decision that one should not take lightly. While it may be common to have certain kinds of debt in our modern consumer culture, dating a partner with debt is not the same as entering into a marriage where that burden becomes shared. If a partner dies, or if a debt goes unpaid, that responsibility can affect the partner.

Why might women be more hesitant then men?

Women are the traditional victims of marriage debt, as they have historically been the ones to leave the workplace during the relationship. Women that give up their source of income are still liable once finances are combined in the marriage. If the marriage ends, the wife will be without consistent income to pay down monthly payments, a lack of work experience when trying to re-enter the job market, and potentially a loss of their status in the dating economy to find another partner. When dating, finding a partner that believes in equal roles in and out of the house is not guaranteed. If a relationship progresses to the point of engagement and marriage, a partner might feel that debt is something that can be overcome and not worth leaving the investment in the partner just because of the financial situation. Men may be able to bounce back faster from a divorce than a woman that has made financial sacrifices during the marriage, and the wife may be stuck paying for debts she did not incur on her own as part of a divorce settlement.

What is the worst kind of debt to bring into a marriage?

The debts that might be more difficult to discharge in case a financial situation deteriorates to the point of bankruptcy are the worst. Any well educated partner may have the student loans to prove it, and those linked to federal loans are rarely going to be forgiven in bankruptcy. If you see yours or your partner’s debt as lingering and taking a toll on the financial and emotional health of your partner, you might be setting yourself up for failure by hitching your own liabilities to that wagon. Consumer credit can be charged off and will eventually come off a credit report, but homes and student loans do not go away easily. If you find yourself in a relationship with someone with consumer debt, you might want to take a second to understand their spending habits and psychological health when it comes to spending. Fiscal management should be something that a partner assesses along with family and physical health of their partner.

What can people do to prevent debt from ruining wedding plans?

As a counselor that preaches the six p’s (prior planning prevents piss poor performance) I advocate for singles to take time to address as many issues as possible before linking a life to another person. Couples that invest in their future together should outline a budget that allows for paying down debt as much as possible before dealing with the burden of wedding costs. Couples that choose to work on their spending habits together, paying down individual debts ahead of joining their assets into a joint account, or keeping separate accounts along with a joint account for shared expenses will be set up for success well into the future. The less debt a couple brings into a marriage the better their chance of staying together.

What are some tips to handle debt once married?

Once a couple finds themselves in a debt burdened marriage, it becomes easy for other issues to pile on top of the financial stress. If a couple decides to make addressing debt a priority, they can use both incomes to pay down their liabilities while saving a percentage to live. If both couples stay working and treat their debt as their child, they can really focus their combined energy to paying down debts to prepare for their family’s future. Combined incomes are a great way, but for those that are surviving on one income while trying to confront debts, hard choices must be made. Debt can be easy to get into and hard to get out of. Without commitment from both partners and how the money is spent between the couple, debt can linger on long after it should. Ensuring that the highest percentage of funds possible goes towards paying down debts, not increasing the debt load, and prioritizing smart spending can be the bond that strengthens a union. When one partner is not on board it will create stress and resentment that could lead to divorce and an even worse financial satiation for both partners. Teamwork is essential for any partnership; a marriage is no different.

What do you think? Tell your relationship & debt story in the comments.

This article was written for Rebecca Lake, at

Dr. Ethan Gregory


Author of I’m Sorry, You are Not a Pick-Up Artist and I’m Sorry, You are Not a Disney Princess and You Matter Most! Season One

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Avoid Consumer Culture With Your Children

Avoid Consumer Culture With Your Children

As a parent educator and family therapist, I have seen some poor examples of role modeling fiscal behavior. My belief is that a family that practices balanced financial management will raise children that understand the value of money and effort. The Love & Logic style of parenting has a high value on children earning rewards and the parent following through on consequences.

When it comes to money, encouraging the consumer culture in the home is a poor way to set a child up for success. The long-term planning is important if the family can afford it, college funds and a savings account that the child can earn money to deposit through agreed upon benchmarks. A family that provides rewards for the children without a clear reasoning or an expectation that a standard of behavior is important might be hurting the opportunity for children to practice that grit that is so popular in today’s vernacular for raising successful children.

In general, if it is bad for an adult, it is probably bad for a child. Exposing children to the concept of earning and saving for what we want in life will prepare them when they are out in the world making decisions on their own.

Written for GoBankingRates

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Author of I’m Sorry, You are Not a Pick-Up Artist and I’m Sorry, You are Not a Disney Princess

Is your debt affecting the family?

Is your debt affecting the family?

Family debt might as well be considered an extra child to take care of for parents. Its needs increase, as it gets bigger, and will be source of anxiety until it moves out of the house. Just like parenting a rowdy child, both parents need to provide a united front in order to discipline effectively. Initial steps after recognizing a debt issue has gotten out of hand are

Agree that spending or lifestyle choices must change for both partners in order to address the debt.

Agree to not blame one another for creating the debt, and that any tension that spending has created should be addressed openly and honestly.

Reassess the family budget to identify large and small items that can be cut out or where finances can be redistributed to paying down high interest debt as the first priority after a minimum amount is allocated for family needs (not wants).

Once a payment plan is agreed upon, the family needs to incentivize their diligence. Reward one another with emotional boosts that cost nothing and use this time of pinched pennies to find new and cheaper sources of joy.

Depending on how old a child is, I believe that introducing budgeting and sharing how the family will work together to be fiscally healthy is fine. Teens can learn about consumer debt and an important lesson about consequences. If we are addressing massive amounts of debt that necessitate moving homes or liquidating assets in the home that affect the children directly (sorry son, no more PS4) then they can be introduced to the concept of morality and ethics of paying what we owe to people that help us buy things when we don’t have money.

When a family finds itself in deep debt, drastic measures to take the pressure off the parents should be implemented for the greater good. Psychologically, a tight year or two with optimistic and creative parents will be blips on the children’s radar compared to parents that ignore the problem until that extra mouth eats the family out of house and home.


Author of I’m Sorry, You are Not a Pick-Up Artist

Recover from a spending spree

Recover from a spending spree

Six ways to recover financially after a spending spree

  By Matt AldertonOctober 14, 2015

Shopping till you drop can wear you out and max out your credit cards. Getting back on track after a spending spree takes time, effort and a focus on avoiding the urge to splurge in the future.

A little retail therapy is normal, says Ethan Gregory, a counselor, psychologist and advice columnist. ''If we are seeking a mood boost, shopping fits the bill.'' He adds, ''It makes sense why someone could be a shopaholic or prone to splurging.''

Most shoppers, though, exercise self-control. ''Their shopping is mindful, not mindless,'' says Bruce Sanders, author of “Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers.”

But what happens when retail therapy turns into a shopping binge?

The best way forward after a spending spree is to get back on course.

Here are six ways to regroup, recalibrate your budget and recognize the triggers to avoid future spending sprees and their credit hangover:

1. Stop the bleeding.

Before you do anything else, stop shopping. ''Easier said than done, but it's a crucial first step,'' says Albie DiBenedetto, marketing and education supervisor at American Consumer Credit Counseling in Auburndale, Massachusetts.

''Don't shop as a hobby, or just to pass time. If the urge does strike, try thinking wants and needs,'' he says. ''Do you need those shoes? Or do you need to pay your rent this month? Do you need the $150 jeans? Or can you find a less expensive pair that will do?''

Don't shop as a hobby, or just to pass time. If the urge does strike, try thinking wants and needs. Do you need those shoes? Or do you need to pay your rent this month?”
– Albie DiBenedetto,
marketing and education supervisor at American Consumer Credit Counseling

If the line between ''needs'' and ''wants'' seems fuzzy, try the 10-second rule. ''If you're considering a purchase, give yourself 10 seconds to decide,'' DiBenedetto says. ''If it's an absolute necessity, then it's an easy choice. If it takes more than 10 seconds to decide, then it's a 'no.'''

2. Recalibrate your budget.

''Getting out of debt does require a certain amount of discipline, but making a slip-up certainly isn't the end of the world,'' says DiBenedetto.

If you spend money you shouldn't have spent, ''the key is reevaluating your situation and looking for areas in your budget where you can make adjustments to help you catch back up.

''That might mean, for example, that if you usually go out to dinner twice a week, next week you don't go out to dinner at all and you use the money you save to get back on track.''

3. Close your shopping card.

If you funded your spending spree with a credit card, paying off the charges and then closing the card could give you the positive reinforcement you need to correct course, Sanders says. And while closing a card can hurt your credit score, the benefits of getting out of debt outweigh closing an account or two.

''Consumer behavior research finds that a good predictor of success in getting out of debt is the number of credit accounts closed toward the start of the program,'' Sanders says. ''The dollar balance of the credit accounts closed during the initial effort is not a good predictor. Instead, the momentum of closing accounts makes the difference.''

4. Eliminate triggers.

 ''Learn to spot the triggers so you head off overspending,'' says Sanders.

That sounds easier than it is. ''Correcting the habit of overspending takes some behavior interventions to eliminate the exposure to the trigger, and some proactive behaviors to make it harder to give in to the desire,'' says Gregory.

We can't avoid advertisements and online marketing completely, but we can avoid visiting the sites where we are more likely to spend.”
– Ethan Gregory, a counselor, psychologist and advice columnist

''We can't avoid advertisements and online marketing completely, but we can avoid visiting the sites where we are more likely to spend,'' he says. And carrying a small amount of cash and not using a card can will eliminate adding to your card balances.

''Also, putting yourself on a budget that allows for a minor reward in the same way we might have a cheat meal in our diet could help a person develop more moderation.''

5. Keep your receipts.

One of the things about buying stuff is that you typically can return it.

''After a shopping spree, when you've had time to think about your purchases, make some returns,'' DiBenedetto says. ''You'll probably realize that you spent too much, so go ahead and bring some things back.''

6. Pay for your mistakes.

When you go on a shopping spree with a credit card, you come home with more stuff — and more debt. The sooner you pay off that new debt, the sooner you can move on.

Some people may start small, nipping away at their debt much as a snowball builds as it rolls downhill. You lay out all your debts and pay them off in order from the smallest balance to the highest balance.

Others may prefer the avalanche approach, paying off debts from the highest interest rate card to the lowest interest rate card. Either way works, DiBenedetto says.

Going on a spending spree is like binging on ice cream. You know you shouldn't, but when you do, you have to work off the debt. You also must recognize the signs that your spending is going off the rails — you want to keep an occasional taste of ice cream from turning into a daily date with Ben and Jerry.

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Author of I’m Sorry, You are Not a Pick-Up Artist


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