When I was 29 years old, I graduated with a master's degree in communications and $60,000 in debt. I wasn't married yet, but I was in a long-term relationship with my partner, who later became my husband. While we couldn't be more different about the way we approach money, he's been my rock and source of inspiration on my journey to becoming debt free. Nine years, a plethora of jobs, three apartments, two kids, and one dog later, we've learned a lot about money, relationships, and debt. This month marked a big milestone for us. We finally paid off my student loans — all $60,000 of them — but that didn't come without some ups and downs. One of the most surprising lessons? Supporting your partner on the road to being debt free is less about the actual money and more about how you face challenges as a team. Here's how to help your partner take on debt so you both come out winners.
Get on the same page
Let's face it, it's hard to talk about money, even with the person you call your soulmate — but you're going to need to do it anyway. Consistently having a clear understanding of where you both stand financially will put you on solid ground as a couple and help you understand what your partner is up against in terms of student loan debt. Make the talk a little easier by keeping the conversation low-stress and focused on a few key things, like understanding the total amount of student debt and their financial goals.
Support your partner's plans — even if they're a little wild
You've had the talk and learned your partner wants to get out of debt as soon as possible. Now is a good time to offer up your help if they need ideas on how to pay off their loans faster. Over the years, my husband and I have dreamed and schemed of countless ways to make money to help pay off my loans. We've tried just about everything, from listing our home on Airbnb and selling stuff on Facebook garage sales to driving for Lyft and frugal budgeting. I'm so grateful he's open to all of my ideas.
That being said, it is a good idea to follow your partner's lead on their plans to pay off debt and make sure the ownership stays in their court. You can act as a sounding board and keep offering concrete advice when they need it, but following their lead allows you to stay in a supportive role as they figure things out. Remember, you don't have to have all the answers — just listening and supporting is enough sometimes.
Celebrate the Wins
Paying off student debt can be a long, tough road. Hopefully, with a plan in place you'll both start to see some progress and be able to identify a few milestones you can celebrate. Did your partner refinance for a lower interest rate? Buy them an encouraging card that acknowledges they just made a big move and saved a ton of money. Was your partner able to make an extra payment or put a tax return toward the debt? Go out to dinner and toast their commitment. It's not easy making sacrifices for long periods of time, but small celebrations will keep up their motivation along the way.
Remind your partner of the benefits (and realities) of their education
For many, including myself, earning a degree is more than a piece of paper. The moment I walked across the stage to get my master's was powerful for me in many ways because I was the first in my family to go to college, let alone graduate school. My husband knows this about me, so when the tears would come over what a nightmare my student loans had been, he was quick to remind me that my education opened new doors for me and inspired others in my family, too.
He's also good at helping me stay grounded in reality. I had student debt, but it was also a good thing to be reminded that the future is unknown and full of potential. There was a time when I was so sure we'd be paying off my debt for decades. I was fearful we'd still be paying off my loans when our first daughter went to college. "You never know what's going to happen," my husband would always say. He was right. Almost a decade later, we've completely paid off my student loans. I'm so happy to celebrate with him.
Believe it or not, facing student debt has actually taught us a lot about how to work together as a team in many positive ways. I'm willing to bet you and your partner are well on your way to discovering it's not only possible to pay down debt, but to find the emotional strength you need to face life's ups and downs together.
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