My wife, Tori, and I started dating about nine years ago. Little did we know then that we would face major financial challenges in the first few years of our relationship. Luckily, those same challenges have made us a stronger couple and improved our financial security today.

Tori and I were in college when we started dating. I paid for my schooling with the help of my parents, some part-time jobs, and scholarships.

Tori ended up taking out student loans to pay for the rest of college. When she graduated, she had over $80,000 in student loan debt. That’s a lot of debt to bring to a relationship.

Though don’t forget that you can refinance a lot of student loan debt at a lower interest rate. It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. If you’re in a similar boat, you might want to check out companies like SoFi and ELFI.

Our Experiences With Student Loans and Marriage

Some people would run for the exit if they found out their future spouse had $80,000 in student loan debt. Luckily for us, we were in love and talked at length about the future financial challenges the debt would cause.

We were on the same page with our future financial goals. The first goal was to pay off Tori’s student loans. We lived a frugal lifestyle so that we could aggressively pay down the debt for the first three years after she graduated from college.

Every single extra penny went toward the loans — even our “fun money.”

It takes effort to put so much money toward debt, but it’s worth it. If you’re in the same position, remind yourself that this challenge is temporary, and you’ll be free of a great burden when you’re done paying it off.

Combining Finances After Marriage

Before we were married, we kept our finances separate. However, Tori and I strongly believed in combining finances once we were married. And within a month of marrying, we did just that.

Next, we used the large chunk of money I had saved before our marriage to knock out a big portion of her student loan debt. Less than three years after she graduated, we paid off the $80,000 in full. We both felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off our shoulders. But we knew that wasn’t the end of our financial journey.

Saving for Emergencies

Next, we aimed for a fully stocked emergency fund with enough money to survive for six months. We redirected the freed-up money that had been going toward the loan repayment, and our emergency fund was full in a few months. This led us to our most recent financial challenge.

Tackling Investing Head-On

It was now time to start investing. While we contributed to our 401(k)s and a Roth IRA for retirement, our next goal would be to kick our retirement investing into high gear.

As a personal finance blogger, I know one of the biggest challenges in investing is determining risk tolerance — the ability to ride out market swings that can result in major losses. I knew we could handle large downturns, as our retirement was at least 30 years away.

After talking with my wife, I realized she shared my views about investing, and we decided to invest most of our money in equities (stocks and shares that carry no fixed interest).

Next, we discussed how much we wanted to invest in our retirement. We hope that Social Security will still be around when we retire, but we don’t want to rely on others for our financial future. So we decided to set aside a more aggressive percentage of our income toward retirement than a typical couple our age.

These Challenges Strengthened Our Relationship

I can’t express how awesome it is to be on the same financial page as your spouse. It helps you avoid one of the most common arguments in marriage: the money fight. Thankfully, we’ve been able to talk about our finances openly.

To find out whether you’re on the same page with your partner, start talking. Ask questions and listen. That way, you can understand why your partner feels the way he or she does. Then you can hopefully come to a consensus about how to manage your money in a way that makes both of you comfortable and happy.

Whatever you do, don’t keep putting off the money conversation.

The earlier you and your significant other can understand each other’s views and goals, the sooner you can work toward financial security.

 

Start Talking About Money

Okay, so you know talking about your finances with your significant other is important. But where the hell do you even start?! Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist (aka Dr. Romance) and author of Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today, gives us the tools to get going.

1. Share your different attitudes about money.

Talk about how your families dealt with money and what you liked and didn’t like about their style. Share your observations about how various friends handle money and what you think about their methods. Then make the discussion more personal by talking about how you feel about money, spending, saving, and your future dreams.

2. Discuss long-term joint financial goals.

This might include buying a new home or having a baby. The previous step should lead you naturally into a further discussion of your long-term goals, and into a discussion about the specific steps you need to follow to reach them. Steps should include saving and/or raising money to realize your goals, as well as a plan for how long you think it will take.

3. Put your plan to work.

Once you have the steps outlined, break down the first couple steps into small increments and choose steps for which each of you will take the responsibility in the coming week.

4. Establish separate checking accounts or personal spending budgets.

As part of your plans, you may want to open separate checking and savings accounts for building your dreams, as well as agree on budgets for personal spending from your available funds.

5. Discuss how the plan is going on a weekly basis.

Keep each other informed about how your plans are going. This is a good time to discuss the bills that need to be paid, changes in income or expenses, and what you need to do to accommodate the changes.

6. Keep talking.

No matter how well or poorly your finances are going at any given time, keep your financial discussions going. The more frequently you discuss your finances, the less difficult the discussions will be, and the more likely that you’ll make good financial choices.

Additional reporting by Kelly Meehan Brown.