Understand Your Finances
How I found love—and fixed my finances
Love gets man honest about his $11,000 debt
The following article is part of "Real Money/Real Talk," a series presented by Chase Slate in which people share stories of how their personal finances have evolved.
When I was single, and in my 20s, I was awful with money. I was living in San Diego and made $1,200 a month working part time at Apple and Starbucks. Even though I wasn't making very much money, I felt like I deserved to have fun. I bought lots of DVDs, ate out at restaurants, and said yes to social events. I wasn't splurging on designer clothes or expensive gadgets. But, still, I spent excessively, and over six years I racked up $11,000 in credit card debt.
I tried to get it under control, but I would find myself committing the worst sins, like forgetting to make a payment, or taking cash advances from one credit card to pay off another one.
In 2008, I moved to central Florida, and shortly thereafter I met a beautiful woman named Heather. Honestly, I thought to myself, If this relationship is going to work, you have to tell her your deep dark secret.
Spilling the beans
Within the first month of dating, I told her how much debt I was in. I said, “I just want to make sure you know about it."
I felt a huge wave of relief when I told her. Even though I'm not proud of it, I knew I had to be upfront. As it turns out, plenty of Americans feel the same way. According to the 2017 Slate Credit Outlook survey, 34 percent of single Americans think finances should be discussed as soon as the relationship becomes serious. Twenty-three percent believe it should happen as soon as you know the person is “the one."
After I told Heather, she said that she also had roughly the same amount of credit card debt. I was even more relieved! We appreciated each other's honesty. We decided to keep seeing each other.
'Til debt do we part
In July 2009, we got married. At this point, our combined credit card debt was $22,000, so I laid out a plan to pay it all off. I sat down on our living room floor with my laptop open and wrote down the name of every credit card we had, the balance and the annual percentage rate. Once I saw the full picture of our debt, I realized we could easily be rid of it.
We were making a combined $65,000 a year and had no kids. We made monthly payments of $500 to $700 towards our debt. The first card we tackled was the one we charged our honeymoon onto, which had a balance of $1,500. Then we paid down a few store cards, which had balances under $500. Within two years, we knocked off half our debt.
I was thrilled, but we still had $11,000 in debt. I knew we could do better.
Man with a plan
That's when I came up with a plan to wipe out the rest of our debt in exactly nine months. We used several techniques to make this happen. We paid off some smaller balances first so we could build up some momentum before going after the bigger balances. All of our payments were automated so that we wouldn't have to keep reminding each other.
Next, we cut our spending. We used only debit cards and tracked what we spent on things like gas and groceries on a spreadsheet.
Lastly, we transferred big balances with high interest rates to a credit card. We got a $150 bonus that we put towards our debt, and we had zero interest for 15 months. This helped shave a chunk off of interest.
Sure enough, in nine months, we paid off all of our debts!
Now that I'm 39 and wiser, my advice to people who are dating is to talk about it early. If the relationship works out, then your financial life, whether it's good or bad, is going to affect that other person greatly. Your finances are part of who you are and you shouldn't hide it because you're afraid people will "swipe left" on you.
Today, both of our credit scores are between 700 and 750. We live in a house in Jacksonville, Florida, with our 2-year-old daughter and we're expecting a second child in November. Since Heather is a stay-at-home mom and I'm a freelance writer, our finances aren't as predictable as they used to be, but we know that whatever financial drama comes our way, we'll know how to handle it.
J.R. Duren is a Chase News contributor. His work has appeared on Highya.com.