Til Debt Do Us Part

Til Debt Do Us Part April 25, 2012

According to a 2009 study The State of Our Unions done by Jeffrey Dew, a professor at Utah State University, couples who reported disagreeing about finances once a week were over 30% more likely to divorce over time than couples who reported disagreeing about finances a few times per month.

There’s a reason the phrase ‘Til Debt do Us Part’ has become so popular today.  It’s because consumer debt erodes marital satisfaction over time for newlyweds.  Don’t believe me?  Take a look at the research that shows how newlywed couples who take on consumer debt become less happy in their marriage over time.


til debt do us part
National Marriage Project University of Virginia 2009

As you’ll find in your marriage, a good relationship is built on a strong foundation of communication, honesty, and understanding.  The same foundation can also be applied to managing your finances wisely.

The core to wise financial management is a budget that takes into account these three principles.  As you’ll explore in this guide titled Til Debt Do Us Part, maintaining a budget is fundamental for couples that want to manage their finances effectively.

It Starts Before the Wedding

For those who haven’t tied the knot yet, I’m glad you found this guide early!  You may not have a clue what to expect when it comes to marriage and money, and that’s OK!  There’s a lot to know and these budgeting tips will help you as well as those who have been married for years.

Getting comfortable talking about your finances should start before the wedding. It’s important to set financial expectations and goals together, both of which can be done before you’re married.

Open conversations about spending habits, debt obligations, and savings goals should be discussed prior to the wedding.  The last thing you want to do is start off your marriage with a big surprise and financial burden that you’ve tried to hide.

What Questions Should You Ask?

If you’re already thinking about marriage, you probably have somewhat of a good idea about your future spouse’s financial picture.  But somewhat isn’t good enough here.  You need to know the cold hard facts before you commit to the rest of your life with this person.

Don’t settle for round about answers and don’t hold anything back.  Both of you need to be open about spending habits, debt, income and other goals.  If you’re seriously thinking about getting married, you need to seriously answer these questions about money.

  • How much debt do you owe?
  • What is your credit score? 
  • Do you keep a budget?
  • How much do you save?
  • How much do you give to charity?

Set Up Your Marriage for Success

According to TheKnot.com, a recent survey found the average cost of a wedding to cost $27,800.  While your wedding day is certainly one of the most important days of your life, you need to make sure you don’t set yourself up for financial failure from the start.  Going into debt to get married isn’t a good idea.  Regardless of who is paying for the wedding bill, it’s smart to use a budget to plan for the wedding.

The Budget: Your Key to Financial Success

How can anyone expect to get ahead financially if they aren’t tracking where their dollars are going today?  With so many online tools, budgeting spreadsheets, and workbooks out today, it’s simple to find budgeting resources, but surprising how many people do not actually maintain a budget.

According to MSN Money, only 40% of people use a budget to track their expenses. That means a lot of people aren’t actively tracking their dollars and planning for monthly expenses.

The next section outlines the steps that you can take to start your budget.  Actually maintaining a budget is simple – taking that first step and deciding to do it is the tough part.

These tips will equip you to:

  • Track your spending
  • Organize your expenses
  • Control variable budget items
  • Conduct monthly reviews
  • Set and meet financial goals
  • Automate your budget
  • Automate investment accounts
  • Communicate effectively about money

Creating Your First Family Budget

Your budget is simply a way for you to track your income and expenses.  It shouldn’t feel like a ball and chain.  Yes, it’s designed to place restrictions on where your money goes, but it also gives you the freedom to spend your money in the areas that you’ve budgeted for.

The first step in starting your family budget is to gather all your expenses and write down all forms of income.  I know it sounds simple, but your goal here is for your expenses to be lower than your income (groundbreaking, right?).  Unfortunately, Americans haven’t fully grasped this concept as the average family holds over $5,000 in credit card debt – a sign that we are a nation of spenders using more money than we make!

Quick Visual for Income and Expenses

         INCOME                                             EXPENSES

Regular Monthly Income               Regular Monthly Expenses

$                                                          $                     

Irregular Side Income                   Annual Expenses ÷ 12 =

$                                                          $                     

TOTAL INCOME:        $

TOTAL EXPENSES  –  $_________


Your goal here is to obviously have a positive number after you’ve subtracted your expenses from your income.  If it was negative, you’re not alone.  The good news is that with a budget, you can start to track were your money is going get on track to spending less than you earn.

Quick Tip

While this financial exercise seems simple, it may take some time to actually see what your income/ expense total amounts to.  This is especially true if you don’t already keep track of your expense.

In order to quickly account for your income and expense, take note of these tips:

  • Gather bank statements to see direct deposit of income and also for expenses.
  • Use credit card statements to add up any bills or expenses paid that month.
  • While you’re looking at each expense, take a few minutes to write down when they come due.  This will help you stay organized and make your budget flow better.

Controlling the Expenses

Gather your banking and credit card statements for the last few months and start to look through each expense.  You should see a few common categories appear, e.g., groceries, gas, and entertainment.

Make a note next to each line item on the statement indicating which category the expense would fit, or create a column of categories and write in the expense to keep it even more organized.


Setting Category Limits

Once you know where your money has been going you can see what needs to be changed.  This is where trial and error will come into play because you won’t master your budget the first time around.

Compare what you have been spending in each category to the suggested average for budgeting.  You may be way off in certain categories – like eating out for example.  This is a relatively easy fix since you can physically stop going to restaurants and force yourself to eat at home.  Other areas like your mortgage, auto payment, phone bill – those are more difficult to reign in, but not impossible if you’re open to making sacrifices.

Suggested Category Limits

Based on Percentage of Net Income

Charity                                           10% – 15%

Retirement Savings                      5% – 10%

Mortgage/Rent                            25% – 35%

Food                                                5%  – 15%

Utilities                                           5% – 10%

(Phone, Internet, Cable)

Transportation                             10% – 15%

Medical/Health                              5% – 10%

Clothing/Personal                         5% – 10%

Recreation/Entertainment         5%  – 15%

Debt                                                 5% – 10%

(Student loan, credit cards)

Online Budgeting Tools


Mint is one of the best online budgeting tool available today.  It’s completely free and syncs to your bank accounts to track your income and expenses automatically for you.  It even connects with your credit cards, investments, mortgage, and student loan debt and has a goals feature that can keep you motivated to save more and pay down debt.  My wife and I have been using Mint.com since 2008 and have found it to make our monthly money discussions much easier to make.


If you’re familiar with the envelope system of budgeting (that is, you set aside physical cash into an envelope for each budget category and use only those dollars throughout the month), Mvelopes is for you.  It’s an online version of using envelopes and provides you the tools you need to give your dollars a home each month.  It automatically categorizes your paycheck into online envelopes that will be drawn from as you pay for expenses each month.  Mvelopes is a paid service that many have found to be tremendously helpful.

Investing in Your Marriage AND for Your Future

So what about your future? Have you thought about how you’ll save enough to retire well, send the kids off to college, or to start that dream business you’ve always wanted to have? What’s your game plan?  If you’re just ‘earmarking’ money in your savings or checking account, you’re doomed for failure.  It’s so important to create goals and to establish investment accounts that will grow over time. But what if neither of us have ever had an investment account?  We don’t know where to start? Don’t let that keep you from learning!  It’s simple to start investing, especially with tools like Betterment.  You can read how my wife and I use Betterment.com here, but here’s the basic rundown.

    1. Take 5 minutes to open your account (and get a $25 bonus :) )
    2. Set an automatic deposit to fund investment goals like ‘retirement, vacation, college, business, etc.’.
    3. Use the interactive risk slider to choose your stock/bond allocation.  Don’t understand stocks and bonds?  That’s why you should use Betterment – they manage the investment for you and automate your savings.
    4. Relax.  Betterment automates everything for you, so you don’t have to worry about investing.

For those of you who like to be a little more hands on in choosing your investments, you can always use a brokerage like .  At just $4.95 per trade, they’re one of the most affordable brokerages out there.

Til Debt Do Us Part Worksheets

To help you in staying motivated financially, we’ve included a few financial worksheets for you to download.  Click on each link to download the file.

The vows you made on your wedding day shouldn’t be broken because of a broken budget or poor spending habits.  Start (or rebuild) your marriage with these financial strategies and keep debt out of your marriage!

What advice would you give to a couple who is struggling with debt in their marriage?

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