The following post is from staff writer Melissa Batai
Thanks in part to the high cost of student loans and our culture’s buy-it-now attitude, today’s couples are much more likely than previous generations to enter marriage with debt. A study from North Carolina State University found “67 percent of women and 74 percent of men enter marriage with at least some debt. . .primarily from auto loans, credit cards, student loans, and medical bills.”
The Strain of Debt on a Marriage
We all know that debt is not good for a marriage. The financial strains can, and do, sometimes lead couples to divorce. After all, newlyweds not only may bring a lot of debt to the marriage, but they may be just a few years into their careers and still making a fairly low wage.
While our parents’ generation knew that in the early years of marriage they’d have to make due with small apartments and used furniture, our generation seems to want to own a house right away and decorate it with brand new furnishings. Newlyweds “try to accumulate in one year what it took [their] parents thirty years to accumulate” (Marriage Missions).
All of these financial burdens can contribute to a marriage getting off to a rocky financial start.
The Strain of Gazelle Intensity on a Marriage
Paying off debt as quickly as possible seems to be the best way to avoid marital strain, but it’s not always so easy.
Millions of people subscribe to Dave Ramsey’s method of paying off debt with gazelle intensity, meaning to pay off debt as quickly as possible by selling things, working two jobs, and living on a bare bones budget.
If a couple comes into a marriage with a fairly small amount of debt and gazelle intensity can help them pay off the debt in 12 to 18 months, than by all means they should be gazelle intense. Lisa Dell and Cory Tiffin entered marriage with $10,000 in credit card debt. The two got gazelle intense and paid off the debt in just 20 months.
Still, it wasn’t an easy process. “‘Money was so tight it caused some stress and bickering between us,’ says Tiffin. To end the money disagreements while keeping focused, the couple kept detailed spreadsheets and analyzed their spending regularly” (Money).
The trouble, though, is that many newlyweds enter marriage with so much debt (and go further in debt to pay for the wedding), that they would have to stay gazelle intense for at least three to five years to pay off their debt.
When couples are each bringing $25,000+ of student loan debt to the marriage (according to US News, the average student loan debt of students leaving college in 2013 was $28,400), paying off debt quickly is a several years long endeavor.
If gazelle intensity can cause marital stress between a couple like Dell and Tiffin, who had a relatively small amount of debt to pay off, what tension could it cause between a couple that has much more debt to pay off and must stay gazelle intense for five years?
My Question for You
If a couple is entering marriage with debt, what should they do? Should they slowly pay down the debt, or should they attack it with gazelle intensity? Does your answer depend based on how much debt the couple has and how long they’ll have to be gazelle intense?