Which Is Worse for a Marriage: Debt or Gazelle Intensity?

by TTMK on August 11, 2015 · 3 comments

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?

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Alexis Lockhart August 11, 2015 at 8:30 am

I would say that debt shouldn’t be a surprise AFTER the wedding! If the couple has already talked about finances (which they should have) perhaps paying off debt before the wedding and NOT having a huge wedding ADD to the debt would be a better idea, than having a HUGE wedding and just keep digging into the debt hole. I remember my younger days in a small (affordable) apartment as good times. The house and the yard (and all the expenses that go with it) came later. Somehow, marriage has become equated to a giant expensive wedding followed with a huge house payment and keeping up with the Joneses mentality. None of those things make for a good marriage.


Melissa August 11, 2015 at 11:23 am

Alexis–You are so right. We had a very low cost wedding, but too many people get swept up in the hype of having an expensive, fancy wedding and then moving right into a house and paying for all new furnishings.


joe September 28, 2015 at 2:40 am

First no one should be married unless they have significant holdings. However in this case the couple had clearly never been taught the importance of finance or got a second rate education. More likely then not they knew better and did it anyway regardless here’s the answers. 1. Get a divorce for irreconcilable diffences. Live separately and for God’s sake don’t breed. They both get job’s pay off their bills separately. By the time they have, both should have advanced enough in their careers to be making good pay. Then they can save separately for at least two more year’s. Once they both have savings and zero debt then get remarried. 2. Stay married he gets a vasectomy (I shouldn’t have to explain why) they both need to focus on paying off his then hers one or the other. Once paid off switch make certain to pay the min on the one to be payed off last. This will build credit and make things manageable from a credit standpoint. Take the bus no car’s, no cable, no Internet and pre paid phone’s (straight talk will do) no going out or buying anything that is not needed. Shop at goodwill and live off raven noodles. Donate plasma on your days off. Do this for four to six year’s you’ll be debt free. My predictions divorce within 3-5 year’s probably less. just hope the poor girl doesn’t get pregnant. This is why there was arranged marriages to insure your daughter didn’t marry a bum. Had she married an older man who had money and common sense she would have been out of college, taken care of financially till she found a good career plus have a marriage that lasts. Also if she gets pregnant a man with his finances together can handle it and care for both of them. Now if she gets pregnant she’ll have more debts, lose her career and end up on welfare.


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