It's a terrifying thing to know you have debt, and it's of little comfort to know you're not alone. It's true that 78% of American families use credit cards -- and nearly half of those carry a balance. And that's not counting the families who tapped into home equity lines as a secondary source of income and are now facing foreclosure. But even knowing the numbers, you can still feel terribly alone when you open your bank statements.If you and your spouse haven't been talking about money -- your own personal money -- you need to sit down and have a real conversation. It might not be easy, but it's important, and you will be amazed at how liberating it is to face that fear.
This is not a conversation you can have in five minutes while setting or clearing the table, or on your cellphone at the grocery store. Make it easy for your spouse to take this seriously -- you can email his work address and request a lunch appointment, or set a time and have him put it in his Blackberry on the spot, but make sure you set aside at least 30 minutes, and make sure you convey how important it is to you to have his participation.Make sure you've done everything to clear your own calendar, too. If you'll need childcare, swap with a friend or hire a sitter. You don't want to deal with interruptions. Turn off your cell phone and turn on the answering machine if you're at home. The world will not end if you are unreachable for 30 minutes.
Before you get to the meeting, do your preparation. Get a piece of paper and write down your current bank balance, your monthly income, and your current debts (mortgage, car, home equity loan or line of credit, and credit cards). Write down the minimum payments due for each of these. Don't guess at the numbers. Go online and find the most up-to-date information, or call the companies if you need to, but get a true and accurate picture of what you owe.Face that number. Recognize that it is a number. It may seem unreachable at this moment, but it is a finite number, and you will get there. You can count that high.
Sit down with your spouse and review your findings. Show him the numbers, and remember: this is not about blame. Neither of you is the problem. Rather, the two of you are in this together, fighting the debt.Together, the two of you can set a plan for getting out of debt. If you have no idea where to start, look to the experts for advice. Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey (www.daveramsey.com) both have great tips and ideas, and your local library should have a shelf full of books with even more. Start reading, and come up with a plan that's right for you, whether it's attacking the highest interest rate card first, starting a debt snowball, or some other method.
This isn't a once and done thing. Now that you've quantified your debt and you're actively working to reduce it, be sure to touch base regularly. Set up a time you can talk, uninterrupted, weekly or monthly, a time that you specifically set aside to talk about your finances.It's these regular conversations that are the cornerstone of your financial health. There's no reason for either one of you to bear the financial burden alone, no matter who earns how much.Stick to your plan, review it regularly, and above all, keep talking to each other. And let us know how you're doing!Tell us! Do you talk to your spouse about money? Have tips to share with your fellow readers? Let's hear them in the comments.
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