Debt is an unpleasant reality that most Americans have learned to live with – both in their personal finances and in their politics. It also affects our romantic relationships.
I recently read a great article in The Washington Post about how Gaithersburg, a D.C. suburb, has managed to consistently remain debt free. The philosophy that allowed this city to do what the U.S. and most Americans have been unable to do is both simple and brilliant: “Pay as you go and build your financial reserves.” This strategy is as useful in romantic partnerships as it is in city funding, because money troubles have been the beginning of the “end” for many marriages.
The holidays are upon us – a popular time for racking up more debt (as if any of us needs that). In most communities and relationships, there are countless wants, issues, emergencies and “holes in dams” that require fingers. But as the story goes, when we address one, another one pops up. Pretty soon, we are rushing to address every issue, and the dam collapses. In relationships and households, these issues and emergencies can look like gifts that one or both people want to give or get – opportunities to show someone how much you care, to show off, or whatever. Obtaining these things can seem urgent, but often, we can’t afford them. And assuming you’ll be able to afford them later can mean undue stress on you and your partnership in the New Year.
In times of complications, temptations and good intentions, regular communication helps a team maintain their focus – whether that team is made of lovers or legislators. In order for Gaithersburg to remain debt-free, I am confident that its players regularly communicate with themselves and each other. Plans are made and adhered to, and emergencies are accounted for. I’m also sure the legislators have to contend with unforeseen issues where new infrastructures are wanted or needed, but since a goal is to avoid debt, new expenses either come from rainy day funds, are taken from other, lower-priority expenses, or are tabled until the funds can be made available. So, in order for them to address the issues without loans, or without letting the dam collapse, it is necessary for the community and the local government to be on the same page, their agreed-upon “prize” (continuing to have a surplus). Focusing on this prize means all decisions are made with a surplus in mind. This is effective communication and stick-to-itiveness.
Couples may also have to regularly communicate about their financial goals. But if they “prize” having their finances in the black, discussions that pertain to money must focus on that shared goal. A couple that prizes maintaining a credit balance will not purchase items for which they do not have the cash. If one partner wants something that would require using credit, the decision is already made. No need to worry about hurt feelings or resentment when one person doesn’t get what he/she wants, because it’s what needs to happen to get what you both want – freedom from debt.
The bottom line: If your union cannot afford it, don’t buy it. Otherwise, the credit card bills that come in January will be a wonderful reminder of the need to assess or re-assess priorities and expenses. But by then, the damage will have been done. This is a tough pill for many American families, including mine, to swallow. But avoiding that important conversation and reality today means a doubly-difficult conversation in the future. A good reality check and a rainy-day fund help each of us to be Powerful People in Partnerships.
PS: To become a Frank Love sponsor you can make a one-time contribution or contribute monthly by clicking on the amount you’d like to donate each month: $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $35, $50, $75, $100, $200 or $500.