Money is a topic that is difficult to talk about. Traditionally, society has told us that there are three things that we should not talk about in polite company: religion, politics, and money. Well, politics seems to be the only thing anyone talks about these days. As for religion, well, I’m of the “to each their own” policy. But money is something that we often still ignore — especially when it comes to frank discussions about debt.
Nobody likes to admit that they have debt. Whether it’s credit card debt, student loans, or paying off cars, most of us have something that we’re keeping quiet about. According to CNBC, 70 percent of college students are graduating with a “significant amount of loans” which total $1.5 trillion in debt for the over 44 million Americans who have student loan debt. In fact, a recent survey revealed that two-thirds of millennials have at least $10,000 in student debt and more than a third admitted to over $30,000 in debt, according to Inc.
Even worse, 42 percent of those that had more than $30,000 in debt were women and 11 percent of millennials have over $100,000 in student loan debt. Unsurprisingly, credit card debt is actually even higher for millennials (at 46 percent) and car loans come in just behind student loans (at 34 percent). Then there’s also medical debt to think about, as well as the 20 percent of millennials who actually have a mortgage.
Some of us, like me, have debt in all of the categories.
When my husband and I met and moved in together just six weeks into our relationship, we did it because we were in love and knew we wanted to be together for the long haul.
However, what we didn’t know at the time (and came to learn very quickly) is that we both came with a heaping amount of debt. Now, two and a half years into our relationship and nine months into our marriage, I can tell you that our debt has only increased: Collectively, we have around $150,000 in debt — about $100k of that in student loans, $40k in car loans, and another $10k in credit cards and medical bills. Add to that the fact that we just bought our first house and, well, our financial situation has gotten a bit more complicated.
It’s not easy to talk about finances, and it’s especially not an easy thing to do with someone you love. Sadly, money is often cited as a common cause of marriages falling apart — which is precisely why my husband and I are trying to tackle these issues sooner than later. I know that we won’t get out of debt any time soon, but having a secure financial plan is a good way to step into our future, together. So, shortly, after getting married, we decided to speak with some financial experts about how exactly to tackle our $150k in debt… WITHOUT driving each other crazy or stopping some of our other personal goals (like traveling together or having kids in the next couple of years).
Nora Dunn, a former Certified Financial Planner and blogger behind the financially savvy travel site, The Professional Hobo, told us that a lot of it depends on what we as a couple are earning and what our goals are. Dunn advised that my husband and I evaluate the importance of each of our goals. Was buying a house more important than taking vacation? How much did we expect to spend on a house based on the market in our area? According to her, it was all about taking an ‘everything in moderation’ plan, where we would examine our take-home income and expenses, and then divide our disposable income between different goals, depending on how our goals are prioritized.
After some discussion, we decided that prioritizing goals, and dividing our income accordingly, definitely seemed like a good place to start. In fact, Shana Bickel, CPA and Financial Coach, mirrored that advice when she told me that “it is not for me to tell the couple how to prioritize their financial goals.” The important thing, she says, is “to identify and get very clear about those goals and then develop a plan to pay off debt while saving for a home and allowing travel that makes sense for their financial health and well being.”
Another financial expert took a more straightforward approach.
“Sell those cars!” said Lynne Somerman and The Wiser Miser. “If you’ve got big financial goals like this, there’s no situation where I can recommend $40K in car loans when you can buy a reliable used vehicle for $10K. Even assuming you still need two cars, that’s $30K that you’ve now got towards a down payment. After that, it would depend on the type and interest rates on the student loans. If they’re private loans, go aggressively after them. If the interest is higher than about 4-5% on the student loans, they’d be my next priority. If their income is high enough, you could do both here.”
“Get those cars paid off and drive them forever!” he advised. “You don’t need a new car every two or three years. My car is paid off, and I plan to drive it forever. Each of those car payments is like a trip to Europe each year. Would you rather have a brand new car or a trip to Europe?”
He’s definitely right about that, which is why we have made paying off our cars our #2 priority (after paying off our credit cards), since we’d also like to save for an international trip in the near future. Rae also reminds me that, although student loans are important, so is saving for retirement.
“The student loans are going to take a long time to pay off. Get serious about them, but make sure to contribute to your retirement at least enough to get a company match,” he said. “This will be like free money from your boss, and the government will give you break on your taxes.”
Meanwhile, Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, a money coach who runs The Fiscal Femme, said that it is all about opportunity cost.
“We can only use or spend each dollar we have once, no matter how much or little money we have,” she reminds me. “How can we use it in a way that will maximize our joy per dollar in the shorter and long-term? It’s about looking at each option and choosing consciously. If a couple is paying down their debt and that’s really important to them but they also want to travel, they might decide to let go of expenses in other areas to make that work. What expenses aren’t bringing them much joy? Would they rather live in a less expensive apartment for the time being so that they have more money to travel? When we take a look at each expense annually (including our bills) it’s much easier to see where our money is going and decide if we want to allocate it any differently.”
Taking a look at our overall finances, my husband and I were able to use this advice to devise some financial goals, set some priorities, create a payment plan, and figure out what we want to save for.
It took some serious negotiating but we came away with a clearer picture of our finances. It’s not going to be easy, mind you. Having debt as a couple is difficult, but unfortunately, something that almost all of us face these days. If you don’t have student loans, then you might have a car payment or credit card debt or medical bills from that time before ACA when you didn’t have health insurance and ended up in the hospital (guilty!). But ultimately, the best thing you can do for yourself when it comes to your finances, whether you are coupled up or not, is to do the work to figure it out.
As Rae put it, “Get serious about your finances now — it won’t get easier when you have kids. You may make more money but you will be busier and tired. Parenting is hard. Just saying.”
Share this story with all of your friends by tapping our little share buttons below!
The human race is no stranger to segregation. In the United States, Jim Crow laws and “separate but equal” doctrine kept people racially separated for decades. In Germany, there were the Nuremberg Laws. In South Africa, Apartheid. Today, segregation in our country takes a different form—no longer supported by law, it is pervasive yet subtle, an intersectional issue rooted in gender, race, and socioeconomic status. While legally dividing people based on their differences is indisputably wrong, a complex question emerges: Could the cultivation of ethnic, religious, and racial minority communities actually yield positive outcomes for the people within those communities? Many signs point to yes.
On college campuses, this question underscores the phenomenon of “affinity housing”—spaces where minority students can live alongside peers who share important aspects of their identities.
The debate around affinity housing has spanned the past 50 years, beginning with active calls for change from students at numerous institutions in 1969 (Williams College, Vassar College, and Wesleyan University, to name a few). At Williams College, the discussion began when members of the Williams Afro-American Society occupied Hopkins Hall until the school president responded to a series of requests, including the development of a residence hall specifically for Black students. While that demand wasn’t met at the time—leading to a reemergence of the issue last year—students at Vassar and Wesleyan were more successful, resulting in Wesleyan’s “Malcolm X House” and Vassar’s “Kendrick House”—dorms specifically designated to Black students, which still exist today.
Now, in 2019, a wide number of colleges and universities offer affinity housing for a highly diverse spectrum of students, including women of color, Asians and Asian-Americans, Latinx populations, and LGBTQ groups. Proponents of affinity housing argue that these communal residences provide minority students with a sense of safety and security, especially at institutions with largely white student bodies. However, many people believe that affinity housing hearkens back to a darker epoch of American history, reviving segregationist tendencies that are fundamentally harmful to our progress as a society. Without a doubt, our country’s fraught past has definitely made the legal aspects of affinity housing a bit sticky.
According to the federal Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to discriminate against tenants based on their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and family status.
So, if a university offers affinity housing for Black students, it could get in trouble if white or Asian students were explicitly prohibited from living there. To avoid this, colleges provide students with the choice to reside in these spaces, using careful language to define their role on campus—for example, California State University’s website describes its Halisi Scholars Living Learning Community as having been “designed to enhance the residential experience for students who are a part of or interested in issues regarding the Black community.” While it focuses on fostering a sense of community for Black students, the Halisi Scholars LLC is available to any student invested in issues of Black culture. Thus, as long as the option to join an affinity housing residence is inclusive to all, there is nothing illegal about it.
Although it can make affinity housing tricky to navigate, the Fair Housing Act protects folks all over the country. In certain states and cities, the protections expand even further to include factors like age, sexual orientation, marital status, gender, and citizenship status. Given the diversity of the U.S. population, these measures are absolutely essential to maintaining liberty and preserving our rights; yet history reveals that in spite of this legislation, marginalized communities are still most affected by housing discrimination, which perhaps points to affinity housing as a productive response to a long and unsavory trend.
Netflix’s “Dear White People” touches on the topic of affinity housing, illustrating the polemic nature of this issue through its characters’ divergent opinions.
credit: Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images
While some characters, like Coco Conners—a Black economics student who serves as treasurer for Winchester University’s Coalition of Racial Equality—do not support the new Armstrong-Parker dorm (a residence hall for students of color), several other characters find community there. Yvette Lee Bowser, executive producer of the series, describes this point in the show as a “renaissance” for the predominantly white, fictional Ivy League school.
“Everyone wants to have a sense of community, no matter what their cultural background is,” says Bowser. “That’s really what Armstrong-Parker is about—a built-in sense of community.” As a woman of color, Bowser attended Stanford University, which also offers affinity housing. She reiterates that the housing assignments at Winchester are not meant to segregate, but to do the very opposite: the Amstrong-Parker dorm is designed to maintain connectivity within students’ own, preexistent communities. “You don’t choose to go to a predominantly white institution only to be with black people,” she says. “You want the diverse experience, but you also want to feel those creature comforts and culture comforts.”
Share this story with all of your friends by tapping our little share buttons below!