How We Survived After My Boyfriend Lost His $65,000 Job

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By Tahnya Kristina

In the 14 years I've been with my boyfriend, Nick, we've weathered a lot of storms, from my parents' divorce to paying off $50,000 of debt.

Nick and I started dating in 1999 as poor 19-year-old college students. We didn't know anything about managing money at the time, but we learned together. After graduation, we both found full-time jobs, in finance for me and in information technology for Nick. We moved into a convenient (read: expensive) downtown apartment, bought a new car and furnished our apartment with a big-screen TV and new furniture.

For a while we paid our bills on time every month, but eventually our frivolous spending got ahead of us -- and we landed thousands of dollars in debt. I wasn't sure Nick and I could pay off our balances, and I went to see a bankruptcy consultant. As a financial planner, admitting financial defeat was one of the lowest points in my life. Ultimately, we didn't file bankruptcy -- there would have been too many consequences for my financial career. But we immediately cut our expenses and readjusted our budget. I took a second job, and it took us three years to get back on our feet -- but we did it.

Laid Off During the Recession

But in 2009 we suffered a huge blow. Nick's company was acquired, and they outsourced a lot of jobs, including his. I wanted to play the supportive girlfriend role, to tell Nick everything would be OK and he'd find another job quickly. But as a financial planner, my mind was racing: How could we adjust to living without Nick's $65,000 salary?

Though we had a small emergency fund, I was determined not to touch it and to figure out how we could truly live off one income. So I scoured our bills, and we discussed how to restructure our budget. The first round -- such as dining out several times a week and premium cable -- freed up a whopping $600 each month. Through this process, Nick and I began to realize that living off my $70,000 salary was indeed possible. Here's what we did.

How We Made It Work

We scaled back on eating out. When we realized we were spending upwards of $400 every month on dining out alone, we cut that down to $20 a week, which still allows me to grab a bagel and lunch with my co-workers once a week. I began bringing my lunch to work the other four days and stocking my desk drawers with instant breakfast options. Let's just say that learning to cook was not a success, so I compensated by finding premade foods and snacks to eat at work. They taste better than anything I can cook, and it's much cheaper than going out every afternoon.

We found cheaper ways to socialize. Being extremely social, as Nick and I naturally are, is extremely expensive. Now we limit our restaurant dinners and after-work drinks with friends to once a month, instead of once or twice a week, and we easily save at least another $60 a week. Our friends were very understanding when we told them about our financial situation, and they even started hosting dine-in dinners in their own homes. This allows Nick and me to enjoy time with our friends without having to worry about whether the restaurant bill fits into our budget.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Our premium cable bill was killing us -- so we killed it. Our cable bill was close to $350 every month and had always been a sore spot in our financial relationship. I thought it was too expensive and didn't like contributing to Nick's sports packages, but chalked it up to the sacrifices you make in a relationship. So I was glad when Nick suggested we pare it down to the basics. We removed the extra channels and sports and movie packages, and also got rid of special features from our home phone and lowered our internet package. Although we felt the difference at first, we quickly realized our expensive cable bill was unnecessary. We learned to live without it.

We cut out vacations we couldn't take by car. The key to making budget cuts is to not feel like you're sacrificing too much. Traveling was really important to us because we didn't get to do it in college, so Nick and I were used to taking a couple of vacations every year -- at $2,000 to $3,000 each. Instead of eliminating vacations altogether, eliminating the need to fly cut our vacation costs in half.

We still prioritized retirement savings. As a financial planner, I knew how important it was to continue saving for retirement. After all, we still wanted to retire someday. I adjusted our $200 biweekly retirement contributions to $50 monthly in order to keep saving without straining our budget. I felt good knowing I was still building our future nest egg. (Plus, I was concerned if I stopped contributing completely, I may not start again when we had more money to spare.) So I stayed the course and only increased my contributions when we could afford it.

Thankfully, Nick was out of work for less than a year and is now happily employed again. Even though we're once again a dual-income household, we haven't fallen back into our old habits of careless spending. Although it's cliche, we really did learn (the hard way) that money doesn't equal happiness. Instead, we found happiness in being financially responsible and finding a balance between enjoying ourselves now and planning for our futures -- even when the going got tough.


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How We Survived After My Boyfriend Lost His $65,000 Job
"Your daily habits and routines are the reason you got into this mess," writes Trent Hamm, founder of TheSimpleDollar.com. "Spend some time thinking about how you spend money each day, each week and each month." Do you really need your daily latte? Can you bring your lunch to work instead of buying it four times a week? Ask yourself: What can I change without sacrificing my lifestyle too much? 
Remove all credit cards from your wallet and leave them at home when you go shopping, advises WiseBread contributor Sabah Karimi. “Even if you earn cash back or other rewards with credit card purchases, stop spending with your credit cards until you have your finances under control,” she writes.
If you do a lot of online shopping at one retailer, you may have stored your credit card information on the site to make the checkout process easier. But that also makes it easier to charge items you don't need. So clear that information. "If you’re paying for a recurring service, use a debit card issued from a major credit card service linked to your checking account," Hamm writes.  
Reward yourself when you reach debt payoff goals. "The only way to completely pay off your credit card debt is to keep at it, and to do that, you must keep yourself motivated," Bakke writes. Just make sure to reward yourself within reason. For example, instead of a weeklong vacation, plan a weekend camping trip. "If you aim to reduce your credit card debt from $10,000 to $5,000 in two months," Bakke writes, "give yourself more than a pat on the back." 
“Establish a budget,” writes Money Crashers contributor David Bakke. “If you don't scale back your spending, you'll dig yourself into a deeper hole." You can use personal finance tools like Mint.com, or make your own Excel spreadsheet that includes your monthly income and expenses. Then scrutinize those budget categories to see where you can cut costs.    
Sort your credit card interest rates from highest to lowest, then tackle the card with the highest rate first. "By paying off the balance with the highest interest first, you increase your payment on the credit card with the highest annual percentage rate while continuing to make the minimum payment on the rest of your credit cards," writes Mint.com spokeswoman Hitha Prabhakar.
To make a dent in your debt, you need to pay more than the minimum balance on your credit card statements each month. "Paying the minimum -– usually 2 to 3 percent of the outstanding balance -– only prolongs a debt payoff strategy," Prabhakar writes. "Strengthen your commitment to pay everything off by making weekly, instead of monthly, payments." Or if your minimum payment is $100, try doubling it and paying off $200 or more. 
If you have a high-interest card with a balance that you’re confident you can pay off in a few months, Hamm recommends moving the debt to a card that offers a zero-interest balance transfer. "You’ll need to pay off the debt before the balance transfer expires, or else you’re often hit with a much higher interest rate," he warns. "If you do it carefully, you can save hundreds on interest this way."
Have any birthday gifts or old wedding presents collecting dust in your closet? Look for items you can sell on eBay or Craigslist. "Do some research to make sure you list these items at a fair and reasonable price," Karimi writes. “Take quality photos, and write an attention-grabbing headline and description to sell the item as quickly as possible." Any profits from sales should go toward your debt. 
If you receive a job bonus around the holidays or during the year, allocate that money toward your debt payoff plan. "Avoid the temptation to spend that bonus on a vacation or other luxury purchase," Karimi writes. It’s more important to fix your financial situation than own the latest designer bag.
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