In 2016, married couple Precious and Chaun Ares purchased a house in Inglewood, California and began planning for a family through in vitro fertilization. To afford the costly procedure, which typically isn’t covered for same-sex couples under insurance, they would need to take out a loan.
Precious, 30, a hearing officer at a district attorney's office, and Chaun, 31, a housing department administrator for California State University, already owed a combined $120,000 in student loan and consumer debt.
“Our very first thing was ‘we need to talk more,’” Precious Ares told TODAY.
The couple began scheduling regular “money dates,” which Ares defines as “time alone in our week to talk about money.”
The dates have helped the couple align their financial goals and plan a timeline for paying back debt quickly over the next several years, she said.
“She has her own finances, I have my own account,” said Ares. “So, I need to know what we're working with, because we're each individually attacking different debts and loans.”
She said it was important for them to work as a team.
“That's why we decided to have the dates, because we just need to talk more and also get different perspectives,” she explained. “The way my wife looks at money is different from how I look at money.”
Same goal, different strategies
During their money dates, both women decided they would pay back their own portion of the debt differently, but would stick to the same goal, Ares explained.
They decided to use the debt snowball method created by businessman Dave Ramsey to tackle their debts as quickly as possible. The popular method is simple: contribute a higher amount than what’s owed on your monthly balance, and continue to pay back the debt at the same amount even as the balance decreases.
For example, let’s say you have four debts that total $800 a month. Over time, you pay off one of those debts, which brings your monthly payment down to $700. Instead of paying the minimum, you continue paying $800 a month until all your debts are paid.
Ares said they both agreed to contribute a minimum of $500 each to their debt until their debt is paid in full.
“We both know what the goals were,” said Ares. “Even though we have our own individual line of credit and debts we needed to attack.”
While the goal is the same, they are each using separate strategies to get there, she said. Whereas Precious works overtime to earn extra money, Chuan is cutting back on certain expenses. When it comes to tracking, Precious uses the Goodbudget app and Chaun tracks hers using a physical notebook.
Money dates help the couple reduce money-related stress
When the couple first started paying off their debt in 2018, Ares was working full time as a police officer with a six figure salary. But after she switched careers, her salary was cut in half. Ares said money dates gave her an opportunity to be open with her wife about her anxieties around money.
“A lot of times finances are connected to worries and stress,” said Ares. “And sometimes if you're always holding that in, you're not being vulnerable with your partner, especially for me having such a drastic shift in my income.”
Once-a-week money dates are also helping the couple prepare for financial uncertainty during the COVID19 pandemic.
“We started meeting once a week compared to just every two weeks, because so much was changing so rapidly, and different expenses were coming up,” she said.
She said they are using the time to adjust their budget to unexpected circumstances, save additional money in case one of them gets sick, and talk through financial stress related to the pandemic.
“So we know we have a safety cushion,” Ares said. “ I think that it actually enhances just being able to talk, so it's not completely about the numbers. You’re getting some of that mental anxiety out as well as sharing that load with your partner.”
Money dates build confidence
So far, the couple has paid off $17,000, according to Precious.
As they paid down their debt, they took out an additional $30,000 loan to pay for a large part of their in vitro fertilization costs, she adds.
Chaun, currently 7 months pregnant, is expecting their first child in August.
“It’s a difficult time right now, but overall, I'm still very, very, very excited,” said Precious.
They also refinanced their student loans through SoFi, a personal finance company, which she said is saving them an additional $200 a month.
While the couple still has a long way to go before their debt will be paid in full, Ares said money dates are giving them the confidence to manage their debt and afford a family during uncertain times.
“Being able to pay it off is like ‘wow,’ especially having limited finances, we're still able to accomplish so much together,” said Ares. “And I don't think that we would have been able to pay off so much as individuals.”
Couples who want to get started with money dates should start by being “open and transparent” with each other, said Ares.
“Just be completely honest with your partner and lay it all out there,” said Ares. “This is someone you love, someone you care about, so don't be afraid to be vulnerable.”