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This system helped these newlyweds pay off $17,000 in student loans in less than a year

Erin Lowry and her husband's budget is tailored to their emotional relationship with money and each other.
Image: Couple with pay bills, calculator and money counting expenses indoors. Money savings concept
serezniy / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Erin Lowry, author of “Broke Millennial Takes on Investing: A Beginners Guide to Leveling Up Your Money,” says she and her husband paid off $17,000 in student loans in less than a year.

The New York City couple, both in their late 20s, were used to financial freedom before saying their vows in September 2018, according to Lowry. But after they got engaged, she says, they knew they needed to develop a team approach to money.

“Having the set up we’ve created, which is tailored to our emotional relationship to money as well as our relationship to each other, has really helped set us up for success,” Lowry tells NBC News BETTER. “And it has mitigated a lot of the common issues that happen early on in a marriage when you are joining your money together.”

Here’s how Lowry and her husband, a public school teacher, do it.

They created a budget in Google Spreadsheets

“In Google Spreadsheets we have a big grid that we created that outlines all of our different financial goals,” Lowry says.

The spreadsheet details all of the couple’s funds based on their financial goals, and helps them share and track their progress over time.

Fund categories:

  • Bills (includes rent, cell phones, health, life and renter's insurance, utilities, internet, annual fees for items like Amazon Prime)
  • Variable spending (like groceries)
  • Travel
  • Investments (non retirement)
  • Emergency savings
  • General savings
  • Veterinary care for pets
  • Discretionary spending

The grid includes the current running total on each fund, how much they have saved, and a separate column detailing their goals for each, according to Lowry. She says they track their student loan debt in a separate tab.

“This really has been created into a large grid which has, down to the penny, how much out of each of our paychecks goes into these different funds,” she says.

Lowry says they put an extra $300 per month in the bills fund on top of what is necessary in order to accumulate a buffer for unexpected expenses.

They have monthly money meetings

Each month, the couple has a monthly meeting where they look at their budget and decide how they are going to allocate to what.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say we’re doing zero-sum budgeting, but we do give every dollar a job and we do account for every dollar,” Lowry says.

The couple pool their money into one main account, she says. From there — after they’ve determined their goals for the month — they divvy it up and transfer it into the appropriate checking and savings accounts, she explains.

Each partner gets a discretionary spending account

Lowry and her husband each have separate accounts, she says, where they both receive a set amount every month for personal spending.

If they want to buy something outside their shared financial goals, like clothes, haircuts, NFL tickets, or going to a show, they must use the money in their personal accounts, she explains.

Image: Erin Lowry
Erin Lowry, author of "Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life" David Rodgers

She says these separate accounts allow them to maintain some independence while avoiding conflicts over how to spend their money.

“There generally is not nitpicking at each other for what we spend on because we’ve created a process in which the priorities are the financial goals that we have set together,” she says.

In addition to their personal discretionary accounts, Lowry adds, they each have their own retirement accounts they contribute to.

Don't miss: How this couple paid off $65,000 in credit card debt and student loans in five years

They set goals

A major reason the grid has helped the couple pay off debt is because it allows them to track their goals visually, Lowry explains.

Next to their “goals column,” they can track their progress each month, she says.

“We can visually see increases over time of getting towards that major overarching goal that we’ve set for ourselves,” she says.

She says they set both “realistic” and “reach” goals.

A “realistic goal” is a financial goal you know you will make happen in a given time period, like paying off a small debt in six months, explains Lowry.

A “reach goal” is more aspirational — for example, paying the debt off in three months. If you can’t meet your reach goal, you can still strive to pay it off before six months.

A team approach may not work for all couples, Lowry says, but she says it has worked for them.

“I find it’s easier to work together towards achieving financial goals instead of trying to be completely separate,” she says.

How to take a team approach to money

  • Create a budget: Create a grid where you outline your major funds, debts, savings, and goals for each. It’s easy to share and you can both access it any time.
  • Keep separately funded accounts: You’ll both enjoy a sense of financial freedom and won’t bicker over how you spend your money.
  • Have a monthly money meeting: Each month, meet with your partner to go over your budget.
  • Set goals: Both “realistic” and “reach” goals will give you motivation to pay off debt and save as much as possible.


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