As Joe and I are preparing for parenthood we have the goal of being out of debt before getting pregnant.
For about a year now we have been focusing on paying as much as we can (or are comfortable with) toward our debt snowball (a Dave Ramsey term). We also made a goal to no longer use our credit cards, for anything! This was the greatest accelerator, we pay cash for everything, our trip to Disney World, plane tickets home, gas, groceries, movies, eating out, etc. It takes planning, but it's a must. These goals have sometimes been hard to stick to, but we are in the final months of lame credit card debt! We also have the goal to pay off my car this year, which will relieve another monthly payment when we get down to one income. We still have the leased Jetta, but that's a whole other saga!
I came across this article in the Wall Street Journal, which gives some great advice about discussing debt and financial matters with your spouse. I think it's obvious that good communication is a must in a marriage, but some people may not think about needing good communication about finances.
Joe and I haven't always had great communication about finances. In the beginning of our marriage I handled all of the bills and we didn't talk much about where our money was going. Ever since we've come together on the goal of getting out of debt, talking about money is no problem. We are now more conscious of how our spending affects our goals.
The one section of the article that I don't entirely agree with is the topic of good and bad debt. Ideally we should all strive for no debt in our lives. But a mortgage is something I would consider to be "good" debt. Here are the author's phrases for good and bad debt: "In effect, good debt improves your life permanently." "In effect, bad debt only improves your lifestyle temporarily." I think the distinction of improving your life permanently and improving your lifestyle temporarily is great. Plenty of people use debt to improve their lifestyle not realizing that they are hampering and possibly ruining their life. The weight of debt is a detrimental, debt causes stress and anxiety. Debt makes living life difficult, basic expenses can become a burden when all of your money goes towards debt payments.
I also enjoy Dave Ramsey's philosophies - baby steps. Listening to Dave on the radio while I was driving to/from work really spurred our desire to get out of debt. His philosophy is so simple and straight forward, it's nothing new, perhaps just a new way of hearing and understanding it all. Joe and I both come from a religious background and our religion preaches these same principles; living within your means, staying out of debt, and saving for emergencies. It simple makes sense to not have debt. It's really the only way you can grow wealth as well.
I hope to say in a few shortly months that we are debt free (other than the house and the car lease)! It will be an exciting moment for us.