We’re in College. We’re Newlyweds. We’re So Broke. Where Can We Turn?

a young couple hold hands.
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Dear Penny,

I am a 20-year-old, full-time college student who got married less than two months ago. My husband starts classes in the fall full time, as well.

I have quite a few health problems and just had to push back surgery because my husband had an accident and can’t work for four to five weeks. We are barely making ends meet on my income. My doctor wants me to cut back my hours, but we can't afford it.

We don’t want to file for bankruptcy, and we’re trying not to go on any government programs. Any advice for a couple off to a bit of a rocky start?


Dear S.,

Getting married is challenging. Being young and newly married — even more so.

I got married three weeks into my freshman year of college. Not long after, I sauntered into my old high school feeling pretty invincible. Look at me: I am an adult, married lady. I swung by my favorite biology teacher’s room to chat, and when he asked how we were doing, I made an offhand comment about being broke.

He stopped sorting student papers and looked at me squarely. “The money will be tight for a while,” he said. He told me a few details from when he and his wife were starting out, when their kids were young. He didn’t make any comments about how old I was or why I had gotten married so soon after high school. He just leveled with me about how hard it can be to make ends meet in a young marriage.

So if everything feels impossible for you right now, it’s probably because it kind of is. So many of us are not prepared to be fully functioning adults when we leave home. And then you have to be a functioning adult in the same house as another newly functional adult? It’s ripe for conflict.

Filing for bankruptcy at 20 is probably not a viable option. But applying for government assistance can be a huge help for you during this time when you’re juggling health issues along with the pressure to earn as much money as possible.

You may be eligible for SNAP, the benefit formerly known as food stamps. The government assistance program is designed for working adults with limited assets. You can even apply for SNAP online in many states, so you don’t even need to talk to someone to ask for help.

You could also consider dropping down to half-time status at school. You can usually retain financial aid if you’re taking at least six credits each semester, although school rules vary. It may take longer to complete your degree, but reducing your course load for a semester or two could bring extra peace of mind while you determine the best way to figure out work schedules and medical needs with your husband.

Asking for help is hard, but asking for help now can set you up for greater stability in the future. This is not a time to hide your fears about your finances from family members, friends, and most importantly, each other.

If you don’t talk about what’s worrying you, it’ll eat away at you both.   

Lisa Rowan is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.