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Coming out of the ‘Debt Closet’

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A reader recently e-mailed and asked how I told my family about my debt problem.

Here is a warning – you may not like my answer.

Let me explain…

I didn’t have a lot of debt when my husband and I married. He brought in some pretty large chunks of debt and collections that were ‘inherited’ from someone else. Since I had never dealt with lines of credit or collections, I sought the advice of my parents for a problem solving strategy.

They suggested I pay off the debt as quickly as possible, negotiate with the collections company, and move on with my life.

Being the mature, reasonable adult I was, I promptly ignored them. Then, wisely, since I was already drowning in debt, frustrated, and hurt, I bought a brand spanking new car and took several trips to Hawaii.

When you have lots of debt, you get to a point where you simply give up. To the reader who e-mailed me, I’ve been exactly where you are right now and I’m getting to the other side – alive and breathing.

When I finally came to my senses in late 2008 and started to make efforts to fix the problem, my parents already knew I was a financial idiot. I think they were just waiting for me to raise my hand and ask for help. They never got angry and never made me feel bad about myself. I’m very fortunate to have a great set of parents. In short, unless you are REALLY REALLY good, you parents and family probably already know.

As for the exact words I used? You read them with my parents. Yup, I ‘came out’ on this blog.

If you need help with ideas on how to fix more serious issues in finances, ask for it. Then, save the grief, listen, and take action.

Here’s the part you won’t like. Only ask for advice and support, don’t ask for money.

Dave Ramsey is right. When money exchanges hands in families, Thanksgiving dinner will never taste the same. I can tell you that from personal experience.

You made the mess. Clean it up.


9 Comments

  • Reply David Bibby |

    I was the first in my family to want to be debt-free, totally and completely. Right now working on Baby Step 3 of the Dave Ramsey Plan.

  • Reply Lara |

    I’m not generally a fan of Dave Ramsey, but he does teach some wisdom. This is one of those things he teaches that has great merit. Even a loan from a parent is demeaning and puts you in a different role with them, although I know some adults who’ve taken flat out handouts from Mom and Dad. This does nothing for one’s self-esteem. My feelings – you got in to this debt, you get out of it.

    Good for you for turning things around and realizing the wisdom of getting rid of consumer debt. It’s no fun paying for something long after the sweet taste of acquisition or experience is gone.

  • Reply Vicki |

    Both my parents are dead, so the only people I had to tell were my baby sister and close friends (people who are like family to me). They completely understand and provide great moral support. I have not asked for money. I only asked for advise and support. They did not condemn me. So when I started to blog about it, I felt so much better to get it out and I can look back at my progress. And that is why I post my disclaimer regarding my car loan and my 401K loan. Yes, they are part of my debt, but they are handled differently. My primary goal was to get out of credit card debt first, and work on the other debt.

  • Reply Tracey |

    “You made the mess. Now clean it up.” So true.

    I have a post that I just wrote that will hit my blog later this week discussing how people are waiting for a windfall. I think too many people are too far in their debt closet and think that a miracle will come and save them.

    What they don’t know is that they can get OUT OF DEBT through hard work and sacrifice.

    Love the blog, Beks.

  • Reply Kari |

    I think that a loan from a family member does not have to be a negative experience. Seven years ago, I had 10,000 in credit card debt. I asked my mom for advice only (not for a loan) and expressed my dedication to pay it off, even if it took years.

    About a week later, a check for 1/2 the balance amount showed up in my mailbox. This was offered to me with no conditions or expectation of repayment.

    I could have just celebrated my ‘windfall’, applied it to the balance and left it at that. However, I called my mom and insisted that we treat this like a loan. We worked out the repayment details via email to have something in writing, and I paid back every penny.

    I still appreciate her gesture – her belief in me, and her generosity.

  • Reply Miss Sassy Pants |

    I’m a new reader. I know what you mean about being so far in that you just feel like giving up. It’s good advice to say that you made the mess so you should clean it up. I completely agree because you’ll learn a lot along the way.

  • Reply Cecelia |

    I’m a new reader. Can you provide any suggestions for someone who’s spouse is still in denial about their spending addiction. My husband has been hiding his debts from me for a long time. Now, because his bills are out of control, he can’t hide it anymore & pay his share of the household bills. I have offered to help, suggested counseling…does anyone have any suggestions.

So, what do you think ?