Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Debt... a dirty little four letter word?

Is it just me, or do you feel like debt is a dirty little four letter word? I am so embarrassed by our debt that it haunts me. I fear that anyone I know will ever come across this blog and figure our that it's me writing it. Sure, I tried to be courageous and actually put my first name out there, but there are no pics of me, no other mention of where we live besides the name of a city with over a million people in it! I like to think that even Sherlock Holmes may find this case a little tough to crack :)

My own family doesn't have any idea that we are in debt. I think my mother would have a heart attack and feel as though she was a failure somehow. See, my parents didn't instill the best savings values in us kids. Sure my dad would make the occasional joke, "You act as though that money is burning a hole in your pocket!" because I'd love to go to the mall to buy something as soon as I received money for babysitting or as a birthday gift. It seemed as though I couldn't spend it fast enough! I don't blame my parents though or anyone else for that matter. We made the choices that we did to get in this situation. That's it. Done deal. It's still kinda embarrassing though.

When I try to get to the bottom of why it bothers me so much, I guess it's the sense of failure that I feel. I'm intelligent, well educated and should really know how to manage my money better, but somehow I let myself get into this mess. As proud as I am that I've decided to dig myself out of it, I am much more disappointed that I fell into it to begin with.

In my world, debt is a word that is whispered if ever mentioned at all. The big bad secret in my family was that my dad somehow got in over $40K in debt without my mother even knowing about it. He would charge things the family needed or wanted and never really explained how it got paid for and my mom blindly followed him thinking all was well, til one day she discovered he was hiding this massive about of debt from her. Understandably, she was livid! She considered leaving him, she considered kicking him out but then somehow she considered the life they shared together and got it... they shared this debt. He may have been the one swiping the card, but honestly, it was both of them that shared in what the debt resulted in... a nice home and clothes, jewelry, a pool. Should he have been dishonest? No. But she was strong enough to decide to stand by him and work it out. They ended up taking out a second mortgage and made it work. For that, I applaud them.

Just a few weeks ago, my mom thanked me for helping my niece out with her college tuition and said she wished she was in a different financial situation so that they would be able to help out more but unfortunately my dad is out of work and they are in a tough place. I told her I understood. I started to share that things weren't so easy for us either. My husband's hours had been cut and with our new car payment, high rent and tuition, things were tight. She questioned whether I had any savings left (from my previous divorce settlement) and I said that I didn't. I was out of work for a year and that savings was exhausted. She was taken aback by that and the tone of the call changed. I decided I had shared enough for that day and I put the lid back on sharing our debt situation. One step at a time... if at all.

Question :
Do you feel as though debt is a dirty little four letter word? Have you shared your situation with your family? How is debt thought of / discussed in your circle?


  1. There definitely seems to be a sense of shame and embarrassment around debt, particularly when it comes to the AMOUNT of debt that one is in. For example, I've got no qualms about sharing the fact that I have student loan debt, but I've yet to tell anyone other than my husband just HOW MUCH I have.

    It certainly doesn't help when the pf blogosphere treats being in any amount of debt(regardless of what kind) as the equivalent of raping small children.

  2. I,m a bit taken aback by alottalettuces comment as I thought most of us started PF blogs because we were all handling money badly, or maybe I,m being naive ?????

    Thank you for sharing your story, I was very touched by how much you choose to share. My Sister is aware of my debt and I tell her of my achievements, but Mum and Dad have no idea nor have friends. And none of them not even Hubby knows of my blog

  3. "When I try to get to the bottom ....disappointed that I fell into it to begin with."

    That is EXACTLY how I feel.

    Our family knows we have debt, but no idea of the extent of it. My parents just know that we have my student loans and some other stuff. They actually think we are doing pretty well over all. I guess they think we are working 3 jobs because we are bored.

    That being said, I think my MIL has a better grasp of it all. She has offered many times to help "in any way" she can. She has $ from life ins after my FIL passed, and I know she has bailed out other family members. I refuse to go there.....

    But she also has helped us with some kid expenses, like camp. She doesn't see the kids often, so it is her way of being a grandma. We never expect her to pay any of it, but it is a huge help.

    I am open about our debt. I think people in general need to know that 1) people make bad choices, but 2) they are also responsible for cleaning up after themselves.

  4. wow, that's kind of surprising, but I guess families have different dynamics? my mom knows about our debt because she has access to my blog! haha. I haven't actually come out and put actual dollar figures on the blog, although I do put percentages. I don't know, I guess everyone has their own struggle and as long as you're working on paying it off, no reason to be ashamed of it.

  5. I think there is a lot of stigma around debt. Whenever the topic of debt comes up among friends, everybody becomes uncomfortable. Nobody wants to talk about how much debt they are in. At the same time, no-one proclaims that they are debt-free like PF bloggers do. :-) I think it has more to do with not disclosing financial details with others.

    My parents know about all my debts. It has been both good and bad. I like to discuss my debt reduction strategies with my mom, but I can't help feeling that she is anxious about how I am going to pay all of it back. The last thing I want for my parents is to worry about their 27 year old adult daughter.


  6. I think feeling embarrassed about your debt is pretty nomal, I know I also feel angry at myself for the debt that I have been in and am back in again.
    Becasue I don't live in the same hemisphere as my family I haven't told them about my debt or my blogging and as I don't use my real name or a photo of myself I don't think anyone will know it's me.
    Blogging about your debt is a great way of focusing on getting out of debt and sorting out your priorites. Everyone I have been in contact with online in the pf blogosphere have been very supportive and very helpful. You will be debt free - take some small steps and start your journey to that goal!

  7. Yes, there is some stigma about debt - that was until about 4 years ago. It was then that the economy started to take a tumble and then all of a sudden a lot of people I know were in trouble. It was then that I found out I had a lot of friends that were using credit cards as spending money and they had racked up a lot of debt. That was the thing to do when interest rates were so low and guess what - I was one of them.

    I was working full time and I used my credit card as a personal spending free card. Then when I knew I was losing my job, I got a wake up call and we started to really work at reducing our debt.

    BUT -- I would never, ever tell my family. They are all "proud" of how they have handled their finances. When I say "proud" they brag constantly about how much money they give to their church. So, I never tell them as it is in my opinion none of their business.

    Believe me there are a lot of people out there with massive credit card debt in all areas of careers. I know of several people head over heels in credit card debt. One is a doctor, one a factory worker and one a school employee. Don't be ashamed. Shame doesn't do anyone any good. You made a mistake that many of us have made - yes many of us and you have started to make changes to pay that debt down.

    Excellent post.

  8. Thanks for sharing your thoughts everyone. It helps me to know I'm not alone in this struggle.

  9. It's interesting, I think a lot of people I know are the opposite. Almost an "everyone has debt!" mentality. When I've mentioned that I paid off my credit cards and am aggressively working on my car, I get a lot of "I couldn't do that" but not a lot of reasons why not. I think it depends on the crowd, but I think it's better to have a little embarrassment then a blase attitude (as long as you're not beating yourself up and are working on paying it down.)