Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Coming Clean About Debt
Hi. My name is Alice and I am in Debt.
Have you ever said that out loud? To anyone else or maybe just to yourself? Scary.
I hate to admit that I am in debt. I would much rather push it off and say, "oh yes, my husband has some student loans". Or, "well, I have a credit card and I don't always pay off the monthly balance." It sounds so much nicer to make it passive ("mistakes were made") and not take ownership of it. But the truth is, I am in debt. Not just my husband's debt, my debt. Our debt.
So let's come clean.
Money is generally viewed as a taboo subject and is generally discussed in a roundabout way. You never just ask someone how much their house cost or what their salary is. Oh, no, no, no. (Instead, just look their house up on Zillow and find out how much it sold for.) And never ask how much debt they are in or what their monthly budget looks like. Instead, people like to talk about saving money and great deals they got. Especially with the advent of the Great Recession, people love to talk about how they are saving money. I got this on sale, we reduced our interest rate on our mortgage, etc etc.
But how often do we discuss our money mistakes? How often do we say that we spent the money for a bill on a new sweater or a dinner out? When was the last time you talked about your credit card bill with someone? Or that you can't afford that group vacation so you took out a loan or put it on the American Express? (um, yeah, I have done both of those things)
My family is pretty open about money and we discuss money and frugal living pretty often. But I cannot bear to tell my folks how much money I owe on my credit card. I already did that once in 2006 when I had maxed it out and called my folks to ask to borrow $100 to metro to work that week. That time my parents did their awesome parental thing and paid it off and said I could pay them back instead, thus saving me the interest. Such awesome parents. And what did I do? Racked it right back up. And I still owe my folks that money. (hangs head in shame) So now when my folks ask about money, I don't want to lie but I really don't want to discuss numbers. I will say that I haven't been paying it off every month but not to worry, I'm on top of it. See, always in a positive light.
With my friends I can often be honest, after many years of painful and humble practice, and say that I cannot afford dinner out or that awesome trip or those concert tickets. Usually I have found that when I say that I'm broke, most people commiserate and say how they can't afford it either so let's have sandwiches in the park instead (because everyone loves picnics and we still get to hang out). But again, let's keep the conversation to positive talk about how I'm saving a few dollars here and there, not about my major money mistakes.
I understand the desire to put a positive spin on things. If I never talk myself up, I will become really depressed about this debt situation. So I think that there is good reason for up-talking about money and savings and getting out of debt. But let's not overlook being real and honest either. At least with ourselves and our spouse.
Here's the deal: the average American household has $15,950 in credit card debt and $26,000 in student loan debt. That's $41,950 in debt without a mortgage (which averages another $147,133). One in 5 households struggle to pay their medical debts. Not to mention car payments which average $460 a month for 5.4 years. So being is debt is pretty common. Average in fact.
We just aren't talking about it.
Why? I suspect that they are the same reasons I don't want to talk about my debt and financial mistakes:
1. We are embarrassed of the huge debt total and of past transgressions. It is always easier to stick our heads in the sand than to fire up that Excel spreadsheet and total that shit up.
2. We rationalize that it is normal. And rationalization grows in the dark. Maybe it is normal, but really, does it have to continue to be?
3. If we talk about it we will have to change it. Just as I am uninterested in talking about my weight loss goals as I am digging into a bowl of ice cream, I don't want to talk about my debt if I am still accruing it and/or not really making much of a dent in paying it back.
So that's the thing that I don't want to talk about. I have poked my toe into the pool of honesty about my money mistakes and my debt and I have a trusted friend that we talk honestly about these things with each other. No judgement, just love and support. And you know what? It feels good to know that I am not alone in making mistakes and in avoiding my debt, but it's also good to know that I can start wherever I am and learn to have a different relationship with money.
That's one of the great things about the internet and blogging about personal finance. I can be honest and it doesn't sting as much. I can read other people's blogs about their debt story, nod my head along with their mistakes, and be inspired by their victories. This forum allows me an outlet to talk about the stuff I don't want to talk about and lean on the personal finance blogging community for support. The more honest I am online the more I am honest in real life, and vice versa.
Do you talk about (or not talk about) your debt and money mistakes?