Financial Truth, and the Shame that Hid It

It’s May 1st. Yesterday I entered the final amount spent during April. Today I took time color coding each expenditure, so I could group them and see how much I spent on different “categories” throughout the month. I haven’t even looked at Mi.Vida’s spending yet; I will admit that my biggest goal this month was to get an idea of my own spending habits so I could fix those. After all, I’m the one who is falling into debt, surely I’m the one who has the spending problem.

In fact, I was sure I had a spending problem. My inability to control my spending brought me immense shame. So much shame, in fact, that it blinded me to the reality of the situation:

Even if I am making some unwise purchasing decisions (and I am), they are not what is creating this massive debt. I have not been given a fighting chance at staying afloat financially. I took am 20% pay cut so that our in-laws would watch our son (definitely the best decision financially, but one I carried all the burden for). I was on maternity leave for 3.5 months, during which time I made a fraction to NOTHING of my 80% pay. My disability coverage was meager. In the last nine months I’ve earned only a fraction of what I normally earn. And yet I still had all the same financial responsibilities, PLUS FOUR MONTHS of insurance coverage (totaling $6,000 of extra costs for me) that we did not budget for at all.

There was absolutely no way I could have kept out of debt. And yet my shame kept me from seeing the reality of the situation. I was so hung up on the fact that I’d buy something unnecessary here or there, that I couldn’t see that I was never making enough to pay my bills to begin with. It’s basic math, and yet I couldn’t let myself do it. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees, because the trees were blinding pillars of shame.

I can’t believe I let this happen. I can’t believe I put myself in this situation. Mi.Vida and I have never managed to combine our finances (one of the bigger reasons for this is because I have been too embarrassed for him to see how I spend my money–again, a shame response), and I let myself get screwed financially because I didn’t stand up and say, look, I can’t afford this. We can’t afford this. We need to do something or I’m going to fall into debt.

But I didn’t say anything, and now I have $10,000 in credit card debt. Mi.Vida has absolutely none. He’s living pay check to pay check sure, but I’m the one who’s also living pay check to pay check, while simultaneously trying to pull herself out of a financial shit storm. Before I thought I deserved it because it was my own doing. Now, looking at the numbers–just my numbers–for April, I know that’s not the case. This wasn’t my fault. We were woefully unprepared for the financial reality of having two children and a mortgage. We didn’t face facts, probably because we knew the facts weren’t pretty, and now I’m paying the price. Part of me wants to be mad at Mi.Vida but I know this is my fault. This happened because shame–my shame–kept me from seeing the truth and standing up for myself. And now I have to deal with the consequences of that.

I spoke to Mi.Vida about this today. It started ugly but we got it under control pretty quickly. We’ve agreed not to rehash the past but to move forward proactively so that we can BOTH be working to counteract this problem together. We’re going to have to make some SERIOUS sacrifices, the kinds of sacrifices we’ve never had to make in our lives. It’s going to be drastic. We’re going to feel crappy about it. We’re going to be frustrated and annoyed and bitter and resentful. We’re going to be angry, really fucking angry. We’re going to have to ask ourselves some tough questions and we’ll rarely like the answers. It’s going to be a really, really hard transition, and we may never find the comfort in our lives that we had before, at least not for a long, long time.

This is going to be really difficult, but for the first time I think we can do it. And the reason I think we can do it? Because I’m no longer letting shame call the shots. I’m speaking my shame, and stealing its power, so I can face our situation pragmatically.

I just hope Mi.Vida is as ready as I am to make these hard changes. If not, we may not make it out of this with our financial viablity in tact.

17 responses

  1. Good for you for tracking! That is really the first step. And even better that you’re talking with your guy and attacking the problem together. I think you will be able to do it too.

  2. Oh Esperanza. (((Hugs)))

    I do not see how this is your fault entirely. Mi vida, if he had any financial wits at all, should also have realized “your” responsibilities couldn’t simply stay the same while making so much less for so long, or pushed the financial costs of a family decision that you both agreed made the most sense entirely on to your side at the same time. This is why I am so against separate finances for married couples. What a way to divide, hide problems, and pin basic problems such as total money coming in is less than total money going out, unfairly on one partner. I’ve been in bad financial places with my husband too, but at least we were a team, and that got us through. I know I am not there and only getting your side, but this practically reminds me of the marriage with separate finances in the joy luck club. Abiding with you and am glad you were able to figure out the true base issue-that is the first step.

    • To be fair to Mi.Vida he has asked me countless times if I’m doing okay financially. And because of the shame I felt, I hid the struggles I was having. He’s actually quite financially capable, actually. I didn’t let him see how bad it was getting because I thought it was a product of my irresponsibility.

      • I hear what you are saying, but so far he’s clearly had blinders on that are his fault too. A shortfall of 10k in a few months is something he should have been able to predict as easy as you, and it is not rocket science to know that when one partner’s income is reduced, they can’t keep the same payments going out, or even increase them as happened with the insurance. Not trying to badger, I just still feel shame coming from you when you say things like this is all your fault and only due to your responsibility. Uh-huh, that’s not marriage, I’m glad going forward you’re going to be in it together. Just don’t take it all on yourself, ok?

  3. I have to agree with Kelly. I know your finances are separate (and I actually don’t think that is a good or a bad thing, I know it works for many couples) but you ARE A FAMILY…you made sacrifices (taking maternity leave, going to part-time) for the sake of your children, where your=you+Mi Vida. Maybe you should’ve brought it up ahead of time, but maybe he should’ve realized that you wouldn’t be able to contribute equally when you were not earning? I really am not trying to put him down, but I don’t see how this is “your” guilt and shame—-for one, there is no reason to be ashamed, and for the other, its on both of your shoulders. I’m glad you’ve discussed it and have plans to get it out it together.

    • I absolutely believe that this is our problem now. Shame made me feel like it wasn’t our problem before. But I’m done with that now. And I’m going to make sure that we are figuring this out together, and that he’s taking as much responsibility for this debt as I have to.

  4. It’s funny to me that you are writing this today–just last night Roo and I were finally putting together the pieces to figure out what our finances look like after all of our recent life changes (my layoff/maternity leave, my new job, all of the new expenses that come with Sprout). For us, things are tight, and that’s with me making MORE $$ at my new job than my old one, and with having gotten some financial help to get us through my layoff.
    It sucks to have to tighten one’s belt so much. But it also sounds like you guys are coming up with a plan together, which is so important.

  5. I know how hard this is- truly. We are in so much debt and it weighs heavy on our relationship. I’m proud of you for making a plan- yes, you CAN do this!

  6. Pingback: Links to love, get excited | Grumpy rumblings of the (formerly!) untenured

  7. (((HUGS)))) the first step is the budget, but you can do it. In the grand scheme of things, some people have 10 times that in credit card debt. Hang in there!

  8. By the way, I have a shitton of cc debt (mostly my husband’s) and as long as he is with me on the budget, I harbor no grudge. The goal is for us to work together to pay it off. As long as you guys are working together, you will be fine xoxox

  9. “This is going to be really difficult, but for the first time I think we can do it. And the reason I think we can do it? Because I’m no longer letting shame call the shots.” This is the entire situation in a nutshell. Many of us suffer shame for a variety of reasons. You can do it! I will congratulate you in advance of your success!

  10. Phew, I’m glad you were able to write this out and let go of some of those feelings of shame. There is no reason to feel shame about something like that – just determination to work together to resolve the debt. I’m not a fan of separate finances because of issues like this, but I know that not everyone agrees with me on that. It’s so important to have both partners aware of what’s going on though!

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