Thursday, April 24, 2014

a new problem and a confession

For a long while I've whined about my inability to spend money wisely. I was never in credit card debt. I spent a lot, usually everything I made, but not more.

Until now. 

You see, dear reader, for a while I've been living a lie. I am about to be in debt. The bad kind of debt. I've never had this happen before. We are fortunate to have a high income, I am married to a frugal person, I felt financially protected. We had a comfortable bank account. 

Then this year I started making really dumb, really expensive decisions. I'm pretty much the one in the family who 'manages' the finances and makes the decisions so the blame rests squarely on my shoulders. Here's how it happened.

"Let's just take down this one wall to improve the condo..." became "I want to redo the countertops." Which became, "now we have to do the backsplash." Then the dishwasher broke. Then the heater. Then I wanted a new stove. To distract myself from the insanity of my own depression I encouraged us to go skiing a half dozen times this year and to take one ski vacation. "Let's go to Texas." Next, "Let's take our usual vacation with my aunt and uncle to Williamsburg. "  Then we thought we wanted kids, and I really panicked. 

"I have to do one last thing before I'm tied down by children," I said. "I want to study in Spain again. See there's this one-month program..." 

So like I said, I've been living a lie. I talk about frugality and being cheap and efficient, meanwhile my wants have whittled our savings down to nothing. The remaining bills for kitchen renovations just came in. I did the math on all of our finances and with our typical spending we'll be somewhere between $3,000 and $5,000 in the hole by this summer IN ADDITION to the kitchen loan we already have. The new debt will likely come in the form of high-interest credit card debt. Assuming nothing else happens. That emergency fund I started to build will be gone. If my calculations are right it'll be December before we have enough saved to pay off everything and still leave enough to cover even one extra month's expenses.

Many of you know how much I adored my grandmother. A very frugal, very simple lady who retired at 60 with $300,000 to her name. She lived comfortably on that $300k until age 85. All I can think now is, how disappointed she would be in me. You don't need to tell me. I screwed up and I know it.

Where do I go from here? How do I get on track when I've never really been on track? I'm locked into the study abroad program so skipping out isn't an option. Serious suggestions are welcome. 


  1. First of all, go on the study abroad programme and enjoy it- the money is already spent, so make the most of it and try not to feel guilty about it!

    Do you think having to take on credit card debt is enough to help you say 'no' to your wants in the future? If so, it might actually be a scary but positive turning point!

    You say that your holidays were a distraction from depression- I know you've posted about medication changes recently- do you think you are still in the same mental/emotional 'place' as you were when you felt you needed holidays as a distraction? It sounds like sorting out the emotional triggers behind it is key (which I am sure you know, and I am sure is easier said than done- and is a gradual process!)

    As for more practical solutions- have you considered giving your husband responsibility for/control of the finances? (I know I would have major control issues with that myself, so it might not be a useful solution!)
    Maybe it would help you get used to having the urge to spend money but not being able to spend it...and getting used to letting the urge to spend pass. Perhaps when you felt you were ready, you could then start taking back more financial control.

    Another thought- I've recently started (having read about other people doing it) writing a list of things I want to spend money on with the date of the 'want'- and making myself wait a month to see if it still holds as much appeal. Maybe this is something to try?

    Finally- there is still time to save up $300K and retire at 60- but I'm sure your grandmother would be proud of you whether or not you do that.

    I hope some of the above is helpful- just my thoughts as they came into my head, and not very organised :) xx

    1. There's a lot of very sensible advice in your post and I really appreciate it. I hope that the credit card debt is enough to help me say no in the future.

      Unfortunately I think part of the reason I'm freaking out right now is that my emotional situation is still very much out of control. I'm off my anxiety meds and while I'm overall more stable, the depression hasn't really been addressed yet, and this situation isn't helping that. I have more appointments with my psychiatrist next month though. Hopefully I will feel more financial control when my head is stable. In the meantime, I do need to give control over the finances to my husband, and I need to deal with the anxiety that comes with it.

      And I really appreciate the statement you made about my grandmother being proud of me no matter what. that helps a lot.

      Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  2. Damn, Blogger ate my first response!

    First off, I'm sending you a HUGE virtual hug. ::SQUEEZE::

    Secondly, take a breath. I totally get how hard this is. I would be exactly where you are, freaking out over the debt we have coming. I also totally understand the response to want to spend on fun things when in a rut. When we bought our house in AZ, I just kept focusing on renovating, and that ate a massive chunk of money. I almost put us in debt with that. It's hard to find viable outlets to our emotions that aren't cost prohibitive. I'm not sure if this is your self-talk, but when I do similar spending sprees, I sometimes think, "I deserve this. I NEED this to move on/be happy/whatever." Otherwise, it's just another thing to focus on, so I don't have to deal with these intense emotions. Frankly, depression is a bitch. Anxiety is a bitch. Living with both day in and day out is enough to put any person in debt, and the fact that you've been able to stall it this long is fantastic.

    Ok, so now for solutions. I agree with Nicola about handing finances over to CE. If it were me, I'd be freaking out. However, it already sounds like CE has financial shit together, so no need to worry there--just completely hard to let go of control. In terms of spending, here is one of my best motivators--children. I know that's one of your big goals, so I wonder if you can do some self-talk every time you want to spend on non-necessities, like, "If I spend on this, I'm taking food out of my child's mouth/taking money away from my child's college fund." The amount of mom guilt I feel when I spend on me is insane when I know I have two growing boys who need stability, especially financially. If you already talk to yourself like you have this child, that may be a great motivator.

    Also, this is my best piece of advice that I need to heed, don't wait to be emotionally stable. For me, that's a part of perfectionism. "I'll wait until my depression/anxiety is leveled." I'm so hilarious to think that day will come for me. Instead, I push myself WAY out of my comfort zone, which is actually helping me heal slowly. It's basically exposure therapy, but done my way. I have to push myself to do things that seem counter to what my emotions say. There are so man days that I say, "I'll get groceries/do cleaning/go there tomorrow, when I feel ready." But that day rarely comes. Maybe you can do some exposures where you plan trips/go shopping and NOT buy. Feel that high, but not fully give in, and live in the uncomfortableness of NOT buying. Another thing I've learned in therapy (and from Cat) is to just feel those feelings. Let them live. Give them space. And then free them. When I get my monthly depression rut, I do take my day to just feel depressed and suicidal. I talk those thoughts out. I tell The Husband. And then I let them go. It's weird to ALLOW myself to be in those states. I think I spend so much time trying to stop them, that when I just let them be and realize this is who I am, I get over them way faster. I seriously used to spend weeks in a close suicidal state. Now, it's usually a day or less.

    Hopefully some of this helps and gives you something to mull over. Always know that I'm around if you need to talk--seriously! <3!

    1. It makes me feel a lot better to know that you, as amazing frugalista as you are, almost ended up in debt with all of your renovations. I feel a little less like a complete failure now.

      I really like the idea of exposure therapy, going shopping and intentionally not buying anything, just to feel those feelings. I am also going to make a point of sticking with my visits to my psychiatrist, even if it means staying in debt just a little longer. I want to send you hugs that you understand my depression, suicidality and anxiety, and I'm so sorry that you're living this too. I will keep the idea of saving for the sake of my future kids in my head. That's a very positive thing to think about. I have a funny feeling I'm going to end up phoning you one of these days, sooner rather than later!

  3. Oh honey, I'm so sorry that you're struggling. I wish I had magical words of wisdom to offer, but all I can say is that progress is not a linear process. Someone once told me that we don't get from point A to B by moving in a direct line, we have to steer like a sail boat, zig-zagging our way. We overshoot, then we over-correct, we fall backwards, we sometimes fall victim to an uncooperative wind, but we slowly make our way in the right direction.

    My problem is that I always expect that the day will come when I will be "all better." That I'll somehow magically morph into a person who does everything "right" and I won't ever feel sad or angry or depressed or uncomfortable anymore. And the truth is, that's just total bullshit. As much as I wish it were different, life just doesn't work that way. Every day will be filled with new "challenges" (heavy sarcastic emphasis on the quotation marks) and we have to choose how to react to it.

    I tend to see these things a "tests" which I either pass or fail, but I'm coming to realize that this isn't a very helpful way to look at it. I'm trying to get to the point where I can see these "challenges" more like "opportunities" to try out a different direction, but I have to admit that it's very tempting to fall back into the old pattern of beating myself up every time I "fail".

    So what I'm trying to do at this point is to honor all of my self-destructive behavior rather than seeing it as some sort of an indictment. I mean after all, there was a reason that I came up with those sorts of behaviors in the first place, and it's not because I'm inadequate or some sort of a "bad person." I did it because I was trying to survive a crazy dysfunctional childhood. And all of those behaviors that I SOOOO want to change now, are things that my little kid self came up with to keep me safe. Sure, maybe I could have found a "better" way, but hey, I was just a kid, and I didn't exactly have very good role models helping me to deal with any of this shit. So I'm striving to look at this stuff more like training-wheels - it served a purpose at one point... it kept me safe and allowed me to survive, but now it's holding me back. Taking off the training wheels is scary, and I'm probably going to fall down a bunch and get banged up a bit, but that's OK.

    I don't know if any of this helps... it helps me to write it all out because I REALLY need the reminder just now.

    In terms of the practical reality of the debt. Well, it sucks, but in the giant scheme of things $5K of credit card debt is not really a huge terrible thing. I mean... much, MUCH worse things have happened. My advice is to think of it more like a "skinned knee" - it's a badge of courage that you earned along the way. Yes, it will take a while to heal, but it doesn't mean that you're a failure, it just means that you're learning how to ride without the training wheels.

    Sending big hugs your way,

  4. Thank you for the courage to see this just as a bump in the road and not the end of the world. I'm really intrigued that you're allowing yourself to respect the self-destructive behavior and giving yourself permission to use it. I'm guessing that actually gives it a lot less power over you, kind of the way that I'm now finding it better to just let myself have a twix bar when I want the damn twix bar, because if I deny myself the bar I'll end up giving in and eating six of them.

    I'm definitely curious to look more closely at why I've made many of the bad decisions that I've made. I expect that a lot of them stem from childhood -- but to realize that they were there initially to help me survive is such an interesting perspective on it, and it's quite true. Great bit of self-psycho-analysis you did there, and I'm so thrilled to hear that you're really being quite kind to yourself about some of those habits. You're so right, much of these bad habits we developed came about as a way to deal with something threatening.

    So thanks for the courage to tell myself that I'm still pretty young and I didn't have good examples to learn from financially, so of course I'm going to make some big mistakes at first. Now it's time to be a big girl and learn from them, which I think I can.

    Thanks again to you. You always have such great perspective on these things!


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