I wrote this in the midst of chaotic emotions as a means to cope. I am grateful that I did not publish it before. I've edited some of the harshness away, I don't feel those feelings anymore. We have absorbed the experience and in some ways it's made our communication better, clearer, less emotional. It's so easy to be emotional about money and responsibility for me. I do want to share the experience though. Financial health is a great elephant in the room for our culture. Despite all the self-help books, course and guidance, we don't speak easily about our finances, how we manage them and what happens when things go wrong.
Today my family returned from a weekend away where we enjoyed an escape from the Superbowl hubub, stayed in a fancy hotel and vacationed in our own Midwestern backyard. What better way to bask in our homecoming than dig into some financial housekeeping?
A bill collector called while we were away, saying we were overdue on a store-based credit card. I was indignant, I handle our finances with a scrupulous eye, catalogue each bill and payment meticulously, keep us paid up and ahead of our needs. The collector was calling about a card in my husband’s name so I got all of the info, logged in and started digging. I was shocked. I learned that not only have we NOT been paying the debt down, it skyrocketed in October when the promotional period expired. The initial debt was made on an limited term offer.
I had NO IDEA we owed so much. The current balance is higher than the total purchases ever made on the card. When the promo period ended the total interest was added onto the principal and the payments I had been making were no longer even covering the interest. Digging through months of statements I was fuming, ready to call the company and rail at them to cut the interest, remove charges, file for fraud. As I dug deeper though it became clear...the fault was ours. My husband’s actually. He had not paid attention to the terms or that they were ending. He wasn't the one paying the bill. I was mortified, embarrassed that this has happened despite my close monitoring. I was embarrassed I couldn’t talk my way out. I was horrified that we owed nearly twice as much on this card as I believed we did.
I should insert here that shortly into our marriage my husband and I had a come-to-the-river conversation about finances; we would never dig out of debt if I did not take over our finances. And so I did. I hate the feeling of responsibility for our total family, the feeling of holding purse strings, of “allowing” each of us to spend or not spend money. We do not see eye to eye on all financial things but that’s exactly the problem that led us here; I am goals-driven with finances, my husband is comfort-driven. The end goal is the same, a happy and comfortable life, the means of getting there are different.
My husband had to attend a work event when we got home and I discovered the extent of this debt alone. I did not know how I would address it when he came home but knew it could not wait. I couldn't hide my distress and just moments after he walked in the door it all came pouring out. I told him how angry I was; angry that I was on the hook for thousands of dollars, angry that so much of the debt came from simple lack of awareness, that my faith in his honesty, in his investment in our financial health had been severely shaken.
I cried and shook when I told him. I told him about my anger, my embarrasment, my fear. I did not apologize. I did not tell him it was going to be ok. He was embarrassed and apologetic and made no excuses. I don’t have a neat, tidy, happy ending to share.
We’d been making so many plans to spend money; travel, replacing and upgrading things in need. We replaced our cars and phones this year. We had plans to travel to with friends in April and I told my husband that we can’t go. I wrote our friends and made our apologies and hoped painfully they’d not made any investment in the trip yet.
I know we will get through it, that this won’t change our ability to get to work, feed ourselves or pay critical bills but it hurts. I want so badly to believe that we’ll wake up tomorrow feeling as confident in each other as before this came to light. But it is going to take time.
**Update, June 2018**
Now, several months later the pain of discovery and my fears have abated. We have healthier, more frequent conversations about money. I am the one doing the math and sending payments but I no longer feel so much like I'm holding the purse strings. We have adjusted plans. We talk in more detail and frequency about where our money is going. It's still a work in progress. But we are working on it together.