After sharing about our recent journey to freedom from debt, I heard from lots of people. People struggling under a mound of debt. People cheering me on who had lived a more financially measured life. And then people asking more about my story.
I don’t like to talk about money.
I was raised to believe talk of money impolite.
But because, for so long, people didn’t talk about money, a decent number of folks find themselves in a heap of money trouble. Then, once in said heap, they can’t talk about the pit they are in lest it be deemed impolite. The pit grows deeper. The pit of money problems leads to divorce, bankruptcy, job insecurity, and tremendous stress and fear.
So I’m going to share one piece of my story. It’s not the piece I’d like to share. The one that says, “oh, I was a foolish 20-something who spent unwisely and then paid off my credit card debt.” That happened. But I got trapped in a more recent snare that can’t be blamed on being young and foolish (or broke – which by the way is a huge myth, a lot of people who struggle with debt make a lot of money).
As I shared yesterday, I paid off my credit card debt and some of my school loans by the time I got married. My husband had no debt and he took on a decent chunk by marrying into my loans. We always planned to have one joint bank account. However, because a couple of bills were paid directly out of my old checking account, I kept my bank account with a checking and credit card linked. I wrote the bulk of my paycheck into our joint account from which our bills were paid, but I paid school loans and my personal credit card for “fun stuff” on my own. While both our names were on the account, he never saw the statements.
I made some frivolous purchases, namely clothes, but paid off my credit card every month. We had no kids and good jobs and had fun money. While I didn’t get into debt, I started bad habits. I’d buy an outfit or pair of shoes and slip it into my closet when no one would to see. I never cut off tags in front of my husband and I trashed “spending” evidence. I’m embarrassed to even write about my behavior.
And let me be clear, never has my husband say “do not buy that.” He’s financially smart and savvy about our future investments, but he’s not miserly and is incredibly supportive of my career which demands a certain wardrobe. But I was avoiding accountability.
Then we had kids.
Because I had grown up with “less,” and because I now had “more,” I shopped. We’d waited so long for children, I wanted everything perfect. From outfits to nursery décor to books, I shopped. I’d actually started collecting Raggedy Ann and Andy items for the nursery before I became pregnant.
Then… TRIPLETS! I “needed” everything personalized. Bottle sleeves and cups and onesies. Names on everything. And since this was my first “and last” experience for each season, I went all out. Boutique Easter outfits. Coordinating Baptism outfits. And of course, I’d need to coordinate with their coordinating. Don’t even get me started on birthdays and Christmas. It was the last “first” birthday or the last “first day” of MDO or the last “first” Christmas photo shoot.
I honestly wasn’t doing it to impress anyone. I spent because I felt the need to buy them everything I could. Let’s demonstrate love to a pre-verbal child with matching Easter shirts. Ahem…
It all went on the credit card.
All the while, my sizes changed. I was heavier. Then I lost weight and looked great so I needed clothes for that. Then the weight came back on when the boot camps stopped.
It all went on the credit card.
I kept paying each month, but the balance grew slowly. A few hundred dollars at a time.
I quickly grew stressed about the secret I was keeping from this man I loved and trusted. Just not enough to stop spending. Until 2015.
I started talking to a close friend about what had happened and how I could make it right. I bought nothing for months. Any money I used to use to pay for my spending, now went directly to the balance with no additional costs from the month. The balance went from over $5,000 to under $3,000 fairly quickly. I planned to cut up the card and tell my husband, but I wanted the balance gone first. Then he lost his job.
I immediately knew I had to tell him. I had known all year, God made it clear the years of secret spending had to go, but this change meant honesty NOW. That week, I struggled and prayed and cried. Then I sat at the table after dinner and told him something that boiled down to: This is what I did. This is what I owe. I am so sorry. Can you forgive me?
It makes me want to throw up telling it.
This is not about who manages money in a marriage. This is about dishonesty in a marriage. My story illustrates how you can erode a trust foundation. Secrets are bad. Marriages suffer when secrets and dishonesty creep in.
I won’t share what he thought or felt because I won’t ever really know and it’s not my story to share. He did forgive me. Then he said, let’s pay the balance off. Which we did. He suggested I keep the credit card, but we have paper statements mailed to the house which are paid off out of our joint account. We closed the other checking account because we never planned to have two bank accounts. There’s no slush fund. There’s no secret spending. If I want to buy him a present, I sneak the statement until he opens his gift!
A lot of people probably have opinions on marriage finances. This is not a post about how you should run your marriage finances. I have no earthly idea. I just know we agreed on a single shared account where all of his, my, and our purchases came. That is what we have now. But it took ten years.
If I can encourage any one of you who isn’t as far down the path as I was, let me say: Give Up The Secrets. Money comes and money goes, but marriage, God willing, lasts until death do us part.