February 25th 2021
The Shamechanger: no nonsense advice from our life coach columnist
February 12th 2021 / 0 comment
A reader is in over her head when it comes to 'buy-now-pay-later' schemes and now has debt coming out her ears and a husband who no longer trusts her. Hattie Sloggett offers words of wisdom
"I have overwhelming anxiety about money. I never check my bank accounts and spend until my card gets declined. Over the last few years, I have signed up more than one buy-now-pay-later deals for everything from a new vacuum cleaner to home accessories to clothes and handbags and other cost spreading payment options, but I have no idea how much it has all added up to. I am so ashamed at my secret spending habit and I never told anyone, not even my husband. I have always managed to hide the payments by using my personal account and not using our joint one or put them on credit cards he didn’t know about but, the other day a court summons came through the post. He saw the envelope and made me open it in front of him and so had to come clean. I had hidden every reminder letter from the bank, credit card companies, and most recently debt collectors, because it made me feel sick and panicky and I had hoped they would just go away. Now my husband is questioning our marriage as he can’t believe the lies I have kept from him. We are in over our heads with debt, and I am so overwhelmed by it all that I barely get out of bed anymore. I just want it all to go away and things to go back to normal."
I am so glad that you got in touch. I know how quickly these things can spiral out of control. My ex-husband suffered from a condition called dyspraxia and one of the symptoms, was impulsivity and a tendency to be easily frustrated, wanting immediate gratification, and becoming easily stressed, depressed and anxious. This showed up as excessive spending, followed by a deep denial of the proof of spending, in the form of ignoring or not checking the bank statements. He spent money we, like you, didn’t have on everything from paying for dinners out with friends, ‘work’ expenses, and gifts for me, but he never checked our (I foolishly allowed him to be in control of our finances as he requested) bank accounts or statements, or opened letters of arrears. When we split up I was still finding unopened, unpaid debt letters in the house. This lead to me having to take on the financial burden of the debts, direct debits, and contractual standing orders, which in turn put me into a bucketload of debt. Trust me when I say, I know the shame, anguish, and overwhelming panic that comes from financial troubles.
But let’s get real, you know that what you were doing was wrong, otherwise you wouldn’t hold this shame about it, and honestly, it was. That’s the truth. You behaved in an irresponsible and regrettable way and there is no hiding from it anymore. It’s out there, for all to see, which, let me tell you, is a very liberating feeling. The weight has been lifted off your shoulders, you are no longer carrying this burden alone, and should you choose to, you can sort out not only the debt, but your behaviour patterns so it never happens again.
One thing that does ring alarm bells for me is how your husband didn’t notice all the extra purchases, and how quickly he was to start questioning your marriage. Is he completely innocent in all this? Often, we turn a blind eye to someone’s bad behaviour because it gives us an excuse to do the same. Does he make particularly bold purchases too? Because I can guarantee a frugal man would have been keeping an eagle eye on the account’s incomings and outgoings. Or is he using this debacle as an excuse to jump ship?
As Martin Lewis of Money Saving Expert always says,“no debt problems are unsolvable. It might not be easy or quick, but there's always a route”. Let’s look at some options…
1. Baby Steps - Speak to a debt advice agency
Get online and do your research. There are plenty of debt advice agencies out there that legitimately and genuinely want to help. I chose Step Change who amalgamated all of my debts, worked out repayment plans with each company and now I pay them a single amount per month which they then share between all the people I owe money too, they charge a nominal fee to do so, but it is so reassuring to know that it is being paid off little by little, that I am happy to pay them to do so. Get in touch with a debt advice agency and be completely honest. They are not there to judge you, I promise. And I can guarantee they have probably heard of people far worse than you, so don’t hold anything back. Then, speak to your husband, explain the steps you have decided to take, and prove that you are willing to make the changes needed to make your marriage last.
2. Head-on - Speak to a mental health professional
You have to get the debt sorted first, but then it’s time to look at yourself and figure out why you behave the way you do. Often dyspraxia can be written off as plain clumsiness and go undetected for a lifetime. Perhaps you might consider looking into the symptoms to see if it rings true to you and if so, you need to speak to a health professional, such as a therapist trained in CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) who can help you work through why you do the things you do. The debt and spending are the collateral damage of a much bigger issue – your mental health and if you don’t handle this then cycle will never be broken. While looking inwards, take a hard look at your marriage too and how and why you managed to keep such secrets from your husband…. Does he have secrets he keeps from you?
3. Full Nuclear – Run away from it all
Pack your bags, change the locks, get the first flight out of the country and never look back. Run away and pretend none of this ever happened. I mean, who doesn’t dream of a fresh start in Mexico or Thailand. Remember though, that you can’t tell anyone where and when you are going, you can’t send a postcard to your family to say you're safeand you’ll never be able to see your friends or the green grass of home. But, hey, who really cares when you’re sipping margaritas in the sun, alone, without any financial security?
** Might I suggest that you don’t take this option however, as no matter how far you run, your problems will always follow you and often lead to more sadness, depression and the isolation will inevitably bring a feeling complete and utter loneliness.
My love, I know how overwhelming this situation must be for you, but you have to start somewhere. Tiny steps lead to massive leaps, especially when you ask for a helping hand. But let’s get one thing straight…you are not an ostrich, you cannot bury your head in the sand forever.