Being Embarrassed About Your Debt

Here’s our conversation with our son tonight before we put him to bed:  “Hey buddy, just a reminder… there are certain things that you don’t talk about with other people.  One of those things is asking people how much everything costs.”Ben Miller - Financial Coach "Get Out Of Debt"

My eight year old son is still trying to figure out the value of money.  My six year old son still thinks that everything expensive is “one hundred ninety five hundred hundred dollars”.  My eight year old son is learning to wrap his head around major purchases.

His mind was blown when he saw that it takes thousands of dollars every month just to keep our mortgage paid, the lights on and the water flowing into our house.  It’s good that he’s learning (more about teaching your kids about money in future posts), but his inquisitive little mind asks everyone what EVERYTHING costs.  Today he asked his aunt how much she pays for her son to go to college, and that prompted the pre-bedtime talk about why other people’s money is often a private subject.

As a society, we’re inherently very private about money.  It’s like going to your high school reunion (before Facebook existed) and asking everyone what they “did” now.  Sure, there will be the doctors, the lawyers, and then there will be those who have respectable professions… Zing!  But if you’re not where you want to be, you might be sheepish in your conversations, or even fudge your story a bit when talking to friends about where you currently stand in life.

Your income, and net worth is no different.  Some people buy cars just to impress the girl at the drive through window, or other people parked near you at the mall.  Some people wear fancy clothes to let you know how much they (want you to think they) have.  Some people are DEAD BROKE and are still buying crap to impress their friends.

WHY?  Because it’s embarrassing to let your friends know that you have debt.  It’s embarrassing to announce to everyone that you made bad decisions.  Whether they judge you or not, you FEEL judged.  You’re ashamed of what you’ve done.

Want to solve a problem?  You first need to admit that you have one in the first place.  It’s easy to keep the debt skeleton in your closet and not let anyone know about it.  It’s not like being a bad cook, or being fat.  People will notice those things without asking you.

This weekend a friend asked me to donate some money for another friend in need.  I wanted to.  I really, really wanted to.  I could have sent him some money.  I could have just slowed down my debt snowball.  But it wasn’t in the budget.  I could have sent $500, but that would have put ME in a worse situation than our friend.

Being in debt has robbed me of the opportunity to freely give in this situation.  (Imagine how much you can give when you’re not in debt?  Imagine how you can change lives without blinking when you have extra money lying around!)

What was worse than not being able to give was the text that I had to send back.  I had to send back a message that simply read “we’re not in a position to help financially”.  I don’t know what felt worse:  Not being able to give, or being embarrassed about where we stand financially.

While our culture says that politics, religion and money are taboo to talk about, my challenge to you is to be as open as you can with your friends and family to let them know where you stand financially, and where you want to be.  Your real friends and family will help you reach your goals, and now more than ever you need people on your side.  I’m not saying that you should have your debt printed on your t-shirt for all the world to see, but by being secretive about your financial situation, you’re allowing your finances to have power over you.  By being open, even if you’re only open with yourself by making a budget and listing out your debts, you are taking control.  YOU are the one in power.

We recently put a “debt thermometer” on our fridge.  It is there for many reasons.  The first is that it reminds us how much of our debt we’ve paid off (to be motivated), and also how much we still have to go.  So when you’re checking the fridge to see if you have anything worth cooking and you’re thinking about going out… you can just look at that debt thermometer and say “tonight’s dinner will keep us from paying off $30-40 of our debt, maybe we need to have mac and cheese”.  It also tells our friends where we stand.  We’ve drawn a line in the sand to let them know why I can’t go golfing every week.  It lets them know why we’re making pizza at home (see, I knew I could tie this into pizza somehow) instead of going out.

Hopefully having our friends see it on our fridge will spark a conversation about what it means to be debt free.  What it means to not owe ANY money to ANYONE.  What DEBT FREEDOM really feels like.  Some of our friends are already there.  Some of them need to know we’re on their team.

The number that’s on our fridge is also encouraging to most people, because hopefully their debt number is nowhere near ours.  So, if we can do it with our astronomical number, they can certainly pay off their debts too.

If you’d like some encouragement, or to help set out a plan to pay off your debts, I’d love to help.  In June of 2014 I spent a week with Dave Ramsey’s team being trained as a Financial Coach in the same way he and his staff have helped millions of families for over 20 years.   Contact me here for more information….. and just because this article talks about telling everyone about your finances, you should know that everything I do is completely confidential (but you can feel free to tell your friends I was able to help you!).

4 Responses to Being Embarrassed About Your Debt

  1. Kevin E says:

    I’ve actually heard quite a bit of “I can’t afford that” sort of woe is me talk about money. It seems that this is the only socially acceptable way to talk about it (and a poor one at that). To put numbers to that indebtedness is a brave place to start. Just remember the uphill climb once you escape the debt… It is even less acceptable to talk about the vast amount of wealth you have.

    • Ben Miller says:

      Kevin, you’re right that those who are winning with money are often sheepish to talk about it. But I think a large percentage of that stems from the toxic mentality that “wealth is evil” or “you had to hurt someone else in order to win”. We’ll talk about THAT in future posts… :)

  2. Mike says:

    Awesome advice Ben. Love the debt thermometer idea. Best of luck climbing out of the pit. You’re focused and dedicated so it’s just a matter of time. Meantime we all get to benefit from your wisdom and experience.

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