I have a 4 letter word for you. Those of you who know me will not be surprised, I say a lot of 4 letter words. This one, however is different, it feels shameful, one I cannot speak in private or in public.
Last night I sat in a meeting where we evaluated a 2016 budget. Well, 3 budgets actually. And when all is said and done, those 3 budgets will add up to over a million dollars. I read a story during the opening devotion of that meeting that talked about the way we grew up talking about money. Some grew up with small family owned businesses or farms where they very much “knew the value of a dollar.” Others, like me, grew up in homes that never discussed money.
I was privileged in my childhood, I grew up in a middle class family where we had more than we needed, but we also lived above our means. If you didn’t have the money for it, that’s okay, that’s what credit was for. There was an, “I’ll deal with it later” attitude.
When you live like this, I have learned as I continued this pattern for a while as an adult, you have “everything you want” but are constantly under the weight of debt, and that, friends, is a heavy burden.
I have spent very little of my adult life where I did not owe someone something. Some of this is “good debt” like student loans, mortgage, car loans, etc. these are not the things that weigh me down as much, they have good interest rates and were “investments” (although NOT what they used to be.) Other debt is “bad debt”, like credit card debt.
Credit card debt didn’t become a became a problem for me after my first child was born. I worked full time out of the manse of the church and my husband was in law school, then the financial decline of 2008 and he graduated and no job. By the time we moved to Maryland in 2012 my daughter was 4 and I the amount of credit card debt I had accumulated was equal to the childcare costs for my children over the last 4 years. I didn’t think this was bad, I made $30,000 a year and was the sole income provider for 3 of those 4 years. It felt manageable.
At that time my husband and I had been married for 9 years, we had 2 kids, gotten 2 master’s degrees during that time and the only way we lived outside of our means was equal to what we had paid nannies and preschools.
So what changed?
The rabbit hole that is credit card debt is deep and great. I was taught how to move money around to get the best interest rates and “tried” to pay off the debt. Then, divorce.
Now, divorce is devastating emotionally and physically. But here is my public service announcement: Divorce screws you financially in every possible way.
First, I lose half my household income. My ex and I make roughly the same amount right now, he is a lawyer who has been practicing for under 5 years and I am a minister with 12 years experience, and share our kids 50/50. All of which is good, no one pays alimony or child support until our income changes (which his mostly likely will significantly and mine incrementally over the years). We took our respective debts (cars, student loans, mortgage) and split the joint debt in half. All of this is great in theory, but…
Banks are the devil, we all knew this right?
It all makes sense and all, BUT I was married for 12 years, most of the credit card debt was in my name alone, and some of the larger debts (car, personal loan, etc.) was in our name jointly. I had the better credit and for half of our marriage was a sole income provider, so it makes sense that the majority of the debt would be in my name.
Banks could care less. You think Chase cared what my divorce decree says when I tell them, “yeah, my ex-husband is responsible for that debt, so really, when you run my debt to income ratio, that’s not right…” no. And they also cut my credit in half due to the fact that my household income is less.
I get it, I understand it mentally, but after all the pain, after all the emotional turmoil, after all the investment in a life that will no longer exist, I feel as if I have been stripped to nothing and shackled with large chains of debt – a car I wouldn’t have bought (and yes, I have one of those, thanks VW), a house I wouldn’t have bought, a lifestyle I wouldn’t have lived if I had known that I would be raising 2 children on a pastor’s salary alone. I am standing in quicksand and someone is yelling “just keep swimming” and so I simply sink faster.
It’s stressful. It’s heartbreaking. It’s exhausting. It plays into the “never enough” fear and I have no idea what to do next. This is not an unusual story, especially for people my age and in my position. This does not make it better…
(Update: I don’t ACTUALLY need 6 million dollars, but you get the idea…)