What My Friends and Family Don’t Know….Only Hurts Me

At mile 19 of the Twin Cities Marathon in 2003, I found my family, as well as my brother-in-law and his family cheering me on. Seeing their familiar faces provided me the instant mental “pick me up” that I so desperately needed to keep going.  When you’re being challenged in life, having people there to support you can make all the difference.

However, as I work to achieve the very difficult task of getting out of debt, I am missing the support of many of the important people in my day to day life.

Because they have no idea what I’m going through.

Many of my friends and family don’t know the kind of debt I’m in. My parents certainly don’t know.

Last week, I tweeted a link to an article posted at Get Rich Slowly entitled “Why Don’t People Talk About Money?” My friend and fellow CareOne blogger Suzanne Cramer gave this one word response: “Ashamed.”

I can identify with that.

There was a recent thread in the CareOne Community in which a customer stated he felt like “less of a man” because of his debt.

Having racked up a mountain of debt, and completely failing as the head of my household, I can identify with that, too.

Within the personal finance blog community I am rather open about my debt, but when it comes to my “real life,” the story isn’t quite the same. If you’ve connected with me on Linked In, you may have noticed that my profile says nothing about being a personal finance blogger.  If you’ve connected with me on Facebook, you may have noticed that I don’t share links to my blog posts.

Ever wonder why that is? I ask myself that question often.

Ashamed? Yep.

Afraid of being judged by others? Absolutely.

What’s stupid about this whole situation is that those coworkers and family members that I have told have been nothing but supportive. One of my coworkers even showed interest in becoming a blogger himself. My mother-in-law knows all about our situation, and she’s been a tremendous source of support.

Why wouldn’t I want more of that?

My friend Cait, who used to blog  anonymously, recently told her family not only about her debt, but also about how she’s now making better choices, how she’s on the road to being debt free, and all the wonderful opportunities that have come to her because of her blogging.

I want to find the strength to tell my friends and family as well.

I want to be able to lean on them when I screw up…and I do screw up.

I also want to share with them all the amazing things that have happened to me over the last three years:

As I’ve worked through the writing of this post, I’ve realized that I’m basically trying to talk myself into doing it. I’m just not sure if I’m ready yet.

Just this morning I updated my Linked In profile to reflect my part-time career as a financial blogger.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll start sharing my posts on Facebook.  Maybe someday I’ll make a phone call to my parents.

It’s a baby step, but on this journey out of debt, every little step counts.

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22 Responses to “What My Friends and Family Don’t Know….Only Hurts Me”

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  1. bogofdebet says:

    Some people in my life know that I have debt and am working to pay it off. They don’t know the exact number that I’m working with because I really am ashamed of it. And even though I’m proud of the fact that I’m going to be paying it off, it still doesn’t make me want to come out and share it. Mainly my fiance knows the sheer amount (and I know his little number) because I didn’t want to surprise him with the number after we committed our selves. So I told him upfront so he could have gotten out if he had wanted too. But that’s really it (maybe one or two others) because even if they know I’m in debt, I don’t want to answer the questions of “why?”

    I’m still jealous that you are going to fincon12! Make sure to let me in on all the cool details I’m missing 🙂

    • We have the same fears and concerns, bogofdebt. The other thing that is weighing in on my decision is that I have a genuine interest in helping other people who are in the same situation. I can only truly do that if I’m completely open.

      Fincon12 is going to be amazing……wish you could be there! I’m sure there will be lots of live tweeting and blog posts written on the subject. Maybe next year!?!

  2. Travis you and your family have come such a long way! Your CareOne family is very proud of your commitment, dedication, and openness your story–the way you tell it, has inspired more people than you and I am quite sure they will be forever grateful that you had the courage to “open up”. Everybody makes mistakes–the difference between making them and doing nothing to fix them vs. making them and changing your whole life to fix them is a huge accomplishment. When the time is right and you share with those closest to you I am quite sure they will be as proud of you as we are and maybe even will be able to relate– a lot of people harbor debt secrets 🙂

    • The words “CareOne family” brings a smile to my face, Suzanne. Without this family, Vonnie and I’s journey, all the amazing things that have occurred, and the enormous personal growth would have never happened. I simply cannot thank all of you enough!

  3. If I’ve learned anything in the last couple of months it’s that nobody can judge each other for their financial mistakes. I don’t know how many conversations my friends have started w/ me, since admitting my debts, where they’ve asked me how I did it and could I offer them any advice. It happens almost daily. And I was so scared to tell my family but learned that the emotions you attach to your debt are yours and yours only. Nobody was ashamed of me, the way I had been ashamed of myself. Everybody was happy and proud of how far I’d come. I can’t speak on behalf of your family but, as your friend I know that you’ve come SO FAR and it is something to be extremely proud of. Whenever you’re ready to tell everyone the truth, I bet you’ll start being hounded for advice…

    • It was your blog post that got me thinking about this, Cait. It makes me sad that I have not shared such awesome experiences with people that are among the closest to me. You’re right that people should not judge each other for financial mistakes…..everyone’s made them. Some just more visible than others. You’re also right about being hounded for advice. Of the people that we have told, some of those same conversations have occurred. 🙂

      Love this quote: “The emotions you attach to your debt are yours and yours only.” Awesome!

  4. I love this post Travis. This is pure truth. The social stigma that surrounds being in debt is probably one of the largest hurdles to people seeking help. The fear of admitting to financial challenges is connected to our desire to overspend in the first place. It has been a personal evolution for me working for a debt relief provider, but I have to say, I am a better person (and financially responsible) for it. As you mention, the more open I am about not living beyond our means, the more open my friends and family are about their challenges. I admire you for taking these initial steps toward being open with those closest to you. I also just admire the heck out of you; you and your lovely wife are as they say, “good people!” Blog on!

    • “The fear of admitting to financial challenges is connected to our desire to overspend in the first place” – wow, I’d never thought of it this way, Suzanne, but it rings so true. Nobody wants to be out shopping and say to their friends, or even themselves “I cannot afford that.” It just sounds like failure. At least it used to….it’s sounds more like “being responsible” every day to me. That change in perspective is slow to come – even for someone that has been forced to make major changes and sacrifices due to their debt. Change people’s perspective on money, and you change their life.

      Keep on changing lives, Suzanne. 🙂

  5. Travis, I just wanted to let you know I felt like I was reading something that I wrote. I don’t share anything about personal finance blogging on LinkedIn or my personal Facebook. None of my friends know. I have no idea why I wouldn’t want to share this with them although I share almost every other part of my life with them.

    Having courage is a big step, and I think you’re on the right path. You’ve accomplished a lot and you deserve the recognition!

    • I think it’s a common theme that personal finance bloggers are more open with each other than many of the people in their lives. When a group of people have a common interest, it seems natural to talk about that interest in more detail. It just so happens that when you open up your finances, it’s really personal information – especially when money and finances are used as the “measuring stick” for success by so many people.

      Thank you so much for the words of encouragement and your comment, Erika!

  6. Jerri Lyn says:

    Is it possible that part of your fear about sharing your story with people who know you “in real life” is the fear of not succeeding?

    I’m a fat chick. I learned a long time ago to not tell people if I started a diet because of the (self imposed) shame of not succeeding. If people didn’t know about my goal, then people wouldn’t know about my failure in not achieving it.

    • That’s an interesting perspective with a lot of merit, Jerri Lyn. There can certainly be a negative stigma attached to not being able to achieve your goals – whatever they may be. With debt (as well as being overweight and trying to lose weight), there is are negative opinions associated with how you got to where you are as well as not being able to “fix it” as well.

      Thank you sharing your thoughts!

    • Brad Chaffee says:

      Jerri Lyn — oh how I can relate with that! I wondered that about myself as I have been battling to lose weight for more than 10 years. A few years ago, I decided that I needed to put myself out there and that’s when I started my old Enemy of Fat blog. That roller coaster ride from being in the light and showing the world (whoever was reading) constant failure was very tough at first.

      I regressed back to my old ways so many times and each and every time it was devastating to me. It sometimes triggered binge eating and obviously some depression. You can’t be dealing with those kinds of emotions and not be at least slightly depressed.

      The pressure I put on myself really made things rough for me for a while but one thing it also did was keep me from giving up. Because the other thing I realized is that when your are in the dark and no one sees your mistakes there’s also no one there to help you. The drive I get from not wanting to fail keeps me trying.

      Almost 35 pounds later and going strong I have plenty of support and it seems to growing by the week as more and more people become interested in my weight loss story. In my case there is still more story to tell (I still need to lose 70 pounds) but I’m so eager to help others I’ve become super transparent in order to do so. It’s embarrassing at first but something good always seems to come of it.

      Proof of this can be seen your response. you opened up about something you struggled with. I responded because I could so easily relate to it and now you have one more person in your corner that wants to support your journey to your goal weight — whatever that may be.

      Keep going for it! 😀

  7. Brad Chaffee says:

    This is such an awesome post Travis! I definitely think shame plays a larger than life role in how we protect ourselves because of it. The only thing I’d say differently is that the moment in time when we should be ashamed is the moment we look at our situation and decide NOT to do anything about it — not in making the mistake itself.

    Sure it’s easy to be ashamed of spending more money than we make but if you look around you’ll see so many other people who are doing the exact same thing. Surely they couldn’t possibly think any less of you or anyone else in debt because they are just as ashamed.

    So here’s how I would suggest you look at it. You are experiencing one of the most terrific journey’s and life changing transformations of your life. Right? How you look at money has changed and your life has been rewarded ever since. Right? You’ve accomplished so much and your experience from all of that is enormous enough to have a very profound impact on those around you.

    You are doing something so many people are afraid of or don’t know how or where to begin. You have experienced the beginning and are more than halfway done with your debt. You have the ability to enrich their lives.

    They need your leadership so that they can see they shouldn’t be ashamed of where they are — they should be ashamed of staying there. Your story breaks the ice and gives them some perspective from someone they trust and probably even look up to.

    I’m proud of how far you’ve come and I know there are many more people that will look at your story and be just as proud but also inspired. You’ll share your story when you’re ready and I believe you already are. You’re a leader and leaders make mistakes but they also rise up to lead others around them because that’s what they do. I know you to be that leader!

    Keep these awesome posts coming my friend! I can’t wait to hang out with you and Vonnie at FinCon12 man!! 😀

    • Travis says:

      Thanks for the heartfelt and motivating comment, brother! I read them for the first time in my office this afternoon, and literally got a tear in my eye to read your thoughts. It certainly has given me a lot to think about. It has always been one of my goals of blogging to help other people in the same situation through a difficult time, or even better prevent others from making the same mistakes. If it takes a little initial uncomfortableness to open up a little more, then maybe it’s worth it.

      I don’t want to skip the summer, but I’m looking forward to going to Denver so very, very much in September….see you there and we’ll talk again soon!

  8. You have come such a long ways on your debt. I am looking forward to hearing you speak in Denver.

    • Travis says:

      I’m looking forward to speaking, Sean! I just hope my presentation comes out as well in person as it is forming in my head. LOL. See you there!

  9. Good for you on taking these baby steps! Debt can feel shameful to many, although so many people suffer from it. I know I had a hard time telling my now-fiance, then boyfriend, about my student loans and other debt. But sharing your story with others is allowing you to take your progress and inspire others to do the same! It’s certainly not easy to share your story, but your readers appreciate it!

    • Thanks, Shannon….I appreciate you reading! 🙂 I think it’s interesting how many people really do have more debt than they’d like……but how so few talk about it. It’s great to hear that you were upfront with your significant other – as you definitely don’t want to wait with that land mine!

      • You’re right about that! I felt like I was lying to him by not telling him and as hard as it was to finally let him know, everything since then has been so much easier. He really appreciated my honesty!

  10. Kris says:

    Yep, money struggles sure make strong people feel weak. Which is so sad, but the way it is in the US. And when you live in one of the richest areas of the country like I do, it makes it even harder. I remember a while after graduating college, I happened to meet an old high school friend I hadn’t seen in a few years and his first question was “where in New York do you work?” Well, I’ve never worked in New York. But that’s the mindset around here (with good reason, given the housing prices).

    • As long as money is the measuring stick for success, I fear that won’t change much either, Kris. Not only do we have to learn to redefine what we think of money and what truly brings us happiness, but we also have to ignore what everyone else thinks – which makes it doubly hard!

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