Financial distress is widespread and urgent
Laurie’s post earlier this week was a response to the double suicide of a couple from New York City who, according to the notes they left, could not live with their financial reality. I hadn’t heard of the tragedy before reading the post, and when I looked up news accounts of it, I was stunned with grief. Two people with beautiful children, close extended family, friends, community, with education, accomplishment, options … All seemingly incompatible with their spiraling debt and the choice they made to deal with it.
It hit home to me. There is a continuum of financial distress, and I had some understanding of this couple. I know what it is to have many advantages and to mess up financially anyway. I know what it is to feel so burdened by financial stress that all joy is sucked out of life. I can even relate to their ages. He was 53 and she was 50. When my husband and I started our journey out of debt 5 years ago, he was 53 and I was 49. It’s terrible to be middle-aged and know that you’ve got yourself in a bad financial situation. There’s a sense of hopelessness – of being too late to change things.
Although most people don’t talk about it, I suspect there are many, many of us who can relate to some degree to this couple. But I join Laurie in saying, “no matter how bad your money situation is, it certainly isn’t worth the end of your life.” As I read an article about the tragedy, there were several points that stood out to me as representing what many of us face when we recognize our finances have spiraled.
“Their kids didn’t know anything about their financial problems … None of us did.”
Don’t be muzzled by our society’s taboo against money talk. Don’t keep your financial distress a secret. Our society has become so open about all kinds of things, but there is still a terrible awkwardness about money talk. No problem gets resolved when it’s kept in the dark. Hidden issues get distorted and enlarged, and they appear to be more threatening than they really are. Financial panic is a sensitive issue, so choose your person wisely – perhaps a professional counsellor – perhaps a trusted friend – but choose someone. You will find that as soon as you share this hidden issue, it will become less threatening.
“… tuition is nearly $38,000 a year.”
It is not important to maintain your current lifestyle. The couple from New York maintained a high style of living, as the tuition they paid for each of their 2 children for private school indicates. It’s easy for most of us to say, “If only they had sent their kids to regular schools …” but we all have elements to our style of living that we find hard to change.
No matter what it is that your financial situation requires you to let go of, know that it’s worth the sacrifice. The people in your life who are worth having around will not judge you for it. They’ll accept your changes – probably even respect them. And those who don’t … Do yourself a favour and distance yourself from them.
“They were … happy-go-lucky … the embodiment of serving out of love, and giving out of abundance … “
Your public image can absorb changes. Don’t be enslaved to maintaining it as is. These people were obviously much-loved and well thought of. But clearly, they weren’t “happy-go-lucky”. Clearly, they weren’t “giving out of abundance”. They were living with terrible stress. They did not have an abundance from which to give. It is wonderful to earn a great reputation and to have a positive public image, but it’s slavery to feel compelled to live up to people’s expectations.
Again, your real friends will stick by you as you change things like your socializing, your hosting, your gift-giving … If you lose anyone’s respect or friendship because you no longer play the charade involved in meeting their expectations, it’s no loss at all.
“… the No. 1 cause of financial stress for people in New York is debt …”
Debt is a stress everywhere – an invisible one. In your neighbourhood, at your place of work, in the gatherings where you socialize, there are many people struggling with debt. They just look like everyone else. The same appearance and lifestyle can be presented by people in critical financial condition as by those in great financial health. If you are in financial distress, know that you are not the only one.
“Even with all that debt, it still doesn’t make sense.’’
Debt stress is a multi-faceted issue. It involves way more than numbers. Mental health, self-worth, and faith are all casualties of the force it can have. Don’t underestimate it.
Financial distress can be resolved. It’s not too late.
Start now by talking with someone or by reaching out online. There is hope. I know.
What do you think are the most effective ways to diminish severe financial distress? What can individuals do? What can society as a whole do? Your comments are welcome.
*Image courtesy of flickr.