Talking about your debt can help you escape it

Secrecy, shame can hurt efforts to become debt-free


 5 ways disclosure can help you get out of debt Magdevski/iStock /Getty Images Plus/Getty Images


 5 ways disclosure can help you get out of debt Magdevski/iStock /Getty Images Plus/Getty Images


If you’re deep in debt, your natural inclination may be to hide it from friends and family. But strategically disclosing your debt to others may help transform your financial situation and help you get out of debt sooner.

“Shame, which is a feeling that there's something wrong with us, only increases if we keep things secret,” says Kate Levinson, a family therapist and author of “Emotional Currency: A Woman’s Guide to Building a Healthy Relationship with Money.” By talking about money challenges, “You actually have a feeling of relief that you're not the only person holding on to your problems.”  

If secrecy hasn’t helped you make a dent in your debt, consider these five ways in which disclosure can be the prescription that you need, and who the best people are to unload your financial burden to.

1. When you’re not being honest with yourself. If you know you’re in debt, but don’t know how much you owe or have a plan to get out, you’re not facing your problems head-on. When we keep our true financial situation a secret from even ourselves, we don’t have to think about it. We can even pretend everything is fine and keep spending impulsively or charging up our credit cards. However, hearing yourself describe your financial situation to a loved one keeps you from living in denial, Levinson says.

The best person to keep your secret: Look for someone who you love and trust, but who also spends a lot of time with you. You’ll be reminded of the changes you’re trying to make whenever that person comes around. However, make sure the person can’t use the information as leverage against you, says Candace Bahr, co-founder of the nonprofit Women’s Institute for Financial Education.  For example, “you would want to be very careful about what you're sharing with your co-workers, or perhaps your boss, because you don't want them to be biased in any way,” Bahr says.

2. When you’re living a lie. Even if we’re honest with ourselves about our finances, we may buy expensive clothes and cultivate costly habits in order to give others the impression that we’re doing better than we really are.  “Wanting to appear a certain way in the world can be seductive,” says Levinson. However, it can leave you in a deeper hole over time if you can’t afford the lifestyle.

Shame, which is a feeling that there's something wrong with us, only increases if we keep things secret.

— Kate Levinson 
Family therapist and author

The best person to keep your secret: Look for someone you’ve been trying to impress with possessions you can’t afford. While you don’t have to tell them how much debt you’re in, disclosing a few details, such as the fact that you’re trying to cut back on expenses, can take away the motivation for competitive spending.

3. When you don’t want to be asked for handouts. One downside to family members and friends thinking you’re doing better than you really are is that they may be more likely to ask you for financial help.  If you give the impression that you’re rolling in money, family members may have a hard time understanding why you would refuse to lend a hand.

The best person to share your secret: Anyone who has depended on you financially in the past, says Lori R. Sackler, a certified financial planner and author of “The M Word: The Money Talk Every Family Needs to Have About Wealth and Their Financial Future.” “If you have a change of financial circumstances you've got to own up to it, you've got to disclose the information to those who are affected, because otherwise you're going to dig yourself in further, not just financially, but emotionally.”

4. If you have little or no willpower. Some people have every intention of limiting their spending, but they can’t say ‘no’ to a trip to the mall or dinner out with friends. If you find yourself constantly tripped up by temptation, look to others to help you reign your spending in.

The best person to share your secret: The person you spend the most money with. This is where your greatest temptation is and they may look out for your best interests and suggest less expensive activities. “You may find that other people have more compassion for you than you have for yourself,” Levinson says.

5. If you want an accountability partner. Whether it’s staying on budget or dieting, we all know what we're supposed to do, we just don't always do it. However, when someone else is looking over your shoulder, you may be less likely to eat the second cupcake or make that impulse buy.   

The best person to share your secret: While you don’t have to share all your budgetary woes with your closest friends, look for someone who has a handle on their money or who has financial goals they’d like to meet, too. “Disclosure begets disclosure. Once somebody shares, then other people are willing to share too, and then they support each other in working together toward it,” Bahr says.

Sharing our financial truths with others can give us the courage to look at our finances with new eyes and take a more proactive approach.  “Sometimes we really cannot do it alone; it's just too overwhelming,” Levinson says.

See related: 6 ways to overcome the shame of debt, Financial infidelity poll: 6 percent hid bank account from spouse or partner

Published: September 6, 2016

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Updated: 10-28-2016

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