The Five Stages of Grief Over Debt

She Said:

As we had posted earlier, when we added up our traditional consumer type debt two years ago, it came to just over $102,000.  I remember that night – mainly because while trying to write things out by hand, I somehow wrote another zero onto the end.  Now there’s one way to check your heart condition!!  Of course it took my beloved Jack three days to figure out the reasoning of my fetal position.  “We owe over a million dollars!” I shrieked.  To which he responded, “Ummm….Noooo…we don’t.”

Granted a thousand dollar figure is way better than a million dollar figure, the final debt figure is still B-A-D!!  What does the knowledge of your debt do to you as a person and your mental state?  At first I essentially plunged into a dark hole and feeling as it was the end of everything I had known.  I was grieving for the end of feeling financial free.

Psychology 101 teaches us the Kubler-Ross model, or better known as the “five stages of grief.”  An individual will experience each emotional stage while coming to terms.  In reflection of my behavior since that fateful night, these stages appear:

Denial:  Those numbers are soooooo wrong!  Oh look, the credit card company charged us for this rental twice so I bet there are other mistakes!  I barely shop!  Everybody has this much debt but we just don’t talk about it, right?  Those phrases crossed my mind, crossed my lips, and I made purchases while crossing my fingers behind my back.

Anger:  I internalized this anger and accused myself of being idiotic, stupid, and putting my family at risk to live in a sewer pipe opening.  Hardworking salespeople representing ‘fantastic offers’ to their loyal customers might have learned a few new words in English and a few other languages.  (To whom I am sincerely apologizing to now – you are only trying to pay your bills too!)

Bargaining:  I began a cycle of swearing to myself that in exchange for purchasing this new sweater, I will give enough stuff away to make up for this purchase.  And sometimes I even wound up giving away said sweater.

Depression:  There were moments of being so down that not even a vodka red bull could give me drunken wings feisty enough to lift me out from the rock I was under.  Evenings out with friends were turned down as I could only add up the tab in my head.  Birthdays and holidays came up and I simply shrugged and said ‘don’t spend anything on me’ as I couldn’t handle the guilt of the price tag.

Accpetance:  It was a long journey to eventually to get this point.  Perhaps this blog, more than anything, signifies this stage.  It is here, in black and white, the numbers and what we are going  to do about it!  We owe, we owe, so blogging away we will go.  I am actually looking forward to sharing our adventures in debt reduction.

Did it truly take me two years to get through all five stages?  In my defense, I have always been a late bloomer.

He Said:

I completely understand where Diane is coming from with the 5 stages of grief, though I don’t know if our timelines ever lined up.  She would be in the depression stage, yet I would still be in denial about our financial situation.  This would end up with me spending money and her hyperventilating on how we could no longer afford milk for our 4 year-old son.  Because our timeline of stages didn’t match up, our priorities never exactly matched up.  So, as she went thru these stages, we tried to communicate what we were thinking or planning at the time, but that wasn’t always successful.  Okay, it was rarely successful since we are two individuals trying to make it in this crazy mixed-up world.  “Make it” generally means me in the doghouse for quite a few days.

As for my stages, I’m not really sure I ever left the denial spectrum.  The only times I even saw the other stages is when we were faced with a challenge where our financial limitations left us somewhat…uh…limited.  It’s easy to ignore what you can’t do when you don’t have to do it.  We don’t need to rent a car every day.  Nor have we tried to purchase a vehicle in the past few years.  We already own two homes (yes, that story is coming) and I tend to try NOT to talk to mortgage agents unless absolutely necessary.  I think Anger, Bargaining, and Depression and Acceptance are on my horizon.  It has just been easier to live in the land of denial instead of what is to come.

The question I leave you is this…considering my wife’s hypothesis is correct on relating the 5 stages with financial debt…how many other middle-class Americans living on Main Street USA with 2.5 kids, one pet and a white picket fence are also living in this land of denial on their financial make-up?  I skip back to the commercial where the guy is smiling while riding a mower after listing every toy he owns, but admits he’s “up to my eyeballs in debt”.  So, is the land of denial the new normal for the American lifestyle?  That notion would not make me feel better.  I like being special, you know.

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