Dear Penny,
My husband knows I’m in debt. He just doesn’t know how bad. He quit his job last year. Now I’m the sole income earner. He’s using up his savings while trying to become a YouTuber and take care of our child full time. 

I don’t want to tell him how bad it is because I’m embarrassed. I can’t stop spending. It’s like a mental illness or something. How do I stop it? 

-L.

Dear L.,

It’s hard to imagine who’s dreading the conversation that needs to happen more: you or your husband.

Your spending is a sign of a deeper problem. You don’t want to disclose how much debt you’ve accumulated because you’re deeply ashamed.

But I suspect your husband knows there’s a problem — and he doesn’t want to know how bad it is. His don’t-ask-don’t-tell approach makes things easy on him. He gets to pretend it’s your problem, not his.

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Before you go any further, I want to address the mental health element that you touched upon.

I hope you’ll discuss what you’re experiencing with your doctor. Compulsive spending isn’t an official diagnosis, but research suggests that a lot of people overspend when they’re dealing with negative emotions, like depression and anxiety. Treating any underlying disorders could be key to getting your behavior under control.

Of course, part of me wonders whether your husband is a big part of the underlying problem. I don’t want to rush to judgment here without more details. But I wonder whether your current setup is more the product of your family’s child care needs or your husband’s desire for internet fame.

It’s one thing if he’s a devoted stay-at-home dad who pursues his YouTube hobby on the side. But if your husband sees himself as a future YouTube star who just happens to watch his kid during the day, obviously, that’s much more problematic. The issues you’re dealing with will be incredibly difficult to address if everything’s all about him.

Really, though, the details don’t change the fact that you need to tell him about your debt ASAP. I worry that your finances could implode soon given the current path you’re on. Once your husband depletes his savings, he’ll be even more dependent on you. Meanwhile, your overspending is no doubt pushing your monthly debt payments higher and higher. You can only stretch one paycheck so far.

Before you tell your husband, make sure you know how much you really owe. Don’t rely on memory or guesstimates. A lot of people buried in debt drastically underestimate how much they owe. Look at every single credit card and loan statement to figure this out to the exact cent. Quantifying your debt may seem terrifying at first if you’ve avoided it. But you may feel better once you know exactly what you’re dealing with.

Next, try to attend a Debtors Anonymous meeting or two. Plenty of chapters meet online. Just talking and listening to others with similar struggles may help you feel less alone.

Give your husband a head’s-up that you need to talk before having this conversation. Bad news is more palatable when the other person knows there’s something serious you need to discuss. Try something like, “I’m concerned about our expenses. Would you be able to talk about our bills tonight after dinner?”

There’s no easy way to broach this conversation. Be direct and tell him how much debt you have as quickly as possible. Have your credit card and loan statements handy. Be prepared for questions about how you’ve been spending money. Expect your husband to be angry at first, particularly if you misled him about the amount you owe.

A good next step would be for you both to attend credit counseling. Look for a not-for-profit agency on the websites of the Financial Counseling Association of America or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

A credit counselor can help you determine how to address your debt. They can often work out a debt management plan. It won’t reduce the amount you owe, but it rolls your credit card debt into one lower monthly payment. While you may be able to keep one credit card open for emergencies, you’ll have to close your other accounts, which makes it harder to overspend.

Do whatever you can to make it harder to spend money. Delete shopping apps, unsubscribe from your favorite stores’ emails and only keep your debit card in your wallet.

More importantly, you and your husband need to schedule a time each week to go over your budget and spending each week. Look at all credit card and bank statements. Knowing that this check-in is coming may curb your spending.

You may find that you being the sole earner isn’t enough. Your husband may need to get a job, even if that means budgeting for child care. This decision needs to be about what’s best for your family, not his YouTube channel.

Telling your husband about your debt is going to be hard. But ultimately, I think you’ll feel relieved once you’re no longer carrying the weight of this secret.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to AskPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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