Someone in Chicago wants to 'come out' to loved ones about their debt

Tell your friends and family about your money issues when you feel more secure about your situation which, depending on your debt, could take more than a couple of months to fix.

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A piggy bank with a sad face.

If it’s not an emergency, wait to tell people about problems with debt until you are in a better financial place.

Kacie Trimble/Sun-Times

An advice column where Chicago can ask questions on how to navigate life transitions, relationships, family, finance and more.

Dear Ismael,

As a person in their late 20s, how do I “come out” about my debt to my loved ones? I want them to know but don’t want them to then judge me every time I leave the house to go out — and think poorly of me.

— Money Talks in Lakeshore East

Dear Money Talks,

We shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about our debt. But this time, I advise you to keep it to yourself — for now.

From what you’ve told me, it doesn’t seem like you’re in a major financial emergency where you need immediate assistance. It’s more like you just want to be able to talk about it freely with little to no judgment.

In that case, I say be like an ex trying to make a case for redemption, and tell me how you’ve been working on yourself. For example, “Yes, I messed up. But since we broke up, I’ve been seeing a therapist and cleaning up after myself more often.”

Tell your friends and family about your issues when you feel more secure about your situation which, depending on your debt, could take more than a couple of months to fix. Them hearing about your efforts to combat the debt and the results they produced will not only lessen the blow, but can bring financial reassurance and stability to the only person that matters — yourself.

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Facing your debt

As a reformed shopaholic, I’ve been there. Recently, even. And I know looking at unnecessary bills we placed upon ourselves can be ugly and leave us feeling hopeless, but it can turn into a rewarding experience once you start seeing results from that hard work.

It isn’t easy, though. You will need to be honest and give yourself some generous time to recover, especially because we can easily relapse back to our financial mistakes.

My first attempt to get out of debt was this past January, after a hefty Christmas spending spree on myself. It lasted less than a week because I treated myself to a giant beanbag, a Prada bag and a Gucci wallet (among other things). Could I afford all that? No!

My friends took notice and expressed their concern. But when I went to visit them in March, I bought a new Gucci bag right in front of them. And then I went to the Olivia Rodrigo concert the following week. That was my rock bottom, when every time I got paid, all my money would immediately go to paying off my “treat yourself” debts.

That’s when I was forced to take my finances more seriously, and painfully wrote down all my expenses. I unsubscribed from “now on sale” emails and fought temptation from “clearance” advertisements, and then it took me about a month to get out of smaller debt payments. The results from my slowly growing surplus now go toward a savings account that helps me walk a little bit taller.

Turn confessions into celebrations

My mom has gone from being disappointed with my spending habits to being upset when I boast about my savings while not sending her $100 she can spend at Ross. My journey has also become a friendly running joke with my loved ones, as I text them, “I’m financially responsible now, can we take it easy this weekend with a free beach day?”

So, yes. Talk about your debt. But tell me how you ate 35-cent noodles for a week, and now are rewarding yourself with a nice dinner. Or how you slowly paid off a credit card.

No one wants to sit through a sob story. Instead, tell your loved ones a financial accomplishment that will make them feel proud of you, even if it took you six months to get there.

Write to Someone in Chicago at someoneinchicago@suntimes.com.

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