A True Story: The Dark Side of Financial Insecurity

Two years ago, my friend contemplated suicide.

She had a husband and two kids, she was $50,000 in debt from living expenses, the only one holding down a job, and her husband spiraling deeper into depression, cutting himself off from the world.

He’d shut off from her emotionally and they’d have these horrible fights about money.

He didn’t understand how they didn’t have $5 to pay for popcorn because while he didn’t spend extravagantly, but he also didn’t see how little expenses added up.

Through it all, she was taking on all the stress of knowing the numbers and trying to make the family work, but was always feeling like the guilty, bad mother, bad cop, and useless provider.

She came into work crying every day. All I could do was console her with a coffee and muffin, and listen to her talk.

The one thing she told me that stuck with me the most was saying:

I am worth more to my family dead than alive.

I was so horribly struck by this statement that I spent 4 hours coaxing her that day in the morning and night, emailing her tips and pieces of encouragement and advice and reminding her of the following:

  1. Their kids would not feel the same way about what she’s saying, and would rather have a mom than none at all, at any price
  2. Think about how she would have felt with her own mother or father saying that, even today in their retirement
  3. That there is a way out, and there’s always an alternative even if it’s bankruptcy, and choosing to live is the first step
  4. I was there to help if she really needed it

You may be thinking: But FB, why didn’t you help her out by giving her the money?

I thought about this a lot, about giving money to her to help her make her bills. She had reached a pretty dark spot in thinking that her family would be better off with her dead, and collecting life insurance.

But I didn’t offer for these reasons:

1. She wouldn’t have taken the money.

She refused a coffee and muffin until I bought it secretly and gave it to her. It was all over her face, the guilt and the pain.

She knew there was another way out (bankruptcy, cutting back in the budget), but facing the pain and reality of it was more than she could bear alone, seeing as her husband was paralyzed emotionally. She and he, together, could get the job done, but they needed to work as a team and as partners, which was not the case.

She was just overwhelmed with everything, and needed someone to talk to.

2. I don’t loan money I cannot afford to gift without strings attached.

A year ago, it was the recession.

I had money saved, but it was for my retirement (therefore locked-in), and my liquid savings were for me to try and wait out the year and a half it took before I found another contract, and I didn’t know how long that would be before my own savings would run out, so I was doing some cost-cutting myself.

I also think that loaning money is a surefire way to lose a friend.

You can see it as being harsh, because it would be like “saving her life”, but I knew she had other options and she would either choose to fight, or give up by declaring bankruptcy, but not by taking her life.

It was just a dark point in her life, but not something she’d actually follow through on, with everything I knew about her, and how much she loved her kids. She knew it wasn’t an option, but she certainly fantasized about it which scared me so much that I spent lots of time with her to make sure she’d be all right.

3. I wouldn’t be saving or solving their problems for them.

If I started with this one friend, I’d feel obligated to bail out all my other friends too, and it goes against my own grain of hard lessons being learned.

Bail outs don’t work if there are other options that they may not be willing to change in their lives or take.

It’s not that I didn’t believe she would really think about suicide or do it. I take those kinds of conversations seriously, but it wasn’t as though they really had no way out.

I could see just from hearing snippets of their budget that they were wasting about $900 a month compared to what I would consider a true barebones lifestyle.

I tried to mention basic things like cutting back on buying any meat and eating beans instead, not buying juice or pop for the family, cutting back on milk consumption (you can get the nutrients from vegetables), and cutting out things like cable TV and cellphones, and so on.

She wasn’t listening to any of it, because she didn’t see how cutting back on all these little things would add up and they weren’t willing to cut back even more, because they already felt like they were on a barebones budget (which they were not).

Really, you can only teach a person to fish to let them feed themselves for life, rather than just giving them the fish. If I tried to help them out financially, I’d just be making their problem worse.

They needed to start talking to each other about money and to cope and work through these problems instead of having money thrown at the problem, but never solving the root of it. It wouldn’t save what was really wrong between the two of them and I didn’t save my own hard-earned money to pay for other people’s mistakes.

I really felt in my heart that if she wanted to, she’d take all my suggestions to heart and let me help them cut in the budget to see that even $500 saved a month would make their line of credit last longer, not to mention trying to drag her husband out of depression to get him to face reality and get a job at minimum wage (apparently he has baggage with really bad childhood coping skills).

I could even get them down to living on just her income, but it’s hard to drag a horse to the water when they are too stubborn to go.

The problems they had could be fixed, but they weren’t willing to change the reality of their expenses to fit the reality of their situation.

Plus, I was reassured she wouldn’t commit suicide when I finished talking to her, giving her advice and helping her out as much as I could by encouraging her, to see her come to work on the Monday after having a big blowout with her husband on the weekend, but with a more motivated look and attitude on her face. She realized over that weekend that I was right about there being other options, although she still isn’t cutting back on the budget, but she’s trying to be more creative.


So right now, today… you may be like I was, years ago during college, feeling secure, floating along on a little fluffy white cloud, totally unhampered by the thought of money, debt and savings.

I was totally care-free about money and my debt before I actually saw the final numbers when I graduated, assuming that I’d get a paycheque next week, next month, next year and everything was just dandy.

Looking back now, it was a pretty financially stupid time in my life, and I’m glad I smartened up, and am now learning new lessons in my life such as living on less and shifting the money to spending on what I treasure (traveling!) and being pleased everyday with what I already have and own.

But I cannot say the same for my friend.

Today, she is still alive and working on getting out of debt, as well as trying to get her husband more involved in the money situation, but it’s a sobering lesson for others out there to learn vicariously.

1. Always, always be on the same page as your partner about money

Money is the #1 reason for divorce, so talk about money and talk about it a lot.

2. Have money saved aside for expenses

I say a year, others say 3-6 months.

3. Try and live on one income

Don’t upgrade your lifestyle when you make more money — it may not last. If you can bank the second income, it’s instant savings.

4. Learn to live on and be happy with less

More money doesn’t make you happier. You just need to have the basics covered and the rest is a true luxury.

5. Have a Plan B

I’m talking about a true, barebones backup budget. We have one. It’s $1000/month for the 2 of us. It’s eating beans and rice, taking the bus and all the things I did when I was in debt — no luxuries at all.

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.