Tracey’s Huge And Embarrassing Debt

credit card

At the stoplight I looked at my bank account. Was my balance really only $76? Am I really 38-years-old and I only have $76 in my checking account?

Then annoyance traded places with fear. I remembered the check that had not cleared for my water bill of $134. $%#*&^ — I am going to bounce a check.

Once at work, I begged, borrowed and took a credit card cash advance to cover my mistake. Panic left me and I moved into relief.

This is the last time, I promised myself. I am going to get it together with our finances. On the way home that same day I took my daughter to get a manicure with the money I didn’t have.

So I was struck that week when I attended the Spouse Experience on base. One of the guest speakers, Scott Halliwell from USAA, asked the crowd, “Who feels good about their finances?”

The majority of the people in the room raised their hands. So my hand shot up at lightning speed! Liar! I thought.

Later I was sitting around with my girlfriends over a few too many glasses of wine. We started talking about money. Then the “numbers” starting slipping. While no one actually said ‘I have credit card debt’ I was hearing numbers like $10,000, $18,000 and $20,000. I knew I was not alone!

That’s when I reached out for professional help. I emailed those professional financial planners at USAA. (See Certified Financial Planners JJ Montanaro and Scott Halliwell’s advice about Tracey’s debt starting here)

The first thing they had me do was figure out my number — exactly what I owe. I’m not sure what that is yet, but I’m guessing I have close to $60,000 in credit card debt!

Holy chow I actually wrote that!

How This Happened

How did I get here? Well, for us it started about eight years ago when my parents were in a financial hardship and asked for some money.  My husband and I didn’t hesitate to give them a cash gift.  Then for the next 7 years we paid anywhere from $1000-$1500 EVERY MONTH to cover their expenses. Why? Well that is a whole other post for Tracey’s Dysfunctional Family!

At the same time I stopped working, PCSed to Europe, and had our first baby. We used credit cards for the first time for expenses and travel in Europe. Then I started opening credit cards without my husband’s knowledge to cover groceries and baby clothes.

Once I did go back to work I struggled with Mommy guilt. I was also trying to compensate for my husband’s deployments with gifts and adventures for my kids.

That was how it all began and this is where we are now.

Aside from this huge and embarrassing debt, I have a pretty great life. I am married to an active duty member who has been deployed five times in our 15 year marriage, three of those in combat. We have a funny Lego-loving little boy age eight and an almost-six-year-old girl who loves to be the center of attention.  Plus I am blessed to have a good job in this economy.

So What Should I do?

006Debt – this is my deep dark secret; the subject I do not talk about. So here I am finally asking for help. With the guidance from USAA, the support of SpouseBuzz, and help from all of you, I want to change my future and hopefully inspire you a little along the way.

Today I cut up all my credit cards.

Tomorrow I start working with the professionals.

Cross your fingers for me.

Tracey’s Huge and Embarrassing Debt is a new series starting on SpouseBuzz. Tracey is a military wife who attended one of our live Spouse Experience events and was inspired to make a life change. As she and her family work with USAA’s Scott Halliwell and JJ Montannaro, they will all be blogging about how military families really can get out of debt — one tiny change at a time.  

About the Author

Tracey’s Huge and Embarrassing Debt is a new series starting on SpouseBuzz. Tracey is a military wife who attended one of our live Spouse Experience events and was inspired to make a life change. As she and her family work with USAA’s Scott Halliwell and JJ Montannaro, they will all be blogging about how military families really can get out of debt — one tiny change at a time.
  • Camika

    There are plenty of spouses keeping this same secret. I hope it all works out. How do I follow this series?

  • Sarah — SBuzz

    Thank you for being brave enough to write about this at SpouseBUZZ!

  • Just me

    Might I recommend watching Suzie Orman as well. She is very insightful and opened my eyes. I hear a lot of spouses crying about service pay I was definitely on board until I heard Suzie say, “You don’t have money issues, you have wisdom issues change your wisdom about money you have more of it.” You don’t need more money you need to learn to manage the money you have know what you can and cannot afford. Kuddos to you for sharing and good luck!

    • jberlat

      Dave Ramsey and Ric Edelman are way better than Suzie.

  • Kelly
  • @OTMatterofMind
  • Amanda

    Good for you for openly writing about this. Just know you aren’t the only one. Use the resources available to you and hopefully this blog will help keep you accountable. You can do it!

  • I was in serious credit card debt before marrying my money-minded husband. Though we’re out of credit card debt, I still have a large student loan to pay off that is hanging over my head. My husband has started doing the “snowball method” (outlined by Dave Ramsey) to pay off our bills and now we’ve paid off his car and are well on our way to paying off my car now. Once that’s paid off, the money we were putting towards that will go towards my student loans, and on and on.

  • Kelly
  • Shannon
  • Maria

    You will not only conquer this, you will help someone else in the process! Just said a prayer for you.

  • heisenberg cartel

    60 THOUSAND? Just in credit cards alone???? Umm, that’s called a spending addiction and a massive sense of entitlement as to what one’s standard of living “should” be. Especially racking that up without his knowledge. That’s tantamount to embezzlement (and it would be if he did the same thing, too)

    • Insta Karna

      Reflective karma on YOU, heisenberg cartel. Wait till you face a situation like this, or worse due to your stupidity not if, but WHEN you get laid off and when you face other mounting bills. You may be in a situation tomorrow where you are being sued… then see if its cool or funny to be so rude to others.

      YOU have the problem. If you have issue with this blog, then don’t read it. Don’t judge unless you are perfect. Likely you have problems in other areas, like your weight or relationships.

    • Cathy Kloess

      There is one in every crowd. Only thing to do is what you are doing.
      I would never judge. I guess some will.

      Every one of us could have something bad happen that would create this kind of situation.

      This young girl is not alone and is very brave in permitting others to track her story.

      Sometimes you just have to duck the punches and block the advances of negative people.

      Pretty sure if we distributed our governments debt to each of us individually this girls debt would not feel very manageable.

      Now if we could just get the government to cut up the credit cards!

    • Jmom

      Yep, a tail end in every crowd.

  • Javier

    You need to close the accounts “and” cut the cards up!!!! Good for you!!

  • Evonne

    Hello! It is a lot about money that we do not learn until it is ALMOST too late. I say almost, because when we come in the knowledge that we have an issue, that is when we have the power to take control of it and not let it go any further. A lot of us (military) gets into trouble with these payday advances, quick way to get money stores around base.
    If we really consider to be “friends” with someone, we should be able to open up to them and get some help; however, if that person is in the same situation you are in, that is when we need to seek help from elsewhere. We all make mistakes, so lets not be afraid to ask for help and live a debt free (except car, house, etc) that God has ordained for us to. Let’s be the lender and not the borrower.

  • Becky

    Hi Tracey, I am also a stay at home mom for an active duty spouse. When we got married our debt totaled 160,000 and that doesn’t include a mortgage, Five and a half years later we are DEBT FREE! If we did it you can too!

  • Mike

    In July 2002 I exited the hospital after a three week stay (one week in ICU). I was on the threshhold of a financial disaster, with $143,000 in credit card debt. Next month (September 2013) I will make a $600 payment to Citibank and my credit card debt will be zero. Hang in there, know that getting out of debt is a long, slow, steady process, but eventually you will be whole again. Our debt was rung up, just like yours, taking care of the needs of our loved ones (wife’s mother’s funeral, two son’s cars and college expenses, son’s wedding expenses, etc, etc). A feeling of guilt is not needed (or very useful). Just a slow, steady return to a more sane life. And the knowledge that many, many others before you have tread the pathway you now travel. Best of wishes !

  • Jude

    Dear Tracey – you are on your way, girl! Admitting the problem and taking corrective action are crucial to recovery! Please look into the Dave Ramsey FPU course – “Financial Peace University” – available on bases sometimes and in local churches across the country. You can do this, and the empowerment you will feel as each credit card bill is paid off is HUGE !!! I know because I lived through a financial nightmare of overextension on rental house loans and unknown credit card debt with an ex-spouse. You are young enough to recover, the lessons you are teaching your children now are tremendously important, and you will enjoy self sacrifice and curtailing expenses like mani/pedi’s … this is truth. A simpler life and a more honest life are worth the pain of the present. Good luck to you. From your writing, I have no doubt you can do this, and your marriage will be stronger as a result!

  • kristi

    I’m in awe of how brave Tracey is! It takes a lot of courage to admit there’s a debt problem and to work on getting out of it. I’m feeling inspired and hope I can work out my debt issues as well.

  • Guest

    Congratulation, Tracey! Your story inspired me and I will be following your blog and attacking this very personal issue of my own with you.

  • Tony

    Dave Ramsey is awesome!! Follow his plan and you will feel 1000 lbs lighter in no time. Once you see the debt going down you’ll be even more motivated. He has a call in show that’s broadcast daily. you can listen on I heart radio at your convenience. He has a military viERSION of FPU.
    I have two active duty USAF kids and I bought them his course. I asked them to use it, get debt free, and then pass it on to another family that needs it. I asked them to tell the person they gave it to to pass it on when that person is done with it. In other words, pay it forward. I only did 4 yrs in USAF but remember how hard it was making ends meet with 3 kids. Don’t giVe up!

  • Andrea

    Thanks for sharing your story! I look forward to hearing what methods work for you, good luck!

  • jojo613


    This is an awesome post. I can totally relate. I actually had to go to Gambler’s Anonymous because of a gambling problem that surfaced while my husband and I were geographically separated (dual military), and to deal with stress, I gambled a LOT. Now I have been nearly 10 years clean. Sure, there are times when I spend more money than I have, and use credit cards, but right now, I have money in savings, and it feels good making it through a deployment with a positive balance on the ledger :). Unfortunately, I found that a lot of spouses have the same secret, and also a lot of spouses are judgmental about the problem. Further a LOT military families live outside of their means. It took a really long time that I didn’t need to get weekly pedicures, massages, I didn’t need to own Louis Vuittons, and drive a Caddy to be happy. I think many spouses look for external happiness, because it’s very hard to be internally happy when your husband is gone more than he is home.

  • Brent

    Tracy great job! Wow I laugh when I hear all about these people and Mr. Ramsey’s program. It’s all about. Spending less than you make and saving for the future. You don’t need to pay some guy $ 400.00 to tell you not to pay with credit cards and to carry around envelopes, but hey if you need Mr. Ramsey to tell you that then add to his millions he’s made off people. I’m Staff Sergeant in the Marine Corps and my family is more financial sound than most First sergeants and Master sergeant which is 2 ranks higher. These are the same leaders yelling at Marines for late video rentals.

  • Antonette

    I’m inspired to do the same. Although my credit us a lot less, the stress of it all is the same. Thank you for hiving me encouragement and hope :)

  • Darnell


    You are well on your way to a debt free life. I just retired from the military after 26 years…..and sadly I barely have a pot or a window. I went through that same guilt trip of wanting to give my kids nice gifts and vacations and ran up huge credit card debts in the early years!

    It’s crazy, but I’ve paid off four cars and more debt in the past 90 days than we ever had. My goal is to be debt free within the next five years! I recommend you check out Dace Ramsey and his financial Peace Plan.

    You can do it!