In Fetal Position Over Huge and Embarrassing Debt

Tracey's huge and embarrassing as holidays approach

My fetal position moment came when I put all my debt into a non-threatening spreadsheet.  Actually a team at USAA’s Financial Services did the actual task, I just provided all the bad news.

Drum roll please … if you read my first blog post last month you know I have Huge and Embarrassing Debt! What I thought was $60,000 in credit card debt is actually $85,000.

Really???  I looked at that number and thought: That can’t be right! How on earth could this happen? I don’t even have a Coach handbag or a new car.  How in the world will I get out of this?

I wanted to curl into a fetal position.

The tears flowed. I lowered my head in shame. I felt a little like the contestants on that show the Biggest Loser. I was standing there half naked feeling like everyone looked at my number. I felt like everyone was watching me, judging me and I felt like such a fraud.

Debt is this big secret I carry every day. It is with me at work. It drives home with me. I bring it with me to my son’s football practice and I feel it on my chest when I fall asleep at night.

It has been 16 years since I walked down the aisle into this life as a military spouse. As a spouse I have earned a college degree, lived overseas, had two children, carved out a career, endured numerous combat deployments, and buried my father.

Debt seems too big to handle.

But this, this debt seems too big for me to handle. This feels totally overwhelming.  Now I am faced with the reality of the total number and the reality that this is not going to be over quickly. Wow, we are talking years!

The financial counselors at USAA told me that first I had to come clean with everything we owe. Then I needed to put everything we earn and spend down on paper. (Read more of what USAA guys said about the big number here.)

I also had to keep track of my spending. All the little things do add up, so for the first time I am keeping a spending journal to dig deep and see where I can cut expenses.

I am just a few weeks into this process but I think the scary part is over because I have really come clean.  But now the hard work begins.

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.
  • sabrinacking

    In JUST credit card debt? You aren’t lumping in cars or student loans or something else outside credit cards in 85k in debt? Good gravy. A) You’re brave for telling the truth. B) If that is just credit card debt, is there any way you can sell a bunch of this stuff you bought to decrease the debt any? I realize most everything will be depreciated, but some larger ticket items like jewelry you may be able to sell to pay down some of this debt.

  • the first mel

    I hope your financial counselor has discussed setting smaller goals that will lead you to the ultimate goal of being credit card debt-free. Just looking at the total debt is overwhelming and can give you a feeling of hopelessness. Small successes will give you the sense that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and with hard work and time, you will overcome this.

  • Guest

    I had 94k in student loans when we got married, paid it off in three years once we got serious. We lived like papers and I worked three jobs and my husband paid the rent

  • JAGO

    If you have access to Army Community Services and/or a National Guard Family Assistance Center, they have a number of experts who have help you with finances. They are generally great. Also, if your debts become collections, your Legal Assistance Office JAGs will love to assist.

  • Guest

    I understand wanting to curl up in a fetal position over debt. I was very naive when I was in my early 20’s (before I got married) and let an online college take advantage of me. I owe 60K in student loan debt. It’s pretty disheartening (especially when a PCS move leaves you jobless for a while). However, with this debt I’ve learned a valuable lesson. I’ve learned how to be ultra thrifty :) If you align your budget, stick to sales, thrift stores, and ignore that evil little impulsive inner voice – you’d be surprised at what you can achieve. Even on one income at the moment (for a family of three), we can afford all of our bills and still have a little left over each month for fun stuff. That does mean staying in a bit more often, but it’s really not that bad once you realize that home can be a fun place too :)

  • Charlotte Spencer

    I love USAA but have no idea what their strategies are for eliminating debt. I know it isn’t their primary focus area, however. I suggest you check out Dave Ramsey’s website and read Total Money Makeover, take Financial Peace University class (it is offered all over the country) and follow his baby steps. $85K sounds overwhelming, but you can do it!

  • Jessica

    I agree with Charlotte. I just checked that book out from library ( note I didn’t BUY…saving $$ ) but after reading I can say if u can’t find it at your library then it is actually a book well worth the buy! They have uplifting stories and u will not feel alone in $85k debt. I was also inspired my friends story is in there ;) You’ve taken one of the first steps..cutting up your cards but before that he encourages you to quickly save up 1k as an emergency fund and keep that a minimum amt thru the process so when the car needs something or a kid gets sick you don’t resort to the cards. It’s a great and encouraging read. I’ll be praying for you and good work, keep it up :)

  • Dave

    Pay the highest interest rate first and eat at home. No movies, no vacations, just hard work. Bring your lunch to work every day. Have to be hardcore about paying off the debt. Read every single thing you can on finances. read books, don’t all have to be on finances, keep the mind sharp. Take it from a guy who was 7,000 in CC debt. Paid off. Then again when I was married, inherited 40,000 CC debt, paid off. Worked 2 jobs, sold my truck, sold 60 days of leave and ate a lot of apples. Can’t cry about it, just gotta do it.

  • Josephine Venanzi

    Most people say to cut up your credit cards and stop using them but I firmly believe you need to have a couple of credit cards to function in our society. One has to use them wisely and pay them off monthly. In your case, pay the high interest ones off first. You must LEARN to be an adult with money and change your habits. You made a comparison to the show “The Biggest Loser” and I have one also. Learn the reasons you over spend just as they overeat. Learning to live on one’s income level is part of being successful in life. It is just like learning manners to function in our society.

  • Tony

    Dave Ramsey has an excellent program. Highest interest rates first is one good way but his philosophy is to pay them off smallest bal to largest that way you get needed gratification as you eliminate them one at a time. He also has a military version of his program. Daily radio call in show. is a great website. Good luck to you..keep you chin CAN DO IT.

  • Daff

    Tracey, good luck to you. I love USAA products and believe the financial consultants will help you achieve your goal. The hardest part is staying debt free once you get out of debt. I’m following your story and can’t wait for the next update.

  • Pamela Laynor

    Tracey…I guess it would be easy to judge and find reasons to blame you for your huge debt. It would be great if we all came out of the womb with the financial skills and discipline needed to make all the right decisions with our money. But we don’t and it takes some of us longer than others to get it right. So you are going in the right direction now. But remember, you are more than the gifts you buy others. My husband is a very generous giver and I love that about him. Unfortunately, he gives without even considering our monthly budget. So after years of arguing about it, he has finally learned to pull back a little. We live within a monthly budget now as we move toward retirement. I love to give gifts as well but I don’t want to go back into debt just to do it. We are doing better now and it feels so good to feel in control of our finances. Good luck Tracey and hang in there. It is worth it and you will feel so good when you reach your goals.