Can you help me help a friend?

I have a girlfriend in deep fiscal doo doo. She’s been in this spot for a long time. The financial hole she’s in gets deeper and deeper. Now, she’s at her wits end.

Let’s call my friend Jane.  Jane is married to Dick.  Dick and Jane have three kids. They’re in their mid-40s.

Until recently, Jane hasn’t worked outside the home in about ten years. Now she has a part-time job at about 33 hours per week. Dick, who has been in sales for a number of years, is recently unemployed and isn’t bringing home a regular pay cheque. He brings home a bit of cash by helping folks out with renovation projects around their house.

Dick and Jane have, to my knowledge, never had a conversation about money. Neither of them know exactly how much they owe. They’ve consolidated consumer debt to their mortgage twice in the past five years. Their mortgage debt is probably on par, or slightly greater than the value of their home. The bills aren’t getting paid now. Mortgage payments are being missed. A family member is helping by purchasing groceries. A line of credit with a balance of $20,000.00 only gets interest payments, the principle hasn’t been touched in years. She keeps her money in her nightstand, because her bank accounts are frozen.

Jane is exhausted. She doesn’t even want to discuss the money or lay blame about who did what, she just wants it all to go away. Dick has a fragility about him. I think he buys things as a substitute for whatever may be missing in his world. When he’s lost his job in the past, or can’t provide, he falls into a depressed state. He sometimes has difficulty controlling his anger.

Today, they’re going to chat with a professional about bankruptcy, and their options. Dick wants to go to the bank and consolidate the debt, again. Jane figures the bank will laugh them outta town.

This family hasn’t attempted to live on a budget. The kids participate in sports leagues, which involve fees, travel, eating out, etc. This isn’t a family that lives the high life – they don’t have fancy clothes, they don’t have top-of-the-line furniture, no elaborate vacations. The stuff like eating out, cell phones for kids, repairs on aging vehicles, renovating an old house and travel to a family cottage have done them in.

If bankruptcy is the answer for now, I’m not convinced they won’t be right back where they are in short order. They don’t discuss money nor budget together. Jane is afraid of the anger and the depression, so she lets Dick do almost anything. Jane wants out.

Jane brings home about $1625/month in her part-time job, and another $770 in child tax benefits from the government for a total of $2395. If she decides to leave and rent a house, average rental costs in her town are about $1300/month for a house big enough for her and the three kids.

Do you have any ideas about how a single parent in Ontario can apply for housing subsidies? Can she work and still apply for some social benefit that would help her bring up the rear, so to speak? There would be no guarantees that Dick would be able to pay for child support on any consistent basis, if at all.

I’ve suggested she needs another part-time job and to apply for Trillium drug benefits.

Your thoughts welcome…


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jenn on May 27, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Has Jane looked into the Gail system yet? If she does decide to leave then she is going to have to learn to live on a budget anyways, so might as well start now. It may also be time for the kids to have a reality check too, if the sports are important to the kids then they may have to contribute to some of the costs. My heart goes out to poeple that are in a rough patch but like many people out there it is time to pull up thier socks and get the debt under control. I hope they are able to see the benefits of the Gail system and stick it out as a family. Who knows, maybe working as a family to get out of debt will bring them closer together.


    • Hi Jenn. You and I both know that system would work for them, no question. The challenge would be to keep her other half (a) informed, and (b) on board. Since they’ve never discussed money in an unheated manner, and he either doesn’t think they have a problem, or refuses to acknowledge it, this is still a ways off. She obviously has to either have the money conversation with hubby, or be resolved to never end the cycle. (I can’t even get her to watch TDDUP!)


  2. This is JMHO, but I’ve seen a lot of people in this kind of situation – and been there myself. I too have a good friend that’s in that situation herself right now. Deep in debt, yet going away to an expensive hotel / resort this weekend because she “NEEDS” to have a break. I offered my tent for a camping trip and it was turned down of course. 🙂

    It sounds to me like both your friend and her husband are in deep money reality denial. If they don’t look at their situation it just isn’t real to them so they can pretend it doesn’t exist. Occasionally, they wake up out of their haze and have to face it but then stick their heads back in the sand until it confronts them again. And there’s a whole bunch of judgments that go along with that – although there doesn’t have to be. The debt is what it is, it’s not evil, they’re not bad or stupid people, it’s just a situation that’s not going to go away until they do something different. They would have to change how they lived and they don’t want to do that.

    It’s so hard to see good friends suffer when you know that if they would just listen to you, they could dig themselves out of their hole. You can lead the horse to water, but you surely cannot make them drink.

    What they really need is to sit down with a counselor of some sort and make a plan and act on that plan. But it doesn’t sound like they’re at that stage. And running away somehow (debt consolidation, bankruptcy, leaving the husband) is a common m.o. of people who get into those kinds of situations.

    Although I don’t find it particularly rewarding to try to help people who aren’t ready to help themselves as I kind of take a taoist perspective on this stuff (as much as I enjoy watching shows like Intervention), if you still do want to invest time and energy into helping your friend, I’d check out the stages of change model I’ve linked here. There’s also some resources out there for trying to help others to move through the stages of change model.

    As silly as it sounds, even being transparent with your own finances with your friend might be helpful to her. I’ve found that to be the case with my friend as she sees some of my expense numbers and how I pull things together and it makes her think about her own situation. Some people are just number / accounting phobic when it comes to themselves.

    Sorry the comment almost turned out to be a blog post. 🙂 Which reminds me that I promised my friend I’d do a “get out of debt” blog post just for her. Thanks for the reminder and inspiration!



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