Women’s News: Why I Lie to My Parents About How Much I Make



Empowering people to live their richest lives

In our Money Mic series, we hand over the podium to people with controversial views about money. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.

Today, one 32-year-old woman tells us how she went into five-figure credit card debt by footing the bill for her parents’ expenses and why she now lies to them about her $70,000-a-year salary so she doesn’t have to continue to bail them out. 

I love my parents dearly and will always be grateful for the love they’ve shown me. That’s why lying to them about how much money I make — and resisting the urge to bail them out of the financial messes they continually find themselves in — is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

When I was growing up, I wasn’t really aware of the fact that my parents weren’t very smart about their finances. My dad is a member of the clergy and my mom is an executive assistant. While they never made a ton of money, it always seemed like we were fairly comfortable. My parents could afford to send me to summer sleep-away camp and to sign me up for extra-curricular activities, and they always portrayed this image of us being a we-can-keep-up-with-the-Joneses kind of family. It wasn’t until I got to high school that I realized there were some holes in the well-woven story that my parents had spun.

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My Parents’ Money Problems

When I was in 12th grade, my dad lost his job, so my mom, dad, brother and I moved to Colorado. When we got there, my mom was suddenly out of work as well. Money-wise, things went downhill very fast after we moved. I sensed that my parents were in financial trouble; I could see that they weren’t working, but they were still spending, and the numbers just didn’t add up. I guess I just assumed things would work themselves out.

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When I left home for college, I was grateful for the distance from my parents. Then, I began to get phone calls early in my freshman year — from my parents asking me for money. They weren’t requesting cash, but they wanted me to put a utility bill on a credit card. Plastic seemed like an easy way to fix our no-money problem, so I ended up opening a ton of credit cards. It was so easy to sign up; there were tables everywhere with simple application forms to fill out. Suddenly, I had a ton of credit cards and was charging everything — both my own living expenses and my parents’ bills that they couldn’t afford to pay on their own.

RELATED: I Cut Up My Credit Cards–and Paid Off $30,000

In the spring of my sophomore year at college, my dad called with especially bad news: My parents had filed for bankruptcy. Neither of them were on track to find new careers; they were taking jobs here and there to help pay for stuff, but nothing was enough. They sold their house and started renting. I was afraid I was going to get another call, and that this time my dad was going to tell me they were homeless. I knew the situation wouldn’t improve any time soon, so I started helping them even more, paying for whatever they needed by putting it on one of my credit cards.

The Never-Ending Debt Spiral

I continued bailing out my parents in this way for years, and it went on after I graduated from college in 2003 with a degree in theater performance. But my first job out of school (doing administrative work for a nonprofit) wasn’t in my field and only paid $15,000 a year — and I had $25,000 in student loan debt. My income was barely enough to support myself, let alone two other people, but I always used credit cards to make up the difference. Even though I was scrimping, living in a tiny place with a roommate in a bad neighborhood of Denver, I still helped my parents financially, getting into even more debt. I even footed my parents’ bill for extensive medical and dental work. In fact, I got another credit card — The Care Card — which I used exclusively to pay for medical procedures that my parents needed. My parents promised to pay me back before the 0%-interest-for-one-year promotion expired, but they never did give me the money.

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In January 2011, my debt hit an all-time high: I had $90,000 in student loans (which included loans for graduate school; I earned my master’s degree in marketing and communications in August 2010) and $10,000 in credit card debt. I couldn’t believe it, and I didn’t know how I was going to get myself out of that financial mess.

For the next year, I tried to pay down my debt, but I didn’t feel like I was really getting anywhere. Then, in March 2012, I was set up on a blind date with David — the guy who’d eventually become my husband. After a few dates, I knew I was going to marry him. And while I was so nervous to talk to him about my debt, I sat him down and spilled the beans. I told him that I had a ton of debt, but that I was working on it. I also told him that I had recently read a LearnVest article about a woman who didn’t spend money on clothes or other non-essentials for a few months and that I was starting a similar kind of spending fast. I told him that I didn’t want to hold him — or us — back with my debt.

I put myself on a tough financial diet, spending money only on the absolute essentials, and I started aggressively paying down my debt. Within eight months, I paid off about $4,000 in credit card debt. David was impressed and soon after, he proposed. He helped me pay off the rest of my family-incurred debt, though I was against him taking it on at first.

David and I were proud of the progress that I’d made, and I felt like I was finally breaking free of the financial hold that my parents had on me.

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