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Do You Engage in Pro-Debt Behaviors?

image credit: Mandy_Jansen Flickr Stream


Yesterday my ex-husband burst through my front door without knocking. “I need your help!” he gasped.

I’m thinking someone in his family is very sick or dying, or maybe he wrecked his car. But of course, if you’ve read some of my background, you know better. No, the “emergency” was that his debit card was declined at a gas station near my house. He’d left his driver’s license with the cashier while he went off in search of someone (AKA me) to rescue him.

My instinct was to laugh in his face and send him on his way. But then my son came out of his room and said, “Oh no, Dad! What’s wrong with your debit card?” While I may have lots of rage where my ex is concerned, I’m not willing to let him look like a dumbass in front of Jayden. (I figure Jayden will see that for himself when he’s older.) So I handed over my debit card to pay for his stupid gas, cursed him inside my head, and tried to move on with my day.

After he returned my card, I couldn’t let it go. Why hasn’t he learned how to manage money at 33 years old? Why am I still stuck taking care of his mistakes, 2 1/2 years after our divorce? How do I get involved in these situations in the first place?

Pro-Debt Habits Die Hard

It’s obvious that my ex-husband is still deeply entrenched in a pro-debt mindset. His bank account is in the red (not that he knew his balance until I asked him), it’s 3 days until payday, and he has ZERO cash, savings, or even available credit for backup. He’ll end up either taking out a payday loan – his favorite thing – or letting his check account incur further overdraft fees until his paycheck is cut in half.

I could talk smack about him all day, easily. He’s a perfect example of how NOT to get out of debt. But I also have to acknowledge my own pro-debt behaviors in yesterday’s debacle. Did you catch them?

1. I was worried about what someone else would think.

Sure, it was my son in this case, and there is a noble purpose in shielding him from his dad’s stupidity. But when you’re overly concerned about what others think, sometimes you’ll spend money you don’t have or wouldn’t otherwise spend. There’s a fine line between worrying about others and trying to keep up with the Joneses.

2. I was way more generous than I should have been.

When I was adding to my mountain of debt, I was one of the best gift givers EVER. I bought expensive presents for baby showers, birthdays, and other assorted holidays, charging them all to one of my many credit cards. I was also the first to loan money to a friend or coworker, waving an indifferent hand when they tried to pay me back.

These days, I only buy gifts for close friends and family, and I’m not at all ashamed to say, “Sorry, but I can’t fit another event into my budget.” I’ve also learned to restrain myself when someone needs money – I’m not the only person in the world who can help. But, as I found out yesterday, I still have a hard time saying no when someone asks me directly.

3. I experienced post-purchase remorse.

When my ex-husband brought my debit card back to me, I spent the rest of the day pissed off at myself for intervening in what I know is a hopeless situation. Not too different from all the times I looked at a bunch of shopping bags and felt like throwing them all in the trash because they represented a serious error in judgment on my part. Then I would get all depressed and go spend more money to make myself feel better. Luckily that wasn’t how I coped this time around.

How to Become Anti-Debt

The first step in eradicating pro-debt behaviors is recognizing them. That means understanding your own motivations for spending money and how even small impulses or actions can result in debt. It took a LONG time for me to be able to see the patterns that led to my problems with overspending.

The next step is to stop the cycle. Use solution-focused finances to come up with a plan that is specific for your situation and will help you change your behavior. Then practice. A lot. Because it’s not easy to change habits, especially when they’re tied to emotions, and spending money is almost always an emotional experience in some way.

Third, you have to be realistic. If you’ve always enjoyed spending money, that probably isn’t going to change. I’ll be the first to admit that I still like that feeling of getting something new. However, I’ve learned that I can still like getting new things – I just have to be able to pay for them with cash first. I’m not trying to change who I am; I’m just trying to change the way my personality manifests itself through my spending.

Finally, forgive yourself when you make a mistake. Should I have handed my ex-husband $46 yesterday, knowing I’ll never see it again? Um, no. But at the time, it was the best choice given all the other variables and circumstances. And while I’m still kind of mad about it, I’m chalking it up as a learning experience. However, I did remind my ex of his mother’s phone number for the next time he’s in a bind (which will probably be next week).

What about you? Do you ever engage in pro-debt behaviors, or are you firmly anti-debt? How do you handle touchy situations involving money?

About Andrea Whitmer

Andrea is a freelance web developer and mom trying to maintain a sense of humor in an otherwise chaotic world. She blogs in hopes of helping others avoid the same mistakes she made in the past. Join in the discussion here on So Over This, or connect on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus. You can also subscribe to new posts via RSS so you never miss out!


  1. I have a spending problem. I HATE debt though and will try to never incur credit card debt. I am very anti debt.

  2. I still have some pro-debt behaviors… old habits die hard =\

  3. I try to focus on reducing debt. The goal here is to see the balance of debt go down every single month, never up.

  4. Sadly, I do engage in a lot of pro-debt behavior, primarily with my parents. I'll fill up their gas tanks when I'm home from the weekend (hence negating the money I just earned on my part time job), or buying groceries before I even buy my own. That's a hard habit to break, and one I am hoping to curve soon.

  5. DontDebt says:

    "Why hasn’t he learned how to manage money at 33 years old? Why am I still stuck taking care of his mistakes, 2 1/2 years after our divorce?"

    Oh. My. Wow. Andrea, if you change the 33 to 41 and the 2 1/2 to a 3, you'll have exactly the words I spoke this week about my Ex.

    He was responsible for one debt from our marriage. One. It's about 1/10th of the amount that I ended up with (long, long story). He was supposed to be paying $100 per month and missed two payments. Now MY wages are going to be garnished. I'm just finding out about this now because the law firm has been sending my notices to his new address.

    • I feel stupid complaining about my situation when yours is so much crappier! I've been on the edge of my seat waiting to see what's going to happen with that…. Hopefully they get it straightened out ASAP.

      • DontDebt says:

        I definitely didn't mean to try to one-up on you. At least my Ex is 20 minutes or so away and I rarely ever see him – only if he happens to be outside when I'm picking up or dropping off the Boy.

        Ex says that he's going to get the money and if any is taken out of my paycheck he'll pay me back. *sigh* Still not going to hold my breath.

  6. @prairieecothrif says:

    I think I have done all of those things in the past. I can definitely relate to worrying about what others think. This is something I have been working really hard to overcome in all aspects of my life. I am doing decent at it but it still creeps up every now and then. I can say I am much better for it though as I am now debt free and have a lot more confidence in myself.

  7. seedebtrun says:

    At some point, Andrea, you've got to cut him off. I am sure he has fallen on his face plenty of times, and will probably never learn, but it doesn't help anybody if you rescue him. Will he even pay you back for the gas?

    Jefferson @ SeeDebtRun

    • I agree with you 100%. He'd probably pay me back for the gas, but then it would just cause him to overdraft again, and I'd feel like crap for taking his money knowing it would just perpetuate the cycle. So I won't even bother trying to collect. I'm a firm believer that ex-spouses should be required to live at least one state away from each other – having him five minutes down the road doesn't really help with boundaries.

  8. @FrugalBeautiful says:

    Blarg… honestly, sometimes our bad debt behavior isn't what we do to ourselves, but what we allow others to do to us. I know I had an ex boyfriend who was constantly in trouble…at 18 I didn't realize that the trouble was his fault. The cops don't pick on you if you don't do illegal things to your car (deep window tints, etc) and you have the money to make the car payment if you're not getting tickets and fix-its for the stupid modifications! *facepalm* I bailed him out too many times!

  9. I'm in the generosity category. There are times I've gone overboard buying birthday presents for friends' kids, or picking up the tab for a meal. But if I didn't have it I didn't spend it. I don't have a problem saying no simply because I don't give a crap about what others think. I know there are times when I have to come first, even those times seem to be pretty rare but mostly with my time and energy as opposed to money.

    I think a lot of it is a confidence issue.

  10. I still indulge in some pro-debt behaviour, but I'm aware of it and am trying hard to stop…. I think.

  11. I wont judge anybody, but it seems to me that you and your ex need to set up some boundaries. I don't doubt he was in a bind. But I also don't doubt if he knew he could play the son card. Not saying this is true. I wouldn't be surprised to see him again in a situation 6 months from now.

    • Oh, I completely agree. It's a messed up situation since we both live in the same small town. Makes it difficult to completely separate our lives, even after this much time. But he knows I won't start a fight with him in front of our son, and he definitely uses that to his advantage.

  12. Great post! I notice myself wanting to buy expensive gifts, or shrugging off paying for meals sometimes. Its a hard habit to break!

  13. I suggest going to cash-only. Keep 4 $5 bills in a drawer and next time your ex has an "emergency" hand him a five. It'll put enough gas in his car to get home or to someone else's house. Don't let him know you have 4 $5s.

  14. I'd like to think that I don't engage in pro debt behaviors. While I do sometimes take on debt that I pay off quickly it has a reason behind it and gets me further financially ahead. As far as touchy situations I just try to explain myself and hope it helps. If people get mad I try to change the subject or leave the room/area.

  15. You gave this irresponsible guy your debit card!!! I know your son was there, but he is learning that you let yourself be taken advantageo by his father. Not a behaviour you want your son to learn

  16. What a great post! I have a lot of pro-debt behaviors that are taking a long time to die. I would've done the same thing in your position in the situation with your ex.

  17. I have a lot of pro-debt behaviors, we obviously discuss these regularly, and I am trying to change them. Thanks for putting yourself out there.

  18. I have to say, as much as I hate giving my family help (aka money) for their financial problems, I still do it. For the most part I have been able to say no to the pro-debt behaviors, but when they ask me outright – or if it's a true emergency, I have a hard time saying no. Like you advise, it's all about stopping the cycle and practicing it. Which I need to do more of.

  19. Teinegurl says:

    ugh im not innocent either ! i went to get safety check on my car forgetting i had an automatic deducation taken out of my account. I had to call my mom to borrow $40.00 to cover the cost and i still didn't have enough!! i had a discrepancy with the cost and finally had to write a check. whew! luckily no bank fees.

    but my question is : what if you didn't have the money to lend to your ex?? You should have told him sorry but i don't have the money (even if you really do) . If someone keeps asking for money and you keep telling me them sorry i don't have the money eventually they'll stop asking realizing their personal ATM is closed and go look for the next person.

  20. What a tough situation, living in the same small town as your ex! Maybe establishing boundaries now, after his emergency, can help change his automatic response to turn to you for help bailing him out? Or maybe not…exes can be pretty dumb 😉

  21. bthappyhomeowner says:

    Ugh…I'm so sorry that you have to deal with this. Any way you slice it, it's a stressful situation given the involvement of a child.

    I used to be the queen of elaborate gifts–until I realized that I was buying things in hopes of earning someone's affections, approval, etc. Let's just say that now I'm firmly anti-debt and it has ruffled some feathers. But at the end of the day, it makes me a stronger woman and a force to be reckoned with 🙂

  22. I still engage in pro-debt behaviours… as for your ex, I totally get it. I tried to shelter my kids for a long time. I no longer have to – funniest thing ever was walking through Costco recently trying to calm my 15 YO down as he's texting his dad and turning to me in exasperation at how flakey his dad is!

  23. stephhalligan says:

    When I graduated from college in 2009, I owed thousands of dollars in students loans and credit card debt, and was living off a measly paycheck month to month. Feeling overwhelmed as to how I would ever pay off my debt, continue to eat and have a roof over my head, I began to examine every aspect of my personal finances and my pro-debt behaviors. I am firmly anti-debt, and have managed to drastically decrease my debt while still living comfortably on my own over the last few years.

    Although your own situation with your ex is frustrating, you have managed to pinpoint what needs to be done on your end and can use this as motivation to teach your son smart money habits (so you can avoid filling his gas tank at 30 years old!).

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