Growing up, my family nickname was ‘the golden child.’ I found this out when I was sixteen-years-old.
My brother and sister thought I had it made. As ‘the golden child,’ I got good grades and spent free time alone in my room reading and writing. I rarely got in trouble, was part of student council, and earned scholarships to help pay for college. My siblings assumed I would graduate from a great college, land an awesome dream job making bank, and easily transition into a responsible adult.
My siblings could not have been any more wrong though. This ‘golden child’ certainly did not have it made.
Today, I am burdened with over $100,000 in student loan debt — an amount accumulated from my bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees — and several thousands of dollars in credit card debt. I fight daily battles against my diagnosed depression and anxiety, which primarily stem from insatiable worry associated with an uncertain financial future. I work really hard, but each month I just barely make ends meet. I’m 27 and have no real savings other than my 401k. Money is something that is so unequivocally tied to success, stability, and adulthood. So when you feel like you’re drowning in debt, it’s nearly impossible to feel like an adult.
Since graduating college, I’ve kept these problems to myself. I didn’t want to admit to anyone that my life wasn’t turning out like everyone expected when I was ‘the golden child.’ When I was in my early 20s, I figured I had time to take control of my finances and my debt. I thought I would finish grad school, find a better paying job, and finally be in a position to start saving money. But that time went by quickly and now I’m in my late 20s still in the same situation.
Recently I realized I am at a point in my life where buying a home is no longer just a premature pipe dream, but a logical thing to do. I am a point in my life where friends and acquaintances are having babies. I am at a point in my life where I thought I would be able to afford these things, too, but I won’t be able to for a very long time. I realized I was at a point in my life where I needed help.
I realized I needed to start saving money, but before I could do so I had a lot of debt to get rid of.
This is when I decided to write my parents a letter telling them about my financial troubles.
In a ten page letter, I told them everything — the unpaid student loans, the credit card debt, the fact I didn’t have enough money to pay beyond the minimum payment for my credit card bill each month, the anxiety I had about paying all these things off, my struggle with depression from feeling like a failure, my fear of never becoming an adult. Everything.
An hour after sending the email, I received a text from my father asking him to call me when I got home from work. No “I love you” tacked on the end. No words of reassurance. Nothing to hint at how he felt about my email. I didn’t know what to think.
As I dialed the phone later, I felt like vomiting. My hands twitched in anticipation. My heart beat hard against the inside of my chest. I wanted to hang up, but there were no viable excuses. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. Growing up ‘the golden child,’ I never thought I would.
My parents, unfortunately, were not in a position to help me. Other than offering up some pretty basic life advice like trying to renegotiate my credit card payments, my parents weren’t sure what else I could do.
However, something really unexpected happened. They offered up something completely unlike them—personal stories. For the first time ever my parents actually confided in me about their own financial struggles. And for the first time ever I realized that my parents actually had financial struggles.
My parents told me they would have never been able to buy their first home if my grandmother hadn’t given them the down payment as a gift. They told me they lived paycheck to paycheck at my age. They told me they wished they could help me, but they still have to manage their money because money is a constant worry though the entirety of adulthood.
The discussion brought me and my parents closer together. I could be honest now. In the past, I would talk about being stressed, but never told them about what.
With this giant weight lifted off my chest, I started openly talking about my finances with my boyfriend and friends. To my surprise, I found out most were in the same situation as me — even some of my girlfriends who seemed to have it made.
This enabled me to shed some jealousy I’d been harboring due to how I was perceiving their situation. Turns out they were all putting on the same exact show I was.
Knowing that the financial predicament I am in is normal for a 27 year old has made things so much easier for me. Of course coming up with the cash is still a struggle, but knowing that my parents were in my place once and were able to have everything they did makes me feel like I will rise above this.
If you are like me, former golden child or not, don’t be afraid to let others know you’re struggling and pretend you’re doing better than you really are. You never know who could help you – monetarily, mentally, or both. For years I was afraid to ask my parents for help, but now I can chalk it up to be the smartest thing I ever did.