Helen Costa – Marketing Coordinator at Stnce – talks about how protecting your finances is important, no matter what happens.
Stnce is a platform that believes confidence is the key to taking financial ownership. This is part of a new series we call, “Not at the Table!” where we ask people to address the elephant in the room – the taboos of personal finance.
It was kind of an epiphany. Interestingly enough, there wasn’t a pivotal fallout or moment that made me realize things weren’t going get better. It was a simple comment. We had just finished dinner and he suggested that it wasn’t fair he had to wash the dishes after I cooked the meal. I remember very calmly realizing that the person in front of me – whom I had been in a relationship with for twelve years – had a very distorted view of what was going on. There was something inside of me that clicked. As I sat in the big armchair in the apartment we shared, I knew that it was over. I had had enough. I calmly closed my laptop, looked him in the eyes, and said, “We are done. I’d like you to move out.”
Though I loved him and had always thought it was just a rough patch, that night my brain took over. I told him, “You don’t have to go right now but I want you to find a place. I know that getting an apartment takes time and money, so I’ll help you with first and last. But you have to leave. And you have until the end of April.” For the first time, I felt a sense of freedom. Saying what I had internalized felt cathartic. Even now, I can’t describe the sense of relief that came from knowing what I had to do and acting upon it.
A lot of people ask me why I put up with what I did for so long, but I just needed to get there on my own. As they say, in hindsight, the journey is always clearer.
When I met him, he was very responsible, gainfully employed, and ambitious. We hit every milestone couples usually go through. We moved in together, got engaged, and married soon after that. Then at the seven-year mark, he started to become more and more unpredictable. The first time he raised a red flag, he applied for a credit card at Best Buy. I knew it had a very high interest rate but didn’t question it further because we had always kept our finances separate, including the bills and rent. So, if he wanted to go out and spend several hundred dollars on something, I would see that as his money and none of my business. As long as the hydro and mortgage were getting paid, I was happy. At this point, we had just moved into a new house and things were financially tight. But I trusted him to make sound financial decisions, so I let things go. Unbeknownst to me, he had begun to escalate and acquire more and more on the card.
It was then, in our financial advisor’s office, that I found out he had six or seven thousand dollars on a credit card.
We soon realized that living in suburbia was not for us. So, we sold the house and moved back to Toronto. The plan was to rent an apartment for a year, save a decent amount of money, and buy a place in the city somewhere. We had a little extra money to pay off our debt from the sale, so it felt like the start of something new. For a year, I saved, and saved, and saved. And when I thought we had enough to buy something decent, I made an appointment at the bank for us. It was then, in our financial advisor’s office, that I found out he had six or seven thousand dollars on a credit card. To which he replied, well, we went on holiday. That day, we didn’t apply for a mortgage. That was the second red flag.
Half a year later, he was let go from his job. I figured these things happen and hoped that he could comfortably find something new as he had a two-month severance package. The time passed quickly, and though nothing had come of his search, I remained supportive and encouraged him to keep looking. I even suggested he go back to school for law through an EI program called Second Careers. The idea was well received, and he enjoyed the change except, he would still spend money as if he was still working on Bay Street. It didn’t matter to him that he was a student or in an entry-level position. He felt comfortable living a certain lifestyle and had always brought in more money between the two of us in the past. Now, on top of all these drastic changes, our circle of friends, including me, were now earning more money. Feeling obliged to keep up, he would secretly apply for more credit – when confronted about his spending, he always lied.
Then our relationship took a turn. Devastatingly, he experienced mental health issues and couldn’t continue to work. I didn’t know what to think. So much was going on and so many things had piled up – there was so much we needed to talk about but couldn’t because the situation just kept getting worse. I handled it with as much patience as possible, but I was losing hope.
Rather than go back to work, he decided that the stress of working in a law office was too overwhelming and resigned. Then, he applied for disability benefits and we found out that as his spouse, I would have to exhaust my savings first. I felt stuck. That was the line for me. As much as I loved him and wanted him to get better, I knew I had to stay afloat. It’s like they say on aircrafts before you take off, make sure you’ve got oxygen flow before you help others. Of course, I still felt guilty. But I would always focus on what we could do and how we could fix things.
Though they’re financially dragging you down, you want to excuse them and look at the other side of the coin. You don’t want to be the reason why they end up in a dire situation.
As his actions escalated, so did my efforts to combat them. We went to couples counselling and he contacted a debt consolidator. But still, he continued to borrow money from his parents and friends with no intention of paying them back. He quit paying his half of the rent and bills which led us to being almost evicted. He had also fraudulently applied for credit, lied about his finances for years, and stolen from me. Throughout it all, I had only one thing on my mind: I am a financially responsible person and these things shouldn’t be happening to me.
It’s hard to come to terms and admit to yourself that you want to leave. Though they’re financially dragging you down, you want to excuse them and look at the other side of the coin. You don’t want to be the reason why they end up in a dire situation. The phrase, “I just can’t do that to them,” circles your head and you feel like you need to exhaust all possibilities before you should consider the end. These thoughts weighed me down, but I knew that I didn’t want to be financially responsible for his actions. I refused to live paycheque to paycheque and sacrifice my investments. One of us had to be okay. Still, I was willing to stand by his side. I set up an allowance structure, so he wouldn’t be tempted to spend or splurge his earnings immediately. And I try to reason with his logic, even if there wasn’t much.
After the moment of realization happened for me (the epiphany), everything that followed seemed easy in comparison. I went to a lawyer and drafted a separation agreement that protected my investments and income until the divorce was final which was quick and uncontested as we had no shared assets. When we officially parted ways, we owed nothing to each other. I could keep all my savings and accounts, while he still had to pay off his debt. We simply needed to move on. And I did.
As told to Cara Lau exclusively for Stnce. Illustration by Yana Vorontsov. We make taking financial ownership approachable and relatable. Interview has been condensed and edited. *Name has been changed by request.