Ask Audrey: 'I uncovered my girlfriend's secret $19,000 credit card bill'

Audrey Griffen
Contributor

Audrey is a mother to a 15-year-old with another on the way. She probably should have taken into account who she was marrying (Osher Günsberg) much earlier, as she’s far more comfortable behind the camera as a freelance hair and makeup artist, than a TV host’s wife who doesn’t know how to work her angles for any on-camera duties.

Audrey loves to cook, decorate cakes, gardening, DIY and is very handy with a flat-pack, few of which you would pay her to do for you, but she’d happily give it a shot for free.

Our columnist Audrey Griffen dishes out her best advice. Photo: Supplied

Dear Audrey,

My girlfriend and I live together and we are planning to get engaged within the next year. Recently, I was going through the mail and accidentally opened an envelope that was addressed to her.

It was a credit card statement – she has just over $19,000 owing on a Visa card I had no idea existed.

Not knowing how to bring it up with her, I panicked and threw out the statement.

Now, I'm not sure what to do. The thought of that much debt – especially credit card debt – makes me sick and anxious. The concealment also stresses me out and makes me wonder what else she might be hiding from me, or worse.

At the same time, I am tempted to offer to use the money I've been saving for an engagement ring, to pay down the amount owed on the card.

What should I do? How should I manage this disaster?

This man needs advice from Audrey after finding his girlfriend's credit card bill. Photo: Getty Images

AUDREY’S ANSWER:

Dear future fiancé,

It’s a bit of a pickle that you find yourself in, but one that should be fairly simple to rectify… as long as you’re comfortable coming clean yourself.

You sound like a very caring and sensible boyfriend, and if you approach your girlfriend with that sentiment in your heart, I’m sure she’ll be more comfortable in explaining what is going on.

Something to remember about debt, especially credit card debt, is that it can be shameful for the person who owns it. Nobody wants to admit that they’ve lost control of their finances, or that perhaps they’ve been irresponsible in their youth.

She may have even contracted an STD (Sexually Transmitted Debt) from a previous partner, and is too scared to admit that to you - the person she wants to build a future with.

Another reason why some of us have difficulty with credit cards is because the spending is a crutch for other issues in our life, just like alcohol or gambling, it can very easily become a problem when at first it felt like the solution. Whatever the reason, it’s a deep hole to climb out of.

From my personal experience with credit cards, the temptation and ease with which you can use them to immediately purchase what you want, then and there, is incredibly hard to resist.

My folks had always been able to use their credit cards to their advantage, paying little to no interest by always paying off the balance each month, and they explained all of this to me leading into adulthood. I nodded my head in understanding but once it came to reality, I found my grasp on my personal debt to be slipping.

It got worse once my little girl was born, as I wasn’t working as much in her younger years but that didn’t mean that the bills go away or groceries etc don’t need to be bought.

Whenever the bank sent through a limit increase offer, I’d justify the increase by telling myself “That’d be handy in an emergency”, and signed off on it. It didn’t take long before I lost a handle on it (to the tune of $10K) and was working to keep my head above the debt, but never really making much of an impact on it.

What helped me in the end, after years of juggling, was to get a personal loan and just plug away at the payments, change my bank account to a debit account so I could still buy things online but only with the cash I had in there, and cut that credit card up. It took five years but the weight off my shoulders and the fact that I finally undid my youthful financial folly myself was such a relief and gave me a sense of achievement too.

Back to you and your future fiancé.

This is a great opportunity to grow as a couple. Financial discussions can cause so many issues in relationships, so this is a great time to discuss both of your values and priorities when it comes to money.

Have that honest chat with her. Admit that you accidentally opened her mail and that it was information that came to you that way, and not because you don’t trust her.

Admit that you’re worried for her, that you can only imagine how much stress it must cause her, and that you’re there to support her in whatever way you can.

Give her the space and opportunity to explain how she got to where she is financially and a safe space to tell you why she hadn’t revealed this to you earlier.

Do your very best not to dwell on the fact that she hasn’t told you, it won’t help you both if that’s your focus, and you may not be able to hear her explanations without a filter of distrust if you do.

If you find after your chat that it brings up more questions, that you’re still feeling a sense of unease in the relationship, then that’s a very different open and honest conversation to be had.

I truly feel like you would have had other signs of untrustworthiness in the past if she was that kind of person, and that perhaps judging too quickly in this instance could have a negative impact on what sounds like a loving relationship.

As for whether you should offer to help her pay it off, that’s something the both of you need to decide on. There’s more options to explore and it really depends on what you’re both comfortable with. She may be trying to do this independently, but knowing how far you’re willing to go to support her can only be a good thing.

Good luck to you both, I hope this experience helps you to grow stronger as a couple and as individuals.

Audrey x

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