Updated on 04.27.11

Personal Finance and Self-Worth

Trent Hamm

Kelly wrote in with a very interesting story. Even though she gave me permission to publish the full thing, I edited it quite a bit for some privacy reasons that will be obvious when you read the story.

While I was married, I was really depressed. I had more money, but I spent most of the time hating myself. I thought that I was worthless because [my husband] told me I was all the time. I wasn’t “allowed” to have friends.

The only things I had that would make me feel better for a little bit were expensive things like going to the spa. [My husband] made plenty of money and never really complained about the bills.

[After a long series of rather scary events], [m]y sisters had an intervention. They bought me a plane ticket and flew me to Tampa to live with them for a while.

I’ve rebuilt my life here. I spend time with my sisters who are just wonderful and really supportive. I started working at [one of her sisters]’ office as an administrative assistant. I’m doing what I want, when I want.

I don’t feel worthless anymore. I don’t feel like I need to spend money to be happy any more.

It was that last paragraph that really hooked me.

I don’t feel worthless anymore. I don’t feel like I need to spend money to be happy any more.

I know exactly what she means.

The worst overspending period in my life occurred in the year between my wife discovering she was pregnant with our first child and our financial bottom.

In a lot of ways, that was a very happy time. On the other hand, I spent pretty much every day of that period realizing how I was failing at becoming the father I wanted to be.

I had always promised myself that I would be a father that would always be around for every important moment for my children. Yet I found myself in a job that involved travel several times a year, causing me to miss big moments with my children, and it also essentially required me to work on weekends (as an emergency fixer), which also caused me to miss a lot of moments. I was failing.

I had always promised myself that I would raise my children in a nice home where they’d have plenty of space to play and engage in their projects. Yet we lived in a tiny apartment and had no real prospects of leaving that situation in the near future.

I had always promised myself that I would turn my writing into something successful. Yet I had only had the faintest bites on anything I had ever written and was finding myself with less and less time to write.

I had a wonderful wife and a beautiful child, but I still viewed myself as being worthless. I was failing in the areas I promised myself I would never fail in.

So I spent money, often with reckless abandon. I didn’t like who I was or where my life was at that time, so I bought stuff. Lots of stuff. Mountains of video games, DVDs, CDs, and countless other items. I ate at expensive restaurants, even for breakfasts and lunches by myself.

When I finally hit my financial bottom, I made several financial decisions out of sheer panic in order to get some grip on my financial situation. Once I was through the initial crisis and I really realized that I had succeeded and how much impact my own choices had on my finances, I felt good. I felt proud that I was able to take control of this part of my life.

From there, spending less became something of a self-fulfilling loop. The less I spent, the more confident I felt in my own self and my ability to turn things around. As my self-worth grew, it became easier to spend less because I didn’t need to purchase things to feel good about my situation any more.

Your stuff doesn’t define you. It won’t fill the holes you feel in your life. It won’t solve the problems you face. It just makes you feel good for a little while, but then you’re back to where you started (and often in a slightly worse spot).

Instead, your actions define you. If you choose to stand up for yourself and for your dreams, you become the type of person that defines their own future. It’s up to you to make that choice. No one else reaps the rewards from making that choice, and there’s no one else to blame when you don’t.

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  1. Johanna says:

    So, because you used to live in an apartment, you know exactly what it’s like to be in an abusive relationship? As someone who’s been in both situations myself, I hope you believe me when I say that no, you really don’t.

  2. Johanna says:

    And, did you really have to go out on the “it’s all your fault you’re in the situation you’re in” note in a post inspired by a woman who survived an abusive marriage? Seriously?

    Trent, I know that we don’t see eye to eye on everything, and I get snarky about that sometimes. But I don’t think I’ve ever felt as genuinely angry about one of your posts as I do about this one. Please, put some more thought into how it comes across when you say stuff like this.

  3. AnneKD says:

    Wow, this is a disappointing post. Yes, spending money may have been why Kelly felt better at times during a destructive horrible relationship. Her realization is a good one and a great place to start. But Trent, your story and hers are very different. There are many ways to work with her story that would help more people. She’s rebuilding her life, on a different path than yours- reading about that different path would be useful to people who are abruptly on their own and dealing with the aftermath of psychological, emotional and physical damage from someone who was supposed to cherish them.

  4. Joanna says:

    I’m going to have to stick up for Trent here. I don’t think he was comparing his “story” to hers at all, merely comparing his “aha moment” to her “aha moment”. I gotta say, clearly perception is going to be very different for differnt people b/c I had to re-read several times to get even remotely close to how the other commenters took the post. And I still do not see Trent placing blame for someone being abused. He’s simply pointing out that the choices we make will define our reality. This is no less true for abuse victims than it is for anyone else. End of the day, the OP had to get herself out of the situation. Her sisters helped get her there, but it was her choice that saved her.

    This post does not seem negative to me at all. It’s consistent with what Trent says day in & day out. The only thing disappointing in it for me is the repetitiveness. But clearly different strokes for different folks.

  5. Adam P says:

    Kelly felt worthless because her husband abused her, and spending money on spa treatments was her only way to bring happiness once in a while.

    Trent felt worthless because he was working many hours instead of being home with his family and spent money on video games to make himself feel better about it.

    There is some analogy here, but it is a bit poor to write that you know “exactly” how an abused person feels when you’ve never been abused. I know that you probably meant you know what it’s like to feel worthless (as opposed to abused), and I don’t doubt that at all. Just, your situation was different than hers here and comparing the two things comes off poorly on you.

    Were this my blog, I would have started out “While I cannot know what you went through, I too felt worthless when I was mired in debt and not spending time with my family…” rather than saying “I know exactly how you feel”.

    But it’s your blog, not mine.

  6. Johanna says:

    @Joanna: “End of the day, the OP had to get herself out of the situation. Her sisters helped get her there, but it was her choice that saved her.”

    That’s not the impression I get from reading Kelly’s story. In her own words:

    “[m]y sisters had an intervention. They bought me a plane ticket and flew me to Tampa to live with them for a while.”

    There’s not a single “I” statement there. I guess you could saying that buying the plane ticket was “helping” and actually getting on the plane was her “own choice,” but that’s an awful lot of helping.

    On blame: No, he wasn’t specifically talking about Kelly in the last paragraph. But the phrase “there’s no one else to blame” doesn’t belong anywhere in a post about domestic abuse, unless it’s in the context of “there’s no one else to blame for the abuse but the abuser.”

  7. valleycat1 says:

    I’m in the camp that thinks Trent was only speaking about spending money to make yourself feel better when he commiserated, and that is the only portion of her story he’s spinning off of. He would have been better off just using that one final quote of hers instead of her entire story!

    Seems to me that Trent’s & Kelly’s stories demonstrate coming to a similar point in maturity from opposite directions:

    She got out of an abusive situation and came to feel good enough about herself that she doesn’t need to get a shopping fix.

    Trent began to come to grips with his spending money “with reckless abandon” – although he still has to fight the urge – and as his finances improved, he feels better about himself and doesn’t need to get a shopping fix.

    Kudos to both of them for getting their lives on track, by whatever method.

  8. Laura in Seattle says:

    #7 valleycat: Indeed! I also got the impression that he was comparing the two crossover points, not the events that preceded them. Trent’s post didn’t come across to me as trying to point any fingers or being psychoanalytical in any regard to the abusive marriage.

  9. marta says:

    I don’t think Trent meant harm but I have to agree he should have been more careful. There was no need to post Kelly’s entire story if he was only going to focus on that sentence.

    Let’s face it, using a domestic abuse story as a starting point to yet another post about his financial “meltdown” story, while stating he knows exactly what the abuse victim felt… that is clumsy at best. And yes, the last paragraph sounds pretty bad when applied to the original story.

  10. Joanna says:

    But he never said he knew how an abuse victim felt. He said he knew exactly how it felt to feel worthless before and to have spent money to feel better in that situation and to now feel that he can be happy without spending money. He *explicitly* states that he’s referring to the last paragraph only.

    “It was that last paragraph that really hooked me.

    I don’t feel worthless anymore. I don’t feel like I need to spend money to be happy any more.

    I know exactly what she means.”

    This seems to me to be a case of finding what you’re looking for. If your focus is on negativity & how Trent’s screwed up his latest article, you will never fail to find negativity & yet another way that Trent has screwed up. (But let’s face it guys, that’s as repetitive as talks about making your own laundry detergent.)

    I also disagree completely with Johanna’s statement about the sisters doing an awful lot of helping. And, I’m not going to lie, I find it somewhat offensive to the OP. You want to take away her power to choose for herself which she exercised and very positively improved her life for having done so. Though the sisters did offer help, that’s what people who love you do. I can’t even fathom not offering to help my sister out of that situation in the exact same way. And it absoultely is a personal choice on the part of the OP. There are TONS of abuse victims that stay in the situation despite loved ones having gone MUCH further than just buying a plane ticket & offering a place to live. I don’t discount her sisters for the help they’ve given her; they should be commended. BUT the OP should be very proud of her undoubtedly difficult decision to break free of this relationship & absolutely deserves the credit for having chosen to leave. She sounds like she’s arriving at a place where she can love herself, be proud of her actions and rebuild the confidence that her ex stole from her and kudos to her for that. She has accomplished what for so many is impossible no matter the help offered.

  11. Other Jonathan says:

    It seems Johanna comes to this site every day just to get pissed off and leave a “snarky” post criticizing Trent and his opinions, point of view, and decisions. Why? We’ll never know…

    Personally I get a lot more enjoyment out of this blog when the comments aren’t ripping apart the positive messages in it.

  12. Gretchen says:

    I don’t get the impression Kelly really took the bull by the horns, as it were. Regardless, it’s a great thing she’s moved on.

    Meanwhile, I don’t really see the point in posting Kelly’s story at all. You could have done the same story without any “examples.”

  13. Riki says:


    I can see where Trent is coming from — he’s comparing a-ha moment to a-ha moment. Kelly’s letter was the inspiration for this post and I don’t think (or perhaps I hope it’s so) that Trent meant to draw parallels between his challenges and Kelly’s challenges.

    But honestly, as I was reading for the first time, I got to the part where Trent said “I know exactly what she means” and I knew the rest of the post wasn’t going to be pretty. For somebody who claims to be passionate about writing, Trent continuously produces posts that are clunky and poorly executed. Are the ideas good? Sure. But man alive, the sides of Trent we see are narrow and . . . well . . . uninteresting. Time and time again I read a post that has some interesting points buried in faulty analogies and explained with baffling examples.

    Starting a post about a woman in an abusive relationship and then continuing to talk about your own challenges with a tiny apartment and working a lot? Come on, Trent, surely you could predict the problems with that approach?

  14. EngineerMom says:

    @Joanna – that was exactly how I read it, too – Trent comparing the “aha” moments. Yes, the preceding stories were very different. No, Trent had not experienced abuse. That doesn’t negate the comparison of realizing the pattern of feeling worthless and spending money to compensate.

    I also felt angry at the previous comments that negated the OP’s power at choosing to accept the plane tickets and offer of a place to live. It takes a LOT of guts to walk away from an abuser. Abusers work very hard to degrade their victims to the point where even if they could leave, they won’t because they don’t think they can or are worth it. The OP managed to break free of that, and deserves praise, not more victimization.

  15. TeacHer says:

    I don’t really understand why people become…I’m not sure what the word is….unnecessarily aggressive, I guess…. when it comes to Trent’s posts. I don’t think any reasonable person would read this post and get from it that Trent is comparing his experiences to those of an abuse victim. He was making a point about the relationship between the way we feel about ourselves and our spending habits. Kelly was spending too much because she was being emotionally abused. Trent was spending too much because he was feeling inferior as a father. Spending is motivated by feelings.

    A simple point that for some reason has gotten totally distorted for reasons that I just don’t understand.

  16. Amanda says:

    It’s all ridiculous.

  17. con says:

    I just want to bring up a few points as I see them regarding Trent’s posts and his answers to his “mailbag.” Just my opinion, for whatever it’s worth.

    Riki said, “Time and time again I read a post that has some interesting points buried in faulty analogies and explained with baffling examples.”

    I think Riki stated this very well and am in complete agreement with her.

    Another thing I took issue with yesterday was when an elderly woman was asking about how to make a will. She stated that she had no family in the area and didn’t know any lawyers there. Part of Trent’s reply was, “if you have a local lawyer you trust, I recommend using them.”

    I am not trying to blast Tent. It is his blog, of course. But…if he is using this blog as a profession, which he has said he is, I think it would serve him well to really, really read his questions and proofread his answers back to see that they make sense. This has happened over and over again, as others have pointed out.

    That said, I do enjoy what he writes occasionally, but just get frustrated reading it at times. This is constructive criticism. Maybe, Trent, you are distracted or something else, but paying attention to simple details shows you care about your readers.

  18. Tracy says:

    Taking the letter of someone who got out of an an abusive relationship and trying to compare it to ‘i know exactly how I feel’ – this whole post not only lacks empathy, it feels exploitive and immature and yes, reading it I am very, very angry at Trent.

  19. Julie says:


    I think you stated it perfectly. People find what they are looking for in Trent’s post. It seems like I rarely read his posts in the same negative light as a few other regular commenters. When I read their comments I usually think, “Where did they come up with this?” I have been amazed at how people impose their own negativity on Trent….assuming he must be as negative or judgemental as they are.

  20. Amy says:

    This blog has the most negative commentators I have ever seen. Honestly people, do you really think Trent sat there and said I think I’ll write a post comparing myself to an abused woman? No! He was using the letter to make a point that money and financial choices often represent much more than the items being purchased. The negative comments post after post get old. If you don’t like what Trent has to say then stop reading his blog or start your own.

  21. Nicole says:

    Joanna and Julie, I could not agree with you more.

    I would not like to be thought of as a cheerleader for any blogger, but honestly, I’m often mystified. Some of you people are way too sensitive or, I think, beating on Trent out of habit. You have a choice about that, too.

  22. A Sumner says:

    Miss Kelly spoke about feeling worthless and using money as a temporary fix. Trent spoke about feeling worthless and using money as a temporary fix. They both had to take care of the underlying problems. That’s about as far as the parallels go and that seemed to me to be all he claimed. Sure, there’s the denial, the feelings of helplessness and the long process of getting yourself in a better place, albeit in very different areas, but he didn’t go there. Even now that I know where others see it, it seems like a stretch.

    We have to cut the ‘never been abused’ a bit of slack when they try to empathize, and I’m doing that with the last paragraph, the one about choices. If you’ve never been there, you can’t know that it’s not a matter of choosing to stay or of not choosing to leave. Leaving just isn’t an option (yet) in our minds. Consciously or not, our abusers think of us as their property and they’ve made sure that we believe it too. If I had a choice, it was to break the rules and risk whatever consequences he thought appropriate or to try to please him and hope he didn’t have a bad day. But breaking up with him because I made HIM mad? Nonsense! Today I know he was manipulative and deserved a boot to the head, but back then it was unthinkable.

    @Johanna I’m trying to understand your perspective about Miss Kelly getting out of the situation. I think your saying that she went from her husband controlling her life to just doing what her sisters tell her to do. Perhaps that’s true. Her new found autonomy was probably scary to her. If she went straight from her parents to her husband without ever being her own woman, it’s not an unreasonable intermediate step. If that’s the case, there is an important difference between the two: She GAVE control over to her sisters because she knows she can trust them to keep her best interest at heart. An abuser TAKES control for their own purposes without regard for their victim.

    To be honest, I’ve never heard of one former abuse victim begrudging another for how they got out. She was lucky to have a support system. My abuser isolated me from everyone he didn’t approve of he could, including the people I lived with. You seem critical of her for not getting out “the right way.”

  23. jak says:

    Nearly every post like these (someone seeking your ‘advice’) seems like just another step closer to you Trent realizing your goal of becoming a fiction writer.

    You do a much better job when you write from the heart….

  24. Kevin says:

    Wow. So many things wrong in the comments here.

    1. Trent clearly meant he was relating to her “aha” moment, not how it feels to be in an abusive relationship.

    2. How do you know Trent DOESN’T know what it feels like to be in an abusive relationship? Because he’s a man, and it’s abuse is only possible in one direction? Talk about being presumptuous. Maybe you should ASK before getting all high-and-mighty and offended.

    3. This exact same explanation can be applied to eating and obesity. But a fat person doesn’t have to have declared bankruptcy in order to be allowed to claim they know “exactly” how someone like Trent feels when they spend/eat to fill an emotional hole.

    Geez people, get some thicker skin.

  25. kjc says:

    Comparing one’s penchant for DVD’s, living in a cramped apartment, and being away from his family “several times a year” (the horror!!!) to domestic violence is insensitive.

  26. Kevin says:


    Who said anything about domestic violence?

    She said her husband made her feel worthless, and wouldn’t “allow” her to have friends.

    Certainly not Husband of the Year material, but I really think those of you making the “violence” leap are reading more into the story than was given.

    You simply ASSUMED this total stranger’s husband beats her, then proceeded directly to being offended that Trent would compare his situation to a situation you concocted out of thin air, and was not at all stated in Kelly’s letter.


  27. You know, if Trent actually doesn’t read the comments, I wouldn’t blame him. Seriously, the negative bent and the jumping to conclusions that seems to pervade comments in this and previous posts
    is ridiculous.

    Some of you are waaaayyy too easily offended. Get a thicker skin, will ya? The guy gives personal finance info that helps people…for free!!! Show a little love, people!

  28. Mary Kay says:

    I thought it was a well written article. After reading it a second time it made me think of my niece. She is not in an abusive relationship like Kelly was but she is unhappy with her life and as a result “medicates” herself with food. Following the status quo – a “good” job, a nice home, etc. is not making her happy. The overeating is taking a toll on her health (I am twice her age and in much better health). I’d like to help her, but I suspect that she needs to have her own “aha” moment. I am just trying to make her aware of alternatives.

  29. kjc says:

    Good point. I am reading into the story, in a way that I believe to be logical. But I guess we’ll never know, as Trent doesn’t comment.

    Consider: “[After a long series of rather scary events], [m]y sisters had an intervention. They bought me a plane ticket and flew me to Tampa to live with them for a while.”

    I wonder what those “scary events” were, and just how bad they were that it prompted this woman’s sisters to: a) fly to where she lived, b)conduct an intervention, and c) bring her to a different city.

    A serious question: what do YOU think was going on?

    This much I’m certain of: buying too many DVD’s and traveling a few times a year pales by comparison, whatever was happening.

  30. Similar situation says:

    @ Joe I agree 100%!

    Trent seems like a nice guy who is just trying to be helpful. If you don’t like what he has to say, you are certainly entitled to your opinion, but this blog is not at all offensive to me and I have a story that isn’t too different from Kelly’s.

  31. Courtney20 says:

    Ah ha moments and domestic abuse aside, it still didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me as a financial comparison. Trent was spending to compensate for feeling worthless, and he only stopped because he hit his financial bottom. There’s no indication from Kelly’s letter that they were even in debt, much less crippling debt, due to her spending.

    Trent had a financial revelation. Kelly had a personal revelation (regardless of how much her sisters helped to bring that about). The two don’t really connect for me.

  32. kristine says:

    Kevin, being kept isolated, and made to feel worthless (usually as a method of control) is abuse, wether it includes physical violence or not. The psychological scars carry long term damage. (Just watch the Great Santini, or A Boy’s Life, to get an idea.) Good for this woman to extricate herself-however it took place.

    That said, coming from an abusive first marriage, with fear of being someday killed, I can tell you that I cringed when I read that sentence. It was well meant but so very ill-considered. Clumsy.

    A step back and reread is recommended for posts that deal with such very serious issues. An ounce of detached reflection before hitting “post” is worth a pound of aliented readers.

  33. Johanna says:

    @Kevin: Of course it is possible that Trent has experienced an abusive relationship. I don’t know for sure that he hasn’t, and if he doesn’t want to share that information, it’s none of our business. However, the events in his own life that he describes IN THIS POST do NOT give him any insight into what it’s like to be in an abusive relationship. That’s the point.

    And you’re right that “violence” may not be an appropriate word to use here (although kjc’s right that those “rather scary events” may very well have involved violence), but “abuse” absolutely is. When one partner in a relationship tells the other “all the time” that she (or he) is worthless, that is abuse. Period, full stop, the end.

  34. Gretchen says:

    I wasn’t “allowed” to have friends.

    That’s an abusive relationship. How is that even debatable?

  35. Courtney20 says:

    Gretchen – I don’t think anyone is debating that Kelly was in an abusive relationship. I think some people are debating ‘domestic abuse’ as distinguished from ‘domestic violence’ (which would imply physical abuse or threats of physical abuse).

  36. Sheri says:

    What I wonder is what motivated the OP to send her story in to The Simple Dollar. Seems to me that if she thought Trent was an insensitive sort she would not have written to him in the first place. She must also have trusted his judgement, especially if she gave him permission to publish the entire letter–which he did not end up doing anyway. I have to admit, he does seem like a nice, caring person, even though it’s not always easy to tell via the Internet.

    I tend to doubt that the OP’s main reason for writing was to highlight the abuse she suffered, but to instead focus on the positive aftermath. That positive outcome is what Trent picked up on. This is a personal finance blog and so that is where the emphasis was placed. It doesn’t mean Trent is insensitive to what happened to the OP. But, as some others have said, negativity is where you find it–or look for it.

    Lest anyone think I myself am insensitive to this kind of thing I will divulge that many years ago I, too, escaped an abusive (physical) relationship. Yet not once while I was reading this article did I feel that Trent was out of line with his response.

  37. Jonathan says:

    This post is a good example of something I see often with the comments on TSD. Trent often uses the emails he receives as a spring board for his articles (or for the Mailbag days). What I notice is that many commenters seem to expect Trent’s message to be a complete response to the original email that inspired the post. By now I’m sure you’ve all noticed, that just isn’t Trent’s style. Sometimes in the Mailbags he’ll respond to only one tiny bit of the question without answering the main question at all. Other times he’ll use an email as a springboard without really addressing the point of the email, while instead talking about whatever the email reminded him of in his own life.

    I an understand why some reads could get upset with this post, especially if they have had any experience with domestic abuse in their own lives. Maybe it would have been better to leave out the original email, but I do think that his response was helpful. Maybe the writer of the email will not receive the response as being helpful, but I truly believe that is how it was meant and if received correctly is helpful

  38. Kevin says:

    kristine: “Kevin, being kept isolated, and made to feel worthless (usually as a method of control) is abuse, wether it includes physical violence or not.”

    Gretchen: “That’s an abusive relationship. How is that even debatable?”

    As Courtney20 noted, nobody is denying that Kelly’s relationship is abusive. I took issue with kjc’s specific use of the phrase “domestic violence.” No violence was described, or even implied, in Kelly’s letter.

    It bothers me when people use phrases like “domestic abuse” and “domestic violence” interchangeably, as though they were the same thing.

    They absolutely are not. That’s all I meant to point out.

  39. Johanna says:

    @Kevin: I’m glad you agree that Kelly’s husband was abusive. With your “not exactly husband of the year” comment, I wondered if maybe you were trying to play down the severity of what he was doing.

    I’d be really interested in your answer to kjc’s question, though: What do you think the “rather scary events” were, if not violence or threats of violence?

  40. Amy says:

    The “rather scary events” could be lots of things. Maybe she was considering or attempted suicide. Maybe she mentioned killing her husband. Maybe she said she was planning to have a child to “fix” her marriage. Lots of options.

  41. Mary Scott says:

    Re #21 Joe- I’m with you. I like Trent’s articles for the personal finance aspect.So, he may have problems getting his point across. Doesn’t everyone at 1 time or another?
    Re#30 Johanna-I was once in a relationship that had”rather scary events” but there was no violence or threats of violence towards me. Don’t know whether it could be classified as an abusive relationship, but definitely something I needed to get away from,and I’m glad that is something Kelly could do, also

  42. Courtney20 says:

    @ Johanna – If I had to speculate on what might be a ‘scary event’ that didn’t involve domestic violence, I’d say Kelly might have tried to commit suicide. She says in the very first sentence that she was depressed.

  43. Kevin says:


    “What do you think the ‘rather scary events’ were”

    Who knows? It could be anything. Maybe he canceled her credit card. Maybe he went on a drinking binge and crashed their car. Maybe he was cheating on her.

    My point is, if there had been physical violence, she probably would have said so explicitly. She didn’t seem to have any reservations about revealing how controlling and emotionally abusive he is – why would she stop short of disclosing violence if it had indeed occurred?

    At any rate, with what we were given, violence can only be ASSUMED. And Trent is being condemned based on that wild-guess assumption. That just rubbed me the wrong way.

  44. marta says:

    Yes, violence can only be assumed, but the ABUSE is pretty much explicit. And that’s what people are calling Trent out on, regardless of whether or not there was any actual physical violence.

  45. Amy Saves says:

    So true! money doesn’t buy happiness. you have to be happy with yourself from within.

  46. kjc says:


    I don’t believe I “condemned” Trent for anything.

    I feel that drawing a rough equivalency between Kelly’s situation and Trent’s “financial meltdown” is contrived and insensitive.

    As for her not explicitly stating anything about violence, you DO realize that Trent heavily edited the sections of her email which dealt with (Trent’s description) the “scary things,” don’t you? The bracketed section represents an edit – see Trent’s introductory comment.

  47. Tracy says:


    Actually, whatever the events were, based on the way Trent edited the email, she DID say explicitly what they were – he put [After a long series of rather scary events] showing that he was paraphrasing.

    And whether there was domestic violence or not, that doesn’t change the fact that there definitely was abuse and that Trent using her email to springboard into his post the way he did was appalling and insensitive. He’s not being condemned based on misreadings, but on actions.

  48. elyn says:

    Trent said:

    “It was that last paragraph that really hooked me.

    ‘I don’t feel worthless anymore. I don’t feel like I need to spend money to be happy any more.’

    I know exactly what she means.”

    I read this as: Trent knows what that last paragraph means: that she doesn’t feel like she needs to spend money to be happy anymore. There is no mention of knowing how she feels, just what she means in that sentence.

    I also know exactly what it means to no longer spend money to try to be happy. I know how it feels to spend money because you feel worthless, as well. I am fascinated by how money habits and emotional states are intertwined. In my case, the worthlessness made me spend unconsciously. This was more to fill the worthless hole than to try define myself or build up any sort of status. There was also an element of “I’m too much of a mess to understand this money stuff, so I will close my eyes and hand over the credit card. This fancy meal/trip/concert will make me feel better, or distract me enough.” (I’m also fascinated by WHAT people spend money on emotionally. Mine was food and activity, not stuff. Some people love stuff, cars, adventure, clothes, etc).

    I truly believe that getting my emotional life together is what enabled me to crawl out from the mess. That, and hitting a bottom that scared me enough (not being able to pay rent is scary). I simultaneously left a profoundly dysfunctional relationship and finally committed to a fulfilling career path and the responsibility that came with it. That was what set me straight. Suddenly, the hole that I was filling with blind spending was filled. I was emotionally satiated, so there was no need to gorge.

    These days, life is incredibly good. I choose frugality because it brings a mindfulness to my spending that delights me. There’s an element of choice and freedom to it: I choose not to spend wastefully, and I have extra so that I also can choose to have an occasional lovely night out, which is so much more meaningful because it is occasional and because it is just that: a lovely night out, not a distraction from misery.

  49. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I try very hard to write articles that include reader stories that have meaning for more than just the person I’m responding to. For example, when I write the reader mailbag responses, I’m usually trying to make sure to include advice that will be useful to *anyone* who is in a remotely similar situation. Sometimes, this means specific advice points that don’t perfectly match the letter.

    If I don’t do that, then the post is useless. It becomes so specific that it only applies to one person. If I’m going to do that, I just email the person directly, which I do with about 50% of the emails I flag as “reader mailbag” material. There’s not enough in those situations to really be of value to lots of readers.

    As for Kelly’s story, she was not physically abused (as far as I could tell). She was in a controlling relationship that led to some self-worth issues which caused her to spend. When she got herself into a better place and got her self-worth back, she no longer felt the need to spend as much. I think that’s a story that applies to a lot of people.

    I tried to find a balance of telling enough of her story to inspire those in such relationships as well as make it clear that there is a tie between personal finance and self-worth, but keep it vague enough that her privacy was protected. I think I did that.

    The part of her story I really understand is how self-worth and spending habits are deeply connected. I don’t know the ins and outs of being in a controlling relationship, but I’m happy that Kelly escaped it and I hope that by sharing a bit of her story here, people who are in such relationships might find a light at the end of a dark tunnel.

  50. kjc says:

    Thanks for the clarification.

  51. kristine says:

    The effort to universalize, and protect privacy is legit. But on the rare occasion you reference highly charged issues, you might want a second set of eyes. E-mail it to another blogger for feedback, and quid pro quo.

    The pitfall of web self-pub is the lack of an editor to call attention to something that might come across the wrong way- something you might not even notice that needs to be rephrased to avoid distraction and offense.

    Anyway- I always knew you read the comments-the train of thought to responsive subsequent posts is always evident.

  52. jak says:

    @ Joe @ Not Your Average Joe, read the footer on every page you’re mistaken, this is for entertainment, NOT financial advice.

  53. Jen says:

    Wow, I am not sure why everyone is so critical, I think he was just making the point that when you are unhappy, you often spend more to get temporary happiness.

    Personally, I am in the process of ending a marriage with an alcoholic and it is the hardest thing ever. I have never been a big shopper or spender, but I find myself wanting to take my kids out to eat instead of cooking at home. I need to get out of my house, I am too distracted to cook, and I like the “temporary high” of eating something really yummy! Right now I am just trying to tell myself, this too shall pass!

  54. Kate says:

    Jen: Blogs seem to naturally attract people who seem to have nothing else to do with their lives than be the first to jump in with something negative.

    I totally agree with Trent words that “Your stuff doesn’t define you. It won’t fill the holes you feel in your life. It won’t solve the problems you face. It just makes you feel good for a little while, but then you’re back to where you started (and often in a slightly worse spot).”

    I know too many people who are in bad situations and they feel trapped because they have used shopping as recreation so they can’t make changes. Kelly was lucky that she had sisters who cared enough to have an intervention and who had the money to buy her a plane ticket. I’m glad that she is in a better place now.

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