My Celebrity Marriage Left Me $4 Million in Debt

After enough of these calls, I finally woke up to the fact that I was in my late thirties—with two small children, no savings, no retirement plan and a husband whose career was clearly going downhill. I started to freak out and ask questions: How were we providing for our sons? Did we have retirement accounts? I “broke the rule” and insisted on being involved in our finances. Not only did he refuse to discuss it, but he also refused any kind of counseling.

When I left, he felt personally betrayed, which translated into a very contentious divorce. I got a menial amount of child support, plus alimony for one year, since we were technically only married for two. There were no assets, and due to the unmanageable debt, both of us were urged to declare bankruptcy. Because California law splits a couple’s assets and debts 50/50, I inherited a decade’s worth of debt after just a little over a year of marriage. I remember my ex’s creditors constantly calling before I filed, looking for payments I couldn’t afford.

I inherited a decade’s worth of debt after just a little over a year of marriage.

From Luxury to Austerity

I went from a life of excess to saving every penny I earned from selling my own artwork. When my sons were bored, I said, “No movies, but we can make a cool fort out of cardboard boxes!”

At the same time, I was trying to recover from declaring bankruptcy. Luckily, I’d rented my new home before the filing went through. And thank goodness I also had a car because my destroyed credit made it impossible to get a loan or a credit card with a reasonable rate. I never wanted to use them again anyway. (My credit is now in the low 700’s—it took years to build back up to that number!)

Although I had a place to live, I had no resources to furnish it—or replace all of the things that were full of memories from my marriage. I didn’t want to sleep on the sheets we’d shared, but I couldn’t afford to replace them. So I dyed them to make them look “new.”

One day, I happened to dye a piece of suede, which turned out beautiful. I borrowed $100 from my parents, bought and dyed pieces of suede from the local leather shop, and then hand-stitched them together to make shawls. When a friend who owned a shop in a mall saw them, she said, “These aren’t shawls—you’re making skirts, and I’d like two dozen for the store.”

Before I knew it, I was dressing celebrities like Farrah Fawcett and Bonnie Raitt, and selling my creations in upmarket stores in major cities—the kind of boutiques I’d shopped in when I had money.

  • kittycuddler

    I feel like this is a “Blind Item.” Any guesses on who this comedian is??

    • Ana

      David Brenner. I’ve never heard of him. 

      • Allie

        And according to Wikipedia he won their custody battles…so perhaps she wasn’t a total angel… 

        • Cocoachanel74

          And perhaps he argued that she couldn’t take care of the kids given he was the bread winner and she was not…regardless of their financial state at the time….you can’t wrap things up in a blanket like that and make that kind of statement… 

    • Huh

       I think its Jeff Dunham. It sounds a lot like his story from one of his specials. He talked about buying a Porsche, house and dog/horse all in one day or something like that.

      • Trece

         It’s David Brenner. I looked it up.

  • Olivia

    Thank you so much for such an Inspiring article. I needed to read this. I am a single mom with 1 child and I definately need to get out of debt. I do work but it’s not enough money. My goal is to be debt free this year. Ihope everything continues to work out for you and your boys.

  • MsJ

    While I truly, truly sympathize with this woman, it’s just silly to me how women this day and age can have no clue or say to what’s going on in their finances with their marriage partner. I’m sorry but I will not let a man have that much financial power over me – ever – I don’t care how much I love him.

  • lucy00

    Did she really just blame her parents as to why she failed at managing her finances? My mother didn’t teach me much of anything, but when I started college, I learned pretty quickly. You need money for books, school supplies, and rent even. And if you hadn’t saved a cent, but needed cavities filled at the same time, that forced you to learn to save.  When are women going to wake up and take control of their financial future!?

    • Guest

       No, she blamed both her parents and her schools and her twice-her-age ex-husband for why she failed at managing her finances. 

  • Cocoachanel74

    Oh, I love this! I know the that feeling to work hard on your own and get that Credit Report up to that 700!! I JUST got there myself!!! I’m divorced also and it was good to hear that you had come so far. Many blessings in all that you do. Thank you for being transparent enough to let all of us know we can lift ourselves from the pit and work our way to the palace!!! Keep God first!!!  

  • Mara

    yesterday at work my coworker heard that I budget and he started making fun of me with another guy “what world do you live in?” blah blah blah…then his last comment was,,”next time just marry rich”..I responded “I would still do it if that was the case” and they just started laughing with the “yeah alright”….I am just amaze at the ignorance and the bully-ish behavior just because you find out someone is budgeting…..the sad thing is…my parents think exactly the same way and constantly make fun of my “penny pinching, etc”.it hurts in the sense that I may be “cheap” but NEVER with them

    • Budget Queen

      Omg your coworker is an idiot. Don’t feel bad. People laugh at what they don’t understand. Once money bits them in the ass, they will think of you and say “I should have done with Mara did”. I’m a budget queen and I travel. People around me are like, how can you afford this? I just tell them I’m rarely caught off guard with sudden payments because I budget  (Duh!) so I get to enjoy myself with my money! In their face :)

      • Bobbih

         or they are jealous!

    • Anon

       Don’t worry, the people who made fun of me for being so uber-organized about my finances are the ones now asking me for advice on finances and budgeting.

    • ES

      this is why I don’t discuss any of my personal business in the workplace. PERIOD.  They will try to turn things against you and sometimes it can cost you.  I learned this from my previous job when I mentioned I baked as a hobby and sometimes sold items to supplement my income.  We all do stuff like that, right?  Well, the bosses got wind of it saw it as me moonlighting and I lost my full time job over a “job” I didn’t even have!  Now, I just say good morning and good evening and do my work in between. It’s not personal, when I keep to myself at work, but I’ll not have that happen to me again…

    • 2Deuces

       Good on you, Mara. It sounds like your friends are scared. It is difficult for them to admit they need a budget without thinking about their credit card or student debt. Those who bury their heads in the sand don’t get a good view of the world.

      • Conor

        Mara, good on you for being financially organised. For me, there will always be ‘little people with little opinions’ around the place…while you cannot control their unless comments or jibes, you can control how you react to them.
        Smile and move on…

    • Trece

       There is nothing wrong with watching your money.I look at it like this if i save $10.00 dollars at the grocery store i can spend that $10.00 somewhere else or save it I think that is very.Smart! A fool and his money will soon be parted!!! Be smart and laugh all the way to the Bankkkkkk!!!!!

  • Elizabeth Mattox

    I cannot believe she blamed her parents and schooling for her mistakes.  Amazing.  She will probably make more mistakes having a thought process like this!! 

    • Suspicious ^^^

      I don’t think that was the point. I grew up with parents who were horrible at finances and school didn’t teach me anything either. If you don’t have anyone around teaching you about it how are you suppose to learn? You have to teach yourself. In my case I’m lucky that after college I hit rock bottom like literally had to crash on friends couches and in cars to get everything back on track I was lost, but you know what I work full time and do freelance jobs now and budget quiet well while still trying to get my credit up. I actually just went up about 60 points because I got my some student loans straightened out, but the fact is no one taught me the danger of those loans. If I had known I would have been more financially aware of benefits when choosing colleges and maybe done a year or two of community, but I didn’t and all that is yes my fault, but I think overall if you don’t teach yourself or no one teaches you how will you ever learn? I think that’s the point she was making it was her fault, but no one ever taught her any better either. This is why I’m for education reform to teach students practical real world knowledge also while reforming the loan industry that bares down on many of us. Those financially aware may not even realize the issues the loans will give them down the road and that is the sad part. 

    • Trece

      When you know better you do better!

  • Cassandrajmatz

    Wow! If I didn’t know better I would have thought I wrote this story about my life. Just different players but same exact story. I’m still on my journey to being whole and it has strengthen my Charector!! I to am no longer walking though life with rose covered glasses on and school is no longer in session, lesson LEARNED. History will no repeat itself, I Promise!! Lol. I’ll be 50 this year so, starting over can be done, I’m still young and will not waste the Pretty!!!! Looking forward to the New me and Life. Peace

  • XMarkstheSpot

    She pretty much blamed everyone but herself.

    And it wasn’t “after only a year of marriage.” She was living the life for 14 years. And said and did nothing. With 2 children to think of.

    Are you kidding me?!

    • MEH

      There’s a lot to unpack in this story. I’m wondering, if they had been married longer (i.e. those 12 years they were together before marriage) would she have had more bargaining power in terms of their divorce? Why did it take him years and two children to propose and get married? This is often what happens when women think marriage is just an optional piece of paper. Moreover, the fact that they were together for more than a decade but only legally married for 2 is not all that uncommon. When it takes that much time to get to the altar it usually indicates cracks in the relationship foundation. These are all relationship red flags that could help someone avoid a situation like this.

      • Guest

         According to Wikipedia, the guy was still fighting a custody battle for his first kid once these two started dating.  Quite possible there could have been some relationship overlap there.

  • palomazul

    it’s great she got her stuff together and figured things out but, once again, learnvest posts a “success after failure” debt story where a crucial element is the person’s parents stepping in and giving significant financial assistance (despite the fact that their child is a full-grown adult, this time with kids). This isn’t necessarily a criticism on learnvest’s part; it is, however, very telling.

    • Kimberly T

      They didn’t mention the parents giving financial assistance in this article, did they?  Unless you count $100 as significant…

      • palomazul

        Jumps from $100 to $10,000 a few paragraphs later. “I quickly needed a larger space to run my business, so I took $10,000 from an art sale and borrowed another $10,000 from my parents.”

      • Dorothy

        She ‘borrowed’ an extra $10,000 from her parents when starting up her business space… which is a pretty significant amount (and for parents who never taught their child how to budget, they seem to know how to, with $10,000 to shell out and all).

        I agree with palomazul, I am happy that she had family to go to in a time of great need, and that she was able to learn from her misfortune, but ‘borrowing’ money from your parents is not the same as ‘borrowing’ from a bank (i.e. did she pay her parents back? how long did that take her?)
        I find I am more inspired by stories where a person has financial achievement from ‘encouragement’ of family&friends; not because they ‘borrowed’ from people….

  • Elanatheone

    I think her husband had NPD, and the woman herself has a few profound issues she still may need to acknowledge. After her low self esteem allowed her to continue to live in denial for many years with manipulative husband (financial manipulation is a form of abuse), she finally woke up. She was able to gather up 10K from an “Art Sale” and another 10K from her parents and then doesn’t pay attention to the money and runs a business into the ground? This type of person is not a role model for the 99%. If I could be that selfish and irresponsible until my late 30′s, and then still get 20k from my PARENTSand from selling the art clearly purchased by the rich ex hubby, I would never complain ONCE about any negatives that came from it. Eye rolls*

  • Lorac5coop

    Whether you are married to a CELEBRITY or not EVERY WOMAN should read this.  Be AWARE of your FINANCIAL situation.

  • Hilary Martin, CFP®

    Wow, what a story! Interesting, I got really excited about, went to their site where they insist they offer unbiased financial education to women. Right next to an ad for LPL Financial. Funny, but hardly unbiased. I’m glad she had a positive experience, though, and that she is in control of her money now. 

    As unpalatable as it is to coach women to be business oriented in their personal lives, it’s similarly unpalatable to have been with someone for 13 years and get almost nothing financially because you were only married for two and to have been $4M in debt but in the dark because he insisted you would know nothing about the money. Truly unacceptable. 

  • Leaves a bitter taste

    I’m disappointed in LearnVest for publishing this article. It’s certainly a reminder to not put your head in the sand when the topic of finances comes up, especially in relationships, but the story is so detached from what most of us experience as reality, I don’t know how applicable or really helpful it is – more of a slap in the face for those of us who don’t have $10,000 pieces of art to sell or $10,000 gifts from parents to give us a new start in life. What a gift! And she threw it all away. You just got burned by not paying attention to your marriage finances, now on your own and you still blow it? Come on. She’s more than “blessed” or lucky. Made my stomach turn to read the part about losing it all over again due to the same ignorance. Well, okay, third time appears to be a charm and now she’s okay – whew. Totally cannot relate to anything in my world. Thanks for nothing on this one, LearnVest. 

  • Ruckyrd

    I’m not commenting on this woman’s story.  I just want to take the opportunity to give a HEADS UP!…  If after you get married, you found out your spouse “hid” the true nature of their finances, that’s marriage by false pretenses, & in many states, that’s grounds for an annulment.  An annulment would prevent the “innocent” spouse from becoming legally liable for the debt, even though it was the guilty spouse who made the debt.  This being the case in some states, you can probably get the marriage annulled on the same grounds, if, after getting married, you found out your spouse had dire health problems they concealed from you…  I know, it sounds callous to duck out on someone, but if they concealed things, that doesn’t mean you have to get fleeced for being a spouse…  BY THE WAY, if there are children involved, then an annulment is out.  So if you’ve discovered the “secrets” after getting married, but BEFORE children, get the annulment!

  • GoldenmommaSue

    David Brenner was a stand up comedian for years, he was a good friend of Freddie Prinze, Senior, who commited suicide in his early twenties, what a shame, such a wonderful stand up comedian.They didn’t have to curse every other word back then like they do now, and they were really funny. It’s awful now.

  • agnes

    schools should start teaching money in first grade as many parents also have no idea. Start with a bankbook of .25cents a week or month, ask bank to open a account for child. People on welfare can afford this and stop their foolish habits at end of year a child will realize the amount in bank, continue saving until graduates from high school and a child as well as teachers will learn about handling money , savings add up .Rather than political correctness teach classes which one learns how to survive.

  • agnes

    PS this women was 25 when she met this man how dumb was she or just despertate?

  • Jas

    It seems like she married him for money. well theres her first problem! He took her to exotic locations -she got carried away..doesnt seem like he ever cared for her opinion or thought of her as an equal(she happily left her job stayed at home).. oh and she seems to blame everyone for her debt. I dont feel so sorry for her..Its a sad situation but she should have been more careful before having children atleast!

  • Tom Webb

    David Brenner was the comedian

  • msK

    MsM: For every 3 women out there, 2.5 are busy working outside AND inside the home and caring for children and running a household. My husband paid the bills and managed the money because he had more time than I did. Yes, it was a financial disaster, but I learned lessons were not easy, but invaluable. This article targets an audience like myself; it is a comfort to know I’m not the “only one”. There are special IRS laws for spouses that sign tax forms because they know any better.

    I believe the point the writer is driving home is good things happen when you take responsibility for your own finances. Apparently, with so many workshops and classes involving women’s finances, there must be a need!

    The fact that her parents were able to help her financially, taught other lessons. It’s not about character flaws, OR who the husband was, it’s about learning from your mistakes and trying to help others.