Confessions of a 36-Year-Old: I Lie to My Parents About Money

Penny Wrenn

lie moneyIn our Money Mic series, we hand over the podium to people with controversial views about money. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses. Today, Penny Wrenn shares why, at nearly 40, she still has a hard time talking to her parents about money.

I have this bad habit. Well, it’s not exclusively bad, but if you’re the kind of person who gets annoyed by anyone who chats on a cell phone in public, then you’d likely find my tendency of calling my mother whenever I’m walking home from the subway or to a friend’s house highly irksome.

The fact that I talk to my mother so frequently might make you think that I’m that girl who’s all, “My mom is totally my best friend. Exclamation point. Exclamation point.” But our chats aren’t unvarnished gabfests, with me divulging all of my secrets.

For example, just yesterday the first part of our conversation went like this:

Me: “Hey, Mommy. Whatcha doin’?”
Mommy: “Driving. What are you doing?”
Me: “Walking to my apartment.”

Now, let me say something about this exchange: I kinda lied. Although it’s true that I was on my way home, I was only stopping by my apartment to check the mail before heading to housing court—a detail that I’d conveniently left out of my reply.

You see, not only am I a grown woman who still refers to her mother as Mommy, but I’m also a grown woman who goes to great lengths to conceal from her parents just how much of a financial mess she is.

RELATED: The Secret to Breaking Your Bad Money Habits

  • Catherine

    My gut reaction to your story, you are lying to your parents about your current financial situation because you are lying to yourself about it as well. Start dealing with the reality of the debt you have created and stop spending money you don’t have on unnecessary items ($30 dinners and H&M shopping sprees). Pay off your debts a little at a time, even $50 a month will go a long way towards digging yourself out of the financial hole you are in. You are ruining your credit and although you are single and childless now, you may want to get married and start a family someday.

    • Sarah

      I completely agree. It seems odd that LearnVest (with all it’s financial advice and focus on good financial habits) would post an article about “lying to parents” when the writer clearly has larger financial issues.

      Please get help with your spending and debt. Telling your parents might be the kick in the *ss you need to do something about it. But DON’T let them bail you out – that won’t change any habits. Or maybe enlist a friend first and work from there.

      • Mimi Von Boom

        I think you both are a little overly critical. This is a financial website that should address where real women are and what is going on with our relationship to money. I am relieved to see an article that balances the picture a bit. I was on a Learnvest hiatus after all the “I paid off 100K” articles by women who are supported by an army of people. For some women this is a much more realistic picture. At 31 and in debt to the tune of 100K, with no assets to my name and no kids, this is the kind of situation that I relate to a LOT more. And while I don’t have the same spending habits, I do spend. I spend because I am a human being who needs to relax and enjoy life just like anyone else. Constantly being critical of myself and focusing on what isn’t working does not a healthy soul make.

        • LJ

          I cannot wrap my mind around the entitlement that leads one to believe that somehow they deserve to spend someone else’s $100k so that they can relax and enjoy life.

          • Mimi Von Boom

            You make too many assumptions. I buy my clothes from thrift stores and cook at home. I am 100k on debt from a divorce while I was getting my masters degree. Before that I supported my ex husband through his degree and he left two weeks after he graduated for a younger woman. Enjoy your little bubble of judgement. Your reality is nauseating me though so forgive me if I take leave of the conversation.

          • LJ

            I’m not sure which assumptions you assumed that I made.

          • Mimi Von Boom

            assumption #1: that I feel entitled. assumption #2: that I borrowed money so I could “relax and enjoy life.”

          • LJ

            I didn’t assume that you feel entitled. You obviously have justified your decisions in your mind. I assumed that entitlement fuels the actions of someone who believes they need a $100k loan for a masters degree.

          • Mimi Von Boom

            Well, my financial situation was different when I enrolled. I was married and it was more expensive to move two people to attend school than it seemed to be to attend locally. I am not sure why you have decided to attack me. I don’t know you and I’ve been really open with my situation, resulting in your judgements and shaming. I’m done with this conversation. Criticisms and hateful words aren’t going to help anyone and I have more important things to worry about. I hope you can stop being so angry sometime soon. Judging others is a cheap way to feel good about yourself.

          • LJ

            It is truly not my intent to attack or shame, nor are my words fueled by hate. It seems as if my observations have offended you in some way, and I apologize for that.

            I do believe in analyzing my financial situations and decisions to determine what biases and thoughts feed into them and to help make the best decisions in the future. Sometimes, society leads us to believe things that simply aren’t true (like higher education/buying a house is always a good investment and is necessary for success), and we might get ourselves into less than desirable scenarios because of it. I’ve found that for me figuring out how to get out of the situation and how to avoid pitfalls is more helpful and empowering than being upset about the external factors that I could not control and blaming my outcome on them.

            I don’t pity you, because I don’t feel as if you are a helpless victim. I also don’t hate you or wish ill upon you or feel positively when thinking about your situation. What I take away from this is that it’s often difficult for us to look objectively at our own finances as we are emotionally invested in our money and decisions. If, like the author, we lie to ourselves, then it makes it impossible to improve our personal and financial relationships. Instead of dismissing what people say as being angry words of haters because you feel sensitively about your situation, why not consider any underlying truths that might be found in the opinions of others?

  • Elaine

    I think Catherine has hit it on the nose. It’s more important to be honest with yourself than with your parents or anyone else. And when you are more open to looking at your situation fully, you’ll feel a lot less encumbered, and a lot more empowered to tackling your situation.

  • knycks1

    Thanks for the article, good to know it;s not just me.

  • Lisa S.

    Wow – just wow.
    I too, although slightly younger, have a financial struggle on my hands. Between job loss, student loans, and credit cards, it’s hard. However, you need to be honest with yourself about the debt that you have accrued. It wasn’t until I was fully honest with myself, cut out extraneous purchases, and got some help with a non-profit credit consolidation agency that I really looked at myself and took full ownership for the situation I had made. I am proud to say that in two months, I will have paid off over 6k in credit card debt and have stopped getting shut off notices. It has been a very lean several years without wants, but I know that digging yourself out is possible.

    • Roberta

      Hearing that you were able to pay off your credit card debts and take ownership of your debt is so relieving to hear. I myself am currently struggling with living in my means. I’m 25, first full time job and about $5600 in cc debt. It’s difficult, but I’ve learned (through trial and error) how to say no and put my money towards a better future for myself. I’m an avid liar to my parents about my debt, but now that I’ve finally stopped lying to myself I’m able to start on the right path towards financial bliss. And it feels much better than a shopping spree.

      • joeaverage21

        I HIGHLY suggest learning about peer to peer loans. It can cut your interest rates in half or more enabling you to actually make some progress on your CC debt.

        Alternatively some financial websites detail which credit cards are 0% interest for the first year and if you juggle carefully you might make progress with no penalties of interest. I don’t think I’d be able to juggle everything that carefully.

        The important thing is that you need to change your spending habits. You can’t continue to spend more than you can afford no matter how happy the spending makes you. Cut off the cable Tv and put up an antenna or buy a Roku/Hulu/Netflix/Amazon so that your monthly TV bill is free (antenna) or $25 (Roku) vs $125.

  • Lisa

    The others who have commented are right on the money, no pun intended. The fact that you’re a grown woman means that technically, your financial situation isn’t your parents’ business. That you lie to them doesn’t reflect how you think they would feel about your money problems; it reflects how you feel about yourself. Many of us have been there at one or another points in our financial and personal lives; an important place to start to deal with it is to get to the root of *why* you overspend, and *why* you feel the need to present a different “face” to the world, that of someone who appears more responsible than she knows she really is. Wishing you all the best…

  • Lauren Bee

    I think she doesn’t tell her parents because she knows they’ll help, and then she’ll go back to doing what happened before. Weird article. Reading this, I kept wishing Learnvest would offer her some free financial coaching in exchange for writing the article.

    • KVP

      I was wondering if LV had offered her any help also.

  • Dazed&Confused

    It is sort of horrifying how flippant you about your serious money problems. It sounds like lack of self control in regards to money is ruining your life. It is even ruining your relationship with your loved ones. This reads as if written by an addict. I have got to imagine you live under a pretty heavy cloud of worry most of the time. You will be a prisoner of your debt until you finally admit that you have a problem and fix it.

    On the pragmatic side, lying to your parents might not be in your best interest. I had an aunt who got underwater on her mortgage and kept it a secret for years because she was embarrassed. My dad worked for the bank that issued her mortgage and if she had told him early enough he might have been able to help. As it was she lost her house and had to move back in with her mother, my grandma, at 50.

    Be honest with your parents now because in all likelihood you will be living with one of them again soon.

    • Landlord

      I agree. I am a landlord and reading that someone spends money on things like dinners out and clothing at H&M instead of rent makes me see red. Your landlord has REAL costs associated with providing you housing – taxes, maintenance and insurance. It is beyond selfish to spend money on yourself first.

      • rthomas

        As a landlord as well I had the same reaction. She is making the landlord subsidize her lifestyle. That borrowed money has actual expenses, it is really frustrating when tenants behave this way and are not grateful for someone allowing them to live in their home.

      • Camika Lopez

        I couldn’t agree with you more Landlord. That statement in itself about eating out and spending money on clothes instead of paying the rent left me shaking my head. I’ve been a landlord also and if that was ever the case with a tenant I would be LIVID.

  • KVP

    If the way you were raised shaped you, I can see why this would be a struggle for you… However, you are 36 and its time to take ownership over your life and acknowledge your “embarrassing behavior” for what it is. I think fixing finances is a hard as quitting smoking or another form of addiction sometimes. There is a reason you go out and spend and a reason you feel like you need those things, the thing is though those behaviors are not cute anymore (and i think you know it). One day when you take the reigns of your life and decide that you are tired of seeing things go the way they are currently, you will bring it to a screeching halt and turn the whole thing around. When this happens you will begin to experience the freedom you desire to have; deeper relationships with your parents and the pride of knowing you took your life back from your debtors. Its hard but, I honestly hope you do.

  • Julie

    Here’s the thing, I get it. I let my family think I’m doing just fine and have my financial house in order. In fact I’m the one they go to for assistance. Which in itself is fine but for life happening. Medical bills, dental bills, vet bills, new furnace, multiple car repairs, emergency trips to the east coast to help my family with bad situations all coming one after another in a short period of time have put me in a place I have never wanted to be. I will never tell my parents… it is not their problem AND having never carried any sort of debt other than a mortgage well…. I am under no illusion that all is well, I have very few things that can be cut from my budget. I do not go out, I do not have cable, I do not have internet, I have a cell phone but that is out of necessity as I have no land line, oh and by the way I HATE IT! The only thing in my house that was bought new was the refrigerator and that was from the scratch and dent department. My washer and dryer were my grandparents and are 30+ years old, my bedroom set was my other grandparents, my living room furniture came free from a friend. Get it? I don’t spend a lot on frivolous things but life happens. I already have two jobs, and being a single person well, that’s all time allows for. I get it. I don’t want a bail out which if any one in my family saw my true situation they would want to provide. I don’t want to hear the disappointment in their voices when they say HOW MUCH??? I get it… I will make it through, I always do. For those who feel the author is “flippant” about her situation… um… I call it honest. She knows where she is or she wouldn’t have written this. I appreciate someone who I can actually relate to writing a piece for once. Thanks!

    • Dazed&Confused

      Major difference here: you prioritize medical bills and helping family over material luxuries.

      The author admits to getting $70 haircuts and going shopping when she gets money rather than paying rent. All with a kind of “oopsie” attitude. She is not meeting her financial obligations due to circumstances of her own making, and continues to make these poor choices despite knowing they are wrong.

      I truly wish you the best. You are trying your hardest and life does happen, no one can fault you there. When “life happens” to this author she will have no safety net because she had frittered it away.

      • Mimi Von Boom

        Here’s the thing…debt is debt. My situation is similar to Julie’s – life happened. And regardless of whether life happens or you spend frivolously, once you are in debt you are in debt. As a single (divorced) woman that quickly turns from being daunting to impossible. We are sold a million lies by lending companies (schools, mortgages, vehicles, etc.) and our society (struggling with someone is romantic!! support your husband through school!!) and at the end of the day I am honestly just the same as Penny. Because I am in debt and I am going to have to do my best to deal with it. I bought concert tickets the other day because I haven’t gone out to see a show in over six months and I am depressed with my “netflix friday nights” and “dog park saturdays.” So I did it and I feel guilty. I am taking a vacation for the first time in 5 years and I feel guilty. My parents take lavish month long vacations and criticize me for wanting to spend $40.00 on a night out twice a year and take a vacation for the first time since my divorce (and the first time since my graduation from my self-financed Masters program) and they criticize my “selfish decisions.”

        I get zero financial help and haven’t since I was 16 years old. Why? Not because my parents can’t afford it. It’s because my parents think that it’s not valuable to help their children, it’s more valuable to “let them learn, that’s what we did.” The financial horizon for them was much different than it is today. When do I get to say “I’m going to enjoy my life now, thanks.” I don’t. Because while women’s liberation claims to have given us opportunity, we are still trapped in a life that requires long-term partnership (IE dual income households). I have made sacrifices for 12 years. I put a husband through school (who promptly divorced me after graduation for a woman he met while living life as a student). I live meagerly. I don’t remember the last time I bought first-hand clothes and I’ve never, ever been out to a “nice” restaurant in my life. Yet, I’m criticized.

        I am the same as Penny and so is everyone else in my boat. The second we stop dividing and qualifying who is in a “acceptable” debt situation versus who is in a “bad” debt situation, maybe we can address the debt situation as a whole, because that, to me, is far more relevant than these qualifying arguments. I’ve had enough of the sanctimony. I hope other women will agree. I think it’s time we focus on our similarities.

        • joeaverage21

          Hey is not just a female situation. As a male, let me tell you – we could not live on my income alone. I do well as an professional.

          I totally get wanting to spend b/c the debt remains hanging out there no matter whether you are frugal or spend. You just have to maintain forward progress on the payoff. Have a little fun so you don’t go crazy.

          We took up spending Friday or Saturday nights with friends so our kids could play, we could watch a movie or play table games, and we could all visit. Worked real well until a few years ago when one of the husbands became a rapid consumer of political news and became unbearable… ;) As he and his wife were the hosts most often due to them having a baby that needed an early bedtime, the gathering place was sort of ruined. Now the women still get together and let the kids play… I spent more time tinkering in the garage.

  • Kathy

    I’ve been in a similar situation–overspending racking up debt becoming overwhelmed with my bills, but haven’t had a problem talking to my mom about it. Thing is, I already knew that my mom didn’t have the means to bail me out–it was totally up to me. Her advice was very valuable, however. (I’m currently 9 months and $4500 away from paying off over $36,000 in debt!) You say your mom could always afford the things you wanted, but if you’ve never asked her how, you’re operating on assumptions. Maybe she works hard and saves up. Or maybe she’s in the same boat you are. I hope some day you feel comfortable talking to your family about what’s happening in your financial life. Accepting a bailout is counterproductive, but the advice and support is so helpful. Good luck!!

    • joeaverage21

      Some families aren’t helpful, they just use it as an opportunity to pile on and criticize. I keep my business to myself so we can have a better relationship that revolves around other topics.

  • J-

    I think she needs to inform her parents. She may be looked at as “older” in terms of years, but she is still a young woman with the actions she takes. First off, listen to your dad and move out of that expensive place you are living. Honestly, the sense of self-entitlement is crazy and the lengths people will go to just to say they are doing this or doing that is absurd. But truthfully, I think telling her parents would allow them to help guide her a little better and would also keep her on track of her spending and repayment habits. Not that you want your parents telling you how to do things, but its pretty obvious that she has been headed down this path for quite some time and you truly do need help and support when things get tougher then you can deal with. But pride will keep her in debt, and living paycheck to paycheck. Tough way to live life but everyone makes their own way.

    • Mimi Von Boom

      Your comment is based on the assumption that her parents would be in any way helpful to the situation, which isn’t always the case. Sometimes parents aren’t just NOT helpful, their involvement makes things worse (even if this is from “just” a psychological perspective). Having people involved in a situation often doesn’t create a “team,” it just creates a “too many cooks in the kitchen” kind of dynamic that drives people from crazy to bat-sh*t crazy.

  • Matthew Gordon

    Tell the truth and own what you do. If you have a problem, scream about it from the mountaintops. If everything’s out in the open, you have no skeleton to hide.

    General life advice, I suppose, but I feel like this is as good a time as any to say it.

    • Mimi Von Boom

      Isn’t writing an article posted on the internet complete with her face, full name, and regional location “screaming it from the mountaintops”? Am I missing something here?

  • Sweta

    I think Penny would benefit greatly by reading the blog, it will help her create a plan of attack on her debt.

  • AnonT

    I lie to my parents about finances because if they knew how much I made or how much I have saved, they would be asking ME for money. My parents are terribly financially irresponsible and for years I have bailed them out. I just stopped telling them about raises or bonuses. If it is an emergency than I help. Otherwise, I bring dinner to their house and leave food there (I make a double meal… oops! Guess you have to keep the leftovers. Or I leave their favorite eggs or butter.)

    It’s sad that she lies because she knows she is doing wrong. It’s like AA… acknowledge that you are doing something wrong. Tell the people around you and ask for forgiveness. You will never be out of this hole if you don’t. Until then, you’re drinking crappy vodka in the bathroom hoping not to get caught.

  • slam

    Thank you LV for posting this and thank you Penny for writing this! Your issues are especially relevant to real women and I appreciate your perspective. I wish there were more articles that explored struggles and don’t necessarily have a financial happy ending that ends with “I’m debt free”

    • LJ

      I resent the implication that fiscally responsible women are some how not “real.”

      • Mimi Von Boom

        There are programs that help people deal with their resentments in healthy ways without criticizing or tearing down other people. You might want to check them out.

        • LJ

          It does no one any favors to assume that financial solvency is some pipe dream that cannot be achieved. We can make good financial decisions, and we should encourage everyone to do so rather than commiserate and wallow in self-dug holes.

  • Coco

    A couple of people have mentioned that this sounds like an addict. Well, she is. She’s not addicted to spending; she’s simply addicted to her bad financial habits. She’s addicted to the highs of it and she’s learned to live with the lows. She just hasn’t reached the point of deciding to change.

    I have a strong feeling that there are addicts in her lineage, whether to alcohol or something else. For whatever reason, she’s signed on too. No doubt it started very innocently.

    She may sound glib and “self-entitled,” as one commenter put it- and she definitely is, because as an addict, she’s got to accept it all or she’s got to change. But the reality is, she’s probably having “dark night of the soul” experiences that are neither trite, nor do they make interesting reading. To the commenter who suggests that the author put it all out there and shout it from the mountain tops so that she’s got nothing more to hide, I believe that this article is a bit of an attempt to do that. After all, we’re reading it on the internet and, well, so could her parents.

    Sister Penny, maybe you could get in touch with me. I believe we could talk. You can reach me via my blog-

  • TechSavy Mom

    If your parents google you, you’re in for it! lol

  • LJ

    I love how this article starts with the assumption that talking on your cell to your mom is your bad habit when in reality the lying, stealing, and gluttony is so much worse. When you take something but don’t pay for it, someone else has to work for something for which they do not get paid. It’s obvious you know that your actions are wrong and are ashamed of them, but rather than trying to change the wrong behaviors, you put a bandaid on them and then lie. So sad…

    • Andrea E

      Your anger thinly veiled in sarcasm is sad to me. Why are you so angry? It seems line you’d be happy to see this woman “crucified for her sins.” What gives, LJ? Why so angry? You attacked the author and several commenters. Is focusing on yourself a little too much for you? Living in a projected world makes things easier for you to swallow?

      • LJ

        I do focus on myself and take responsibility for my actions and finances. I expect others to strive to do the same. In a country where the poor financial decisions of others affect me, it does cause me angst when I see people who know that their actions are irresponsible yet refuse to do anything about it.

    • Mimi Von Boom

      Trust me, she’s not “stealing,” she’s going to have to pay her debts plus interest. I’m not sure what kind of lending companies you use where you don’t have to pay them back and then some. I’m not sure where you are borrowing where other people are just paying for your stuff, scott free. Can you please email them to me, though? I sure could use them. And since you seem to know a whole lot about never making mistakes, maybe you should write the next article. I certainly never did figure out how to be perfect, so I could probably learn a lot from you.

      • LJ

        As someone who has shelled out money for someone else’s debt without being repaid, I thought you would understand the difference between someone who borrows money in good faith and someone who obviously has no intention or plan to repay money they’ve already spent.

  • Camika Lopez

    I think the author’s behaves the way she does because she has not hit rock bottom yet. I’m not gloating but I’ve been there. It took almost getting my car repossess at 22 to learn how to budget, how to save and live below my means. Now at 35 I have no no debt! I know it’s not easy but you have to sometimes stepback re-evaluate things and see what needs to be trimmed, sold, etc to improve your finances.

  • Texas Granny

    I loved this article. It took a great deal of guts to write this. I am also very saddened by the author’s attitude toward her parents because I see my own child in Penny. I am a mother of a 38 year old daughter that could very well be Penny to a much greater degree. ( I am not in any way implying that I think Penny has the same issues as my daughter.) My daughter never grew up, has been evicted three or four times, almost had her own daughter taken away because she chose to live in squalor rather than ask her mother for help. I find things out after she has lost everything. You may wonder how somebody can make the same mistake over and over. My daughter is not emotionally strong enough to face responsibility. I am not judgemental toward her when she comes to me. By then it is just time to FIX IT. I am happy to help my daughter find healthy solutions to an overwhelming problem. Especially considering that there are small children involved.
    It is so much easier and healthier to come to your mother before the worst happens. Eviction is embarrassing and costly on several levels. My daughter has completely ruined her credit. Her lack of judgement in financial dealings has cost her everything more than once. My daughter cannot get public housing, which, in a small urban community is sometimes the only option left. She relies on EBT and public transportation. She has been at Rock Bottom for way too long.
    Judging from the comments left by many of the women who responded to this article, independence for most of you was the only option. I am very sorry. I am here to say, for some of you it is not. I am not talking about mentally ill or disturbing family dynamics when I say this: True mothers love their children – period. It doesn’t matter how old you are. If you hurt, I hurt. There are no hidden motives, and the discomfort you may feel in coming to your own mother is a waste of your life. Pride has no place in the life of someone who can’t even afford to feed themselves or is facing eviction.
    Do I want to constantly shell out money for someone else’s mistakes? Yes – and – no.
    Ideally, my child would have grown up, gone to college, found some AMAZING career and a wonderful, devoted husband, raised the respectable 2 children and a dog, and lived, lived, lived her life. None of that happened.
    She ran off at 18 to follow a much older man who was psychologically abusive and then proceeded to make mistake after mistake after mistake. My daughter cannot face herself, her addictions, her failures, and as a consequence, her mother. Emotionally, I would say she is stuck at 17. There is no room for judgement, it would take too long to explain to those of you who must read something into everything we say here. Suffice it to say- my daughter has mental health issues, but they were not discovered until too late.
    My precious granddaughter is the one who suffers and does without because my daughter does not want to or is incapable of admitting to her mother what she is doing to herself and her child. My granddaughter has nothing. I can provide so much for her, as my daughter straightens out her emotions, but I am not able to. I am not allowed to be there for her.
    I miss the days of long chats on the phone about nothing at all. I miss the morning coffee and being able to treat my daughter to a nice meal out somewhere. I cry for my child’s suffering. I cry for my granddaughter’s suffering. And yes, I cry for my own helplessness in all this.
    It is not enough to say that my daughter is being irresponsible. It is not enough to say she should fix her finances. It is not enough to say it is none of my business what my adult children do. And it is not fair at all to say that your parent’s feelings don’t count as you spiral down into your financial undoing.
    Why would you NOT want your mother to come to your aid? Why is struggling and suffering the right choice for you young women with mothers and fathers who care about you and your well-being? Is pride so important that you hurt the ones who love and care for you the most in this world?
    It seems to me that money issues on this level have more to do with mental health than independence. I think the author has taken a step toward emotional maturity in writing this article, and I wish she had gone to her mother before she had to go to court over her eviction. (Like two months before.) And for those that have to help their own parents – May God Richly Bless You! You are truly special for being there for them, even though it isn’t easy emotionally.
    (Please be kind and think through your comments.)