When you take that first step toward recovery, you may feel scared, anxious and overwhelmed. But as you continue down the path further and further from your addiction, you start to feel empowered, uplifted, or even inspired. That is, until the creditors start calling. The outstanding debt you racked up because of your addiction isn’t waiting for you to fully recover. The lenders are hounding you now, and the stress of that can be enough to cause a relapse… or worse.
At least, that’s how it was for David, a Tennessee man recovering from methamphetamine who quickly learned how addiction can lead to economic ruin. During his deepest dives into his addiction, David would take out quick cash loans, high interest loans, pawn his valuables — including his car — and max out his credit cards. By the time the mountain of debt piled on top of him, the stress and depression was so intense he put a rifle under his chin and pulled the trigger.
Luckily, he survived.
That’s when he began the long, but hopeful, road to financial recovery after addiction. Beyond the turmoil and trauma of dealing with the addiction itself, both you and your loved ones often suffer the added burden of financial difficulties. Now there’s pressure coming from all sides — to get clean, stay clean, make amends and make up your credit. However, you’re not alone, nor are you powerless. Here are a few ways you can manage the financial fallout from addiction and work toward rebuilding a strong financial future.
Take a hint from the turtle: slow and steady wins the race
It’s a common picture — a person recently recovered from addiction feels more alive than ever, ready to charge back out into the world, only to stumble repeatedly or even trip and fall… hard. You may feel reinvigorated and recharged, and you should absolutely embrace the joy and empowerment of recovery, but remember to pace yourself. Life is going to move differently now, and it’s in your best interest to allow yourself time to catch up and adjust. That may mean starting with the basics, like breaking your financial goals down into manageable chunks.
First, give all your creditors a call. You’re going to have to open up about your situation, letting them know that you are working on correcting your finances, but it will be a slow process. It doesn’t mean they won’t stop calling you, but reaching out and openly communicating with them is a show of good faith and can buy you some time. This includes friends and family that you owe money to. Reaching out to them may be the hardest calls you make, but the first step in getting out of debt is taking responsibility and making hard choices.
Second, take a look at your budgeting habits, or lack thereof. It’s time to make that a priority. Learn how to develop a budget and stick to it. Use a spreadsheet to track your current spending and what you can cut back. Take the time to assess any unnecessary purchases you make, like that daily mocha latte, or subscriptions you have that you can pause, like magazines or music downloads. Then, look and see how much you have left over. Figure out how much you need to put in savings, then start prioritizing which debt to pay off first.
Assess the damage and prioritize your financial needs
Addiction recovery is a process, and financial recovery is just one step of many you need to put in place to reclaim your life. If you damaged your credit during your addiction, you will have to roll up your sleeves and put an extra pound of sweat into fixing your finances. If you are working with an addiction recovery program, they will likely have financial advice, resources or even assistance to get you to the starting line.
Here are a few tips you can start right now to get your finances in order and help you rebuild your credit.
- Start looking for work: Now remember, slow and steady is the name of this game, and you might not be ready for the stress and structure of the same 9-5 you had before or during your addiction. However, if you feel ready to step into the workplace, and need cash flow to chip away at those bills, consider working part-time or for a temp agency until you are comfortable leaping back into your career.
- Obtain a credit report: Don’t wait until you have a regular, steady paycheck; go ahead and get a credit report to assess the reality of your financial situation. A credit report will not only explain your overall credit rating, but, more importantly, it gives you an idea of how much you owe and who you owe it to. You’ll also be able to spot any errors and find out the steps you need to take to fix them.
- Talk with your creditors: Now it’s time to negotiate. When you admit that you owe money, and you are willing to repay, most creditors will take a seat at the bargaining table. Depending on the amount you owe, you can ask them to increase the repayment period, reduce interest fees, or accept a smaller lump sum payout.
- Be diligent about paying bills on time: Don’t let your sole focus be on your previous debts; you have to also pay your current bills on time. If you continue paying your bills without missing due dates, your credit score will improve.
- Create a financial plan: Here’s where your budgeting habits come in. You’re back to work, you’ve talked with the folks who own your past-due bills and you’ve organized your monthly budget so you’re paying bills on time. If you have a lot of payments to catch up on, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, which can result in emotional strain that can drive you back to your addiction. The best way to combat this is to create a realistic financial plan and stick to it. Part of the strategy, but not all of the strategy, should be how you repay your debts. Set (and celebrate) milestones for repayment, such as knowing that in three months you should have one specific credit card paid off.
Connect with a financial counselor
If you have access to a financial counselor, you’ll have an invaluable cheerleader helping you sift through all the debt that’s piled up, while also preparing for the future you want. A financial counselor can guide you on a journey to reduce or even eliminate your debt. Financial counselors may also advise you on how or who is best to control household finances, so that if a relapse were to occur, you’d be able to safeguard your money and credit, and avoid winding up in this situation again. A financial counselor can also assess your specific financial circumstances and propose financial recovery plan that works in a way and at a pace that’s right for you.
Most importantly, be patient and compassionate with yourself. You have come so far, so don’t let the distance still ahead intimidate you. You have a right to a happy, healthy life, and settling and securing your finances is one way to ease your road to recovery. Take your time and be honest with yourself and others. Financial burden is a major cause of stress, and a serious trigger for many people with addiction. Let people know you’re working on it, but that you have to achieve financial stability in your own time.