Fighting about money is the number one cause of divorce in the United States. From the outside, it looks as if Greer and her husband, David, have a great life—a nice house, good jobs and a good marriage. In reality, Greer and David are dangerously close to divorce.
Greer and David purchased a house in October 2006 before they sold their old one. They also purchased two new cars in March 2007. "When we moved into the house, we spent $5,000 alone on the countertops. We spent $4,000 on the fence and another $2,000 on the kitchen table and chairs," Greer says. Altogether, David estimates they have funneled about $20,000 into the house.
But their spending doesn't stop at the house. David says he's put about $1,000 into his golf clubs—and bought $100 golf clubs for his 4-year-old daughter. "His spending habits are out of control," Greer says.
For Christmas, Greer received a Nintendo Wii video game system. "I love my wife. I do. I love my kids," David says. "I look at the $200 or $250 that I spent on that, you know, to be able to have quality time with them? It's just priceless."
David estimates they are $20,000–$30,000 in debt. When Suze reviews their finances, she finds they are spending $6,000 more than what they have each month. "Every month when I open the bills, I'm always worried about what am I going to be able to pay now or what am I going to be able to float to the next month," Greer says.
Financial problems aren't only taking a toll on Greer and David's marriage—they're affecting their health. "I guess I could say I'm on a roller coaster," he says. "I have got on an antidepressant medication because of it. Our financials have created a lot of tension between us."
Greer says she feels like she's falling apart. "I relieve my stress by eating, unfortunately. I've put on a lot of weight," she says. "I've absolutely lost myself. I've just become this person who's on autopilot."
The severity of their situation has finally hit home. "I think I'm one foot out the door for a divorce," Greer says. "I don't see how we can stay together anymore in this situation. I don't think it would be good for him, and I don't think it would be good for me. I'm willing to make any sacrifice at all."
David says something needs to change soon, or they will lose everything. "We're going to lose our marriage. We're going to lose our home. It's all going to be gone. It hurts to think that, because of the financial positions that we are [in], I'm going to run the risk of losing my kids," he says. "For the first time, you know, we're going to raise up the white flag and ask for help."
Before tackling David and Greer's debt, Suze shifts focus to something more important—their relationship. She asks them to write down five things that aren't working in their marriage. After looking them over, they realize their lists are almost identical.
Money isn't their main problem, after all. "The number one thing that they're really asking for is communication with each other and more time alone," Suze says. "Here's what breaks my heart about this—[Greer is] ready to go out the door. [She's] known this man for 16 years. They have two children. ... And because of money, you're going to get divorced? It's not the money. It's never been the money. It's how you relate to each other, how you talk to one another."
To save their marriage, Suze says David and Greer need to start thinking like a couple. "How do you expect to be together when everything except what you buy is separate?" she asks. "They have two cars. They have two dogs. They have two houses. ... They have two of everything. You're not one with each other. That's the problem, and it's coming out in your money and, therefore, your marriage."
Greer says she's willing to do anything to keep her family together. "It is time that we come together," she says. "I want to do it for myself. I want to do it for [David] and, most importantly, I want to do it for our kids."
When she does begin to analyze Greer and David's money, Suze says the problem isn't their FICO score, which is good. It's their crushing debt. At the current pace, Greer and David spend about $6,000 a month more than they earn. But surely they could get that under control, right?
"Even if you sell the big house that you have right now and move back to the old house, and you keep everything, you're $3,000 a month over," Suze says. "Even if you get rid of your cars and you do everything else, you're still $1,500 a month over what you're bringing in. And now we have a problem that in a possible two months one of your renters may give up, and then we're going to be $1,500 more than that."
"I look at your money, and you are a total financial mess," Suze says.
Suze's prescription is tough. "You almost have to sell everything," she says. "Everything has to go." Suze says they must get rid of their houses and cars and move into a two-bedroom apartment and buy a more modest car.
Rather than look at their financial dire straits as a slap in the face, Suze says Greer and David must treat it as an opportunity. "Everything is a gift if you're simply willing to look at it that way," she says. "Everything, in my opinion, is a gift from God if you're just willing to unwrap it."
In October 2007, Suze confronted Phil and Felice
, a married couple and parents of six children, whose finances were in ruins. Phil and Felice also had no life or health insurance for their children—despite a history of serious health problems.
Suze's financial prescription for Phil and Felice was severe. "You have to sell the house," Suze says. "You're going to have to take drastic measures. And you know when you're going to have to take them? When you go home tonight."
During a tense plane ride home, Felice says she took Suze's plan to heart. They've purchased health and life insurance, put their house on the market and sold one of their cars. "They are on the track to recovery," Suze says. "I know a lot of you didn't think they were going to do it."
In fact, Phil and Felice have changed their attitudes about money so dramatically that they have a new way to pay for their morning Starbucks. "They both go on weekends, they look for cans," Suze says. "And whatever cans they get and money they make, that money is what they can go and buy Starbucks with. But that's it."
Phil and Felice say Suze's plan to rein in their finances has had the added benefit of reorganizing their lives to focus on what truly matters. "I [had] put myself first, that's my biggest regret," Felice says. "And I've changed that—my kids are number one."
"If your mind's focused on materialism and self-beautification, believe me, the regret will set in," Phil says. "And especially after you look at your debt after you spend all that stuff, that promise to satisfy you doesn't satisfy anymore. Just a deep regret sets in. Focus on relationships is what is important."
There's one more piece of Suze's plan that Felice is ready to finish. "I filled out an application for Starbucks!" she says. "I'll bring that this week."
Phil and Felice thank Suze for her advice...and for finally getting the truth through. "She gave me a good kick in the butt, that's what she did," Felice says.Read an excerpt from Suze's book, Women & Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny.
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