Family debt might as well be considered an extra child to take care of for parents. Its needs increase, as it gets bigger, and will be source of anxiety until it moves out of the house. Just like parenting a rowdy child, both parents need to provide a united front in order to discipline effectively. Initial steps after recognizing a debt issue has gotten out of hand are

Agree that spending or lifestyle choices must change for both partners in order to address the debt.

Agree to not blame one another for creating the debt, and that any tension that spending has created should be addressed openly and honestly.

Reassess the family budget to identify large and small items that can be cut out or where finances can be redistributed to paying down high interest debt as the first priority after a minimum amount is allocated for family needs (not wants).

Once a payment plan is agreed upon, the family needs to incentivize their diligence. Reward one another with emotional boosts that cost nothing and use this time of pinched pennies to find new and cheaper sources of joy.

Depending on how old a child is, I believe that introducing budgeting and sharing how the family will work together to be fiscally healthy is fine. Teens can learn about consumer debt and an important lesson about consequences. If we are addressing massive amounts of debt that necessitate moving homes or liquidating assets in the home that affect the children directly (sorry son, no more PS4) then they can be introduced to the concept of morality and ethics of paying what we owe to people that help us buy things when we don’t have money.

When a family finds itself in deep debt, drastic measures to take the pressure off the parents should be implemented for the greater good. Psychologically, a tight year or two with optimistic and creative parents will be blips on the children’s radar compared to parents that ignore the problem until that extra mouth eats the family out of house and home.

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Author of I’m Sorry, You are Not a Pick-Up Artist