Help me help my girlfriend secure a brighter future
September 21, 2006 9:03 AM   Subscribe

my girlfriend is heavily in debt (£6,000), on a very badly paid job at a supermarket, with zero qualifications. This is making her very very depressed. How can I help?

I recently took control of her debit card, so that she cant shop to cheer herself up when shes down. I give her enough money to pay bills and a small amount of spending money. So far this is working really well, but it wont solve the bigger issue of her crummy job and looming debt.

She'll be happy with almost any job if the pay is better, but everywhere wants experience or qualifications. Shes pretty IT litterate, but on a Mac not a PC. I'd thought about a Modern Apprenticeship but I've no idea where to start with that.

Help me give her a brighter future (and stop me feeling like her Dad, not a partner).

oh, and shes convinced shes DOOMED to fail before she even starts anything.
posted by anonaccount to Work & Money (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
shes convinced shes DOOMED to fail before she even starts anything

There's your problem. If she went back to school, 6k would be a drop in the ocean by the time she got out, and would (IMO) be the best thing for her in terms of personal outlook, future earning potential, life experience, etc. But if she is a born pessimist, you won't convince her to go for it.
posted by Leon at 9:10 AM on September 21, 2006

But the problem Leon is she has to keep making payments on this debt each month, and pay the regular outgoings etc. Going to school is fine, but it wont pay the bills.

We've looked at part-time courses in the evening, but nothing seemed to leap out at her as something she would really like to do.
posted by anonaccount at 9:13 AM on September 21, 2006

Accelerator Margin. (It doesn't just sound cool.)
posted by OmieWise at 9:24 AM on September 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

You kinda sound like you're looking for reasons to fail, too... I don't mean that to sound critical, I know stuff like this can seem insurmountable.

6k, converted into a loan, is going to mean repayments of... what, 175 a month over 3 years? (rough guess). If this was my life, I wouldn't be worried about the debt, I'd be worried about the listlessness and the feeling of life passing me by.

University is a really good cure for that (IMO). Talk to a professional, who can help you with access courses, mature student status, financial details, that kind of thing.

But if it was me, I'd be thinking to trade the (presumably CC debt) in for a low-interest loan, take a part-time access course while supporting myself (and servicing the debt) with any part time work I can get my hands on (bar work? shelf stacking? cleaning?), then head off to university while still servicing the debt with part time work, but living off student loans.

There may even be support available for access courses for all I know - start phoning around some experts to find out what your options are.
posted by Leon at 9:29 AM on September 21, 2006

Think about checking out Connexions for Young People in your community, Skillset, and local colleges that have guild training certs. They will help a lot. She needs more encouragement from people who would potentially give her a way out of her present job and into something better.
posted by parmanparman at 9:41 AM on September 21, 2006

Maybe she could take advantage of a grocery store's usually flexible work-shifts to arrange her day so that she could do an internship too, one or two days a week. Internships in an area of interest can be great, because you get to learn without feeling stupid (hey, they're not paying -- what do they expect?), you make contacts with people in that field, and often you can get hired when a position opens up because you already know the ropes.

Likely places for internships: radio/tv stations, tv production companies, recording studios, advertising agencies, hospitals, clinics, galleries, individual artists and craftspersons, non-profit organizations of all kinds, etc.
posted by xo at 9:52 AM on September 21, 2006

shes convinced shes DOOMED to fail before she even starts anything.

Solve that problem, first. People who predict failure for themselves usually find a way to make that happen. If you can't fix her attitude, you can't help her — and generally speaking, you can't "fix" anyone's attitude. Only she can do that.

Going back to school is a great tack. I see you've learned a trick from her, because you're already explaining why she can't do that. Don't fall into that trap. Plenty of people in far greater debt have weaseled their way through public universities. And school is the best shortcut around the Catch-22 of "experience required," because (1) education counts, and (2) universities provide internships and various backdoors into gainful employment.

nothing seemed to leap out at her as something she would really like to do.

So what? Most people who attend university change their mind about what they want to pursue, so what's the difference if she doesn't have a specific goal to start? I generally advise people to either study something you love, or else study something that can earn you money. If your girlfriend can't find something that appeals to her, then she should choose something she thinks she can accomplish. It sounds like she's approaching it wrong, like she's trying desperately to identify a goal like "To study history" or "To study literature" when maybe her goal should instead be, "To earn a degree."

The subject doesn't matter. Who cares whether she likes it? You say she's miserable now — so the only difference between being miserable at school versus being miserable at the supermarket is that, after 2 years of being miserable at school, she'll have earned a degree and be able to improve her circumstances.

There are other options, alternatives to going back to school — but it sounds like you're looking for a magic bullet, something that will solve all her problems, something that she can't undermine no matter how negative her attitude, and that doesn't exist. You can't pull her up. She has to climb.
posted by cribcage at 9:59 AM on September 21, 2006 [4 favorites]

What's she interested in? Once you can establish a few ideas for potential career paths then you can start to think of a few better paying jobs than working in the co-op.

For instance, if she loves football then training to become a fitness instructor and footy coach would enable her to do something better paid, that she'd enjoy doing.

Too many variables here for really useful advice to be given. How old is she for instance? Is she of an academic inclination? etc. etc.
posted by dmt at 10:02 AM on September 21, 2006

education is key here. yes, it will be difficult as hell to get through but you need a skill few other people have in order to break out of the paycheck-to-paycheck mold. you need to be difficult to impossible to replace and automate.

make a ten-year plan and define your goal. spell out exactly where you (aka she) want to be by then and how to get there. aim high.

whatever job she chooses, she needs to absolutely make sure that she really enjoys doing it. that's the secret. people excell when they really enjoy what they are doing.
posted by krautland at 10:17 AM on September 21, 2006

If she has been using the debit card to shop when she's down then it sounds like she has stuff to sell.

Which will go some way to reducing her debt.
posted by mr_silver at 10:28 AM on September 21, 2006

and stop me feeling like her Dad, not a partner

How about helping her learn how to manage her money instead of doing it for her? You're not being her Dad, since parents are supposed to teach their children how to do things for themselves.

By doing it for her you're saying that you don't trust her, and you don't believe that she can do it on her own. I'm sorry if this is harsh, I just don't think that men should be managing their daughters'/girlfriends'/wives' money. I think this is very important. You're heading down a very dark psychological road.

So stop it. Work together on it, talk about what money issues she has, work out a budget, but otherwise you have to trust her with her own money. She has to learn her own lessons and have her own experiences with money. All you can do is be there for her, tell her what you think, but you can't take control. Respect her right to learn.

I once watched Suze Orman talking to this guy who was terrified he would spend all the money he just inherited since he'd always been bad with money. He wanted to lock it away from himself. She said, no way. You have to face this money, you have to actually deal with it, or else you'll never be good with money. Give her the chance to be good with money for herself.
posted by scazza at 10:31 AM on September 21, 2006

Ask Mefi had almost this exact question not long ago.
posted by werty at 10:39 AM on September 21, 2006

Maybe you could take her on a trip somewhere so she could see how bad some people really do have it, despite trying. Show her those pictures of people fighting for grain that spilled out of a train that were smuggled out of North Korea by that undercover blogger.

Chances come around all the time for everyone, but most people don't see them because they're snatched up by someone just a little bit quicker or luckier or more persistent than they are. You can be above average and never get your hands on one of these chances, so for her to think she can just sit there and wait for something to come tumbling down and hit her in the head is lunacy.

A brighter future isn't going to jump out at her and announce itself, saying, "Here I am, your golden opportunity, and only you can take advantage of me."

I don't mean to sound like I'm preaching from a pedestal. I forget this advice every day, shirk responsibilities, fail to act on opportunities because I'm lazy, but I keep on going forward at some rate, and that's the most important thing, in the end.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 10:42 AM on September 21, 2006

Sounds to me like her depression and expectations of failure are more of a cause than an effect. Is there a way she could get some counseling about that?

If she's able to make headway on that issue, a lot of the other stuff could work itself out. After all, there's lots of ways to make money with no qualifications, but even qualifications won't mint money for someone with no hope or drive.
posted by mikewas at 10:51 AM on September 21, 2006

many people who post here have led priveleged lives and take the availability of college education and high paying jobs for granted. the fact is that for many many people these arent even options and its hard to survive and just get through every day. for every middle manager moving money from office to office there are three of us who have to work minimum wage jobs like bagging your groceries. please remember that college is incredibly expensive, puts you in debt for a long time, may not be enjoyable, is full of annoying insecure rich kids, and doesn't gaurantee you a job. personally i have found that teaching myself things im passionate about and spending time in the library/real life is a must better cure for listlessness. as far as the money- it helps to get into the mindset of being poor. save as much money as possible. dont buy useless crap like everyone else. learn how to cook cheap meals. make some of your own clothes. ride a bike instead of a car. live in a campervan. living this way is tough but it also teaches one to have honor and integrity rather than being spoiled and obnoxious.
posted by petsounds at 11:10 AM on September 21, 2006

by obnoxious i meant phrases like this

Sounds to me like her depression and expectations of failure are more of a cause than an effect.

try spending eight hours a day packing other peoples groceries into plastic bags while standing on a concrete floor under headache-inducing neon lights, doing this every single day and knowing that if you quit there are a hundred other desperate people who would love to take your job. try looking forward to sleeping in the shitty apartment in the shitty neighborhood that takes 75% of your paycheck just to pay the rent. if you haven't been in a situation like that its easy to call people apathetic and say its all in their head. if you have, you know how hard it is to break out of the cycle
posted by petsounds at 11:18 AM on September 21, 2006 [2 favorites]

Cribcage is right about school. OP, you said, "but nothing seemed to leap out at her as something she would really like to do"

But you're missing the point of a great deal of the higher education options out there. University is not a trade school, and the most important credential for 90% of people who finish university is not in any way related to the subject matter studied: it's about saying "I'm a mature enough individual to set a long term goal that is difficult to achieve and complete it."

The second most important thing people get is the ability to learn and the ability to structure facts and opinions in such a way as they may be communicated.

So the WHAT being studied (in most liberal arts and even undergrad science programs) is largely beside the point. The only real consideration is being interested enough - or having enough pure discipline - to get through it.

Trade school is a different matter - it is more focused on gaining specific skills to complete specific tasks. But in that case having an interest is much more important, because she'd not just be signing up for the program but presumably to find a job in that area immediately following its completion.

The biggest trick of all, I think, is simply to have her work out what she sees for her future. It takes a certain amount of creativity - and self-confidence - to figure this stuff out. Does she see a villa in France and 6 months of work a year? Well that may be possible - but to get that takes a great deal of preparation and effort to get there. Does she see 30 years of low-value-add work with low likelihood of any kind of pension or savings and a real threat to home and hearth once family and partner have shuffled off this mortal coil? Of course not - but avoiding that doesn't just happen.

Luckily you don't have to DO everything required to get things on the right track in one swoop - it just takes small steps, one at a time. And the first ones are the hardest one, especially when she feels she's starting from behind the starting line due to her debt. But it's all possible - and the best thing you can do is to start taking those steps with her and gain the confidence you need together.
posted by mikel at 11:25 AM on September 21, 2006

Sounds like she could be a temp. Temping is usually better pay than working in a supermarket.
posted by wackybrit at 11:27 AM on September 21, 2006

If she is into recreational shopping and also feels doomed, she may well be bipolar. Has she seen a doctor lately?
posted by Carol Anne at 12:23 PM on September 21, 2006

Jesus, petsounds. There's nothing noble about poverty, and I doubt your rant helped the OP.

(While I'm still here I'd like to vote for mr_silver's "sell your crap on ebay" option. Even if you only raise 500 quid, that's still a big dent).
posted by Leon at 12:46 PM on September 21, 2006

Carol Anne writes "If she is into recreational shopping and also feels doomed, she may well be bipolar. Has she seen a doctor lately?"

Oh bullshit. First, we know fuck all about this woman. Second, shopping is not a symptom of anything, it's a symptom of a symptom. Third, the symptom of which it's a symptom is mania, not depression, so if the woman is shopping when she's depressed, it's no more likely to indicate possible bipolar disorder than is eating too much ice cream.

Sure, some people have bipolar disorder. Some of those people shop and spend too much money when they're manic. And, yes, bipolar disorder is pretty serious and people with the symptoms should be in treatment. It's even possible, although not really from any evidence that we have in this post, that this woman has bipolar. But fucking fuck, can't people have a hard time without getting that medicalized on the internet by folks who have close to no info about said person, and seemingly less about bipolar DO? The advice to see a doctor isn't that bad, but using the phrase "may well be" to describe her chances of having bipolar (in other words, indicating that it's reasonably likely) is way way way over the top.
posted by OmieWise at 12:54 PM on September 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Jesus, petsounds. There's nothing noble about poverty..

this is obviously something i disagree about
posted by petsounds at 1:46 PM on September 21, 2006

Maybe ask her, or you try to think of, some things she is good at. Only positives allowed. I've listed a few possibilities here, along with jobs she could get with minimal qualifications and no university degree, or shortish training programs she could enter...

Maybe she's good with kids or animals? (She could try to get into childcare or vet -assistant or even something more obscure like teaching kids to ride horses, or music or art therapy for kids with developmental delays)

Maybe she's good with older folks? (Lots of work here, from nursing, respiratory therapy, etc that would take a year or more of training but would be good-paying jobs, to something she could get into now that would be less well-paying.)

Maybe she's good staying calm in an emergency? (She could train to be an emergency telephone dispatcher for the police or fire department)

Maybe she's good with numbers and patient about following written directions? (She could learn to prepare taxes, or be a bank teller. Bank teller is a bit dull to begin with but it's a great thing to advance from, either within the bank or in another line of work, because it's clear that you are very responsible.)

Maybe she could take your local civil service exam and be a postal or clerical worker for the city?

Do you have hotels in your city? She could work as a reservations person, which requires good phone manners and a very basic understanding of computers. They would train her on the job.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:18 PM on September 21, 2006

And the "feeling awful while shooting down every possibility that could get you out of it" is classic depressive thinking. Getting brain pills really might help with this in a way that just positive thinking can't. If she can possibly afford a consultation with someone who can prescribe brain pills, that would be money well spent.

It sounds to me like you taking charge of the debit card is actually a good idea for the moment, though it's something you must watch carefully to be sure it doesn't become a source of resentment or even worse attitudes about money. If she can get another job (which she CAN!! if she can get off her ass, which I honestly know can feel really difficult), then things might start to look up.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:19 PM on September 21, 2006

Lots of good advice above, so I'm not going to rehash it - just add a few tidbits from my own experience.

Mikel got it exactly right - half of what college is about, IMO, is finding the path you want to walk.

If she - you both - are really serious about her taking the first steps to furthering her education, getting her on the right track to taking control of her life, start with the local community college. Get the basic coursework out of the way, even part-time - nights and weekends.

Money's part of the problem? FAFSA is where you should look for funding. If she's making crap and in debt, trying to support herself? Chances are, she could qualify for the Pell Grant.
posted by Adelwolf at 8:49 AM on September 22, 2006

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