Dads and debt: how to avoid problems

Kids are expensive. They don’t have to be too expensive.


Kids are expensive. It’s obvious, but it’s true. Whether it’s thinking about the fancy buggy and the four door car before they arrive, childcare when they are small, school uniform as they grow or even tuition fees when they get to college or university there’s always something to pay for.

What you don’t want from working part time or flexibly is ending up short of cash and unable to cover those costs. Debt is the result.

John Ellmore, director of reckons too many men keep money worries to themselves, and that can trigger a destructive cycle. Here’s his guide on what can go wrong but more importantly how to avoid trouble or get out of it.


Debt doesn’t discriminate; from young twenty-somethings fresh out of university to seasoned professionals or retirees, no one is immune to financial problems. Indeed, the problem affects more people than you might think – according to research by Know Your Money, 62% of Britons have some form of debt. 

But it’s important to acknowledge that debt can affect many different people in a multitude of ways. Despite having come a long way to achieve greater parity in recent decades, there is an argument to be made that debt is a particularly acute problem for men. Why is this the case? It boils down to the lingering expectation that men should be the breadwinner of the household. 

Mental health

The way they see their roles in both society and in the family means that men, and fathers especially, often suffer under the pressure of having to provide for their dependents. As such, a man failing to live up to this traditional stereotype can be subject to feelings of self-worthlessness, depression, anxiety and loneliness. 

In the UK, the male suicide rate is at its lowest since 1981, yet it still remains the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45. Suicide is a hugely complex issue, and it is important to acknowledge the socio-economic pressures that can contribute to a person’s mental ill-health. A 2014 report by the male suicide prevention charity Calm found that 42% of men still believe they should be the main breadwinners in their household. Only 13% of women felt the same way.

The stereotypes and stigmas associated with gender roles are unlikely to vanish overnight. Nonetheless, when it comes to managing debt, there are practical steps that men can take to ensure it doesn’t spiral out of control and lead to more serious issues.  

Hesitancy to talk

While huge strides have been made in this sphere, the fact remains that many men today are still conditioned from a young age not to express emotion. In the long run, this means men are less likely to talk openly about topics that make them feel vulnerable. 

In relation to debt, talking about money is an emotive subject for many men and fathers. Know Your Money’s research revealed that 41% of people in debt do not feel comfortable talking to their friends and family about money they owe. Whether this is due to shame, or a desire to protect their loved ones from these problems, hiding existing debt poses challenges for those who want to get a stronger grip on their finances.  

For one, keeping debt problems private prevents frank and open discussions about poor money practices and instead risks perpetuating them. In the long term, those already dealing with debt could find themselves spiralling into a world of denial and further financial worries, fuelled by feelings of stress, anxiety and even depression. 

It is of course much easier said than done, but I would encourage open communication about debt; after all, debt is a lot more common that you might have imagined. And for those who are seeking to improve their practices, below are a few pointers. 

Familiarise yourself with your finances

The first step is necessarily to have a clear picture of your financial situation and how much you can realistically spend without falling into debt. Despite seeming fairly intuitive, many Brits struggle with this point.

For instance, Know Your Money’s research revealed that over a third (39%) of UK adults are unaware of what the term debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is. At almost half (44%), an even higher number do not know what their own ratio is. 

So why is the DTI ratio so important? Ultimately, it serves as a guideline for those who are thinking of taking on debt, such as a mortgage, or else simply for those seeking clarity about their current financial standing. By dividing your total debt figure by your income, it determines how much debt you can reasonably manage. And you don’t have to be a maths wiz to do this – there are plenty of online tools available to perform this calculation for you! 

Know the difference between good debt and bad debt

Although the word debt has a negative connotation, sometimes it is a necessary evil for those who are investing in long-term ambitions. Buying a family home or acquiring a student debt to put children through higher education are two such examples. 

These are what we might refer to as ‘good’ forms of debt, and there is no reason why such debt cannot become part of a healthy financial strategy. The difference between good debt and bad debt is two-fold. For one, unlike the latter, good debt is manageable and will not have a negative impact on your overall financial position. In effect, acquiring this form of debt will not eat into other necessary expenditures like household and grocery bills. 

Good debt is usually characterised by offering long-term value; mortgages, for instance, allow people to secure a property that will give them security in the future. The danger comes in when people take on more and more debt to payoff existing debt – a practice that one should always avoid.  

Don’t overlook the basics

And finally, I would encourage everyone not to overlook the basics of good financial planning. By this I mean having a safety net should you meet unforeseen financial hurdles down the road. 

Worryingly, Know Your Money’s research shed light on the huge number of people who lack a financial safety blanket, with men more likely than women to fall into this trap. Two thirds (67%) of those in debt have no savings stored away to enable them to pay it off if required; this figure is 73% for men in comparison with 62% for women. Furthermore, 29% of people said they do not feel in control of their debt and have no plans of how they will pay it off. 

Having a savings pot to fall back on should be a priority when it comes to ensuring the health of your family’s finances. This can stop unexpected expenses like a broken boiler setting you off-track. 

Although men and women equally deal with debt, the circumstances naturally vary. For men, and particularly men with a family, it can be difficult not to let financial concerns affect relationships with their loved ones. However, opening up about such concerns can pave the way to solutions and better practices. 


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