Life Insurance
Insurance 101
Live Chat
Sign In
Apply Now
Modern Family Finances

Overcoming Financial Abuse: ‘How I Lost and Learned’

By Whitney Hansen Feb 19, 2019

At 16 years old, I never thought I would be thrilled to find a used mattress in a garbage can, but I was stoked.

My mom and I were walking by an apartment complex when we saw the mattress sticking out of a dumpster. We immediately tied the mattress haphazardly to the roof of our car and brought it home.

You might be wondering: Why would a disgusting, used mattress mean so much to us? Well, for those couple months, my five siblings and I slept in a tiny two-bedroom apartment. Our bed was the carpet, sandwiched between two blankets.

The sad reality is that—as a survivor of physical, emotional and financial abuse—my mom couldn’t afford the basic necessities. My siblings and I came together with our mom to try and better our lives.

Teenager that I was, I worked at a call center and a restaurant in addition to my normal high school schedule. I wanted to support myself and avoid being an additional financial burden on my mom.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but finding that mattress was a huge financial lesson, one I’d remember the rest of my life. I learned the true difference between a want and a need.

In fact, my entire upbringing taught me a great deal about money, family and myself.

Surviving Physical, Emotional and Financial Abuse

For as long as I can remember, my parents worked hard building their own business. Neither of them had college degrees and my dad didn’t graduate from high school. The business was 24/7/365 and receiving calls at 2 AM was a normal part of the job. It was a lot of stress.

Unfortunately, the stress led my dad to poor coping mechanisms. He turned to drugs.

As a kid, I normalized the dysfunction. What started as bickering in my parents’ marriage progressed to physical altercations between my mom and dad. Around that time, the signs of an emotionally abusive relationship really started to show.

My siblings and I would quietly shut ourselves away in our rooms and continue playing with our toys while Mom and Dad fought. We’d try to pretend nothing was happening.

For years, my mom and my siblings would move in and out of the house every few months; meanwhile, the physical abuse escalated. My mom’s best friend sat her down and told her she had two options: stay in this situation and show her kids that abuse is all right, or leave the marriage and give her kids a safe home. That conversation gave her the courage to file for divorce, which can be difficult financially in addition to emotionally.

The night my mom left the relationship for good, she walked away with $110 in cash. She only had that much because she had been secretly stashing money away. Otherwise, her only other possession was a garbage bag stuffed with clothes for her, my 3-year-old sister and my 4-month-old brother.

She initially moved two hours away and lived in a women’s shelter with my two youngest siblings. That’s where she started getting counseling and emotional support. (During this time, I stayed at home with my dad.) The resources at the shelter helped my mom build up confidence and apply for jobs. A couple months later, she was hired by a hobby and craft store, with a starting wage of $7.25 per hour.

Why Would Someone Stay in an Abusive Relationship?

Years later, I’ve spoken with my mom at great length about what happened. I’ve asked, “If it was so bad, why did you stay married for 25 years?”

Basically, she felt stuck. It was an emotionally abusive relationship from the beginning and became physically abusive after about five years of marriage. After years of being called names, being told she was “worthless,” and my father having multiple affairs, she had no self-esteem. She was terrified and didn’t think she could manage on her own.

The other big reason she stayed in the marriage? She didn’t have access to money.

My parents had one bank account that was closely monitored by my father. My dad would grill my mom if there were any withdrawals. Most of the time she literally didn’t have access to money. As a stay-at-home mom, she didn’t have a job or a paycheck of her own. (As I learned later, stay-at-home moms need life insurance, too.)

If she had had money, she would have left the situation much earlier. But she didn’t. She felt trapped.

From Financial Abuse to Financial Freedom

Understanding my mom’s plight—and living through financial extremes of my own—has changed the whole course of my life. It inspired me to build a financial coaching business to help people take control of their money and become financially independent.

How many of us are in situations we aren’t happy with because of money?

An abusive relationship may sound like an extreme scenario, but it’s not as uncommon as we would like to think. According to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 7 men have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

(Important note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, here’s what you should know.)

Abuse aside, many of us find ourselves stuck in situations we aren’t happy about because of money. For example, many of us work jobs we don’t love and try to keep up with the Joneses. Or we end up carrying too much debt by buying cars, homes and material items in an effort to create a facade that we have our lives figured out.

Growing up in a dysfunctional home has taught me a lot, but these are some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned.

1. Education Is Important

A college degree is by no means an assurance that you will be financially OK, but there are a lot of statistics that show how earning potential increases with higher levels of education. Maybe you learn about digital marketing and start consulting with businesses, or start that business you’ve always dreamed of.

When you educate yourself, you give yourself more choices. Part of me believes that if my parents had been educated and exposed to healthy relationships and new experiences, their lives could have been better. At the very least, my mom could’ve qualified for jobs that required a college degree. That would’ve enabled her to support herself on more than minimum wage.

2. There’s a Real Difference Between a Want and a Need

I never would have thought that a mattress in the garbage would give me so much perspective! I humble myself with this memory anytime I catch myself saying I “need” something.

I recently went car shopping and found myself shopping from my wants list (leather heated seats, a sunroof and so on). By paring down my wants and focusing on my needs—a safe, reliable car that didn’t break the bank—I ended up saving several thousand dollars. Very few things I want to purchase are actually needs.

3. When You Have Money, You Have Options

This is perhaps the biggest thing I’ve learn from my childhood. You make decisions differently when you aren’t stressed about money. You start to see that you have options.

When you have an emergency fund, you can survive if your company goes through layoffs. Most people feel an undeniable amount of security when they see money in the bank.

4. Don’t Go Through Life, Grow Through It

We all have difficult times that test our strength. The death of a loved one, growing up in a dysfunctional family or losing your job can feel like the end of the world. Life isn’t always fair. But those experiences can be used to help others as well.

I turned my dysfunctional childhood into a thriving business that’s helping educate women on why it’s so important to become financially independent. Your life experiences are what make you unique and relatable, and you can use them to help other people struggling through similar situations. Tough experiences can build you up and make you stronger, if you let them.

I truly hope these tips help you find the good in life, encourage you to take responsibility for your finances and use your own story to help others.

Fabric exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.

This material is designed to provide general information on the subjects covered. It is not, however, intended to provide specific financial advice or to serve as the basis for any decisions. Fabric Insurance Agency, LLC offers a mobile experience for people on-the-go who want an easy and fast way to purchase life insurance.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Written by

Whitney Hansen

Related Posts

Modern Family Finances

What You Should Know About Your Emergency Fund During COVID

The pandemic and economic challenges mean some families have exhausted their emergency cash. Here’s how to prepare for (and deal with) the worst.

By Jessica Sillers
Modern Family Finances

Your Winter Checklist: How to Prep Your Finances for the New Year

No time + needing to look after the ones you love = a quarterly checklist to help keep you on track, so you can get back to wiping boogers and giving snuggles.

By Allison Kade
Modern Family Finances

Your Fall Money Checklist: 5 To-Dos

As you get back in the swing of the daily grind, we’ve got some money to-dos to keep your financial life chugging along smoothly.

By Allison Kade

Fabric Picks

Life Insurance

Life Insurance for Millennials

Blame participation trophies or the fact that many millennials entered the job market around the time the Great Recession hit, but millennials sometimes have a hard time shaking a reputation for being stuck in extended adolescence. The truth is, the generation that coined “adulting” as a verb has been grown up for a while now. Most millennials have already seen our 10-year college reunion come and go, or we may face the shock of hearing we’re experiencing a “geriatric” pregnancy (at 35, really?). As your life grows to include more responsibilities and loved ones who depend on you, it’s time to consider whether life insurance might be the right next step.

By Jessica Sillers
Modern Family Finances

When Do We Feel Like an Adult? New Survey Shares ‘Signs’ of Adulting

Top signs of “adulting” include saving money, doing taxes, and signing up for life insurance, according to Fabric’s new research. Read on for more surprising insights.

By Allison Kade
Life Insurance

How to Get Life Insurance

Have you ever envisioned leaving money to your family when you’re gone? Here’s exactly how to go about getting life insurance.

By Melissa Brock

About Fabric




Download Fabric’s iOS mobile app through the Apple App Store
Download Fabric’s android mobile app through the Google Play app store
Subscribe to our newsletter

© 2021 Fabric Insurance Agency, LLC

Accidental Death Insurance policies (Form VL-ADH1 with state variations where applicable) and Term Life Insurance policies (Form ICC16-VLT, ICC19-VLT2, and CMP 0501 with state variations where applicable) are issued by Vantis Life Insurance Company (Vantis Life), Windsor, CT (all states except NY), and by The Penn Insurance and Annuity Company of New York (NY only). Coverage may not be available in all states. Issuance of coverage for Term Life Insurance is subject to underwriting review and approval. Please see a copy of the policy for the full terms, conditions and exclusions. Policy obligations are the sole responsibility of Vantis Life.

All sample pricing is based on a 25-year old F in Excellent health for the coverage amount shown. All samples are for a 10-year term policy, unless otherwise stated. Term Life Insurance policies (Form ICC16-VLT, ICC19-VLT2, and CMP 0501 with state variations where applicable) are issued by Vantis Life Insurance Company (Vantis Life), Windsor, CT. Coverage may not be available in all states. Issuance of coverage for Term Life Insurance is subject to underwriting review and approval. Please see a copy of the policy for the full terms, conditions and exclusions. Policy obligations are the sole responsibility of Vantis Life.

Fabric Insurance Agency, LLC (FIA) is an insurance agency licensed to sell life and accident insurance products. FIA will receive compensation from Vantis Life for such sales. The NAIC Company Code for Vantis Life is 68632. See the Terms of Use for additional information regarding FIA.

A.M. Best uses letter grades ranging from A++, the highest, to F, companies in liquidation. Vantis Life’s A+ (Superior) rating, which was reaffirmed in April 2020, ranks the second highest out of 16 rankings. An insurer’s financial strength rating represents an opinion by the issuing agency regarding the ability of an insurance company to meet its financial obligations to its policyholders and contract holders and not a statement of fact or recommendation to purchase, sell or hold any security, policy or contract. These ratings do not imply approval of our products and do not reflect any indication of their performance. For more information about a particular rating or rating agency, please visit the website of the relevant agency.

Plan like a parent. is a trademark of Fabric Technologies, Inc.