'I took my wealth for granted - then my husband told me we were bankrupt'

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After her husband declared bankruptcy, Claudia*, 40, lost her home and most of her belongings and had to adjust to a new lifestyle.

She shares how the experience humbled and changed her, and why she still wakes up thankful every day.

“When I married my wealthy businessman husband 15 years ago, I never thought that someday we’d be left with practically nothing.

Terence* had inherited a lot of money from his late father and also owned several businesses, so compared to the average Singaporean, we were quite well off.

However, in 2018 Terence’s businesses began to suffer. A lucrative deal he was working on fell through and we lost much of our wealth.

We had to file for bankruptcy, and now, two years after losing nearly everything, we’re trying to pick up the pieces and re-build our lives. 

Living the high life

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Terence and I were more than comfortable. We lived in a landed property in a prestigious district, drove luxury cars, and had holidays thrice a year at exotic resorts.

Our son, now 12, also had everything he wanted, from expensive toys to the latest gadgets, and between my husband and me, we owned closets full of designer clothes and jewellery, collected over the years.

I didn’t work because I didn’t need to – I’d worked as a public relations executive before I got married and quit my job soon after – and my days were like those of a typical lady of luxury, filled with lunch dates with girlfriends, shopping excursions, spa treatments and cocktail parties.

Our lives were carefree and uncomplicated. I didn’t think twice before splurging on designer goods or had no qualms spending thousands on catering whenever we entertained at home.

We had plenty of income coming in every month, and business for Terence was thriving, so I took for granted that we’d always be okay financially.

Bombshell news

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About a year ago, Terence gave me some bad news – an important deal he’d been working on failed to materialise and his investments weren’t doing well.

One of his business partners was also having legal problems. But I wasn’t prepared for what he told me next: We were in debt and on the brink of bankruptcy.

We had to sell our beautiful landed home and move into a small apartment that his family owned. We also had to drastically cut back on our expenses.

What surprised me the most was that Terence had been experiencing financial problems for almost a year.

He didn’t tell me sooner because he didn’t think it would get this bad and he didn’t want me to worry. I was furious that he hadn’t been upfront with me and didn’t speak to him for days.

A million questions ran through my mind: Would we be in debt for the rest of our lives? Would we still be able to give our son a good life?

I couldn’t sleep for weeks after Terence broke the news to me. We’d been well off for so long that I couldn’t imagine being close to broke, plus, I was angry with my husband for keeping the truth from me for so long; I wasn’t sure if I could trust him again.

We fought every day and I cried every night. We tried to shield our son from our financial problems but he could sense that something was wrong and this affected his studies.

Building our lives back

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We had to vacate our home and sell most of our high-value possessions within months – vintage watches, artworks, designer bags and jewellery.

We also had to let go of our luxury cars and make do with a standard family vehicle. I bawled my eyes out when we had to move.

The bankruptcy was hot news within our social circle. I lost a few friends, but for the most part, people stood by us. Terence’s family lent us some money to tide us over, too, and they’ve pledged to support us financially until we get back on our feet.

The entire experience has been humiliating and traumatising, to say the least. We had so much and now we were getting handouts from family. It’s also been hard adapting to a new, pared-down lifestyle.

I used to have a walk-in closet but now everything I own fits into two tall cupboards. We no longer have domestic helpers so I’ve had to learn how to cook and clean.

And we can’t afford holidays or expensive meals out anymore. Gone are my regular spa treatments, drinks with friends and personal training sessions.

I used to spend about $20,000 a month on myself alone but now I’m down to $1,500, sometimes less, and I try to save most of it because I don’t know how long it’ll take for us to get our finances back on track.

Despite our money troubles I’m thankful that my family still has a roof over our heads and food to eat. My marriage could be better – Terence and I don’t have the best relationship right now and he’s under a lot of stress – but we’re still together, working through our problems, and that’s what counts.

We’re trying to move forward. Terence is desperate to rebuild his companies and has promised to be more cautious before making any deals again. Our son still worries that we’ll be homeless but other than that he’s coping well; children are resilient.

As for me, I’ve been humbled by this experience. In the last several months I’ve worked hard at giving back to others by organising events and doing volunteer work for charities. I’ve met people who are far worse-off than me, surviving on just $5 a day sometimes, and I feel for them.

Our bankruptcy has taught me not to take anything for granted and to be thankful for every blessing that comes my way, no matter how small.”

*Names have been changed

This article was first published in Her World Online.