SINGAPORE - Each month on payday, Michelle sets aside a few hours to make transfers for payment to the Official Assignee and four licensed moneylenders.
The Official Assignee is a public servant who administers a bankrupt's estate.
By the time Michelle is done, the declared bankrupt is left with barely 10 per cent of her $3,000 salary.
Yet her husband is unaware of her financial status.
Michelle, 40, agreed to this interview on condition that we do not identify her.
She tells The New Paper on Sunday: "If he knows the truth, that would be the end of our marriage."
She estimates her total debts to be close to $120,000, of which nearly half is accrued interest on late payment and legal fees.
The Huffington Post reported recently that one in three people admit to lying about money to their partners.
In an informal poll that The New Paper on Sunday conducted with 30 people, 18 confessed that their spouse or partner did not know how much they earn a month.
Half of the same 30 people also said that their spouse or partner did not know the exact extent of their financial assets or liabilities, which can include credit card charges and debt.
Michelle admits that she used to keep details of her splurges away from her businessman husband.
"It's just that I love to shop and I don't think he would fully understand," says the mother of three young children.
"I love luxury brands, from bags to watches to the dresses and shoes, and my husband does try to get me whatever I want."
But there are also times when he has asked her, "Do you really need another bag or another pair of shoes?"
And while he dotes on her, he is more reluctant to spend the money on branded items for their children.
Says Michelle: "You can't expect me to dress my children in some ordinary brands when I am in a Ferragamo dress and carrying a Gucci bag, right?"
And nothing, she says, can take the thrill out of walking into a luxe brand store and coming out with shopping bags.
While she admits that her marketing communications job does not require her to be decked in luxury, she enjoys the attention she gets.
"I think that our company's clients have more confidence in a well-dressed executive," she insists.
But her squandering ways have taken a toll on her financial and mental well-being, she confesses.
And she remains "very, very scared" that her husband will eventually find out that she was made a bankrupt in 2012.
They co-own an executive HDB flat in the west, but live in a private apartment that is under her husband's and his brother's names.
They used to rent out the flat, but she has since stopped the lease.
She says: "Luckily, my registered address for everything was the HDB flat, where the creditors came knocking."
It helps too that her husband is away on business trips most of the year and is home only a week every two to three months.
"I think the roughest patch was when I was going through the bankruptcy stage. I had to pretend to be happy and that all was well when I was actually very scared," Michelle says.
She still remembers "how bad it was" when the banks started to hound her for payment.
"First, it was phone calls and reminders sent in the mail. Luckily I had the letter box key and so I could intercept the letters of demand.
"I'd try to make the minimum payment required, but the interest just kept mounting," says Michelle.
Finally, a writ of seizure and sale was issued. Several assets in the home were seized and auctioned off.
She recounts: "You don't know how hard it was for me to keep a straight face and go on as if everything was normal in front of my husband and my children.
"I'd go back to the HDB flat and sit on the floor and cry my heart out before going home and acting the doting wife and mother.
"I was going mad."
Michelle says she also lucked out during that tough period as her husband went on a two-month work stint overseas.
"If he was in Singapore, I'd probably have crumbled and confessed everything."
She also secretly sold off more than half of her branded belongings which included bags and watches.
"It was so painful letting them go. I kept consoling myself that I won't be able to use all of them at one go or that the designs were past season," she says with a grimace.
"But it was still hard and it hurt, you know, like cutting a piece of flesh off."
When her husband noticed that some items were missing, she told him at first that they were kept at the flat.
Later, she told him that she had given them to her sisters, cousins and friends.
She says: "He's so cute, you know, that he'd buy another item to 'replace' what was gone."
Michelle struggles to make monthly instalments towards her bankruptcy estate.
She also has debts with four licensed moneylenders, for which she declines to provide more details.
"But the truth is, I did not declare my bankruptcy status with the moneylenders," she reveals.
A bankrupt may obtain further credit, but is required to disclose her bankruptcy status to the lender if the amount of credit or loan she is getting exceeds $500.
And with the bankruptcy came inconveniences, such as overseas travel.
"Because of this, most times, I'd just find some excuse like I have to work or take care of the children, and turn my husband down when he asks me to accompany him for some of his work trips," she says.
Michelle applies to the Official Assignee in advance for the family's vacations but keeps them short.
She thinks her husband will help her clear most of her debts if she came clean to him.
But she says: "I have hidden it from him for more than a year. I dare not even imagine his wrath if my (bankruptcy) situation is ever uncovered.
"I'm still trying to find the courage to lay the cards on the table. Until then, I am taking it one day at a time."
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