Debt is complicated. It happens to the best of us, for a variety of reasons. Some people are dealing with addictions, or lifestyles, others are dealing with medical or student loan debt, or simply a mortgage. All of the reasons for going into debt have an emotional root and various psychological branches. In personal finance, everything is personal so everyone has a different rhyme or reason for their situation.

The one aspect of personal finance I don’t agree with is the conversation around “good” debt and “bad” debt.

I don’t buy it. Debt sucks any way you look at it. This sort of thinking helps shield one’s decisions and shame others. Some people are lauded for making good decisions, while others are demonized for buying too much crap. I feel like this discussion detracts us from actually dealing with debt.

I used to buy into the “good” debt trap. I have student loans, my intentions were in the right place, and I gave it my best.  Yes, I probably shouldn’t have gotten a master’s degree in the arts, but I thought I wanted to be a professor. I had viable career experience as well, so it didn’t seem like I was making a terrible decision at the time. Like most people with debt, I am currently wrapping my head around my decisions that got me into this situation to begin with.

I take full responsibility for being in debt. I chose to go to school. I chose to go to school, again. I chose a damn near useless major. I signed the papers myself.

I am in debt and it is all my fault.

I am all for people taking responsibility for their actions and decisions that got them into debt. It’s a key part of the reflective process, and getting out of debt — knowing your mistakes and moving forward.

But I’d argue that it’s not that easy. There is a lot of shame and blame that goes with being in debt. Speaking from experience, it’s as if people want to rub it in your face what an idiot you were for going to school in the arts. I am sure people who have consumer debt, mortgage debt, and the like have experienced the same thing.

People talk to you as if they have had the answers the whole time and you were the idiot that didn’t see the right choice in front of you. There is so much more to it though.

We live in a culture where it’s pumped into us from an early age that education is the pathway to success, regardless of your major. That you too, can be anything you want! That having a house is part of the American Dream. There is an insidious notion that we must keep up with the latest trends, latest technologies, and if we don’t we’re at risk of being outdated and pushed to the side. As we grow older, it’s no longer acceptable to wear the clothes you did in college. People will judge you for driving a dirty beater. In some cities, public transportation is actually a class issue.

So, wait a minute? Maybe it isn’t just me? Although I made this decision that got me into debt, I made it for a lot of reasons; some selfish, some stupid, and some because I wanted to buy more privilege. I was buying a name.

In short, what I am saying is that you should take responsibility for being in debt. However, I don’t think people should be chastised so harshly considering the culture we live in. To overcome debt, we have to change our relationship to money AND to the culture we live in. We don’t live in a bubble and there are reasons why you are in debt that you probably can’t articulate in words.

So accept your reality, keep working hard at overcoming debt, and don’t feel so alone.

In my recent post on unconventional money tips, I mentioned that taking care of yourself is a really important part of your money management. I know I spend more when I’m stressed, tired, grumpy, or depressed. There is an emotional root to our money issues and we can’t be blind to that fact.

For the past 2 months, I’ve been working every single weekend. Some weekends I only worked 6 hours. Others I worked 24 hours, or more than a part-time job in the span of Friday to Sunday evening. This in addition to my full-time job.

It’s been exhausting. It’s tested my stamina, my relationship, and my sanity. But I’m moving through, and we’re finding a rhythm.

But this weekend some fun begins! We are going wine tasting all weekend, enjoying the beautiful terrain, lovely foods, and intense flavors. We’ll stay at a hotel (that is free from credit card points!), relax, go in the jacuzzi and enjoy the sunshine. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this! It’s finally here.  It will be a short little getaway, but one that will help me reconnect to myself and my partner.

I’ve realized lately that I don’t really know what to do if I’m not working, and that’s a problem. I’m still a person, and I have hobbies and interests outside of paying off debt and blogging. Starting in May, I am going to focus more of my efforts on getting online work so I can stay at home more with my partner. I am going to practice self-care and indulge my creativity. I am going to make a concerted effort to find this elusive work-life balance that people speak of.

That’s my plan for the weekend! What are you doing this weekend to take care of yourself?

Dear Debt,

You are my noisy neighbor upstairs who blasts his terrible metal at 4am.

You are the gum on my shoe.

You are the spinach in my teeth.

You are those last 5 lbs.

You are that zit on my nose.

You are Monday morning.

You are the black veil over my thoughts.

You are the stranger sitting a little too close.

You are the smell of rotting food.

You are the scars on my body.

You are the passive-aggressive co-worker.

You are the dust bunnies hiding in the closet.

You are the rats among trash.

You are prejudice.

You are Santa Claus.

You are a sinking ship.

You are the breakup that still hurts.

-M

Unconventional-Money-Tips

There is a lot of financial advice out there, and sometimes it’s really hard to sift through all the voices. But the beauty of personal finance is that it’s personal. You do what’s best for you. While I respect the expertise of many in the community, I also like to do things in an unconventional way. Here are my 6 unconventional money tips:

1. Don’t Buy a House

Many people think that houses are a great investment and will provide a large return in the future. This idea, coupled with the fact that we need a place to live seems to make home ownership attractive. Home ownership is also seen as part of the American Dream, and one of the rites of passage to adulthood.

Read more and share your tips at VOSA.com

vintagedresses

Paying off debt is no fun. It takes a lot of emotional energy and can really drain your finances. One way to jumpstart your debt payments is by selling your stuff. I’m a minimalist and have sold everything I can to get some extra money to pay off debt. The extra bonus is having more space, and less clutter! You don’t need to go overboard and sell all of your personal belongings. But think about it; many of us have stuff lying around the house that we rarely – if ever – use or need. Selling off your unwanted things not only helps simplify and streamline your life, but it can also give you extra cash to put towards your debts. Here’s how to get started.

Start Sorting

You can begin the process by tackling each room in your home and sorting through your belongings bit by bit. Create three piles. One can be dedicated to stuff that you want to save, one can be tossed or donated, and one can be sold. Be honest with old clothing in particular. If you haven’t worn that vintage teal sundress in three summers, will you really break it out this year? Probably not, but someone else might love it.  One person’s trash is another person’s treasure!

Hold a Yard Sale

One of the tried and true ways to sell your belongings is through a good, old-fashioned yard sale. Make signs, put an advertisement in the paper and plug it on Facebook. When you sell your clothing face to face, be prepared for some haggling. There are professional yard sale experts who do the rounds looking for bargains to upsell elsewhere, so stand your ground and don’t agree to a price you feel is unfair. You can always sell a more expensive piece online or to an antiques shop.

Create Online Listings

If you live in an apartment like me, or can’t sell all of your stuff at a yard sale, you can take your items and put them up online. Selling things online is pretty easy and can be done from the luxury of your own home. There are many options worth looking into like eBay, Craigslist, or Quicksales in Australia. I like the Craigslist and Quicksales options because there are no selling fees and you can target local buyers more effectively. However, be careful when using sites like Craigslist or eBay, as there are a lot of scammers. You can increase your chances of attracting legitimate buyers by taking good photos of your belongings and writing accurate descriptions.

Throw All Extra Money to Debt

You won’t get rid of your debt right away, but having extra money to throw at it certainly helps! As soon as you cash that check, or deposit the cash, you can pay off the same amount in debt.

Selling your unwanted “stuff” is not only a good way to pay down debt, but it can help you focus on only buying the things that you truly want or need. It frees up your space and you are less likely to continue down the cycle of consumerism when you realize how fun it is to sell your stuff and be a minimalist. Also, each extra payment toward debt will get you closer to debt freedom.

A few years ago I worked with a man who was going through a divorce. He and his soon-to-be ex-wife had a kid, and he was coming to terms with his newly single life, and being independent.

He was also dealing with a much different financial situation.  His then wife had spent their kids’ entire college savings on online video games – to the tune of $30,000. Gone, just like that.

I was shocked.

$30,000 on video games, right under his nose? To make matters worse, she became a total recluse, and found an online lover. You can’t make this shit up.  Of course he decided to end it and left.

My heart broke for the kid. He could very well be in the same position that I’m in, mired in student loan debt, because his mom spent all his college money on online distractions.

Just last week, I was at a café and overheard a woman venting to her friend. You could tell she was pissed.

“He said he was going to stop, but I found out he spent $10,000 on video games and beer last year!”. Her friend was trying to politely console her.

I kept thinking about financial infidelity, or when your partner actively breaks your trust, hides things from you, and spends your money in a selfish and destructive manner.

How can you get over that? When the money is gone, it’s gone.

We like to think that love transcends money, but money is a key player in our relationships. It’s the number one cause of divorce, and people are scared to talk about it. Money becomes a symbol of power, oppression and privilege.  People use it to fuel secret desires, hidden addictions, and foolish hobbies.  Money can be the demise of your relationship, because unfortunately, sometimes love isn’t all you need.

Make money a key player in your relationship.  Have a ménage a trois with it.

Don’t let financial infidelity happen to you. Be honest with each other. Share your interests and hobbies. Come up with a savings plan. Attack your debt. Think of the big picture, and most importantly think of each other. Actions are not without their consequences. A partnership requires trust, and money is not excluded from that equation. Communicate. Again and again and again. Not all of it is easy or fun. But no one wants to feel like they are being duped or becoming resentful of their partner’s actions.

Have you been financially cheated on? Or know someone who has?

It’s my favorite time of the month…..er, don’t know if that sounded right? :) In the personal finance world, end of month updates are a great time to sneak a peek at people’s net worth updates, cheer on fellow debt bloggers, and generally keep up with what’s going on in the community. I love it!

I knew March was going to be a crazy month as I worked every single weekend. I thought the work was coming to an end and told myself I’d relax in April.  However, the late night carnival-esque side gig got extended through April. I’ve decided to only work three days for them the entire month. Going to bed at 4am on weekends, and then waking up at 7am during the week isn’t really working out too well.  I’m getting by, but that’s exactly what I’d call it. Yes, I’m making the money honey, but I’m pretty exhausted and have had moments where I felt like I was losing my mind (see downsides of side hustling).

I confidently scaled down on those hours because I happily booked other gigs! I have some freelance writing gigs in the queue and I can’t tell you how excited I am. Compared to always being on the go, juggling transportation, and eating when I can, I prefer the low-maintenance quality of writing at home.

In addition, I got a part-time job. In December, I worked a holiday party and had a great time. I sent my standard thank you, letting them know I am always available should they need my services again. Radio silence. Oh well, I thought. Some of these gigs are really one-off. Three months later, they contacted me and said they want me to be their part-time events assistant! It’s at a Jewish congregation (and I’m not Jewish), and it’s really fascinating to learn more about the culture and their celebrations. You never really know what one side gig will lead to (see the benefits of side hustling). The work is only 2-5x per month, so it won’t be too consuming.

All in all, I’m juggling my real job, carnival, congregation, and writing! Part of me wants to apologize here for not being as active/supportive to my friends, but I have to remember I’m not doing anything wrong.

The best part of all of this, is that I got some more work for my partner, too! Both the carnival and congregation were in need of more people, so I told them I knew the perfect person. The couple that makes money together, stays together?

Overall, It’s been a pretty good month. I made $778 in side hustle income, and more of that will hit in April. The first half I also spent a lot on food. In addition, my taxes were withdrawn and I had some other unexpected bills.

I know what you are thinking…..SHOW ME THE MONEY!

I put $1,206 towards my student loan debt this month.

I am hoping to continue at this pace, but won’t be too hard on myself as I’m looking forward to a break. In two weeks, I am taking the whole weekend off (gasp) and going wine tasting all weekend. We’ll even be staying at a hotel (that was free from credit card points!) an hour outside of Portland. At this point, it’s much-needed and the one thing keeping me going.

Aside from all the work, I did have some fun. I got to meet Mackenzie in person, which was a dream. She is such a talented writer and amazing person. Meeting people in real life motivates me to no end, so I’m thrilled about FinCon.

How was March for you? What do you have to look forward to in April?

 

 

 

Melanie’s Note: We have an awesome dear debt letter from Mario! Mario maintains two personal finance blogs: At DebtBLAG.com, he talks about getting out of debt and saving toward retirement and at AdventuresInFrugal.com, he talks about using frugality and other personal finance tools to live a life he enjoys. Happy Friday and show him some love! If you are interested in ‘consciously uncoupling’ with your debt, contact me.

Dear Debt – We need to talk.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been, what, seven years now? It seems like only yesterday that we met for the first time — I needed a little something extra for the house and didn’t have the money at the time and there you were. You were ready and willing to give what seemed like everything to me. But from then on, it was all about you.

I’ve never mentioned this before, but my friends didn’t take to you. They said you were manipulative and controlling — that you specialized in sucking the life out of men’s mind, heart, and soul.

I wanted to believe that they were wrong — that I could stay in control of who I was despite letting you into my life.

But they were right.

You worked your way in, slowly at first, but surely. For so many years you were always in the back of my mind, making me feel inadequate, trapped.

But maybe that was my problem, not yours.

In the end, let’s just say we’re into different things.

For example, you like lifelong commitment. You like lavish spending that I can’t afford. You like sacrificing all kinds of tomorrows to live it up today.

And I don’t like you.

Anyhow, I hope we can be cool about this. Really, the only thing I’d want back would be that polo shirt you slept in a couple months back just because you know how hard it is for me to find clothes that fit well and…

You know what, just keep it.

-Mario

Most-Expensive-Cities-USAIn the personal finance world, we are always talking about ways to save money; cut out lattes, clip coupons, implement no-spend days, pack your lunch, etc. Some people have gone so far to suggest that people should move from high cost of living areas like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco to more affordable areas to save money. I don’t think that this is terrible advice, but I don’t think it works for everyone either.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California; not a cheap place by any stretch of the imagination. My studio apartment cost $1,000 per month and I had to have a car. Between gas, insurance, and repairs, it was a money sink. Living on a nonprofit salary wasn’t easy, but I did it.

Read more of my post on VOSA.com

I have been blogging for over a year now, and it’s been quite the ride. I started out as Do or Debt, and realized I didn’t want to be considered doordebt. I later had an epiphany and realized I wanted something more creative and came up with the concept Dear Debt, or writing break up letters to debt.

Initially, I was inspired to start my blog after stalking Kathleen and finally meeting her in person. She had me convinced; I could share my voice and my experience, while writing my way out of debt.

The first six months were pretty rough for me. I couldn’t really find my voice, knew nothing about SEO or any other weird acronyms, was a technology neophyte, and felt paranoid about revealing too much of myself as I was in hardcore job search mode.

Now I finally feel comfortable in my own digital skin. I’ve found my voice and feel part of a community. As I work through blogging, experimenting, and trying to improve, I keep the following in mind:

Don’t Apologize

It’s your blog ,write about what you want. If it’s not about personal finance, or whatever niche you are in, it’s okay. Once again, it’s your blog and people come to read what you have to say. If you decide you need a break from blogging, that’s okay too. If you don’t respond to comments right away, that’s okay, too. The world isn’t going to end.

I see a lot of apologies going around and I don’t think it’s necessary. We don’t need to live in the culture of ‘sorry’. I’ve been guilty of this in the past, but I realize that it’s okay and I don’t need to apologize, because I’m not doing anything wrong.

Speak Your Truth

Everyone’s experience is different and that’s why we follow so many different blogs. We can find people we relate to, or people who are living the lives we want. The point is don’t try to be someone else. Be authentic. Be passionate.  Speak your truth, even if it’s hard to say. You are unique and people want to read your stuff because you are different from other people.

Be Honest, but Not Too Honest

I think speaking your truth and being honest is really important. It helps people relate to you and offers insights into your life. If you are a regular reader here, you know some of my posts can be ‘raw’, ‘emotional’, or ‘out there’. While those may be my signature attributes, I also have to be careful. A few weeks ago, in the midst of exhaustion I wrote a post that was a pretty big downer. I wrote it, posted it, then headed straight to work. Then I started to panic and felt really vulnerable. I had shared very personal thoughts about my emotional state of affairs that were probably better kept private. My blog shouldn’t be a diary, or a therapy session. While I am committed to being open, honest, and truthful with my readers, everyone should have boundaries.

Focus on Engagement, Not Analytics

It’s easy to obsess over your analytics and readership. You can spend hours combing over your views, visitors, comments, search terms, and referrals. It can be a vicious cycle; on a good day, you are flying high because your views are up. Conversely, on days where your viewership is low, you may feel low. I’ve recently been on this roller coaster and it’s not sustainable. Your time  would be better spent on improving your blog, creating good content, etc. Analytics are important, but they shouldn’t be tied to your self-esteem or the worth of your blog. Focus your energy on genuine engagement with others. I am happy to say that I have blogging friends in real life, and digital friends that I feel are just as good. You know who you are. I may not be the best, or most popular of bloggers, but I am happy with my engagement and that’s what I am going to focus on. I’m committed to creating a community of support, love, and care to everyone who is fighting their battle with debt. I’m interested in empowering all of us, in debt or not, to live the lives we want, and to be financially sound and secure.

Do you have any other thoughts or tips on blogging? I’d also like to share some of my favorite new (or new to me) blogs.

TrendyCheapo – almost debt free!
DebtDebs – new blogger and working through her debt
Debt Free Martini – with a name like that, how could you not follow? I want a debt free martini.
Stop Worrying About Money – wow, that name is just brilliant for SEO. Adam is also super likable and writes good content.
Marilyn Knows Money – NYC blogger writing about money and career tips. I dig her style!