I'm working very intentionally to get out of debt, a provoking mission that I see as essential to my happiness and stability, as a single self-employed freelance writer, and to my social justice beliefs. I want to disentangle myself from predatory industries. I do not want to give them my money and work.
I believe I have an out-sized sense of debt and obligation, of what I owe, that probably is rooted in an old-time sense of not having enough. That, too, I want to unravel.
Enough! I live pretty simply, but I've had debt since I signed for my first student loan at age 18. That's nearly half my lifetime ago. It threatens my ability to do what I love -- telling stories -- and live a life with real choices. So, for several years, I have been working a get-out-of-debt plan that my father suggested to me. My parents, my sister, my brother: we're all doing this and cheering each other on as one thing after another gets paid off. I've made some adaptations for my personal situation, and I have a lot of philosophical disagreements with the guy behind the plan, but it is working -- slowly, but truly.
It brings with it an inhale-exhale, the relaxation that comes with a data-driven way of navigating the thorny territory of debt, need, and desire.
Being who I am, I'm also reading a lot about the history of debt, and its conflation with morality, even on a vocabulary level (what we owe, what we're worth, forgive us our debts). I eagerly took up Helaine Olen's Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry, which traces the roots of media advising us about money—a subject many find distasteful to discuss in polite company, but nonetheless spawns a billion-dollar industry of products. (The guy whose plan I'm following comes up for critique).
I interviewed Olen about her book for The American Prospect: "Is Suze Orman's Advice Dangerous?"
Olen, a journalist who writes the “Where Life Meets Money” blog at Forbes, questions the “guru” model of personal-finance media, which focuses on changing the money habits of individuals with nearly no analyses of the social and economic reasons for why the gap between rich and poor is expanding beyond belief. She argues that personal-finance journalism can be revolutionary, but is often undercut by conflict-of-interest product sponsorships and simplistic solutions that are less empowering than they are appeasing.
In our interview, Olen spoke about the myths perpetuated by personal-finance gurus like Suze Orman and Jim Cramer, why women are particularly targeted by the industry, and how our personal money problems connect to crushing economic inequities.