At the end of this month, my blog will turn three years old, and I’ll have been openly talking about my debt for three years. In that time I’ve gradually come clean to everyone I know about my debt. This includes employers, friends, family members, everyone in my local community and of course my fabulous blog family. Of the hundreds of times I’ve talked about my debt publically over the years, I’ve never once felt ashamed of it. Until last week.
As some of you know, I was featured on CTV Atlantic a few weeks ago. After the segment aired several acquaintances mentioned my appearance, and they were all positive and supportive of my accomplishments. Last week, however, was the first time I’ve ever had someone say something negative about my debt to me, in person, and it was the first time I’ve ever felt insecure and anxious about talking about my finances.
I’m not going to go into detail about who it was or what was said, but basically this person said she views me differently now that she knows that I had debt, and maybe she would have made some decisions differently about our relationship if she’d known. It was a really confusing conversation, and of course I didn’t respond as well as I should have because I was entirely caught off guard by it.
Having “Average” Debt
Before this encounter, I’d never felt ashamed of my debt. This is because my debt wasn’t credit card debt or payday loan debt, or any other debt with a negative stigma. On top of that, I’ve never missed a payment or skipped out on a bill which means I have a stellar credit score. No, my debt was entirely average debt that you would expect a 20-something to have. It was student loan debt, and a car loan. Furthermore, my student loan debt, at $26,000, was perfectly average, and my car loan was relatively small. I was average, not irresponsible.
Dealing With Misperceptions About Debt
That’s not how I felt after speaking this acquaintance. I felt anxious that she had a skewed opinion of my character (I haven’t known her long), like she thought I was a flake or irresponsible or something. I felt a strong urge to remind her that’d I’ve paid it all off and I have $25,000 in the bank! I’m not a flake! I’m not irresponsible! But I was so unsettled that I didn’t get the words out, and then it was too late.
I’ve never felt anxious about my money like that before, even after receiving some seriously hateful comments online. I think it was the in-person aspect that made it cut so deep.
Be Gentle With People In Debt
There’s nothing I can do about it now, but it’s clear that as much as we like to pretend there’s no stigma around debt, talking about money is still taboo outside the personal finance blogosphere.
To people who tend to be a little judgmental about debt: be gentle with us debtors. Especially if we’ve seen the error in our ways, especially if we’re working to change our situation. People get into debt for all kinds of reasons. Even if we were irresponsible in the past, even if we shouldn’t have racked up so much debt, you don’t need to mention that, because believe me, we know. We’re paying for our past transgressions with every single dollar sent to our debt, we don’t need snap judgements or comments that cause anxiety. We do that enough to ourselves.
Of course, if you know someone who’s burning through their credit card and getting a new car every two years, a well worded comment or two might be worthwhile, but use your best judgement. 🙂
Have you ever felt ashamed of your debt? I want to know!