Behind the Screen Interview Series – Melanie of Dear Debt
This is the first of what I plan to be a permanent instalment on Family Money Plan. When it comes to the personal finance world, there are so many amazing people out there and I want to meet all of them. One of the things I love is getting know new people. This is a great way for you to meet some new faces.
Up first is Melanie.
Melanie is a great person who rocks the website Dear Debt where she writes and serves as a great outlet for other people to write their break-up letters with debt. I recently did one and I have to say it was a ton of fun. Check out this interview with her and then head on over to her site. You’ll love it!
Update: Melanie has a new book out so make sure to check out Dear Debt: A Story About Breaking Up With Debt
If you are interested in being interviewed for this series, send me an email at andrew (at) familymoneyplan (dot) com
Let’s talk a little bit about who you are and where you are coming from. Tell me about your money journey? What got you started in learning about personal finance?
My money journey started after I graduated from NYU with $68,000 left in student loans and I only had part-time work. I had already been paying my student loans for five years and was discouraged at how high my balance was, with no full-time job prospects.
After moving to Portland and continuing to struggle, I started my blog Dear Debt in January 2013 to keep myself accountable in the debt payoff process.
My blog was the best thing to happen to me. It eventually helped me land freelance writing gigs and other opportunities. I now work as a full-time writer and event planner! Being self-employed allowed me to double my income and pay off debt early. I paid off the last of my debt on December 10, 2015.
What would you say the biggest money obstacle has been for you to overcome?
In total, I borrowed $81,000 in student loans. Paying off that amount was the hardest thing I ever did. It tested me in ways I couldn’t imagine. I gave up everything I thought I knew about money. I did jobs I never thought I’d do. I hustled harder than anything, which really did prepare me for self-employment. I gave up what I thought I “deserved” and lived very minimally, on next to nothing.
Paying off debt isn’t easy and it was by far the hardest money obstacle I have overcome.
How has overcoming that obstacle changed you?
I’m a changed person now that I’m debt-free. I set bigger goals. I view money differently. Paying off debt has also increased my confidence and shown me what I’m really capable of. I’m unstoppable now! (ha, just kidding)
Are there any obstacles you are still working on ?
One obstacle I’m currently working on is figuring out how to manage my business and personal finances. As a self-employed person, I have to pay my own taxes and now that I’m making more money, A LOT of it is going to taxes.
However, I wasn’t saving enough. So, all the progress I thought I’d make after being debt-free has pretty much gone toward paying my taxes instead. I’m still debt-free and don’t owe the IRS, but I’ve not made the progress I thought I would in regards to saving and investing after becoming debt-free. I’m finally starting to understand the phrase “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.”
There’s a moment in the Godfather 3 when Michael Corleone is trying to get out of the “Family Business”, and he says: “Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in.” What is one bad money habit you just can’t seem to shake?
I still haven’t mastered emotional control with my money. When I’m really upset, or depressed, I’ll go out for happy hour or out for dinner and not really care how much I spend. Bad habit, I know, but it’s so hard to shake for me. I’ve gotten better at taking baths or having wine at home to indulge, but I’ve not completely mastered this. And spending money when you’re upset can be a slippery slope.
If you were to start your money journey all over what would you do differently?
I think I would have been a bit more balanced with my approach to paying off debt. I’m a very all-or-nothing type person and did the same thing with my finances. I paid off my debt and didn’t really save for the future, for retirement or begin investing. It’s been tough to effectively start over now that I’m debt-free. It feels great being debt-free, but I’m in rebuilding mode now.
What is your proudest money accomplishment?
Paying off $81,000 in student loan debt!
Who is your money hero?
My mom. She’s taught me everything I know about hard work and hustling — and not to limit my income.
What was your worst money mistake?
Probably going to a private school for my master’s degree. I don’t necessarily regret going to NYU because I loved living in New York and it was the catalyst for my blog, but I really didn’t need to spend all that money on an arts degree!
What was your first money lesson?
I’ve always been a saver, even though I haven’t always been the best at managing my money. So when I got in a car accident at age 22, I finally learned just how important it is to have money in savings. That money really saved my butt and ensured that I was able to continue on. It takes one bad accident or emergency to get you into debt. Having money on hand felt so good and made me realize that I needed to save even more because life always happens, and life is expensive.
What money habits do you see in yourself (or others if you are perfect) that make you cringe?
Something that makes me cringe is when I (or other people) use a sale as an excuse to spend. If you weren’t going to buy it anyway, then why spend money on it because it’s on sale? I think that trap can be very seductive and I’ve been guilty of that before.
Would you classify yourself as a Spender or a Saver?
Saver. I’m pretty frugal-minded and hate shopping. My Achilles’ heel though is dining out.
What’s the one personal finance book that had the biggest impact in your life?
Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez. Reading that book made me think of my time differently and how I spent money. For example, I started thinking of my purchases in hours worked. Suddenly a lunch out didn’t seem so good if it was costing 1-2 hours of work.
Ok now for some non-money questions. Let’s give our readers a glimpse of what makes you who you really are. These are optional but I really, really, really want to know.
Give me a list of your top 5 foods?
Spinach with garlic
What is your favourite drink (alcohol or non-alcohol)?
I love a nice Malbec or a Dirty Chai (chai tea latte with espresso)
What kind of daily traditions or habits do you have?
I try to do one thing that’s nice for myself each day. Take a walk, write, draw, take a bath.
Which group do you fall into:
Apple of Samsung? Apple
Coke or Pepsi? Neither. I don’t drink soda.
Coffee or Tea? Tie? I love them both, dearly.
Night owl or morning bird? Definitely a night owl.
I’m a huge music fan, what’s one of your favourite albums?
What’s the one movie you could watch over and over again and never get tired of it?
Oh my goodness, this is going to sound silly, but I can (and do) watch The Wizard of Oz over and over again. I’m mildly obsessed with Judy Garland and I think it’s really such a multi-layered story. Don’t we all want to find the meaning of home? And go on an adventure where we find out what really matters in life?
What book are you reading right now?
Hustle Away Debt by my friend David Carlson at Young Adult Money
Finish this sentence with the first thing that comes to mind. I would rather _ than _.
I would rather ___be happy____________, than ____rich___________,
Do you have a favourite quote?
“A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Where can people connect with you?
Well there you have it! Now head on over to Melanie’s site and check out some of those great Dear Debt letters. They are soooo good!