Your money

What's a big money taboo? Discussing your debt

The Globe and Mail

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At times, it can seem as though the world is conspiring to get us into debt “every second with every keyclick,” as one Globe and Mail reader put it.

But after hearing repeatedly, for many years now, that Canadians have borrowed far, far too much, we rarely speak openly about how to get out of that hole. If talking money is taboo, talking about how much you owe the bank is an absolute no-no – let alone the trials of repaying that debt.

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It seemed time, then, for a series such as Debt Diaries, which shares very personal accounts of big bills and big sacrifices to pay them.

Readers seem to agree. They’ve been sharing and commenting on these stories en masse.

The first Debt Diary was about Cait Flanders, a 27-year-old from Victoria who owed $28,115. I wrote about her, in part, because her generation tends to get a bad rap when it comes to managing money. But instead of acting spoiled or entitled, she took responsibility for her mistakes, educated herself and made some hard choices. In just two years, she achieved debt freedom last May.

Some readers were still unmoved, unimpressed by her decision to live with her parents for a short time while repaying a chunk of her debt (not everyone has that option). Others, though, were uplifted by her focus and perseverance.

“For many people, spending can seem to be ‘out of our control,’” one reader noted. “It’s liberating to find out that it isn’t true, and that living within one’s means feels much better than living beyond them ever did.”

Of course, repaying a large debt load is an accomplishment at any age, something many people never achieve, certainly not without professional help.

Subsequent Debt Diaries included a profile of a (now-happily retired) Winnipeg man whose drinking and divorce had left him homeless and on the hook for $85,000.

Another focused on Louise Wallace, of B.C., who remortgaged her house and borrowed tens of thousands of dollars from a personal line of credit to grow her small business. She has just begun the long process of eliminating that debt.

Once again, many readers were relieved to hear about how these people were handling tough situations – usually through simple solutions. Draw up a budget. Don’t spend more than you earn. Learn to do without.

Ms. Wallace says that just having a place to connect and talk through financial hurdles without feeling ashamed is a start. As she succinctly put it: “Since so many of us have it, we really need to start talking about debt.”
 

Roma Luciw is The Globe and Mail’s personal finance Web editor. If you have gotten out of debt and want to share your story with Globe readers, click here.

Follow on Twitter: @globemoney

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