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'There's a reason we've had to create safe spaces for ourselves that give us a higher cost of living'
My conversation with the Debt Free Guys about budget culture and dealing with debt shame free on their Queer Money podcast (during Pride Month!)
Husbands David Auten and John Schneider are important figures in the personal finance space. They started their blog, Debt Free Guys, in 2013 after paying down debt accumulated, as they say “living fabulously” in part, “to make up for being bullied and picked on for being gay when we were younger.”
They were pioneers in talking about personal finance for LGBTQ+ people and even co-authored some of the first LGBTQ+ money surveys in popular financial media. They launched the Queer Money Podcast to take the conversation further. To this day, Queer Money is the only podcast about money explicitly for the queer and trans community.
My queer, personal-finance-writer heart was delighted to be invited to join David and John on Queer Money to talk about budget culture and dealing with debt shame free.
In addition to speaking directly to LGBTQ+ issues like family planning, pay gaps and the cost of living in affirming cities, Debt Free Guys has generally had a traditional stance on budgeting and debt — they’re best known for developing the Debt Lasso method of debt payoff, which they used to eliminate $51,000 in personal credit card debt. So I was excited when they accepted my pitch to talk about the benefits of not prioritizing debt payoff. The most important thing we can do in conversations about money is remain open to perspectives that are different from our own, and that openness is one of the greatest strengths of the queer community.
Even more exciting? My episode was published during Pride Month!
I’ll share some key moments below, and you can catch the whole episode on YouTube or anywhere you listen to podcasts.
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A shift to anti debt-shaming
The personal finance space has long been hyper-focused on debt payoff. For a long time, that came only in the flavor of Dave Ramsey: laced with shame. Lately there’s been a movement from influencers, spearheaded by Lexa at The Avocado Toast Budget, to accept debt as “morally neutral.” Why did we ever treat debt so badly in the first place, and why the shift now?
As I said in the podcast:
“I think it's just tied to the kind of bootstraps mentality that we have in the United States and the individualistic mentality that we have here, the individual responsibility that's really tied up in budget culture and capitalism in general. So I think it's just sort of easier for us to put all of that blame and shame on an individual than to look at the systemic forces that might be putting people into that situation.
It's easier for us to put all of that blame and shame on an individual than to look at the systemic forces that might be putting people into that situation.
“[But] we realized we don't really like that [shaming]. It doesn't feel good. Psychology has shown that shaming isn’t a great motivator, especially in the long term. It might change your behavior in the short term. It might make you deceptive, it might make you lie to yourself or lie to others about your behavior because you don't want to feel that shame. But it doesn't really motivate us to change in the long term, because it doesn't really tap into the right things.”
How do systems impact your personal finances?
I was honored to prompt this on-the-spot reflection between John and David about their experience with debt as gay men.
John wondered, “I don't know if I think that there were systemic issues in the financial system or in the economy that caused me to acquire debt, but I've never really thought about it. I've always just felt like it was my fault. I'm wondering if this is an opportunity for [David and I] to think about things a little bit differently.”
“I think the societal pressures that we dealt with contributed to us wanting to prove to everybody else that we’re better than what they thought we were as gay men growing up,” David said, “or show to the other gay men in our circle of friends that we’re good enough for them to be hanging out with because we had the designer jeans and the nice vacations and all that kind of stuff. I think those are some of the systemic things that we can adopt as reasons why we might [accrue debt].”
There's a reason that we've had to create safe spaces for ourselves…that give us a higher cost of living.
And I added, “You can take that to an even higher level, though, and see that there are systemic forces that have created an LGBTQ culture by othering people who identify within our community. That's not a natural thing; that's created by systemic forces that have an interest in keeping us as separate. And there's a reason that we've had to create safe spaces for ourselves…that give us a higher cost of living. And for a lot of people, they’re also dealing with lower pay and maybe credit discrimination and things that make debt more expensive, that make them need to take on debt more just to afford living and make it harder, then, to repay that debt.”
Debt and socioeconomic class
“I never thought about it this way, but the way we use debt, we use it differently based on your socioeconomic class. If you're poor, then it's debt and debt is bad. If you're wealthy, then debt is actually leverage. And leverage is good, because leverage can be used to make you wealthier. I never really had heard it put in those terms before, but it was very striking. And then I thought, jeez, I wonder what would happen…if you thought of your debt as a way to actually help you in a more positive manner, if it wasn't so negative.”
(This is exactly what I mean when I talk about debt as part of your resources!)
Don’t be afraid of credit card companies
Advice for dealing with debt is almost 100% focused on how to eliminate it. But there’s one important piece of advice I like to share, regardless of how you choose to handle debt:
“Don't be afraid of it. Don't be afraid of lenders and credit card companies [and debt collection companies]. I think that's a reason people bury their head in the sand about debt…They'll play a lot of dirty tricks to really intimidate you into giving them money in some way. And we're trying to regulate that, but they often are able to get around regulations or they just ignore them altogether because it's hard to stay on top of. So we just individually need to have a little bit of fortitude against that and know that you can stand up against them. By understanding how those products work, you can then make them work for you.”
We need to have a little bit of fortitude and know that you can stand up against lenders and credit card companies.
Find a voice you resonate with
David highlighted the importance of spaces like Queer Money and Healthy Rich for giving people a variety of perspectives to connect with in the personal finance space.
“It's important that you find a voice in personal finance that you resonate with. Because maybe their experiences align with your experiences, or their life experiences are something that you find you align with, and so it makes their progress inspire you or helps you see that you can do the same thing and make changes and improve. That's why I'm glad that there are more people than Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey. I mean, it used to be that there were only two or three voices, and now we have literally thousands of voices in the personal finance space. That is beneficial because, especially for queer folks, we're starting to see more and more queer folks in the personal finance space. And we need those voices, because even with our own community, we have so many different lived experiences and we need to highlight those so people in our community can hear those [perspectives].”
🤑 Want more guidance for dealing with debt and managing money without restriction or shame? My Budget-Free Fundamentals series gives you everything you need to gain a fresh perspective on your relationship with money. Get access to this and all of my personal finance classes with a paid subscription.
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