A Story About Paying Off Debt and the Obstacles Along the Way

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The Personal Finance Community Is A Bubble... And Sometimes I Feel Like I'm On The Outside

It's been a few weeks since I've written a blog post, although I've tried to force myself (unsuccessfully) to do it multiple times. It's not that I don't have ideas: I could write about my Rover hustle. I could write about Swagbucking. I could write about how we've managed to shave a few more dollars off the grocery bill. I could write about how we're pretty much exactly on target with our May budget, which is awesome.

This post, specifically, was supposed to be about our May 2019 wins.

But every time I sit down to compose something new, I have this overwhelming feeling of MEH. My writing is paralyzed by it.

Yesterday, I finally pinpointed the source of the MEH.

It's because I don't really feel like talking about money.

I just don't.

Today I forced myself to sit down and figure out why.

1. It's More Fun To Talk About Money When You Have It

As it turns out, money is more fun to discuss when you're actually making it and have enough of it to do stuff with, like distribute it into different savings pots or invest it or purchase vacations.

Currently, we're losing money like water leaking from a slightly compromised barrel. Drip by drip, cent by cent, the balance is decreasing. We're using the money we have for what we absolutely need and nothing more. That's fine. We knew that would happen. (Don't get me wrong - there is not even a tiny part of me that regrets investing in this career break. I'm happy with this decision and feel that it was the best and only viable option at the time.)

With few choices surrounding what we can do with our money at the moment, I'm not super excited to write about it.

2. Who Am I To Talk About Money? (And Other Self-Imposed Insecurities)

Second, as of late, I just don't feel like I have the pedigree to be a Real Personal Finance Blogger. In many ways, I'm completely out of my league. People talk about their five-figure bonuses and six-figure (or more) net worths; meanwhile, I'm over here with my five-figure student loan and a net worth that's going to be in the red for the foreseeable future. Career break aside, even if we were bringing in last year's total income and saving half of our salary, we would still be really far behind.

I often wonder if I have anything of substance to share with this community. I can write a blog post, but what am I contributing, and to whom? How am I helping when it seems like most other PF bloggers have their financial shit wayyyyy more together and have wayyyyyy more experience and wayyyyyy more success, and therefore have so much more to offer their readers?

Basically, I'm not sure this blog is inspiring anyone from a financial standpoint. I mean, maybe? If it is, I'm thrilled, but given that our progress has been stalled for months, I have a hard time believing that's true. I feel like I'm doing everything you're *not* supposed to do if you're digging out of debt and have paltry retirement savings. (Granted, maybe that's why some people read this blog!)

I know these are my own insecurities talking. Yes, I feel like a very slow recreational jogger trying to train with a bunch of Olympic-level marathon runners - I mean, that's pretty much true - but I'm the only person making myself feel bad about it.

Don't make comparisons, run your own race, personal finance is PERSONAL, yadda yadda yadda. I get it. Wrestling with my insecurities is still challenging. I know all of us can relate. We've all been there.

3. Your Judgment Is Showing, And It's Gross

Third - and here's where we get into the weeds - there have been some recent conversations in the Twitter personal finance arena that truly make me feel like an imposter for not being debt free enough or wealthy enough or successful enough. Those conversations weren't directed at me, but the criticism was leveled at people that I can relate to far more than I relate to people who have achieved true financial security.

It just makes me think... Why bother?

I'm certainly a little sick of the occasional criticism we receive for the financial choices we've made. True, some of the choices were less than ideal, but they were also made a long time ago, and we've righted ourselves since then - sort of. However, I chose to put myself out there. I've shared the details. You know about our financial situation, so if you want to judge me, at least you've got the facts.

More than that, though, I'm sick of other people - individuals and groups - being judged and criticized for the financial choices they've made, even if they were the best choices for those individuals at the time, and even when we don't know all of the circumstances and details.

I'm sick of other people being judged for being poor or for living paycheck to paycheck.

Or for taking out student loans.

Or for not being able to cover the rent when their government job is suddenly put on hold because the well-paid politicians who run this country can't get their act together.

Or for not being able to negotiate a pay raise.

Or for not being able to find a better-paying job.

Or GOD FORBID for choosing to take their family on a vacation instead of tossing every single cent to a pile of debt that's going to be there for years.

I'm sick of this notion that if you haven't made it, it's because you don't want it badly enough. You don't have the right mindset! You're not thinking positively! You're NOT TELLING THE UNIVERSE WHAT YOU WANT.

I'm sick of the predictable, repackaged pieces of blanket advice that certain personal finance gurus keep trying to sell us as if those of us on the lower income/net worth rungs haven't heard it all before.

I'm (DON'T HATE ME) kind of sick of how personal finance now seems to be all about FIRE and financial independence, and how if you're not aiming for FI, you're doing it wrong.

I'm sick of people who label 9-to-5 cubicle jobs as "sad," as if there's something inherently wrong with having reliable and predictable employment.

Messages From Outside The Bubble

Am I happy that there are people making fantastic financial decisions? Yes! Am I proud of my friends who are hitting huge milestones with their careers and their money? Yes! Do I think we should be talking about those success stories? YEEEESSSSS. We should.


Here's the but.

The personal finance community is a bubble (or... sometimes more like an echo chamber). 

Moreover, those within the bubble do not represent every facet of society. Not even close. Based on the above-mentioned Twitter convos, sometimes I think some of the people in the bubble can't see that.

A few days ago, I read an article about an up-and-coming personal finance expert/writer/speaker.

I have an abundance of respect for this individual. I think the work they're doing is important, I appreciate their transparency, and I'm thrilled for their success. I know this person works incredibly hard. Reading the article and being aware of some of the things they've gone through to get to where they are now, I'm so proud of them. I will cheer them on.

And then I read the comments.

At first, I thought, "Damn, this is what they mean by NEVER READ THE COMMENTS," because not a single one was positive or congratulatory. Not one!

Sour grapes, I decided.

But then I read them again and realized a couple of things.

One, the feedback reflected more of a general frustration with the current societal status quo than anger towards the specific person in the profile.

Two, I was relating very hard to some of the circumstances described in the comments: ballooning college tuition, huge and intractable student loan balances, rising rents, rising medical costs, rising daycare costs, flatlined wages.

"How in the world are we supposed to do what this person has managed to do?" seemed to be the general outcry.

I feel that so much.

The people voicing their anger and frustration aren't doing it because they're lazy, incompetent, stupid, jealous, or really bad at planning. I mean, statistically speaking, some of them probably are, and given that it's the Internet, I'm sure there were some mean-spirited trolls in the bunch.

But not all of them.

Some of these people feel ignored.

Some of them feel hopeless.

Some of them are completely aware of the reality of their financial situations and know that it's going to be next to impossible to build financial stability given their circumstances.

They're commenting with anger and frustration because they want to get to the same solid financial place, but they don't see how.

They're commenting with anger and frustration because they're doing their very best, and it's sometimes still not enough. Why? Because some of the most essential and non-negotiable things in life - again, education, health care and health insurance, childcare, rent - are also some of the most expensive. Meanwhile, costs are rising while wages are stagnating, and minorities and anyone who doesn't identify as male are still at a disadvantage.

We all know this.

But instead of acknowledging and addressing these really obvious, data-supported systemic issues, some members of the community just want to place blame.

"They're not trying hard enough."

"They don't have a positive attitude."

"They're playing the victim."

"They made some big mistakes and these are the consequences." (I've seen this a lot with respect to student loans.)

"Well, they majored in art history. What did they THINK was going to happen. Everyone should major in engineering!"

And sure, you could say that it's just Twitter being Twitter, but these are ideas that are also more broadly held. The judgment exists beyond social media.

There are very real, intractable, and systemic issues that aren't being addressed other than to tell people they just need to try a little harder and bootstrap a little more and plaster on a smile and just be more like the people who have succeeded

It's depressing and demoralizing, and it bothers me. A lot. This community has the power and resources to do far more than just place judgment. It has the power and resources to fuel systemic change if it chooses to do so.

I'm disabling comments because I suck at debating. I don't want to argue with anyone, and I don't want people trying to shoot holes into my feelings-based argument. Again, this post is a personal vent designed to help me figure out why I'm in a blogging rut and work out some of my feelings concerning finances. That's all.


  1. Glad you opened up comments!

    I get feeling like you don't belong in the bubble, which the PF blogosphere definitely is. I definitely spend on some luxuries (or what are luxuries to me), so I sometimes feel like a frugal fraud and am just waiting to be called out on it.

    And I'm definitely sick of the libertarian/conservative crap I keep hearing about people not trying hard enough. As someone with a disability, it's pretty frustrating for health conditions (and just general life conditions) not to be taken into account, let alone the growing gap between the upper- and working classes inre: wages. But that's a knee-jerk-liberal rant for another day.

    I think you just need to remember that there are voices outside the mainstream. (The Money Middletons is a great example of a blog that's dedicated to non-high-earners.) Keep looking for and bookmarking those and you might feel a little less alone. Also check out My Life, I Guess who went through a long period of unemployment and is currently just doing contract work I believe.

    Take care of yourself!

  2. Woah, this hit home hard with this one. These are mostly all of my issues and insecurities being a personal finance content creator. One of the reasons I have decided to brand a brand instead of myself revolves around some of these insecurities. `

    But I have noticed, for the most part, the personal finance community is open and welcoming to those that share our passion. It is hard to feel like you fit to the most welcoming of groups sometimes though.

  3. I read your blog because it is a personal story, not because it has the most technical financial advice. There are about 100 blogs about how to best do a back door mega Roth most efficiently, I don't need to see another. Hopefully you will find a community of supportive people who can interact and give you helpful feedback.

    When I comment on a post like you mention, I try to think of the current direction of a person and not just their past mistakes. For example, if someone takes out $100K to major in art history, and they are working hard to get their life together, I'm all in support. However, if they take out these loans and then decide that they just don't ever want to pay them back, and instead are thinking about taking out more debt to do something else stupid, then that's where I have a snarky comment. We are all just trying to do the best we can for the most part. Good luck.

  4. THANK YOU! You have summarized all that I have been feeling. I realized that when the blogs I followed hit FI/RE I was quickly disillusioned and felt them to be sanctimonious. I would move on to another few blogs of those in the climb/struggle because that is where I am and can relate. I appreciate your honesty and candor.

  5. Thank you for sharing your frustration. I am new to reading blogs and have been going through many of your posts and they are inspiring me. Until now I have been mostly reading personal finance books and listening to podcasts like Choose FI and Dave Ramsey, but I too felt disappointed that I am 30 years old with debt and very little savings. It was disheartening to hear stores of people in their 30's retiring which made me feel 'late to the game' or on the Dave Ramsey side feeling like I have to put everything on hold until my debt is gone with no savings to fall back on. It is hard to stay motivated when you are working extra hours and cutting expenses only to have your money go to debt. It makes you feel guilty about spending on a few things you enjoy.

    Last year I knew nothing about personal finance or investing and am proud that I have taken the steps to learn even though it felt daunting at first with so many different perspectives on what is the best startegy. For so long investing felt intimidating so I didn't think about it and with an income of 40K saving and investing felt like they were out of reach. I now have more confidence in my knowledge and have increased my salary.

    I really appreciate your fresh perspective of having a balance and just wanted to say thank you for being vulnerable and real.