Sarah

For M, who always lets me ask her about her financial goals because hearing about how she’s paying down her loans and living within her means makes me feel safe and warm inside.

I recently fell in love with the Canadian low-budge reality show, Til Debt Do Us Part.  Holy cow.  Episodes are formulaic: We meet a couple.  They are having both money and relationship trouble (the latter apparently growing out of the former).  They are in serious consumer debt.  -$78K, -$106K.  In five years it will be -$300K, -$500K, -$800K.  Who will save them?  Answer: Gail Vaz-Oxlade.

Ms. Vaz-Oxlade is a financial and relationship counselor, whose only googlable credentials are that she’s written a lot of books about money.  Still, she’s great.  She’s calm, she’s incisive, she’s frank but not mean.  (“You’re a creative designer and a strong woman.  But you are a terrible business manager.”)  She helps the couple budget.  She gets them talking to each other.  She gives them three tasks, tailored to their particular problems.  Eat In For One Week.  Have A Romantic Date Without Spending Any Money.  Call Your Credit Card Companies And Get Your Interest Rates Reduced.  If they do what she says—with a good spirit—she can give them up to $5000 to pay off their loans.  Not a lot when you are (as these people are) regularly spending $3K, $5K, $6K more than you make EACH MONTH, but enough to share your money/relationship problems with the world, apparently.

One couple—satisfyingly humbled by having to live on cash for a month—said in the post-show wrap-up: “We just needed someone to come in and tell us what to do.”  They looked so grateful.  There were tears.

I wiped my eyes and realized why I love the show: It makes me feel good about my own financial habits (I am not, for instance, $78,000 in consumer debt) while simultaneously making me want to be better financially.  (I have, for instance, well over $78,000 in student loan anti-dowry.)

I overheard my newly engaged med student friend Reija planning her wedding with her student fiancé Bob.  “Bob,” she said, “we have no money, but we do have the following assets: number one, we have no money.”  Bob resisted—no money is a liability, babe.  “No,” she insisted, “it’s an asset.  Without any money, we’ll have low expectations.  And we’ll have to be creative.”

Ah, I thought.  Ah.  I’ve been so grateful for the last few years when because of student loans and, most recently, a job, I’ve had more access to cash than at any previous point in my daughter-of-a-professor, Frugality-is-one-of-our-three-family-values life.  I’ve eaten better.  I’ve dressed better.  I’ve traveled more and been able to be more materially generous.

But it’s time for me, I think, to remember the adventure of thrift.  The thrill of the save.  The satisfaction of paying back.

Sarah Vaz-Oxlade.  I could be Canadian.

It’s the end of summer.  How do you want to be better?

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