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Get Out of Debt

The “Gift” of Former Debtors Speaking About Debt-Reduction

Public speaking: My talk at the library for Financial Literacy Month

DH = Dear Husband

November is Financial Literacy Month, and Monday evening of this week, I spoke at a local public library about our journey out of debt. Most people who attend talks about personal finance are already financially literate. They seek out opportunities to learn more in an ongoing effort to keep their financial health strong. My talk wasn’t going to fit the bill for these people. It was a presentation for debtors who who don’t normally set foot in a room under the banner of “financial literacy”.

Twelve people had registered for the event, and my hope was that at least one person would come away from it with a strong sense of encouragement. My talk was promoted on the library’s website with the title “Getting Out of the Red” and as “A Personal Journey”. It stated that my experience would be “presented in a language that resonates with many, and hopefully will inspire others to get out of debt.” I hoped that people actually struggling with debt would be drawn to it. Much as I  admire financial whizzes, they weren’t my target audience.

Nervousness . . .

As the day approached, I had to make a real effort to keep my focus where it was supposed to be: on the people who would be listening and on the message of hope I had to share. It was a challenge to keep that focus as so many worries crept in:

  • There was no way I was going to be able to present without reading. Would that be OK?
  • Would the 12 people who had registered actually show up?
  • Would the right people show up? Debtors who would be able to relate to what I had to say? Or would there just be personal finance keeners who would find it a waste of time?

My talk was scheduled for 6:30, and  at 6:25 there were 2 people in the room. “This could be really awkward,” I thought. But within a few minutes, there were 20 people. It was time to start.

Personal mixed with perspective and advice

Over the next 50 minutes or so, I shared our story as DH advanced the PowerPoint slides. If you’ve been reading this blog and/or Prudence Debtfree for any amount of time, you already know the chapters of that story:

  • My many, many years of head-in-the sand chaotic finances
  • DH’s job loss during the high-tech bust
  • Our 6 years of financial stress
  • The launch of DH’s successful home business and our return to “normal”
  • Our financial wake-up moment
  • Our journey out of debt – both the practical side and the deeper side
  • Our encouraging progress after 4½ years

Interspersed with our personal story, I included national trends and statistics to give the context of increasing and widespread indebtedness in society, as well as advice and insights from the sources that we’ve tapped into – especially Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover.

“This is just what I needed to hear”

After I spoke, there was some time for questions and answers, and towards the end, a  woman sitting at the back raised her hand. “I’m old,” she started (not true – she is middle-aged, like me), “my marriage has failed, and I’m just getting on my feet. I’ve never heard anything like this – that I can relate to so much. This is just what I needed to hear. So I want to thank you . . .” She became a bit weepy as her words trailed off, and she gestured what I recognized as a profound expression of thanks.

“You’re getting weepy just telling me about this,” said Cam, a colleague at work as we discussed it the next day. And I’m getting weepy now as I write it. In that moment, I knew that all the preparation and nervousness had been worth it.

J. Money on the “gift” of Debt

In response to a post J. Money wrote about payday loans, a reader named Beth left this comment: “HOW DO WE HELP EDUCATE PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT INTO PERSONAL FINANCE . . . But for real – the demographic that needs this info aren’t reading these blogs. How do we reach them?”

I felt strongly that I had an answer to Beth’s question. The “demographic” she is talking about – including debtors who get sucked into outrageously expensive payday  loans – can be reached by people who have been there. When I was in my long-lasting chaotic finance mode, any money advice that came my way was nothing but white noise to me. It took Dave Ramsey – a former debtor who actually filed for bankruptcy before he got his financial act together – to convince me to get my head out of the sand. He had been there.

I sent Jay an email message about it, and this is what he said to me: “You’re right that it’s much easier to be listened to having gone through it yourself. I can talk all day and night about it, but I still can’t relate 100% as I’ve never been there. You guys have gifts, and gotta use it! Even though it sounds weird to say that that’s what Debt gave you :)”

So debt had given me a gift, and when I used it Monday evening, at least one other debtor found hope.

Constructive comments – agreed. Negative comments – ouch.

Evaluation forms were filled in by everyone who attended, and I was given the opportunity to read them. Here I have to admit that I was really brought down by some negative comments. It’s a risk you take when you put yourself out there, and I know that – but I still had a hard time with it.

As I expected, I got some  constructive criticism for having read my presentation, and although I couldn’t have done it any other way this time around (I was just too nervous), I had to agree. Another constructive piece of criticism had to do with a lack of interaction during the presentation. Again, agreed. But 2 evaluations were not constructive. They were negative and mean-spirited. Although I can’t be sure, I suspect that these hurtful comments came from people who weren’t struggling with debt and who couldn’t see the value of my experience to other debtors. I wish I could say their words all slid like water off a duck’s back – but they didn’t.

Positive comments – encouragement!

For a while, I wasn’t even able to process the majority of evaluations which were extremely encouraging and positive. But I can  now.”Thank you for your honesty and wisdom”; “Presenter was very good, confident, yet approachable.  Answered questions well and even directed and encouraged other resources”; “These programs are useful”; “I liked the simplicity of the presentation slides. Easy to follow”;  “It was a transparent story about one person’s life but also brought in the stats.  Lots of info and content!!”; “Very comprehensive info. Will check out the recommended blogs”; “Thank you, thank you, very, very much.”

The organizer from the library said she’d like to talk with me about giving another presentation next year for Financial Literacy Month. I told her I would definitely be interested.

What about you?

I followed the lead of Brian from  Debt Discipline who has written about his talks at local libraries. For those of you who are debtors making your way out of debt, would you consider giving a presentation about your experience? You might not think  of yourself as an expert, but it is very possible that you have a gift. You might be able to reach people the experts don’t manage to reach – because they haven’t been there like you have. There are always risks involved in sharing your story – especially your story about debt – but maybe it’s a risk worth taking.

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Erin Thompson

Erin Thompson spent years managing her own blog about budgeting and debt. Because of that, she has great insights not only about managing spending and borrowing but also about running websites profitably. When she's not writing articles for us, she's traveling and looking for new types of wines to try.
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