This is part of our Rockstar Book Review series.
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“Dear Debt” Delivers
Dear Debt is a personal account of the author’s experience getting into, living with and ultimately getting rid of debt. Melanie shares her personal experience living with debt, including the emotional weight of living with an amount of debt that feels overwhelming, even crushing.
The commitment to change and overcome a big, audacious goal like getting out of debt can mean changing your lifestyle, your mindset, and everything you thought you knew. It means being bold, even in the face of rejection or failure. It means continuing on, even when you want to give up. (pg. 45)
The book stays true to its root —Melanie’s blog DearDebt.com—which she started in January 2013. The book includes Melanie’s experience, as well as “Dear Debt” letters (similar to Dear John letters) that she and some of her readers have contributed over the years.
As introduced above, the book’s format is straightforward, yet it includes some gems, and unique features you won’t necessarily find in other debt reduction books:
- A focus on the individual
- The hidden power of side hustles
- How reducing debt affects your outlook
These points are valuable and so merit a deeper dive.
#1. A Focus on the Individual
Melanie is aware of what someone reading “Dear Debt” needs: support from someone who can say “I’ve been there”. Her writing is full of hope, without dismissing what it’s like to live with the weight of obligation.
Of particular note is what she writes in a section called “You Are Not Your Debt” (pg. 35). Debt can make us feel lesser than, like a loser, and Melanie—a person who’s now debt-free—helps her readers keep things in context, despite the emotional nature of their current situation. She’s also a realist, addressing those times when we all lose steam as we head toward an overwhelming goal, and shares how she felt and overcame her inertia.
#2. The Hidden Power of Side Hustles
“Dear Debt” changed the way I think about side hustles. At first, Melanie presents side hustles as a way to increase your income and that they’re often necessary when a primary occupation is just not enough to live on and also make a significant dent in debt in a reasonable amount of time. But she then also emphasizes side hustles’ potential to help you learn new things, expand your skill set and your confidence over time.
She points out that, because side hustles are usually associated with a willingness on the part of the employer for the hustler to “learn on the job”, it’s a great way to try our hand at something new and unexpected. In her view, our default should be “yes” to any opportunity for a side hustle because we never know what we’re going to learn and we can always find something else if it doesn’t turn out to be a great fit.
[S]ide hustling is all about gaining experience and trying something new. You’re not applying for a salaried job making $100,000. What I’ve learned is that being confident and owning your skills and talents are extremely useful when it comes to landing gigs. (pg. 90)
#3. How Reducing Debt Affects Your Outlook
As I read “Dear Debt,” I felt I was right there by Melanie’s side, experiencing every stage of the debt cycle: from getting into it to repaying it to thriving after debt. In her words, you can feel the change in outlook, in her emotional state and in how she experiences life. It’s almost as though she wrote about every stage of it at the very time she was experiencing it.
The Bottom Line
No matter what anyone says, money is nothing if not personal. Melanie gets it, and that’s why I think her book can be a powerful motivational tool that offers actionable steps for anyone who just doesn’t know where to start. She understands what it feels like, she wants to help, and I think she did a great job in communicating all of it.
I know she has more in her to share and I hope she’ll consider writing more on these concepts, especially when it comes to our relationship with money in general.
Further recommended reading: For other books that address the psychology of money and how debt can be a burden on consumers (and in some cases what to do about it), I recommend The Two-Income Trap by Amelia Warren Tyagi and Elizabeth Warren, Scarcity by Sendhil Mullainathan & Eldar Shafir, The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey and Spent by Avis Cardella. You might also like the documentary Maxed Out, which features stories about the significant negative consequences of debt on students and families.
Bonus: A Short Interview with Melanie!
We thought it would be fun to do a Q&A with Melanie to learn more, and here’s what she had to say:
1. What was your favorite side hustle and why?
My favorite side hustle was being a brand ambassador. I am a natural extrovert so I enjoyed working at public events like concerts and sporting events, giving out free stuff. The best gig I had was working as a Columbia Sportswear brand ambassador and getting new winter clothes and boots. That really helped when I was living in New York City and Portland, Oregon.
I enjoyed being a brand ambassador because it was always different. There was no monotony whatsoever. It also keeps you on your feet, because you never know what someone will say to you.
2. If you were to change one thing about how you got out of debt, what would it be?
If I were to change one thing, I’d make sure that I was saving for retirement, too. I neglected retirement and focused only on paying off debt. I am 32 now and am starting from the beginning. I am saving and investing as much as I can, but I wish I would have been more balanced with my approach.
3. What was the light bulb moment for you while writing this book?
The light bulb moment for me was seeing my story laid out into one big picture and realizing it happened for a reason. I feel like I am supposed to help inspire and help people get out of debt. Anyone that reads the book will see my journey, including all the highs and lows. I am now more motivated than ever to help people get out of debt and know that debt freedom is possible.
4. If you could magically gain one new quality or ability, what would it be?
I’d love to be able to let things go with ease. I can be pretty neurotic and emotional at times, sometimes allowing myself to get sucked into the vortex of whatever I’m thinking. If it’s a bad day, it can be tough to let the setbacks or disappointments go. I would love to be able to let things go with ease and flourish.
5. If you woke up tomorrow and had no plans or work, how would you spend your day?
I would sleep in (which I already do. I try to sleep with no alarms when I can — it makes self-employment worth it for me) and drink coffee while reading a book. Maybe in the bathtub. Then I’d go on a walk and explore. I’d probably still write in some way, just not about finance. Then maybe watch one of my favorite films or shows and just enjoy the day.
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