031: Sharing Your Debt Story with Liz Weston

Hey, I'm Chris.

I'm a former Analyst, Podcaster, and Producer. My goal is to help you understand your finances better in about the time it takes to make a bag of popcorn!

I had the privilege to sit down with the one and only Liz Weston of NerdWallet.com and AskLizWeston.com.  I first met Liz when she interviewed me and my wife for an article she was writing on the vicious debt cycle in which many people find themselves.  So when I found out that she would also be at FinCon I knew I had to find a way to have her on the podcast.

In this episode we discuss:

-How taboo the topics of debt and money have become

-More people than you may think are dealing with debt   

-Watching what others spend

-Much More!

My interview with Liz Weston at FinCon in Dallas, TX.

Here is the article written by Liz Weston that my wife and I were featured in – Are You a Yo-Yo Debtor?

Also Liz mentioned a investigative series that Nerd Wallet was doing on Rent-A-Center, click the link below to read more

Nerd Wallet – Rent-A-Center

Find out more about Liz Weston at:


Twitter – @LizWeston 

Facebook – Liz Weston

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Full Show Transcript

Chris: [00:00:12] Hi this is Chris, hope you are doing well and welcome to Popcorn Finance where we discuss finance in about the time it takes to make a bag of popcorn. Today we have a very special guest here. Liz Weston from Nerd Wallet she’s a journalist there and it’s so great to have you on. I appreciate you spending a little bit of your time here.

Liz Weston: [00:00:25] Chris it’s my pleasure.

Chris: [00:00:29] I met Liz a little while ago and I was fortunate enough for myself and my wife to be featured in one of her articles that you did on Yo-Yo debt. And so just to jump into that first could you tell us a little bit about your reason for wanting to do the article.

Liz Weston: [00:00:43] Yeah we do a lot of how I ditch debt stories on nerd wallet and they’re very popular. People love those stories of how people get rid of tons of debt. But what we know from experience is that it’s not a one time thing you know typically it’s just like weight loss if you will lose it too fast you’re going to gain it right back. So my editor suggested that we start looking for people who had experienced you know paying off debt and then got back in and how they dealt with that. And you of course were kind enough to volunteer your story and it was just so much fun talking to you about you know how you how you got into debt. What I loved most was when you said that you were spending you know you got out of debt and then you were spending to impress your wife and you guessed is worked. So yeah that was really wonderful.

Chris: [00:01:24] It was you know it’s funny now to always look back on that but it was not funny at the time but it was it was I think a unique experience to share a debt story because I think so often people don’t really like to talk about their debt and the things they’ve been through even though so many people deal with it. But you always feel like you’re alone and it’s so embarrassing to tell anyone else about it. So I think that was my motivation to say you know if I’m going to try to have a podcast and try to talk to people about finances the least I can do is be transparent about what it is that I went through. So maybe that will encourage someone else and say you know I’m not the only one if at least it is one of the person that says hey I have debt and here’s someone else who did it. Maybe it will be helpful for them. Because I know that’s what gave me a lot of hope.

Liz Weston: [00:02:07] Chris it’s incredibly powerful to start talking about this stuff because everybody assumes everybody is smart about it. And the thing is we are not born knowing this stuff. And we all make mistakes and if we start talking about it and sharing about it then we can share solutions as well because if you feel like you’re the only person or it’s shameful. Shame is the one that really fascinates me that people have this feeling like Oh I am a bad person because I have debt.

Liz Weston: [00:02:32] You know most of the Puritans that did that to us I don’t know but it’s powerful.

Chris: [00:02:37] Yea, Because it puts you in a lonely place you kind of lock yourself away in this corner and now you’re just struggling by yourself. One of the things that helped me the most when I was in that debt was going to these different blogs and reading about these people who have successfully done it. And then it’s like oh it can be done. I mean there are who have done this, here are the strategies that they took. There are things that help them get through it. It’s just it’s just it’s really helpful. So I appreciate you writing this article.

Liz Weston: [00:03:01] It totally is. And then the other part of the story that we were talking about which is that it’s not a one time thing necessarily. You know you can get out of debt and come back into it and if you have made it like a moral thing you can be pretty ashamed of yourself that you’re back in that position. And we’re just trying to take the shame out of it and go look this this happens and this is how we deal with it and we can move on and you know stop beating yourself up. That doesn’t help anybody.

Chris: [00:03:23] Exactly. Exactly. And so for you with this article. Was there any other motivation for you behind your enjoyment writing it or your desire to write it?

Liz Weston: [00:03:33] I don’t have these great stories as some people tell of how it crashed you know in spectacular financial flame out. I was so lucky. I was raised middle class by a mother who understood money. Now she didn’t understand money in contemporary terms you know. But she understood that you know you avoid credit card debt. In fact I love telling this story back in the 70s Bank of America dared to charge her an annual fee and she chopped up her credit card and she mailed it back to them. She was not going to pay a bank to use a credit card. So that’s where I came from that’s the example I had set and then I also think there’s been some research showing with Swedish twins of all things that there may be a gene for good money management, and if there is I’ve got it. So I can’t be on this moral high ground and say oh look I’m so great you know it’s just like you know the color of my hair or the fact I have high arches I didn’t do anything to deserve it. It’s just there. But the reality is all of us can learn about this and that’s that’s really what I want to get across. None of us are born knowing this. It’s all graspable you know. Personal finance really is not rocket science. We just need to talk about it and make good decisions.

Chris: [00:04:39] Exactly. You know I was just speaking to someone else here at the conference about the fact that sometimes the way the industry presents information it’s in a very overly complicated way to isolate people away and it scares you away so that you think I need to have this paid help or I need have a degree I need to have all of this additional certification help just understand it so it must not be for me.

Liz Weston: [00:05:02] Yeah and that’s so sad because what you have is the value of time. I mean that’s what people in their 20s have that older people just don’t have. You have so much time for that money to compound if you just get it invested. But all these scary terms are out there and it seems like they’re shutting you out.

Chris: [00:05:19] Exactly is it that barrier, that monster that’s scaring you from getting anywhere near your finances at all.

Liz Weston: [00:05:26] So we’re trying to tell you you don’t have to know what you’re doing to start, hahaha.

Chris: [00:05:29] Just do something, do anything. You know if it’s seeking out people like yourself Liz Who are putting out material that’s really helpful. One of the articles that I was checking out also was the one on I’m sorry if I say the title wrong but it was basically like keeping up with like your neighbors and your friends.

Liz Weston: [00:05:45] Yeah yeah I forget what the title was too. Sorry copyeditor I’ve forgotten the headline.

Chris: [00:05:50] I really like that. Do you mind saying anything about the article?

Liz Weston: [00:05:54] Yeah because I’m really interested in behavioral finance you know the idea that we kind of get pushed around by our brains our reptilian brains that were evolved for different things they’re kind of bad with money. And this is the case with this particular thing. And this once again came from my editor who had a situation where he races cars on the weekend and somebody showed up with this magnificent RV and he was like “How the hell can he afford that”. And we do that all the time we look at somebody like well how are they going on that European vacation and how can they afford that big house or how can they you know get that great car. And sometimes they’re up to their ears in debt and that’s the end of this story. Other times you know they might have an inheritance they might have other things that we don’t know about. We can’t judge our insides by their outsides and do it all the time. And one of the things that I think you’re referring to that we’re talking about is all the research showing that we are status creatures we’re constantly checking our status and we tend to check it with people that are what we think are about our level. And if we feel like we’re one down we feel bad. So that’s where conspicuous consumption gets started we’re going to buy this blingy stuff to show how great we are and how much better we’re doing than everybody else. And it’s just that pit of you know spending money to impress other people who aren’t paying attention anyway.

Chris: [00:07:09] Exactly. You know we always think there’s someone watching us like everyone’s watching us they’re watching every move I make and it’s like I guess we’re not that interesting I don’t know why we think everyone’s watching what we’re doing. But we have that stuck in the back of our mind that you know we have to you know present this really know great front for everyone to see. You know I met someone here her name is Maggie and she does some coaching and one of the things that she mentioned she does financial coaching primarily with women. And she said that she’ll sometimes, I’m going to keep this very anonymous I don’t want to get her trouble, she’ll sometimes be coaching friends. And one of them will say you know my friends are really pressuring me. They want me to go to this party or this event and I really can’t afford it. But they’re really telling me I should go. And then at the same time there’s another friend who’s saying the exact same thing but they don’t, they’re not talking to each other because they don’t really share that information. So they’re all in the same situation where they know that financially they can’t afford it and they shouldn’t but they’re pressuring each other unknowing that if they just talked about it they could maybe find the cheapest solution to make everyone happy.

Liz Weston: [00:08:11] Oh man I bet that happens over and over you just think everybody else is spending this so I better step up and do it.

Chris: [00:08:17] Yeah exactly.

Liz Weston: [00:08:18] And Nobody wants to be here.

Chris: [00:08:19] No, no, no hahahaha. That’s why I think it’s very important that we should all be open about our finances.

Liz Weston: [00:08:26] I think it really helps.

Chris: [00:08:27] Right. The more we know about each other the more we can share the more we can help each other and I think make overall more financially I guess responsible and safe environment for everyone to be in so.

Liz Weston: [00:08:39] Let’s suck the shame out of it because really it doesn’t help anybody. And it slows them down and eventually you’ll get to the point where you realize, you know these other people aren’t geniuses. They just got started.

Chris: [00:08:51] Exactly. Well Liz I thank you so much. I appreciate you giving some of your time here for me. It was so great talking when we first were talking about the article and it’s great to see you again. You’ve been so nice. Is there anything going on that you’d like to share or talk about.

Liz Weston: [00:09:07] Oh I want to talk really quick because this is a really important our investigative reporting team we have a group of journalists who do investigations just publish one about Rent-A-Center and rent to own furniture. There’s some kind of scary stuff going on. You know people would stop paying on this furniture and rather than take it back they would just stop and these Rent-A-Center employees would go out to try to collect when they would be kicking down doors. These are the stories that were in these lawsuits so these are the allegations that these things were happening. And the other thing that was amazing to me is that in many states if you don’t return that furniture or that TV or whatever it’s actually a crime, you can get arrested for it.

Chris: [00:09:47] Really.

Liz Weston: [00:09:47] Seriously.

Chris: [00:09:48] For not returning a couch.

Liz Weston: [00:09:49] For not returning a couch. So we just wanted to say this is you know obviously it’s a bad way to buy things because it’s really expensive. People like to do it because there’s no credit check. And if they can’t afford it they can return it. But you know if you’re going to sign up for one of these things you really got to know what you’re getting into. And we have a lot of information on the site about how to get out of these contracts if you got into one.

Chris: [00:10:06] Really great information because I don’t think many people know all the ins and outs of these programs so where was it that we could find it again.

Liz Weston: [00:10:12] It’s nerd wallet. So you just look for the Rent-A-Center stuff. And actually it’s interesting because they’re doing a big expanse into other furniture stores so it’s not just like payday loans which are on one side of the tracks. It’s kind of moved into middle class neighborhoods as well.

Chris: [00:10:26] Oh wow. OK no definitely I’m going to go check that out. I really want to know more about that because that’s sad really. Is there any place that we can follow along with what you have going on where we can connect with you.

Liz Weston: [00:10:38] My site is AskLizWeston.com and all my columns the links to them are published there so that’s a place to find me or on Twitter @LizWeston or Facebook -Ask Liz Weston.

Chris: [00:10:48] Nice. So again thank you so much for your time. Appreciate you being here. Please everyone go check out anything done by Liz, you’re going to enjoy it, you really will.

Liz Weston: [00:10:56] Thanks so much Chris

Chris: [00:10:57] Thanks Again Liz.

[00:11:05] It was so great to have Liz Weston on the podcast. I mean she was just so nice so fun to talk to. You ever meet someone and they’re just so nice you know you’ll never forget them and that’s how Liz was, just such a kind person so thank you again Liz. And if you visit PopcornFinance.com/31, you know for episode 31, you’ll find show notes you’ll find details on Liz and where you can find more of her information and more of the great articles that she’s putting out. I’ll also put a link to the article that she interviewed me and my wife for so that way you can check that and out learn a little bit more about our debt story.

Chris: [00:11:39] I’ll probably do a show pretty soon on that as well. Just to kind of give you a little background on myself and stick to what I said in the episode and share the struggles that I’ve been through financially so that way hopefully it will help some of you and it will be encouraging and help you maybe get through a difficult time. Because I know for me that helped tremendously. So head to popcornfinance.com/31 get links to all that good information. And if you want to find out more about what’s going on with me and the podcast you can follow me on Instagram @PopcornFinancePodcast on Twitter and Facebook @PopcornfFinance and you can subscribe to the podcast through any of the major podcasts platforms so you know Apple Podcasts, Google Play Store, take your pick. Overcast, where ever you like just subscribe and that way you can keep up on all the latest episodes. So as always, appreciate you listening, thank you for joining me for another bag of popcorn and I look forward to talking to you soon.

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3 Responses

  1. Great interview! Liz and I go way back (even *before* our time at MSN Money) and I know that she’s someone who walks her talk. She gives good advice and yet she understands how people get into money trouble in the first place. No shaming — but also no excuses not to work to fix your issues.

    1. Hi Donna! Thank you so much for listening & sharing this episode. I really appreciate it!

      Liz’s kindness & compassion can be felt in the way that she discusses money. You can tell that she genuinely wants people to do well & understands that we all make mistakes so there shouldn’t be any shame. It was a pleasure to speak with Liz.

  2. This is a must read! I believe that having a debt is not really something that we have to be ashamed of because it is part of the reality of life. The interview is very informative! I am looking forward for more interview sessions like this. Thanks!