Is Debt a Female Problem?
10:00 am, April 17th | by Sarah Devlin & Colette McIntyre
Sarah: You go first. I’ll be over here, crying.
OK FINE, I’LL GO FIRST
Sarah: NEVER TAKE OUT STUDENT LOANS
Sarah: OR YOU WILL DIE (I’m so depressed!!!!)
Colette: I couldn’t even scroll through all sixteen of those stories. I had to stop at nine because eventually it was like looking into a mirror, streaked with stress tears and the dust I have taken to eating because I have to save money to pay off all these student loans or else Sallie Mae is going to take my firstborn and my mom and my cats and all the knowledge I acquired in college.
I have a question, though. A serious one.
Colette: SERIOUS? Oh man. Okay.
Sarah: If all we knew about the credit card/consumer debt crisis was based on trend pieces, could we extrapolate that this is generally a female problem? Or do I spend too much time reading female-oriented personal finance websites (I HAVE NO INTERESTS OUTSIDE OF MYSELF)? I feel like every time I read a piece like this it’s about a woman who shopped/masters degreed herself into financial purgatory.
Colette: Well, as NYMag points out, women “go to college in greater numbers and pay more for health insurance,” all while making less money than men. It’s hard to climb out of a hole of debt when you’re starting on an unequal footing. What unsettles me about this piece and other pieces like this one is how much blame these women place on themselves. I feel the culture of shame that surrounds debt fosters the idea that we are all individually responsible for our fate, despite the fact that individuals have no control over skyrocketing tuition prices, health care costs, or the troubled economy.
Sarah: Right. I mean they could probably have charged fewer glasses of wine though. I guess i’m a snob, but when I hear about 40k in credit card debt I’m just like 0_0. HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN??
Colette: Wine is ALL WE HAVE.
Yeah, I struggle with comprehending that. But let me just say that I don’t have credit card debt not because I know how to manage my money or because I am financially literate but because I was/am too afraid to get a credit card.
I got a credit card. I did okay with it in college, mostly because it has a really low limit, so I couldn’t get into too much trouble.
Colette: Pieces like this make it seem like the only right answer is to put all your money in paper bags and stuff them under your mattress!
Sarah: But my parents put the fear of god into me re: credit cards.
Colette: Well that’s a great point.
Sarah: I just wonder why these pieces so often are about “women reining in uncontrollable spending.” The only exception was that girl who was totally f*cked by medical bills. It makes it seem like the credit card debt and the student debt are linked, which I think is a bit of a false correlation.
Colette: As if they both stem from the same frivolous, present moment decision-making. Right. And as we discussed yesterday, many students go to college because they (perhaps mistakenly) think that it will act as a great financial equalizer.
Sarah: Right! Which may not be true, but seems true based on the information they are given.
Colette: Well, I would like to comment on something you said a little earlier, about how your parents “put the fear of god into [you] re: credit cards.” I think that how a person interacts with money and finances has a lot to do with how they saw their parents managing their own finances.
Sarah: Right. My parents were nuts. They kept meticulous spreadsheets on our old NEXT computer.
Sarah: Which also had to do with having 2 kids in their twenties with my dad getting his Ph.d, while my sister and I were both very young. When I think about the financial struggles they faced and how they managed to feed/clothe/house us when they were not much older than I am now, I feel…pretty dumb.
Colette: Hahaha well, but it’s not a particularly fair comparison to make! Salaries are falling — how does anyone expect us to save money, especially when the cost of housing, education, and plain ol’ living are skyrocketing?
Sarah: Well, sure. But if I were a jerk, I’d say “Well, you don’t HAVE to get an arts degree/live in New York/eat at a restaurant ever.”
Colette: You’re right. Believe me — I ask myself every morning why I continue to live in this crazy city that doesn’t even care about me. And then I repeat the question when I am riding a train at night and the person next to me smells like ammonia and keeps yelling to no one about how I look like a dirty thief. But that’s a different story.
I’ve taken that dark subway ride too many times.
Colette: I wish I grew up in a household like yours, though. Money was always fraught with anxiety, fear, and stress in the McIntyre household, with a generous dash of distrust, and I’ve definitely internalized that.
There was plenty anxiety about it in my house, but I think it was just MANAGED. AGGRESSIVELY. And that comes from both sides of my fam — my mom’s parents’ paid off their house in 5 years or something similarly absurd.
Colette: Even though I’m employed, I think of money as this mythical thing that can just disappear, and so I’m the Scrooge of my social circle — except instead of denying my employees more coal into the fire, I only agree to meeting up at happy hours and act like “window shopping” is a fun thing that people actually do.
That’s good! I feel like I notice the attitude of some of my peers as being “I wish I had more money, I DESERVE more money” which paradoxically leads to spending more…Whereas it would certainly be nice to have more money, but I’m prepared for that not to happen so I basically jealously guard what I have like…a dragon guarding gold?
Sarah: THAT MFA WAS TOTALLY WORTH IT! PERFECT SIMILE ALERT!
At any rate, I think that the freely spending attitude that gets you into credit card debt is not the same as the attitude that gets you into student loan debt.
Colette: It reminds me of this piece on financial literacy. While curbing willy nilly credit card purchases will certainly help keep down debt and knowing how to mange and invest money is a good thing, that’s only “half the battle,” as The Billfold argues.
Sarah: Right. It’s so much more complicated. We should have personal finance classes along with, like, sex ed (but…taught better). It’s crazy to me that it’s such a guessing game for so many of us.
Colette: Products, like credit cards, need to be easier for consumers to understand. Financial information needs to expand. At this point, you have to pay money to learn about money.
Sarah: And even though I think a lot of the lenders have a vested interest in that NOT happening, we have to demand it.
And don’t listen to anyone who shows up at your college campus and tell you that you need to start building credit. Even if they are sitting behind a table. And don’t believe it when people tell you that because you are a woman you need help with your money or that the only solution is to stop shopping so much.
Man, the authority that a folding table confers…
Colette: Also — don’t listen to anyone who shows up to your college and tells you that he/she likes your hair.
THEY JUST WANT TO SELL YOU A REALLY OVERPRICED HAIRCUT.
Colette: That is my expert financial advice.
[Photo via Shutterstock]