‘Plan like a pessimist (to) live like an optimist’
I read this interview of Gail Vaz-Oxlade in today’s Saturday Star – and it really resonated with me. Her mantra is simple yet practical advice for all. The part I liked best was when Gail says you should NOT pay off all your debts before you begin to save.
So with thanks to the Star and Nancy J. White for the reprint of the original interview, here it is!
January 16, 2010 – Nancy J. White
Will you be able to manage financially when the caca hits the fan?
That’s the concern of Canada’s blunt-talking personal finance writer, Gail Vaz-Oxlade. She’s the host of the television show Til Debt Do Us Part on Slice and author of a new book, Debt-Free Forever: Take Control of Your Money and Your Life.
Vaz-Oxlade, 50, the mother of two teenagers, lives in Brighton. She spoke to the Star about priority shopping, the long-term pain of credit and the lure of pretty sandals.
Q: Have you ever been in, as you call it, “Debt Hell”?
A: No, never. Debt is an anathema to me. It’s impossible for me to imagine spending money I haven’t yet earned because I’m always aware caca can happen. It’s important that I keep my financial life stable so I can deal with s— when it hits the fan.
Q: Bit of a pessimist are you?
A: I’m actually incredibly optimistic. My mantra is, “Plan like a pessimist so you can live like an optimist.”
Q: How did you get to be a money maven?
A: I fell into it. I started as an educational consultant for the financial services sector, went into freelance writing, book publishing and then television.
I’m self-educated on money. So I am living proof that all you have to be is interested and committed to be able to know what the hell is going on.
Q: What’s the most common debt sinkhole people fall into?
A: The most problematic one is consumer debt – credit cards, lines of credit, buy-now-pay-later, all the stuff related to “I want it, I buy it.” Adding to that is heaps of people buying more home than they can afford. A small change in their circumstances leaves them turning to other forms of credit to make ends meet.
Q: Credit cards: The minimum payment is tempting for …?
A: Oh God. What happens is that you make your lender really, really rich. You go out to dinner and spend $100 and put it on your credit card. It was a great evening. You go home. You poop. Dinner’s gone. The balance stays on your credit card for the next 10 years because you’re just paying the minimum. That’s immediate gratification with big-time, long-term pain.
Q: How many credit cards do you use?
A: I have two: a MasterCard I put everything personal on and a Visa for everything business. Both are paid in full the minute they are due.
Q: Should a person pay off debts before starting to save?
A: No. I’m one of the few people to say that. Savings is a habit. If you don’t establish the habit, you never will. There’s always a reason not to save, so you need to establish the habit.
Q: You say, “Don’t make shopping emotional.” Don’t you ever shop to make yourself feel better?
A: No, never. I shop because I need or want something. It goes on my list that I carry in my head. I say to myself, “I need a set of bed sheets.” I prioritize. Nothing I need or want is more important than the sheets. If I see sheets I like that are more expensive than I expected, I think, “What else am I willing to give up to have that?”
I live in a nice home. There’s nothing around my home I don’t want. People have clothes hanging in the closet with the tags still on. The stuff I have I use and enjoy. I invested in a pair of shoes to look at because they’re so pretty.
Q: You bought shoes just to look at?
A: People buy tchotchkes. I wanted to look at these shoes. They make me happy. They’re very strappy green sandals with a small heel and a big green daisy on the front. I’ve worn them maybe three times, but I bought them to look at.
Q: How much?
Q: Yeah, yeah. $39.99.
A: [Laughter] Sorry.
Q: Gail, what’s your most recent splurge?
A: Audible.com just had a sale. I listen to a lot of books because of all the driving I do and my eyes aren’t what they used to be. I saw the sale and bought myself 22 books. That’s my big treat.
Q: Dumbest money mistake you ever made?
A: Marrying my first husband.