This week, Maggie sits down with Melanie Lockert to talk about the connection between mental health and money.
Read Melanie’s Allure piece on the link between suicide and debt
Buy Melanie’s book, Dear Debt
Student Loan Planner study on suicide and student loan debt
Check out financial therapists Amanda Clayman and Lindsay Bryan-Podvin
Use the Crisis Text Line
Use the Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Melanie Lockert is the founder of the blog and author of the book, Dear Debt. Through her blog, she chronicled her journey out of $81,000 in student loan debt. She is also the co-founder of the Lola Retreat, which helps bold women face their fears, own their dreams and figure out a plan to be in control of their finances. She is passionate about empowering women, helping others get out of debt, and focuses on the intersection of debt and mental health. Every September she organizes a Suicide Prevention Awareness Blog Tour, to help share resources for those struggling with debt and suicide. You can find her at DearDebt.com and @MelanieLockert.
To learn more about Maggie and her coaching and speaking services, visit www.maggiegermano.com.
To get more involved with Money Circle:
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Sign up for the virtual membership program
The theme music is called Escaping Light by Aaron Sprinkle. The podcast artwork design is by Maggie’s dear husband, Dan Rader.
Maggie Germano: [00:00] Hey there and welcome to the Money Circle podcast. My name is Maggie Germano and I am your host. Today I’m talking about something that is near and dear to my heart and it is something that is so important for all of us to be talking about. And that is the connection between mental health and money issues. So September is suicide prevention awareness month. I try to bring this topic to the surface on my blog every year in September. And so I’ve written on, you know, how to get mental health care on a budget and other ways to take care of your mental health on a budget. Um, but this year I really wanted to make sure to focus on this as a topic on the podcast as well. And so I happened to see my friend Melanie Lockert at fincon a couple of weeks ago. And so we had lunch together and we talked about the work that she does around mental health and money.
Maggie Germano: [01:07] And so I knew I needed to have her on right away. So Melanie laugher is the founder of the blog and author of the book, dear debt, through her blog, she chronicled her journey out of $81,000 in student loan debt. She’s also the cofounder of the Lola Retreat, which helps bold women face their fears, own their dreams, and figure out a plan to be in control of their finances. She is passionate about empowering women, helping others get out of debt. And she focuses on the intersection of debt and mental health. Every September she organizes a suicide prevention awareness blog tour to help share resources for those struggling with debt and suicide. You can find her deardebt.com and @Melanie Lockert. So during our long conversation Melanie and I talked about the connection between mental health and debt, the connection between suicide and debt, and about the steps that we can be taking as individuals and as a society to start, you know, addressing those issues and helping people get out of not only debt but out of mental health struggles. So this is an important episode to me and I hope that you find it helpful. And if you know someone who would benefit from this conversation, please feel free to share and encourage them to listen.
Maggie Germano: [02:26] Welcome, Melanie, thanks so much for being here today.
Melanie Lockert: [02:30] Hey, thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to be here. Great.
Maggie Germano: [02:34] so why don’t you just tell the listeners a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Melanie Lockert: [02:41] Yeah. My name is Melanie Lockert and I am a blogger behind deardebt.com I also have a book of the same name called dear debt. And I also organize Lola retreat, which is a women and money event. And I actually started in this space in January, 2013 I started all that time ago, pretty much when I was deep in student loan debt and I just felt so depressed about my student loan debt. And so, you know, I started this blog to really keep myself accountable and the debt payoff process and it’s completely changed my life and led to this really weird and interesting career. And now I tried to help others pay off debt and get their finances in order.
Maggie Germano: [03:22] That’s great. So it sounds like you started that blog just as an own self accountability, uh, system for yourself and then it really expanded from there. Like how did it expand to include others?
Melanie Lockert: [03:37] Yeah, so pretty much I started it, you know, on my own. Like I want to keep myself accountable post debt repayment updates every single month. And I really started focusing on kind of the emotional relationship to that. So, you know, the title of the blog is called dear debt and it’s kind of a riff off the dear John Letter concept. You know that the dear John is like writing breakup letters. So, you know, I had kind of this concept of dear debt, let’s write break up letters to debt. And so, you know, aside from my monthly updates, I was writing all of these breakup letters to debt, kind of examining my emotions related to debt because up until that point I had been so depressed and anxious and filled with shame and guilt and anxiety because of my student loans. And you know, I loved all of the personal finance content I was reading and I was getting inspired by all these other blogs, but I realized that nobody was talking about that and I really wanted to have some fun and some creativity with this project.
Melanie Lockert: [04:32] And so, you know, I started the dear debt blog and started the dear debt letter project where I invited other people to write breakout today as well. And really it just became kind of a community effort where people started submitting their own dear debt letters. And you know, we’ve had such a range of debt letters from really humorous, really incredibly heartbreaking, um, some that are more kind of grateful oriented. Like, thank you dad for helping me not be homeless. Thank you for paying for my school. Um, you know, we’ve had kind of the whole gamut of emotions that are expressed in the dear debt letters and it’s just been so great to kind of watch the community grow in that way. And you know, just kind of finding other debt fighters and realizing that I wasn’t alone and then kind of attracting others who, who felt that same way and yeah, just kind of grew right there. I feel, I felt like it was kind of like the right place, the right time.
Maggie Germano: [05:26] Yeah. It sounds like it. Like it was before kind of, you know, every, it felt like everyone was talking about money and debt and you know, the emotions that come along with it. Cause that, that’s something that I’m very passionate about as well. And it seems like there’s a lot more people out there now dealing with that topic. But it sounds like you kind of got in to that beforehand. So it was like you were ahead of the game with that.
Melanie Lockert: [05:52] Yeah. January, 2013 I mean that was two years after occupy Wall Street and I actually [inaudible] occupy Wall Street. And I remember student loan debt had just started to become on people’s radar at that time. And like, you know, two years later it was still kind of kind of on the sidelines. And then it was just, you know, at that time really starting to become an issue. And then obviously since 2013 and especially in the past couple of years, it’s just blown up into this huge bubble and people are just starting to realize that so many borrowers are graduating with six figures in debt and there’s not enough jobs or income to support it.
Maggie Germano: [06:30] Exactly. And I think you’re totally right with the time period that this all kind of what’s happening is, you know, the people in our generation who were graduating with all of this debt, we were some of the first ones to be kind of coming into the workforce with just, just so much debt where like the cost of higher education has exploded. And like you said, you know, we were also kind of coming into a recession and having to deal with that on top of the debt and not necessarily having a job that paid us well in order to stay afloat in that kind of way.
Melanie Lockert: [07:06] Yeah. And the stagnant wages have not kept up with inflation. So it just feels like millennials are kind of double screwed in a way. We have all of this stuff that we’re graduating with and then we may or may not even get a job. And if we do, it’s not gonna pay what, you know, our parents or our grandparents were getting paid.
Maggie Germano: [07:25] Exactly. And we don’t really have the job security in the same kind of way and we can’t necessarily rely on something like a pension. And social security is up in the air too. And so that’s another thing where it’s like we then also have to be [inaudible]
Melanie Lockert: [07:39] thank you. Yes. Yes.
Maggie Germano: [07:43] Makes so much sense that there would be a lot of anxiety and frustration and overwhelm when it comes to thinking about all of these things at once and you know, combining that with the lack of proper financial education as well. It’s a whole lot to be taking on at once.
Maggie Germano: [08:02] Yeah. And so, you know, you mentioned a little bit about your mental health journey along with your debt journey and this is something you talk a lot about in the work that you do every single day. Uh, can you tell us a little bit more about that connection between your mental health and your money just for you personally?
Melanie Lockert: [08:22] Yeah, for me personally, you know, 2012 like the year before I started my blog, I was just in a complete depressive episode. I hardly remember the year because it was just riddled with tears and feelings of anxiety and shame and it just felt all consuming at the time. You know, I felt like I didn’t know how I was going to pay this debt back. I felt worthless because I had conflated my net worth with my self worth. And you know, I was, you know, at that time, around $70,000 in debt, you know, I had borrowed a total of $81,000 in debt and probably in total paid off about a hundred with interest. But you know, even after making payments for years at this time when I graduated, it was around 70 k and it just felt like, how am I ever going to get out of this?
Melanie Lockert: [09:12] And you know, I think we all have different relationships to debt. You know, some people are not as debt averse as I am and they’re like, oh, it’s just another payment. It’s fine. I’m very debt averse. I always like to settle scores. So it’s like if I owe someone something, I want it to be paid back. I want it to be done. You know, I don’t want to feel like someone owns me. I don’t want to feel like someone has something on me. I don’t want to feel like someone’s taking away a part of my freedom. And so I felt like every single month I’m paying towards my past and not my future and not my present. And it’s just like, yeah, in a way, it keeps you trapped in the past. It keeps you a slave to your past. And you know, it’s not a fun feeling because you feel stuck between, you know, this dream that you had, that you pursued in the past and the future that’s no longer possible for you.
Melanie Lockert: [10:02] And I think that can cause a lot of really emotional feelings that we don’t talk about. And you know, in personal finance we all just think it’s about the numbers. But there’s so much about behavioral finance, there’s so much about mental health and money. You know, there’ve been so many studies that have come out, you know, in the past couple of years talking about the correlation between debt and mental health and anxiety and that, oh there is a correlation between depression and anxiety and you know, debt. And it makes sense because you know, if you just think of something basic like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which you know, kind of says like we need, we all have these basic needs that need to be met like food and shelter and water and like the highest tier is self [inaudible] self actualization. Like, if we can’t reach our highest cells cause we’re just barely trying to get our most basic needs met, you know, we’re gonna we’re to be not happy creatures I think. And so I think there’s so many different factors that can go into it. But for me personally, I just felt so depressed because I felt like all of my options were limited. I felt like I didn’t have choices anymore. I felt like it was dictating my options. Like all of my options either had to say no to or I had to find the most affordable option and it sucked. It really, really sucked. And you know, it definitely had a significant impact on my mental health.
Maggie Germano: [11:25] That makes a lot of sense. And that’s the kind of thing that I hear a lot both on the side where it’s like I’m just trying to support myself and get by and actually be able to pay my bills and feed myself and have some semblance of a life. And then you know, all the way to the point of like you were mentioning that that connection between net worth and self worth and how if you have debt and a negative, you know, net worth that that somehow makes you a worse person or not as good as other people or it’s somehow your fault. And those are the kinds of things that I hear a lot. And that’s some of the thinking that I’m trying to break both with my one on one clients and also just the people that are, you know, listening to this and reading my blog and just thinking about it and kind of a different way. But it’s hard to break that because it’s been so ingrained in so many of us I think.
**Melanie Lockert: [12:22] **Totally. And I don’t know if this is the right chunks. It’s been a while since I’ve studied philosophy, but I feel like there’s like some moral relativism that’s like related to debt where it’s like, Oh, debt’s bad. And you know, we kind of have internalized this like moral kind of feeling with debt. But debt is just, it’s a thing. It’s, it’s you owe money. But has nothing to do with your personality, has nothing to do with their intellect. It has nothing to do whether you are a good person or not. You know? And I think a lot of us start confusing that in the process.
Maggie Germano: [12:54] Oh definitely. And, and I liked what you were saying about how it’s just a thing that exists and I like to think about it, it’s like a fact, like you have this debt and you know, what, what can you start doing now to start dealing with it? Whether it is, you know, taking the mindset of it’s a bill, I’m just gonna pay it till it goes away. Or if you want to be more aggressive and it’s going to depend on the person, but looking at it as just a pure fact of your circumstances. And I think that that makes it easier to actually start taking action. Because if you are assigning, you know, a moral blame on things and punishing yourself, beating yourself up about it, it’s really paralyzing and makes it so that you can’t move forward at all.
Melanie Lockert: [13:39] Yeah. And I think that analysis paralysis is really, you know, what keeps you stuck and you know, let’s say you did get into a bunch of credit card debt because you were shopping and it was careless and you know you want to beat yourself up and you think like, oh I’m such a bad person. Like we all have bad days, we all have bad behaviors. You all have bad habits that does not make you a bad person. Like those are just facets of your life that happened occasionally. And like that’s where we can really kind of make the changes and just like separate ourselves. Like oh okay I took a few bad actions here. But that’s like one day that’s like one month off. Like one year moving forward. Paying this off is where I can make the changes, you know? And there was this quote a while back like, you know, just because you have a bad day doesn’t mean you have a bad life. And I think that kind of theory can be applied to this. Like, even if you make a few quote bad decisions, so to speak, if people really want to beat themselves up over it, like it doesn’t mean that you know your a bad person. Like we all make mistakes, things happen and you know, we can turn things around. That’s so true.
Maggie Germano: [14:45] And it’s so easy to forget that too. Especially if we’re comparing ourselves to, people are just looking on Instagram and just seeing people posting about like their amazing trips or their uh, their savings balance and the things like that. It’s just really the Joneses are everywhere now. Exactly. Exactly. And, and what you were saying was reminding me of how Brene Brown talks about shame versus guilt and how shame means I’m a bad person because I did this thing versus guilt. And the difference between between the two is that the shame of I am a bad person puts you into that paralysis and makes it feel impossible to move forward. Cause it’s like, oh well I just suck. So I like can’t do anything different. And then with the guilt part it’s like, okay, I did that thing, I’m not happy about it. And I don’t want to do it again. So how can I move forward differently? And I think trying to move from the shame over to the guilt side if necessary for motivation is really a key step.
Melanie Lockert: [15:48] Yeah, that, that’s such a good point. And, and yeah, actually, I’m sorry, this is like, it’s triggering into my therapy session yesterday. Like my therapist was like, you love like going back to the past and reminiscing about how all this happened and Dah, Dah, Dah, Dah, Dah. But I think we need to think about like, how do you want to show up in the future? Like who do you want to be in the future? And I was like, wow, that’s a really, really good point. And so I think that’s kind of a relevant point right now. Like, yeah, we can, you know, beat ourselves up and be immersed in shame and guilt and all this other stuff. Or we can say, okay, that happened. I can’t change it. I can, you know, be in this like masochistic terror in my mind for days and, you know, try to make myself feel better. Or just like stew in my own negative emotions, but also I can just try to realize that’s not going to get me anywhere. And you know, kind of like what my therapist said, how can I show up as my best self in the future and what does that mean? What changes do I need to make to, to be that person?
Maggie Germano: [16:48] Yeah. I love that because that’s so much more empowering. It gives you options and a way forward at least, especially a way that you can design, like you were saying, how can I show up so it puts the power back in your hands rather than like, I screwed up back then and I can’t do anything about it. Well it’s like, well, what can you do now? What do you want to do now? Yeah, exactly. It gives you so much more agency. Yeah, that’s a great, that’s a great therapist there. I love that. She’s the best. I love her. Um, so you started touching a little bit on some of that research kinda that’s coming out around personal finance and health. Do you have any more um, details or kind of findings on that connection and kind of the effects of the connection?
Melanie Lockert: [17:40] Yeah, so, you know, I recently worked on a survey with student loan planner. Full disclosure, they’re a client of mine, but I like worked on this comprehensive mental health study with them. And you know, we found that 90% of student loan borrowers felt anxiety, which is just a staggering amount. We found that one in 15 borrowers had considered suicide over their debt. And then I’ve also, you know, been looking at research as part of my suicide prevention blog tour, which I think we’ll probably talk about. But what I found is that people who die by suicide are eight times more likely to be in debt. That’s crazy. Eight times more likely to be in debt. And that just goes to show that, you know, there, there’s a correlation and I think there’s, I think there needs to be more data, but we’re just starting to see, you know, the American psychological association doing more things about financial stress. You know, a lot of kind of companies are talking about financial stress. And financial wellness these days. Like it’s just starting to bubble up. And I think, you know, the more we look at the data in the future, we’re just going to see even more clear links between these topics.
Maggie Germano: [18:50] Yeah. And thank you for sharing that information. And I’ve, I’ve definitely seen the results of that survey too. And it is staggering how the, the emotional reaction to that debt and how severe it can be. And that’s, it’s scary because if it’s not something we’re all talking about, it’s not something we can help each other with and kind of prevent these actions.
Melanie Lockert: [19:15] Totally. And yeah, I mean when I was paying off my debt before I started my blog, I felt completely alone. I was like, none of my friends are going through this. All their parents paid for college or, or they just don’t even care about their debt, Dah, Dah, Dah, Dah, Dah. And I just felt so alone. And it wasn’t until I started my blog and actually talking about it, did people start saying, I feel the same way. I’m in the same situation. I have double the debt. You have Dah, Dah, Dah, Dah. And I was like, Oh my God, I’m not alone. And the only reason I realized I wasn’t alone is because I took the first step to talk about my experience. And I think that’s where vulnerability can really create community in a way. And also just bring you closer to other people who might be suffering silently that you don’t know about and just also goes to show that you literally just have no idea what people are going through. And so many people just guard a parts of themselves and you know, we have to in some ways, but you know, we just never know what people are going through.
Maggie Germano: [20:14] That’s so true. And that’s something that I think can talk about a lot too, where it is that, you know, vulnerability in sharing and the necessity of talking about these issues in order to find the other people who are struggling with the same kinds of things. Because it’s not like everyone is going out and posting on Instagram or Facebook about the debt that they owe or their mental health struggles or whatever they might be going through. We’re not broadcasting that on a daily basis unless we do have a blog like dear debt. Um, so it’s really easy to just assume that everybody else is perfect and we’re the only ones dealing with our shit. Um, cause that’s something I hear from my clients too. Like I, I’ve literally had a client in the past who, um, told me, you know about her credit card debt that she was the only one of all her friends who had credit card debt and that she was like, you know, such a failure about it. But I happened to also be coaching one of her friends and I knew for a fact that that friend, had credit card debt.
Melanie Lockert: Actually that’s such an interesting point that you made because I just worked on this suicide in debt article for allure and I interviewed financial therapist, Amanda Clayman. And one of her points that I actually don’t think made it into the article, but something that she had told me in the interview was that we have to be careful of the stories we’re telling ourselves. And like some people tell like themselves and then no family has credit card debt. No one in my family has ever defaulted on their student loans. And it’s like, do you really know that? Like where’s the evidence, what are the facts, you know, because these are the stories that we kind of jumped to conclusions about. But yeah, like as as your situation has shown, like these are the stories we’re telling ourselves and we don’t really have the facts to back it up. And a lot of the times they’re untrue and unnecessary.
Maggie Germano: [22:08] Exactly. And unless you’ve literally asked someone and had them honestly tell you whether or not they’ve defaulted on a loan or anything like that, you’re probably not going to know that because it’s not something that is going to be broadcasted on social media or talked about at parties. And so those assumptions, they just heard us and I feel like they also disconnect us from each other too because we do make assumptions about other people in a way that might make us feel jealous of them or frustrated with them or resentful and it just disconnects us further. And also makes us feel worse about ourselves. Right.
Melanie Lockert: [22:47] Totally. And even like if we were to do, you know, kind of what you’re saying like that’s, there’s still like a presumption of honesty, which I feel like when people are ashamed about things that are not always honest, you know, so it’s like we can’t even have like, oh, I think my friends being honest, like you, you know, sometimes not everyone’s honest and that’s because we’ve created this kind of system where people are ashamed, but all of that to say like, yeah, we don’t know people’s situation and we have to just own our own story and kind of be mindful of the stories we’re telling ourselves about others and how it impacts her situation. Exactly. Quickly.
Maggie Germano: [23:22] Yeah, I completely agree. There isn’t always going to be that honesty there, especially with the shame and taboo. So taking the first step and being more honest about our own circumstances and also being careful with what we’re saying to ourselves about ourselves and about each other. Not only is that going to help us be more realistic about our own financial situation and others, but will benefit our mental health as well. Yes, totally. And so you mentioned your recent piece in allure and congratulations again on getting your piece and that platform. That’s really awesome.
Melanie Lockert: Yeah, it is super exciting and actually really unexpected. Um, I actually follow the editor of the digital wellness, um, portion of allure on Twitter and I just saw that she was accepting pitches for suicide prevention week and literally sent over three ideas and she accepted that one. And within a week I turned in an article and here we are. And so it was really fast moving and really unexpected and really exciting and um, you know, happy to share that message on a different platform because I’ve been talking about this topic literally for five years and a lot of it has been like, oh, on blog, which you know, isn’t like super popular. And like the metric standpoint, I’ve talking spoken about it and written about it on other smaller sites and other personal finance sites. But I feel like this was a bigger, larger demographic and I think even more important in a way to talk to people that aren’t in personal finance. Cause sometimes it feels like we’re talking in an echo chamber. And so yeah, I think it’s been a really great platform, a different platform and makes me excited to think about what other platforms could or should I go on where this message might be better received for the general populace, if that makes sense.
Maggie Germano: Oh yeah, definitely. Because the bigger the platform, the more people will see it and the more seriously this topic will be taken, which is huge.
Melanie Lockert: [25:26] Yeah. Yeah. And also like meeting people where they are. Because I think, you know, like I said, I’ve been talking about this all on personal finance platforms, but that’s assuming that someone’s going to find it Bot because they want to go to a personal finance platform where most people aren’t necessarily searching personal finance platforms, especially if they’re in denial. But if they happen to be, you know, reading allure for best makeup trip trips or you know, wellness strategies. And then they also read about this article, you know, that’s even better.
Maggie Germano: [25:59] That’s a really good point because you’re right, not everyone is going to go seek out a financial blog to read about money and then, you know, stumble upon the mental health connection there. Most people want to be reading other things for more fun and then, but they still need that information. And to see that reflected in front of them that maybe the thing that they’re struggling with is normal and common and there are ways out of that.
Melanie Lockert: [26:27] Definitely.
Maggie Germano: [26:30] Something else I want to kind of point out is how you getting into a lure was kind of, not by chance, but kind of by chance that you happen to see that tweet because you follow. Yeah. The lesson there is to just like go for it and see what happens. Cause you can, you might be surprised about the opportunity you get.
Melanie Lockert: [26:58] Yeah, definitely go after it. You know, I really encourage anyone who is soliciting any kind of work opportunities. Literally it’s an email. You know, I’ve, I’ve thought about this with my sponsorships when I’m trying to ask for money for my event. And like literally it’s, it’s me sending an email, literally they’re gonna either not respond, they’re going to say yes or they’re going to say no like, and it’s not gonna affect my reality at all. Like, you know, if they say yes, then it will change my reality for the positive. But them saying no or ignoring me like doesn’t change anything. And so I’ve really tried to get rid of the anxiety related to sending emails that are work-related when you’re asking for money or pitching for work because it’s like, why am I assigning so much meaning to this when literally it’s not going to change anything for me unless it does.
Melanie Lockert: [27:44] And if it does, it will for the positive. Like no one’s going to respond and be like, wow, this idea is dumb. Or like, you know how ha ha, you know, like people are busy with their own lives or either going to ignore you or just going to see like thanks like it’s not the right time or we’re not interested in like, okay, great, like didn’t change my day at all. And you know, so yeah, it was great. And if you’re a writer, I highly recommend following editors on Twitter because I honestly think Twitter is like the water cooler for all like writers and journalists and self employed people. And so I’ve like seen so many calls for pitches on Twitter and you know, Kinda just through like the rabbit hole finding these editors to follow and yeah, she has no idea who I am and I just saw the tweet and decided why not? And Yeah, just, it’s, it was very serendipitous.
Maggie Germano: [28:34] That’s awesome. And I agree with you about Twitter. There’s so many connections to be made on there. It’s kind of an equal opportunity platform in that way. Yes. Um, but so you started touching a little bit about, you know, what Amanda said when you were interviewing her for that piece. Um, but so the piece is about, you know, the link between suicide in particular and debt. Can you expand a little bit more on kind of what you found when doing research and writing that piece?
Melanie Lockert: [29:02] Yeah. You know, what I found when writing that piece was really, you know, through talking through Amanda and also my other source, Lindsay, you know, just that there is this correlation of like feeling so depressed and anxious and like, oh, in so much and kind of Lindsay really, um, confirmed what I already knew that we really kind of conflate ourself worth with our net worth. And then, you know, Amanda made a really good point about how when you take on debt, you have this confidence in the future, right? Like, Oh yeah, I’ll be able to pay this debt off. And you know, I totally thought that way too when I went to NYU. Like, Oh yeah, I’ll be able to pay it off. It’ll be great, it’ll be fine. And then, you know, we’re, we’re met with his sobering reality that’s completely different than what we thought.
Melanie Lockert: [29:44] And that’s where the depression can come in. And you know, the anxiety feeling like how are we going to meet our basic needs? Right. And you know, throughout writing that article, it just became more clear kind of what I had experienced personally, what others are going through. And that just, you know, with how much debt there has been as one point 5 trillion in student loan debt and there’s 44 million student loan borrowers. You know, I’m from one of the studies that I had quoted, it said 55% of credit card holders had credit card debt. I mean the numbers are just staggering. I mean basically debt is our favorite national pastime and it’s something we still barely talk about and it’s causing people significant financial and emotional stress and to fucking their daily lives. And when your daily life is affected, of course it’s going to affect your mental health because if you feel like you can’t live where you want to live or you can’t feed your kids what you want to feed them or if you’re worried about paying this bill because you have a student loan pain to pay instead, like of course that’s going to affect your mental health because it affects the way you live your life and how you perceive, you know, your life moving forward.
Melanie Lockert: [30:55] And a lot of times when you’re stuck in deep debt it feels like you’re not moving forward in any way. And then also like just the weight interest works, it literally feels like you’re paying, you know, two steps forward. One step back. And I remember feeling that when I was just making minimum payments where I would see how much of my payment was going towards interest. And I was like, Oh wow, I just need a $900 payment, but 400 of it went to interest. That’s cool. And it’s so discouraging and for people to see that. And you know, it wasn’t until I started making a lot more money and I was putting down like two and $3,000 a month and that was when I paid $400 for a studio apartment that I shared with my then partner in Portland, Oregon for context. Um, you know, did I start to make a lot of headway on that? But it’s like if you can’t do that, like the interest just makes it unbearable. Like I honestly think that would be so much more manageable if we didn’t have interest. I know like interest is there because the lenders need to protect themselves and that’s how they recover costs and make money, blah blah blah. But I just feel like it’s such an unjust system, um, the way it’s all created and it has a significant impact on people.
Maggie Germano: [32:06] Oh, I agree. It’s, it almost feels like it’s kind of the wild wild west out there with the kinds of interest rates they can be charging and the different fees they can put on top of things and things like payday loans. The fact that those even exist is super insane to me. And so, um, you know, there are some regulations in place in some consumer protections, but not nearly as much as there should be. And so I think that’s something that’s also important for people to remember is it’s not just you, it’s the system and it’s really unfair. Totally. And it’s definitely in the favor of the, those big companies that are actually giving you the loans, they’re making so much money off of borrowers.
Melanie Lockert: [32:52] Yeah, totally. They’re making a bunch of money. I mean, yeah, that’s, that’s how they get to stay in business. And so, you know, I always encourage people to think about who is profiting off your debt, you know, and, and let that make you angry. You know, once I calculated how much interest I was paying per day, which was $11 per day. Yeah. Um, I got so angry because this was maybe like right when I graduated, I had around I think $68,000 at that point. And I calculated that I was paying $11 a day in interest because student loans actually are different and their interest accrues daily, which is why also biweekly payments can make a difference even if you just split your monthly payment in half. Um, and I was like, wait, that’s like 300 plus dollars a month. That is an a round trip flight from New York to La. That’s several nice dinners. That’s a lot of concerts. Like I just kept thinking about all these fun things that I would want to do with $300 a month. And I just felt like I was incinerating it or flushing it down the toilet and just made me so angry and you know, instead of just kind of stewing in that anger and letting it eat me alive, I was like, I have to take action. And you know, I put that energy into finding more side gigs into just becoming relentless on, I have to pay this back because I have to get my life back and stop making these fat cats richer, you know, who are making money off of my debt. They’re not suffering. I am, so I want to get them off of my back.
Maggie Germano: [34:24] Exactly. Yeah. That’s a really good point to consider as like your, you know, you took out the debt for a reason for schools, so you did get some kind of benefit from that. But now all of the benefit is going towards the, the lenders and the banks and the credit card companies and all of those people. And so using that as a motivating factor and using that anger as a motivating factor rather than something that’s gonna keep you feeling stuck and held back.
Melanie Lockert: [34:52] Totally. Yeah, definitely.
Maggie Germano: [34:56] And so you started referring to your suicide prevention, um, blog tour. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and how that got started?
Melanie Lockert: [35:07] Yeah, yeah. So, you know, I started my blog in January, 2013 and about close to the year, mark know I was looking at my stats and my Google analytics and you know, you can see your traffic and keywords that people find you with. And I saw that someone had searched, I want to kill myself because of debt and found my blog. And I was like, what are you kidding me? And it just how of visceral and I just felt so sick. And you know, obviously I had no idea who this random person was who googled that and found my blog. But I felt like I had to talk to them. And so I wrote a blog post address to that person. And if I were talking to them, you know, saying, you know, dad is not a death sentence, you are not alone, it’s not worth it. Here’s some resources. And then sure enough, you know, once I started with that post, I got more and more traffic about debt and suicide. And I hate to say it, but to this day, that is my number one traffic term. I get emails all of the time from people who are suicidal because of their debt and you know, because of the influx of emails and because of, you know, all of these things, I thought we need the personal finance community to really, you know, take a stand and start talking about this issue.
Melanie Lockert: [36:28] So four years ago I started the suicide prevention blog tour and I got, um, you know, all my personal finance blogger friends together to write about this topic about debt and depression, money and mental health debt and suicide and to really break down the taboo and you know, um, this will be its fourth year. And so I’m really excited to, you know, have people participate and continue to shed light on this issue because I think that conversation around mental health is starting to shift, which I’m really excited to see. But I feel like the intersection of money and mental health and debt and depression isn’t quite there yet. And so I’m excited to continue to break down barriers with that and start, you know, talking about it more. And what I found over the past four years of talking to bloggers is everyone has a story I’ve heard from so many people like, oh by the way, my neighbor died by suicide.
Melanie Lockert: [37:18] And I, it turns out it was because of the mortgage or actually my brother died by suicide. And I can’t tell you how much this means to me. Or, you know, like everyone has a story and just people tell me wild and crazy things either because they feel comfortable because of this blog tour or they’re a complete stranger and they feel comfortable telling me a complete stranger. They’re wild and crazy stories. And you know, I want to create a safe space for all of that because I know how important it is to make people feel truly seen and heard. And you know, I’m not a mental health professional. I am not a financial professional. And I of course have to preface that in all of my communications and my blog posts. But I also know that I’m a person that cares. And you know, I don’t want all of this kind of professionalism in a way to like deter me from that, if that makes sense.
Melanie Lockert: [38:11] Um, and so like I respond to every single email and you know, even this week I had talked to someone who was really, really awful and I had given him some resources. And actually J money from budgets are sexy. Um, we had a project a few years ago called debt drop where we gave readers in distress 50 to a hundred dollars. He gave the street or $100. And I just got an email from him today saying how his whole outlook has changed. And even though like his finances, you know, haven’t changed, it was just so nice that a stranger actually cared and took the time to listen and you know, that he wasn’t alone, that he just needed reassurance, that he wasn’t crazy. And I thought, wow, like how many times when we’re that low, like if anyone has experienced with mental health issues, like all we want is someone to truly see us and hear us and tell us that we’re not crazy and that we’re not alone and that we’re not worthless.
Melanie Lockert: [39:05] And that, you know, we’re not a pile of garbage because depression and anxiety can be the biggest liars on earth and make your mind tell you crazy things. And, you know, I want to try to be that person for other people because I mean, I’ve had my own suicidal ideation in the past, you know, since teenager, you know, through several times in adulthood. And it’s extremely difficult and frightening to be in that situation. And also my grandfather on my mom’s side died by suicide when my mom was five, so I never got to meet him. But I know from her end, obviously that was a hugely painful part of her life. And then of course like I felt so bad, but you know, when I confronted her about my mental health issues, she, you know, felt very overwhelmed at the prospect of like, I lost my father to this.
Melanie Lockert: [39:57] And now just thinking about losing my only daughter to this, you know, like obviously it was heart wrenching for her. And so, you know, I’ve been doing the work, um, I’m on medication, I’m in therapy weekly. Um, you know, I’ve been doing this since I was 16 and you know, I’m 34, so literally half of my life and you know, now I’m, I’m, I’m in a really good place right now and trying to, you know, focus on the strategies that make me feel well and like what do I need to do to take care of myself? And, um, I realized I just kind of wanted a tangent and I’m rambling, but that is why I’m passionate about the blog tour and how it got started now. That’s amazing.
Maggie Germano: [40:36] Thank you so much for sharing all of that and just being so transparent about your own journey with mental health and the way that you have, you know, been taking care of yourself in order to stay alive basically. Yeah. And Yeah, help yourself, protect yourself and the, uh, the fact that you’re honest with your mom about how you were feeling. I, I just think all of that is really amazing to be so transparent about because those are the kinds of things that we’re not always talking about. And you people, again feel alone in going through that same process. And, and feeling like they’re the only ones and that they don’t know where to start. So thank you for sharing that.
Melanie Lockert: [41:21] Yeah, of course. I’m happy to share, like, it’s obviously weird for me to do. So man, been a couple of years of doing this, so I, you know, I’m like, hmm, all this information’s out on the Internet anyways. So, but, uh, no, I’m happy to try to be a voice so that people feel less alone and you know, if they do want to reach out to me, I’m happy to talk. And you know, I always say like, I don’t have all the answers. I can’t necessarily, you know, help someone in a way that I want, but I can listen and sometimes just listening to someone can change their life.
Maggie Germano: [41:58] Exactly. And I think the resource that you’ve created in the blog tour and in just offering yourself up as a resource, I think that is already changing people’s lives and just hearing some of their stories that you’ve shared is really impactful just for me to hear. And so hopefully people listening here will seek that out for themselves too. Because, yeah, I think you’re exactly right that just having someone to listen and having someone see you in what you’re going through and say, I know I’ve been there too. It can be so, so important for people.
Melanie Lockert: [42:36] Yes. Yes, totally. And so related to that, what do you think is the first step that
Maggie Germano: [42:44] any listener here who’s struggling with mental health or struggling with their mental health and connection to their money? What is the first step they can take to start getting to a better place?
Melanie Lockert: [42:57] First I would ask yourself, what do I need to do to feel good about myself? And that’s a question that I try to ask myself. Anytime I start going down the rabbit hole of, Oh, I’m spiraling again. Like, Oh, I, you know, I see the storm coming. Really ask yourself, what do I need to do to feel good in this moment? Is that take a bath? Is that take a nap? Is that going to boxing class? Is that riding an a friend? Um, also really, you know, a tip that Amanda Clayman offered up in the article is really get back into the moment and kind of ground yourself in your current reality. Do you have a roof over your head? Do you have food to eat? Do you have friends that you can call today? And really kind of get back into the moment? Because a lot of the anxiety, depression is tied to the past and the future, which we obviously we can’t change.
Melanie Lockert: [43:48] So trying to employ more mindfulness. Um, I also recommend, you know, reaching out for counseling. I remember when I, you know, was deeply depressed about my debt. I sought counseling. You know, like as I just admitted, I’ve been in and out of counseling literally half the life. But you know, like I said, I’ve had longer periods where I’ve been without therapy. And then, you know, at this point when I was super depressed about my debt, I was like, ah, I think I really do need someone to talk to because like the crying isn’t going away. The feelings of anxiety, you know, aren’t going away. But like a lot of people in debt, like you can be in a situation where like, okay, I owe all this money, I have money to pay off my debt, how can I afford therapy? And like they feel like this vicious circle because you help but you can’t afford it.
Melanie Lockert: [44:33] And I was able to hack the system by going to the local graduate school. So I got a tip for my friend, which I was so excited about because I had no idea this even existed. He was like, Oh yeah, I go to therapy at um, Portland State University College. Like they have a graduate counseling program and you know, they have counselors and training. They’re like one semester away from being licensed and they need their training hours to practice before like starting their own practice or going somewhere else. And it was like $15 and because it was on food stamps at that time, I was able to negotiate, negotiate it down to $5 a session. So as you know, spending $20 a month on therapy at that point. And it was really helpful for me to kind of change my thinking because I was on this constant negative feedback loop of like, I suck.
Melanie Lockert: [45:23] I hate myself. I made the worst decision of my life. I can’t believe I did this. Like I’m so dumb. Like, and that just led to more tears and more crying and more paralysis and you know, the therapy kind of helped mentally adjust me to a healthier place where I could get out of denial and actually look at the numbers. So I definitely think focus on your mindset and your mental health first. Because as I know from starting my blog and finding other personal finance blogs, you’re not going to take action, at least not in a meaningful way until you address that first. Because it’s like when I found personal finance blogs, I’m like, okay, cut back and aren’t work great. Oh, focus on the high interest interest debt first. Great. But it’s like when your vision and your, you know, life so muddled and unclear because of your mental health, you can’t even see straight. That’s so true. Definitely focus on that first. Focus on that first. Yeah.
Maggie Germano: [46:25] That I agree with that so much because you know, we’ve been talking about how our money situation can affect our mental health, but it can go the other way too, that our mental health can affect how we’re behaving with our money. So if we’re not addressing that underlying mental health issue, we’re not gonna be able to take any, you know, meaningful, positive steps and the mental health is the most important thing. Your health is your most important thing. So taking action on that is the priority.
Melanie Lockert: [46:54] Definitely. Definitely.
Maggie Germano: [46:57] And I liked all of the other tips that you shared too, cause they, they’re so small and simple, they’re doable. You can, you know, text a friend or take a bath or even just go lay down for a little while. Those are manageable instead of, you know, overhauling your whole life and your whole outlook on everything.
Melanie Lockert: [47:17] Yeah. And I think, you know, a gratitude practice has really helped me and I’ll be totally transparent. My current therapist that I’ve been seeing for two years. You know, when I first started seeing her, she’s like, I want you to every day with three things you’re grateful for. And I was like, that sounds like some new agey, hogwash. Like Blah. Like I was not into it. I felt very resistant. But then I was like, okay, well I’m paying her. I guess I should try it. And I mean it took me a full week, but a full week of doing it and taking an inventory of what I already have rather than what I don’t have really did start changing my mindset. And I was like, wow, I am grateful for my cats. I am grateful for this warm coffee. I am grateful that I have, my parents were still alive that I can call, you know, and, and the great, the gratitude changes every day. It can be whatever you want it to be, right. But just taking an inventory of what you are grateful for can really kind of get you out of that lack of mentality and also that kind of self hatred as well.
Maggie Germano: [48:19] Yeah. That that’s been really important for me to a focusing on the positive, as small as it is. Like you mentioned hot coffee and for me it would be something like, oh, I have my favorite tea here in front of me or I have my favorite chocolate. Like I’m grateful for these just comforting things that are not enormous but they’re helping my day be better. So, um, yeah, taking that even just like two minutes to write that down and focus on that can move your focus away from that intense negativity.
Melanie Lockert: [48:54] totally can be life changing.
Maggie Germano: [48:56] Exactly. Great. So anything else you want our listeners to take away from this conversation today?
Melanie Lockert: [49:04] Yeah, I just want to tell everyone that you know you are not alone and that debt is not a death sentence and that if you are suffering, please reach out to somebody. Anybody, your friend, your family members. If you feel like you can’t talk to anyone, there’s a great um, service called the crisis text line. You can text home to seven, four one seven, four one and they have trained crisis text counselors who can kind of chat with you over text. And actually, um, the blog reader that I was telling you about earlier who was in a really bad place, this we can just email me saying he feels much better. He said he reached out to them and he felt much better after the conversation. And I’ve also used the service myself and they really just kind of talk you down from the ledge so to speak, of like, okay, let me get out of this kind of frenzied thinking where I feel like there is no way out.
Melanie Lockert: [49:55] And also I like the crisis text line because it’s crisis text line. So it was not a suicide prevention line. There is also a national suicide prevention hotline, which I’m sure you’ll share it in your notes. Um, but you know, not everyone’s at that point of being suicidal and they feel like, oh well what help is out there. For me, the crisis text line is great because you know, it doesn’t ha, you don’t have to be suicidal to feel like you need help if you’re in some kind of crisis, any kind of crisis, how you define that you can reach out.
Maggie Germano: [50:26] I love, thank you for sharing that and I will be sharing all of the many resources that you’ve talked about in the show notes so everyone will have access to that. Um, anything you’d like to promote to listeners about any of the work that you’re doing or other things that you support?
Melanie Lockert: [50:45] Yeah, you can check out my blog, deardebt.com I have a suicide prevention tab on there, which has all of the blog posts that have been published over the past couple of years for the blog tour. And you can also read about more of my personal story there. My book, dear debt on Amazon. And then I also have a women in money event, which you’ve, you’ve come to and that has been so gray called Lola retreat. And we’re going to be having some more dinners and brunches in the coming year and then full retreat again in 2021 and yeah, you can find me @Melanie Lockert. I’m on Twitter and Instagram.
Maggie Germano: [51:17] Wonderful. Thank you. And I am looking forward to the retreat in 2021 as well. Hopefully you can attend that again. Um, well thank you so much for being here. This was an awesome conversation and I think that people will get a lot out of it, whether they struggle with mental health issues now or in the future or if they just struggle with how they’re thinking about their money problems. But I, I think that this is really important and I’m, I’m so grateful that you’re taking this on as one of your big missions in life.
Melanie Lockert: [51:53] Well thank you so much. I appreciate chatting with you. I know this is a cause close to your heart and I love all the women that you support and people in your community. So thanks for spreading the word and being a part of the conversation. Of course. Thanks so much
Maggie Germano: [52:13] Thanks for tuning in to the money circle podcast this week. Make sure that you rate, review and subscribe so that you never miss an episode. This also really helps just as we’re getting off the ground so that more people get the money circle podcast in front of them and in their ears. If you’d like to get more connected with money circle or with me, there are lots of ways you can do that. To join the free Facebook group, visit facebook.com/groups/moneycirclegroup to stay informed of any upcoming events, subscribe to my weekly newsletter at maggiegermano.com/subscribe. If you’d like to join the virtual money circle membership group, visit maggiegermano.podia.com/inner-circle. To learn more about my financial coaching services, my speaking and workshop offerings, or just to read my blog, visit Maggiegermano.com. You can also follow me on Instagram and Twitter @MaggieGermano.
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