Freedom 57: Debt-hater Gail Vaz-Oxlade retires
'She taught people to actually knuckle down and get themselves a plan,' fan says
For more than a decade, the 57-year-old has answered the personal finance questions of Canadians, but now she's calling it quits.
"This is my last radio interview," she said to a caller on CBC Radio. "Alberta at Noon got me before I had made the announcement so I am fully retired as of the end of this conversation."
The author and host of popular TV shows like Til Debt Do Us Part, Princess and Money Moron, is known for providing financial advice, often in a blunt or even aggressive fashion.
In an era of easily accessible credit, Vaz-Oxlade's greatest achievement could be spurring an often uncomfortable conversation about money, especially those who need to face their debt demons.
"I think we are afraid. I think we believe that any serious conversation around money is going to elicit an emotional response. And we are afraid of awakening the dragon," said Vaz-Oxlade.
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In her characteristically brash words, a lot of people have "mucked it up royally" and are in a financial mess. The longer they delay facing their financial problems, the worse they become.
"I got an email from a man today that said 'I need some help. I need to find a way to tell my wife we are deeply in debt. I can't seem to say no when she wants to buy something and I'm out of credit.' That's the problem — people aren't talking about it."
Vaz-Oxlade has developed a large following, including 69-year-old Barbara Holmes of Halifax. Holmes realized she was nearing retirement and didn't have a plan to pay off her various loans and other debt.
She followed Vaz-Oxlade's advice and used any excess income to pay off the debts with the highest interest.
"It was a huge help to me," Holmes said. "You watch the programs and see how many people are in a terrible mess financially and I didn't want to be there."
In the end, she retired one year earlier than she expected and only has one car loan left to pay off. She is enormously grateful since her retirement is much more enjoyable without the financial strain of all the debt she was carrying.
"She taught people to actually knuckle down and get themselves a plan," said Holmes.
Vaz-Oxlade's advice isn't always what people want to hear.
The first caller on Alberta at Noon wanted advice on whether to use $140,000 in home equity to purchase a $100,000 property in B.C. for recreation and as a future home for retirement. The conversation was combative as the 33-year-old Calgary man was told it was a bad idea.
"Dude, do you have any idea how much the landscape can change between now and when you hit the retirement date?" said Vaz-Oxlade "Sounds to me like you are trying to justify the purchase of the recreational property down the road, but it is 30 years away!"
Debt, debt, debt
Callers asked all sorts of questions about credit cards, bankruptcy, RRSPs, and TFSAs. Vaz-Oxlade is most passionate about debt.
"It's never a good time to go into debt, especially consumer debt," she said. "Debt is spending money you haven't yet earned and what you are doing when you go into debt is you are crossing your fingers and hoping God is holding you by the pompom and nothing bad is going to happen to you between now and when the debt is paid off."
Retired. Ta ta. <a href="https://t.co/Zt0Y75SOby">https://t.co/Zt0Y75SOby</a>—@GailVazOxlade
Such unexpected events include someone becoming sick, losing their job, or taking a pay a cut. Even traditionally "good" debt, such as mortgages, can be bad because Vaz-Oxlade says the mortgage amount can be too much to manage.
Debt is a significant problem in Canada. The amount people owe compared to what they earn is near a record high. No wonder Vaz-Oxlade keeps urging people to develop a plan and face their financial woes.
"With the proliferation of credit, as it exists now, people are under the impression they can have it all and can have it all the time," said Vaz-Oxlade. "I know I sound like a real hard ass sometimes, but the reality is it is your money and you can make these decisions about your life."