Throw open the shade that covers my mind
I'm going to touch I've got to believe
The bell tolls for me
I, I want to testify
Maybe mistakes are what make our fate... without them what would shape our lives?
-Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) in Sex and the City
Sometime in the 1980s, Alan Abelson, the editor of Money Magazine, said that money was "the new sex."
There is one distinct difference. Many people talk about sex. There are hundreds of television shows, chat rooms, and web sites devoted to sex.
Americans still have a hard time talking about money. Especially their own money.
Sometimes I think I've read almost every financial "self-help" book that has ever been written. Most say the say thing: Have a budget, live within your means and invest for the long term.
Great advice, but it's like telling people they need to lose weight.
Knowing it and doing it are two different things.
One of my irritations is that many financial writers have a holier-than-thou attitude. People looking to solve financial problems are also looking for empathy. Instead, the message they often receive from books about money is "I'm OK and you're an idiot."
Even commentators such as Dave Ramsey, who talks about his bankruptcy and how it got him to live the "no debt" philosophy of Christian financial writer Larry Burkett, sometimes comes off as preachy and condescending.
What struck me about the book, Hot (Broke) Messes, is that the author, Nancy Trejos, is incredibly candid and allows us to learn from expensive lessons given to her by life.
It's hard for the average person to admit mistakes. Imagine Trejos' situation. She made her mistakes while working as a personal finance columnist for the Washington Post.
The mantra in Washington and the financial world is to always act like you're 10 feet tall and bulletproof. Never admit your mistakes, even if those mistakes cost billions of dollars or thousands of lives.
Trejos went in the opposite direction. She put her problems on the street and let her readers view her financial rebuilding process.
Nancy is a 33 year-old graduate of Georgetown University. She grew up in Queens, after her family immigrated from Columbia.
Her financial situation two years ago seemed typical of many in her age group. Lots of student loans, lots of credit card debt, an upside down car payment and a mortgage that she couldn't afford. She was at absolute rock bottom and in total denial.
The mortgage was on a townhouse bought with a live-in boyfriend. After racking up a financial hit and some legal bills, she learned a lesson that all singles should know. Never mix business transactions and love, unless you are completely and legally married.
She hit bottom and found a financial counselor who helped her set goals and stick to a strict budget. It was the financial equivalent of a personal trainer.
Along with her individual saga, Trejos references many financial commentators, such as Joe Nocera and Dr. Mary Gresham, an Atlanta money management psychologist I intend to learn more about.
Trejos made serious life adjustments, but not the extreme "rice and beans" program that some counselors advocate. She is in a constant search for financial moderation, while living in one of America's most expensive cities.
Her story has a semi-happy ending. I spoke to her recently and she said all her debt is paid off, except for her student loans. A huge step forward for her.
Her book, with a hot pink cover, has a target audience of younger women (reading it in a coffee shop had to put a dent in my macho image) but both sexes and every age group can benefit.
There are lots of people, in every demographic, who have big debts and major financial issues.
Like people who have problems with booze, sex or drugs, the way for them to find financial salvation is to make an inventory of their wrongs and start doing something about them.
Like Nancy Trejos did, it's time to testify." target="_hplink">