Q&A with Gail Vaz-Oxlade
'Til Debt Do Us Part' host talks about money morons
By Erica Sandberg | Published: October 12, 2010
In the mood for a money and credit management expert who pulls no punches yet somehow remains cheery and kind? Look no further than Gail Vaz-Oxlade. Best-selling personal finance author of such books as "Debt-Free Forever" and "Strategies for Successful Borrowing," she is the host of a popular TV program on CNBC, "Til Debt Do Us Part." No doubt, Vaz-Oxlade is a force to be reckoned with.
Vaz-Oxlade has a gift for delivering clear, practical advice. In fact, the only thing even remotely confusing about this Canadian import is her accent: Before immigrating to North America, she was born and raised in Jamaica. And somehow that easy island cadence makes her no-nonsense demeanor a pleasure to experience.
Brash, hilarious and highly knowledgeable, Vaz-Oxlade helps viewers and readers get to the root of their money and credit problems. CreditCards.com sat down with her to learn a bit more about why she's gaining such a high profile here in the States.
CreditCards.com: You work with couples on "Til Debt Do Us Part." I've always noticed that these are the hardest situations. One half may want to change, but the other might not. How can couples deal with that? Even in my own marriage, having a like mind is a struggle!
Gail Vaz-Oxlade: It's true that very often couples bring different histories and approaches to dealing with money to the table. And it can be very trying for one partner who wants things to change when the other partner won't face up to reality. I think that's how I make it through the door in a lot of instances. They're both hoping that I'll convince the other guy of the error of his or her ways.
If you've tried to get your partner to understand how serious you are, but your best efforts are going unheeded, then you'll have to build a financial wall to protect yourself as much as possible. This is such a big deal that I actually put a section in my last book, "Debt-Free Forever," to help people understand how to protect themselves financially.
CreditCards.com: In general, are there any differences in the way men and women deal with credit cards and debt?
Vaz-Oxlade: I actually don't see any differences in how men and women manage their money. There are just as many male money morons as there are female money morons. And I don't see much different based on age -- although you'd think older would mean at least a little wiser. There are just as many older ditzy dopes as there are younger. As for other socio-economic differences... nope... don't see 'em either. Although, within some cultures the taboo about talking about their money is so strong that I don't see too many of them stepping up to air their financial sins in public.
|TOUGH LOVE -- VAZ-OXLADE STYLE|
Each episode of Vaz-Oxlade's show, "Til Debt Do Us Part," features a couple having problems with money management. Through spreadsheets, glass jars and some tough love, she teaches the lovebirds how to better handle their finances, and rewards them with cash if they successfully complete weekly challenges.
Above is a clip from an episode about a couple who not only has trouble balancing their checkbook, but also their love life.
CreditCards.com: Clearly you don't mince words when you discover what people are doing with their money and credit. And you do it all with a smile. What makes your kind-but-abrupt approach so effective?
Vaz-Oxlade: I'm saying what other people may wish they could say. I may be abrupt, I've even been accused of being "crass"... hey, whatever it takes to get people to pay attention. So often we are buried in our delusions, convinced that what we're doing is fine. It takes a shock to shake up the picture and get people to pay attention.
I'm actually just as you see me in real life. My daughter is often asked by young friends who are fans of the show what I'm like at home. "That's her, just as you see her on TV," she says. I'm not trying to hurt anyone's feelings. But if you're being a dope, someone should tell you so you can stop.
CreditCards.com: What do you make of those who hate banks and credit card companies -- are they justified or misguided?
Vaz-Oxlade: If we can get over our mistaken belief that a bank, a credit card company, any company has the customer's best interest at heart, we can get over our anger. Companies exist to make a profit and to satisfy their shareholders. When they tell you that they're doing this for you, their customers, they're lying their asses off. But banks and credit card companies provide useful services and as long as you're a smart consumer who gets value for what you're paying, what do you have to bitch about?
CreditCards.com: So if you were to identify who is to blame for all this consumer debt, who would shoulder it? Parents for not teaching their kids better ways? Financial institutions for over-lending? This culture at large?
Vaz-Oxlade: Yes, yes and yes. Parents have been unwilling to talk to their kids about money. What's up with that? You don't want to take responsibility for teaching your children a life skill?
There are just as many male money morons as there are female money morons.
Lenders have totally thrown away good lending practices -- using the 5 Cs of credit (character, capacity, collateral, credit and capital) to make their lending decision -- taking the lazy way out and using only the credit scoring system. But the credit score doesn't measure you as a borrower in terms of your repayment; it only measures you as a borrower in terms of your profitability. So it's a bad lending tool.
As for the culture, when we have dopes on television spending the equivalent of some shopgirl's monthly income on a pair of shoes, and that shopgirl is a starlet wannabe, we're in trouble.
Don't leave out personal responsibility for this, too. Nobody made us buy another pair of shoes on credit, eat another meal in a restaurant on credit, take another buy-now-pay-later piece of furniture home. We've also done this to ourselves because we can't keep our hands out of the candy jar. Now that our teeth are rotting and we're in pain, we're looking for someone to blame.
CreditCards.com: You've had a passionate Canadian audience for many years, and you're now in the United States. Notice any differences between the countries about debt as a subject?
Vaz-Oxlade: Nope. Debt is the great equalizer. Canadians used to have the rep of being great savers. Now we're bigger money morons that most of the rest of the world. Americans believe they can have whatever they want whenever they want, and with credit they're willing to put themselves at financial risk to prove it. Neither country has learned sweet diddly-squat from the last financial fiasco. We're like sheep being led to slaughter at the hands of our financial institutions.
CreditCards.com: Do you ever tire of talking to people about their financial problems? Or do you wake up in the morning and say, "Hooray, I get to solve yet another couple's charging issues!"?
Lenders have totally thrown away good lending practices -- using the 5 Cs of credit (character, capacity, collateral, credit and capital) to make their lending decision -- taking the lazy way out and using only the credit scoring system.
Vaz-Oxlade: I am very enthusiastic about watching people take control of their money and their lives. But I'm not immune to the barrage of requests I get by email that all end with, "Gail, please help." I do find it a little frustrating that I've put so many tools out there for people to use -- the website, the book ("Debt-Free Forever") -- and yet people seem unwilling or unable to take the steps on their own. It seems people need a lot of hand-holding, and I've only got two hands.
CreditCards.com: And you have a new show, "Princess," which focuses on one of the most fascinating aspects of our culture -- feeling entitled. Can you tell me more about it and where the idea came from?
Vaz-Oxlade: While we were doing "Til Debt Do Us Part," one of the common themes that kept popping up was this sense of entitlement. "I work hard, I deserve a vacation." Hey, baby, not if you can't pay for it in cash. "I am special. I should be able to afford the nice things." Hey there, chickadee, not if you're putting it on credit. "My partner is the best. He or she deserves the things he or she wants." Really? Like a big ol' fight when you get to the end of the money before you get to the end of the month?
"Princess" is a natural extension of my show. It not only looks at the money issues, but at the life issues like that sense of entitlement and the fact that most people wouldn't know what a goal was if they tripped over it. It's about finding balance. It's about taking control so you can have what you want because you know what you want.
See related: Q&A with credit card and debt expert Amelia Warren Tyagi, Q&A with finance guru Jean Chatzky, Q&A: Avis Cardella writes on overcoming shopping addiction, Q&A with 'Hot (Broke) Messes' author Nancy Trejos, Help for bad credit: Relationships, marriage and divorce
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