Are you in debt? You might want to tell the world — or at least the worldwide web.
That’s what Atlanta resident Sydney McIntosh did. She was tired of being broke, living paycheck-to-paycheck and having $10,000 in debt attached to her name at the end of last year. In 2013, McIntosh landed a second job working the front desk in a yoga studio and cut back on luxuries like vacationing, clothes shopping, manicures and pedicures to pay down her credit and student loan bills.
Those experiences and ongoing strategies to keep herself out of debt prompted the 27-year-old television news producer to launch IamSydMac.com or “Just a Girl Name Syd: Living Life on a Budget While Having Fun.”
“I love a good story about people finding their way out of debt or people quitting their jobs and following their dreams,” says the Virginia Tech communications graduate, whose financial role models include television finance guru Suze Orman and Michelle Singletary, finance writer at The Washington Post.
Sydney McIntosh runs IamSydMac.com, a personal blog about financial experiences.
Internet-savvy people like McIntosh, who have personal and sometimes painful stories of debt, are turning to the web to share their ups and downs of paying off that debt, tips on bargains and keeping debt at bay in an effort to inspire others in similar situations.
The Allure of Sharing
People can be very hush-hush about sharing their personal debt stories because they reflect decisions made under duress, in haste, as the result of a family issue or medical problem. It remains one of those topics that is off limits like religion and politics; however, these days more people are willing to share.
“I think once people see others talking about something they may have once considered taboo, then it opens up the table for discussion on their end of things,” says Kristin Luna, co-founder of KEEN Digital Summit, a digital media professionals’ conference in Nashville.
For instance, take splitting a meal among friends. It’s often an uncomfortable discussion, especially when you may not have ordered the three glasses of wine or the same fancy meal as everyone else. McIntosh covers that topic in one of her blogs.
The blog post recounts how she had to stick to her strict $100 spending budget while on a trip to New York City – a nearly impossible task in Manhattan. She tells how she went out to eat with her friends and cried foul on splitting the bill equally. She convinced the waitress to separate the checks, also a nearly impossible feat in the Big Apple. McIntosh ordered much less than her friends and ended up spending $25 on her meal, instead of paying the $38 if the bill was split evenly.
Luna explains people respond to blogs like these, because they feel they get to know the writer. While journalists report on people’s lives, bloggers tell their own stories. “There’s an authenticity to reading a first person account,” Luna said.
McIntosh chose to be open about her personal debt experiences to engage her readers.
“It’s a personal journey that I’m on. I want to give enough information that people can relate to,” she said. “If I say I’m in $10,000 of debt, people can relate to that number and see the scope of my goal. Without numbers, how can people relate?”
Carrie Smith, a 28-year-old accountant, consultant and freelance writer, blogs about her budget and personal finance issues on CarefulCents.com. Blogging opened her eyes about her personal money issues. It helped unshackle her from $14,000 of credit card and car loan debt in 14 months.
“For me, it helps because I didn’t grow up in a house that talked about money a lot,” said Smith, of Dallas, Texas. “The adults just handled it. From my generation’s perspective, we may not have had that kind of talk at home.”
Blogging Creates Accountability
Big audience or small, the main reason why McIntosh says she decided to blog about her experience was actually personal. She wanted to be held accountable.
Accountability seems to be a direct by-product of blogging.
Smith equates blogging to putting your goals on paper or writing financial goals on a wall for motivation. It just happens that everyone can read it. “I originally did not want to tell my story and be accountable, that just happened.
Carrie Smith is the writer and founder of financial blog, CarefulCents.com.
“It has made me a lot more aware when I tell other people about my goals whether it’s online or in person that they may be as invested in it as I am. They want to see me succeed, they want to see me reach my goals and vice versa.”
Smith also generates a small amount of income from the blog, but “it’s not a lot.”
“There are other budget bloggers that make money from products they create, advertising or sponsorships with brands. I intentionally keep my blog free of ads and only endorse products I use personally, so most of the little income I make comes from affiliate sales,” she said. “I never got into blogging to make money, so I don’t view it as a way to get rich. But of course, every little bit helps when paying off debt!”
Is There a Link Between Debt, Blogging and Stress Relief?
A recent study published by Fidelity Investments found that 70 percent of the graduating class of 2013 will have an average debt of $35,200. That debt load includes public and private loans, and other debts owed to families and credit cards.
That’s plenty of debt for a young person entering a workforce riddled with unemployment and low wages. Researchers at Northwestern University in August published a study about the emotional and medical effects of debt.
It found that participants with higher debt reported feeling more stressed and having higher levels of depression than those with less debt.
Those with higher debt also had a 1.3 percent increase in diastolic blood pressure. Researches said that’s an important finding because “a two-point increase in diastolic blood pressure, for example, is associated with a 17 percent higher risk of hypertension and a 15 percent higher risk of stroke,” the report shows.
How does blogging fit in the picture of stress relief? Scientific American magazine published a study in 2008 that found blogging can serve as a coping mechanism and that expressive writing may have therapeutic benefits for people with serious medical conditions by providing a community.
“I think it’s always comforting finding people going through the same things you are, whether post-partum depression, anxiety, or bankruptcy,” Luna says. “It helps others realize they are not alone in what they’re going through.”
McIntosh finds that her debt journey can be frustrating and writing about it is cathartic for her. “It makes me feel better. Every time I hit a milestone, I’m like ‘I can go blog about it!’ “
Julian Hills is a content writer for Debt.org. His journalism career has taken him from newspapers to local television news stations and even a 24-hour cable network in the Southeast. Julian is a graduate of Florida State University who enjoys finding new ways of saving money for football season tickets.