Book Review: Living Debt Free by Shannon Lee Simmons
If you have any kind of debt at all, go read Living Debt Free, the no-shame, no-blame guide to getting rid of your debt by Shannon Lee Simmons immediately. Companion book to Worry Free Money: the guilt-free approach to managing your money and your life, Living Debt Free is exactly what those of us who have struggled with persistent debt (sometimes for years) have been missing. In fact, pick them both up, because the first quarter of Worry Free Money is devoted to identifying and dismantling the reasons money and spending are so entwined with our feelings of adequacy, belonging, and success, and I know that up until now you’ve probably only ever heard or told yourself that you have debt because you’re bad with money, full stop.
For as long as I’ve been paying attention, and with only a few notable exceptions, the dominant conversation around debt has been some implicit or explicit version of Just stop spending on frivolous stuff or Just use all that time you spend on the couch to start a side-hustle or It’s just math, see this spreadsheet?, all served with the delectable shame cherry of You’re lazy, entitled, or stupid (probably all three) if you can’t make this work on top.
I’m tired of it, and I’ve been tired of it for a long f*cking time. Getting out and staying out of debt isn’t just math or hard work, and for the love of God I don’t want you to walk around under the burden of the shame and guilt that believing those lies lays on you for one minute more.
Just like her first book, Shannon devotes the first part of Living Debt Free to stopping debt cold. She does this by digging into why it happened, how you feel about it, and how to avoid hamstringing your ability to use the strategies presented later in the book before you even get to them. Like she says—a debt-free plan you can actually live with and execute all the way through is better than any guru-approved, mathematically optimal plan that saps your emotional resources and quickly deposits you back into the familiar grooves of the debt loop.
Once you get to the strategy section, you’re going to get a lot of simple, clear information about setting up your debt plan, building a banking strategy to keep you within your self-imposed boundaries, ordering your debt, and stacking your payments. Plus, the most important set of strategies: troubleshooting obstacles when they show up. What I love most about this book is Shannon’s insistence on trying all of the tools—even the ones that are often cast as even more evidence that you’re bad with money—comparing the projected results, and choosing the ones that you can use best.
Who should read it?
If you have debt, and you have enough income to keep you safe with a little bit of extra left over to use, read this book. Especially if you’ve been fighting both debt and shame about your debt and haven’t found anyone who helps you with one fight without making the other one worse.
If you find yourself regularly giving people advice about their debt and want to remember to be human being about it, you too should read this book.
If you only have time to read one chapter:
I’m cheating and giving you two: a chapter for everyone and a chapter specifically for you if you’ve struggled and struggled and expect to keep struggling forever because you’ve cut back everywhere and still have so far to go.
For everyone: Chapter 2: Reframing your Debt: Beat the Shame-and-Blame Mentality
Why this chapter? You cannot afford to dismiss the emotions you feel around debt, and this chapter is the one to read even if you don’t go any further (but please go further). It’s the one where Shannon guides you through changing your perspective about your debt, and to “focus on what it will mean to your future, not on what it means about your past.”
For you, already years into the struggle and feeling like there are still more tiring years ahead: Chapter 13: Free Up Money Fast
Why this chapter, for you specifically? You may not need to increase your spending money the way Vanessa does, but you need to know that there’s more than just “cut back until the debt is gone” in your toolbox, and it’s completely fine to use those other tools.
If you only have time to read one paragraph:
The first order of business is to stop going into debt. That’s your most important job – always. No matter what. None of the strategies for debt repayment matter if you are taking on more debt. Not sinking into more or at least controlling how much debt you take on, is a huge part of the battle to break the Debt Loop and give you control over your finances.
(Chapter 13: Free Up Money Fast, page 221)
If you only have time to read one sentence:
You don’t have to put an epic amount of money onto your debt to get an epic outcome.
(Chapter 11: Debt-Slammers, page 196)