Money worries: Why fear dominates your finances

Why do Americans have so much debt?

Vicki Robin: The financial independence path really is freeing up your life from debt and from the obsessive desire, obsessive materialism. I was leading a session on our relationship with money. I just was curious about where people were with this at this point. This was in 2016. We had 50 people in the room. We circled up and went around the room. Just say something about your relationship with money. And I realized every person in that room was in fear about money from the 80 year old who I know has millions of dollars to the 20 year old who is like already $20,000 in debt. And it just – honestly it infuriated me like what kind of society requires that everybody participate in something that terrifies them. This feels so amiss to me.

And then I started to talk to the 20 year old, several 20 year olds in the room about their debt and I realized that they had bought into a story that don't worry about the debt you'll accumulate because you'll be able to pay it off through your profession. That a college education ipso facto produces X percent more income over a lifetime. But that they were training in professions that may actually disappear by the time they're fully trained. And I thought what kind of society turns its financial system on its young people. And I was like sort of lurid so I said, you know, harvests the organs of the young. It just felt like in watching like this old vultures of the financial system having discovered one more profit center and it was their children.
We really need to pay attention to the politics of this whole situation. For example, one of the big barriers to the people in this movement actually pulling the trigger and becoming financially independent is that their healthcare is tied to their job. So I believe that is a social good that we all have to work on. We need to work on some form of Medicare for all and in a way it's a rising tide. It's going to happen. There's no question about it. It's just how it happens and when it happens and what are the mechanisms for it. But we really need to support them because not everybody is in a corporate setting where they can get healthcare. So that's a big personal expense or college debt. Eventually I believe our society will need to go toward something that is K through 16 education for everybody so that we are not graduating our young people with that degree of debt because that puts them in a financially not independent state for the rest of their lives

We really eventually need to think about how the game is designed and to make it easier for more people. I call it FI for all. Financial independence for everybody. How can everybody be free of the fear that I saw in that room two years ago that got me to do the update of Your Money or Your Life. Everybody in that room was afraid for their financial future. Everybody felt stuck. That's not an appropriate way to run a country.

  • The financial system preys on young Americans.
  • Debt is the American way of life. Can we fix it?
  • How education and healthcare reform can make us all richer.


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