You may wonder why I am reviewing the book “Debt-Free Forever” by Gail Vaz-Oxlade on a bankruptcy recovery website. After all, she is the Queen of helping people dig themselves out debt, made famous through her Canadian hit reality TV show “Till Debt Do Us Part” on the specialty cable channel, Slice. As far I know, she’s never even come close to filing for bankruptcy, nor can I imagine her ever having any financial challenges. Although a very respected writer and television personality on the subject of getting out of debt, she’s probably not the first name that comes to mind when you think of life after bankruptcy in Canada.
That’s what I thought. After all, coming out of a bankruptcy with the proverbial “clean slate,” you probably (and hopefully) don’t have much, if any debt. I bought her book a few months ago, but never got around to reading it until today. But once I started, I couldn’t put it down!
Why did it take me so long to get around to reading her book? Firstly, I don’t have much spare time for reading books in print these days. I prefer audio books, and this book doesn’t seem to be available in that format. Secondly, I thought that since I had already gone through a bankruptcy and was almost two and a half years past my bankruptcy discharge, with very little post-bankruptcy debt, there wasn’t much she or her book could help me with. Was I ever wrong! I wish I had read it sooner.
Ironically, I took Gail’s Advice And Now I Can’t Watch Her Show!
I’ll be honest. I don’t watch her TV show very much. In fact, it’s probably been well over two years since I’ve even seen an episode of “Til Debt Do Us Part” on Slice. And you want to know why? Ironically, because I took Gail’s advice in cutting down my expenses and got rid of cable television! Not just the premium cable package, but the whole thing. Yes, that’s right. I have not even plugged in my television for over two years.
But, despite the fact that it’s been so long since I’ve seen an episode of her show, I kept hearing her voice as I read the book “Debt-Free Forever.” Even more ironic, I realized afterward that I had been reading it as I was passing through the town she lives in (Brighton, Ontario) while I was taking a bus from Toronto to Montreal. I’m sure Gail would be proud!
By A Canadian, For Canadians
One of the best things about this book is that it’s a personal finance book written by a Canadian for Canadians. Putting aside the fact that Gail was born in Jamaica (and I don’t know if she’s a Canadian citizen or permanent resident), but she’s writing this book from a Canadian perspective. There are quite a few good books on the subject, but many are by American authors like David Bach. They’re excellent books, and many concepts are universal, but inevitably they’re geared towards Americans and you have to try and adapt at least part of the information to the somewhat different Canadian system. With “Debt-Free Forever” by our very own Gail Vaz-Oxlade, you don’t need to worry about that. All examples, terms and case studies are Canadian.
No Audio Book Version Available, Print Only
The only thing better than reading this book in print would be to have it available as an audio book. These days, I find myself more busy than ever before. It’s hard to find time to sit down and read a book printed on paper. I only found time to read this book when I was stuck on a bus ride from Toronto to Montreal for 5 hours. Otherwise I get through the majority of my books by listening to them on my iPod while walking my dog, driving in my car, taking a train, bus or whenever I have a few spare minutes. It’s also easier to re-listen to an audio book multiple times than to re-read a physical book on paper. Every time I re-read a book or re-listen to an audio book, I pick up something new. It’s almost like brainwashing yourself with good information. This book is similar in format to the “Dummies” series of books, which makes it easy to read and refer back to specific topics or tips.
My Only Complaint About This Book
If there’s one thing I didn’t like about the actual content of the this book, it’s how Gail Vaz-Oxlade uses the same “cute” little phrases, idiomatic expressions and “Gailisms” that she does on the show. She writes like she speaks. I’m referring to things like “willy-nilly,” “brouhaha,” “crappy” and “bestest,” to name just a few. Maybe you like that about her. You could almost call it her trademark. It’s certainly not my style, but it works for her. She’s just being herself, and she’s got her own manner of doing things. It’s probably due to reading all of those expressions that made me keep hearing her voice as I read the book. If you like all of those corny expressions that she uses on her TV show, then you’ll LOVE her book!
Information Relevant to Ex-Bankrupt People Too
But on a more serious note… there’s a lot of material that (hopefully) won’t be relevant to someone who has been recently discharged from a bankruptcy in Canada. If you’re like me, bankruptcy was a life-changing experience that seriously changed the way I handle debt and credit. Throughout much of her book “Debt Free Forever,” Gail Vaz-Oxlade talks about how to cut down on interest expenses and pay off debt as quickly as possible. This is the part any ex-bankrupt Canadian should NOT need to worry about. After all, if you’ve declared bankruptcy and had most, or all of your debts erased, you shouldn’t need to worry about out-of-control debt again. If you actually are in this situation, then shame on you! You’ve slipped back to your old habits and you definitely need all of the help you can get from Gail.
With the tighter credit requirements in today’s tougher economy, you are probably aware of how difficult it is to get credit now, especially with a recent bankruptcy appearing on your Equifax and TransUnion credit reports. You may only have living expenses and a secured credit card to contend with, but you can learn a lot from Gail’s book on how to manage it well. In fact, as Gail promises, by reading and following the advice in her book, it’s like you are actually a participant in her reality TV show, only you don’t get the $5000 bonus cheque at the end.
Read The Entire Book In The Order It’s Written
It’s recommended to read the ENTIRE book, from beginning to end. Do not skip ahead to the sections you think may be relevant to you. Go through the whole thing. I did. And I saw the errors of my ways from the past that lead me down the path to filing for bankruptcy in late 2007.
First, you will figure out where you stand. You analyze your spending and face up to your debt, if applicable. Then, just like on the TV show, you decide what you really want, create a balanced budget and lose the debt! This first part of the book may not be fully applicable to someone how has just recently been discharged from a bankruptcy.
I’d Rather Increase My Means Than Live Below Them
However, the next part is relevant to an ex-bankrupt, or anyone really. Discover how to make more money and shop consciously. Now, I’m not a fan of living below my means. Yes, you read that correctly. I’d rather increase my means than live below them. But, the reality is that the common school of thought is to live below one’s means and to think realistically, rather that dream big. So, we’ll stick with that for now. I speak from experience that I had a hard time dreaming big and thinking of ways to increase my means when I was drowning in debt and couldn’t see a way out. Back then, in my pre-bankruptcy days, there was nothing worse than parting with $150 of my very hard earned money to pay a credit card bill, only to receive my statement the next month and see that my balance had gone up by $200 in interest charges and other fees. I’ve been there, I know what it’s like.
Gail’s Tips For Saving
But then comes the good part of her book: Saving for the long-term and building an emergency fund. I’ll be honest… I’ve only recently started doing this, but after reading Gail’s advice, I’m more convinced and motivated than ever to save for the long term and build up a significant emergency fund.
Plan Like A Pessimist
Finally, Gail tells how to plan like a pessimist and how to cope with adversity. Fortunately, I haven’t had to cope with any significant set backs, but you never know when they might come. More importantly, Gail explains how to deal with them should you encounter a rough patch.
I’m a big believer in modeling myself after someone who has accomplished something I want. As far as I know, Gail Vaz-Oxlade has never had an over-spending problem, balancing a budget or even living through a bankruptcy. However, she’s helped so many people on her TV show “Till Debt Do Us Part” that she really is able to talk from experience. Not her own personal experiences, but those of the people she has helped. That makes the book so much more believable and enjoyable to read. Without the examples and entertaining stories, this would be a really dull book if it just talked about theory. If you’ve ever read a book or article that was written by a ghost writer based simply on research or theories, and not real-life personal examples, you know what I mean. Fortunately, Gail has plenty of real-life success stories and examples throughout the book to make it real.
Adaptable to People Who Have Been Through Bankruptcy
There’s really not much to dislike about this book. However, there’s one thing I noticed… there are only a few pages dedicated to the topic of bankruptcy. And what actually is covered deals more with pre-bankruptcy discussion and what can happen to your credit score. Much of it is very general and common sense. Having said that, I’m glad Gail didn’t venture in to talking about something she is not familiar with. There’s nothing I hate more than some “financial guru” speaking about bankruptcy or rebuilding credit based solely on theory or opinion. I’m happy to say that Gail does not do this. She sticks to talking about what she knows well.
Although I’m sure the target audience of this book was never intended to be the nearly debt-free, ex-bankrupt crowd, there’s a still lot we can learn from this valuable resource. If you’ve managed to get back into debt, then I’m sure Gail’s advice will help you out. I can’t speak from personal experience on that topic. For me, her advice on getting out debt came too late, as I had already gone through bankruptcy and have not wracked up much debt since then. Although somewhat limited, there was some discussion about building and maintaining a good credit profile and credit score. Based on her past work experience, but not necessarily her own personal experience, she is able to talk about this aspect of our credit driven society. I didn’t detect any errors (unlike other writers who give credit rebuilding advice based on theory or opinion). Gail only talks about what she knows well. In fact, there are a few points she mentioned about credit scoring that I have seldom or never heard anywhere else. As you may know, much of how credit scores are calculated are confidential and proprietary information not available to the general public. I’m going to further investigate some of the concepts she touched up that deal with credit scoring.
Having The Right Mindset
Credit scoring and bankruptcy information aside, I like her advice on getting started with the right mindset, how to start saving (even if it’s just $20 a month), identifying and cutting unnecessary expenses and planning for the future. The thinking is very middle class, and that’s fine for now. It’s right where I am at this point in my life, which is step up from my low income, pre-bankruptcy days and probably where a lot of the readers are at now, or are working towards. But I aspire to get bigger, loftier goals of an abundant upper class wealthy lifestyle. Many people will see that as being greedy, unattainable or unrealistic. To each his or her own.
Being “comfortable” is certainly better that being broke or hopelessly in debt, spending more than you earn. But I think that being abundantly wealthy would be even better. However, living a comfortable middle class lifestyle is definitely a big step up from where I was before. I see it as a stepping stone on my way up and you can too. Like Gail says, instead of aiming for a lofty end result (and being discouraged when you can’t attain it right away), it’s easy to take it in steps by reaching mini-milestones along the way. If this book helps someone move out from under the poverty line and into a comfortable, middle class lifestyle, then it’s worth it. Although I suspect that its original goal was to help the middle class who are spending like the wealthy by abusing credit.
As I mentioned, I assume that Gail Vaz-Oxlade didn’t intend this book to help ex-bankrupt Canadians. And to be honest, there are sections of the books that will not be relevant to people who have just been discharged from a bankruptcy. But, there’s plenty of information that is just as relevant to an ex-bankrupt as it is for someone digging their way out of debt. Either way, once the debt is gone, whether it be by paying it off or by declaring bankruptcy, you need to know what to do next.
So to summarize, what I didn’t like:
- too many cute, idiomatic expressions and “Gailisms” for my liking
- no audiobook version available
- not geared toward the ex-bankrupt crowd, so some parts of the book are not directly relevant
- geared towards reaching and living at a “comfortable” debt-free middle class lifestyle and nothing higher (like a wealthy upper class lifestyle)
What I liked:
- Written by a Canadian for Canadians. All examples and terms are directly applicable to Canadians.
- Similar in format to the easy-to-read “Dummies” series of books
- Analysis of spending habits and real life examples of show participants offers a glimpse at what may have lead an ex-bankrupt to file for bankruptcy.
- Universal advice on how anyone – ex-bankrupt or not – can take control of his or her current debt and become debt-free.
- Many different ways to start saving (even if paying off debt at the same time)
- Brief, but seemingly accurate discussion on Canadian credit scoring (a subject often overlooked or incorrectly reported by other “get out of debt” gurus)
- Real life examples and success stories of participants on the show, and when relevant, even a few examples from Gail’s own personal life
For the small price you’ll pay for this book, you’ll certainly get your money’s worth out of it. Whether your finances are mostly under control, or way out of control, there’s something for everyone. Although some of it is common sense, sometimes it just takes someone like Gail to spell it out in simple English for it to finally make sense. Even though the target audience of this book is not the after bankruptcy crowd, we can still garner quite a bit of useful information from this book.