Wealth Watch: Financial Intimacies

Most of us know far more about our friends' romantic lives than we do about their financial affairs. Sure, we might guess at the prices of their clothes, house and car, as well as wonder about their retirement savings. Few of us, however, would actually ask them how they afford it all.

Yet for people we don't talk about money it sure does drive us crazy. As Helaine Olen writes in her book "Pound Foolish": "When it comes to money, the vast majority of us are nuts. Bonkers … We engage in so many self-defeating behaviors it's impossible to list them all."

Maybe we'd all feel better if we aired some dirty financial laundry? To that end, Ventured&Gained has been asking interesting people to give us a peek into that hidden part of their lives. Here are some highlights from the past couple weeks:

1. A 29-year-old so allergic to his student debt that he spent a winter north of the Arctic Circle to pay it off, and lived in a van for two years during grad school to avoid racking up any new loans. His debt "felt like I was dragging a ball and chain," Ken Ilgunas said. "You need to think of your debt as if it's a sworn enemy. You need to think of indebtedness as if it's a life-or-death situation."

2. A successful businessman who had a nervous breakdown at age 36. "I was so addicted to work that I never bathed my son, never changed a diaper," Todd Patkin said. After he retired early with millions of dollars in the bank, he learned "it's a lot easier to lose money than to make money."

3. A 40-year-old former rocker whose new career as a self-publishing romance novelist has taken over her life, pushing parenting responsibilities onto her husband. "My job is more than full time," Bella Andre said. "I'm the spouse on the road, I'm the spouse burning the midnight oil and I'm the spouse working weekends."

4. An entrepreneurial couple who, after selling their profitable wine business, found that new wealth didn't automatically bring a life of ease. "You think you're going to get to this level where you'll be taken care of," Michael Houlihan said. "That's when you find out that's just the beginning of vigilance."

    More intimate looks at money are on the way. If you have any suggestions for someone we should talk to, please drop us a line at bsteverman@bloomberg.net.

This essay originally appeared in Bloomberg.com's weekly personal finance newsletter, Wealth Watch. Sign up here.

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