I really can’t say it enough: Having fame and fortune doesn’t protect you from financial misfortune.
So often people believe if they had just a little more money… Or they dream of being famous as their ticket to financial wonderland. But time and time again, we see talented people — athletes, artists and actors — who have earned a lot of money tailspin into financial trouble.
This week, we found out that former ice skater Debi Thomas, the first African American to win a medal in the Winter Olympics (winning the bronze in 1988), is broke and begging for donations on GoFundMe.
“It pains me to ask for help,” Thomas says in a video posted on the GoFundMe page.
Thomas was an orthopedic surgeon. She criticizes the health-care delivery system, saying she could make more money doing a 30-minute speaking engagement than she could performing four complex six-hour surgeries.
She eventually closed the practice, and that’s when she began to have money issues.
“About a year ago, out of pure frustration and financial distress, I decided to close my private practice and pursue new interests,” Thomas says in the video. “It is amazing that I could go for 10 years training to be a specialist, paying for private education at Stanford and Northwestern University and having no student loans, putting together a sizable retirement and making minimal money as a resident and fellow and still live a comfortable life. But after only two years of private practice, while also going through a divorce, I managed to lose my entire nest egg.”
In the pitch for donations, Thomas says the money will be used to “restore financial stability after severe sudden financial losses over the past couple of years associated with a combination of financially crippling life challenges. This assistance will help cover expenses while [Thomas and her fiance, Jamie Looney] complete their promising projects currently in the works.”
So far, Thomas and Looney have gotten $5,300 in donations to meet their $10,000 goal.
In a YouTube video titled “Can We Go Nowhere Any Faster?” Thomas and Looney talk about their struggles. Among their projects, they hope to take a YouTube reality show and parlay it into a produced TV show.
Thomas was recently featured on OWN’s “Iyanla: Fix My Life.” On the show, life coach Iyanla Vanzant tried to help Thomas, who is living in a bedbug-infested trailer in Appalachia, address her issues. After watching the show, Yesha Callahan, editor of the Grapevine and a staff writer at the Root, wrote: “What I saw before me was a woman who was coping with some deep-seated issues. Someone who thought she could save her alcoholic boyfriend before she could think about saving herself. I saw someone who lost her career because of her own mental-health issues.”
Scott Herhold of the San Jose Mercury News believes that “Thomas’s plight should summon our compassion, not our judgment.”
I agree, but as for the GoFundMe campaign, without more guidance, how can donors know Thomas has fixed what was wrong so that their money is well spent?
As one poster wrote on the GoFundMe page: “I get that you make less as a surgeon than you would on the lecture circuit. That said, as a hospital administrator, I don’t know any physicians in the U.S. who aren’t able to make a more-than-comfortable living. What I don’t understand is why you as a surgeon (and a specialist no less) are unable or unwilling to work any longer and are asking others to fund your endeavors. What am I missing?”
Color of Money Question of the Week
What do you think of Debi Thomas’s personal fundraising mission? Send your comments to email@example.com. Please include your name, city and state. Put “Debi Thomas” in the subject line.
Live chat canceled
I’m away this week, so my regular live chat is canceled. But please join me next week. In the meantime, if you missed the chat from last week, read the archive. I had some good questions and wonderful Thursday Testimonies.
Stop borrowing for room and board
Last week I talked about the annual survey by the College Board on the cost of college. The report found that the increase in tuition and fees is slowing.
Still, there’s a lot of borrowing for college. So, for last week’s Color of Money Question, I wanted to know if we should examine the “need” to borrow for room and board. That question generated so many comments that I’m writing about it for an upcoming column and sharing reader answers. Here are some that didn’t make the column simply because there wasn’t enough room:
Jacquelyn Collins of San Diego wrote: “It is completely out of hand what the cost of a college/university education and living expense is today. I believe a bubble should burst as [it did] in the housing industry.”
Scott F. of Houston wrote: “Few people understand or accept that sacrifice may be needed to achieve a goal. It would be considered a sacrifice to commute to college by many. So, potential students scream at their parents. Parents scream at the politicians. Politicians then guarantee loans to teenagers with no income and only a hope that they will get a job that might pay off the student loan.”
There were just as many people arguing for living on campus, and the debt that it takes to make that happen, as there were who argued against such a decision.
Marie Matthews of Bend, Ore., says she’s a strong believer in the need for students to live on campus for the entire time that they are working on their degree. “A commuting student who drives is using up a lot of valuable study time,” Matthews argued.
“You go to college to earn a degree that enables you to pursue your career and financial independence,” said Karthigan Srinivasan of Clinton, N.J., who has an online personal finance blog, stretchadime.com. “I would vote for minimizing the room and board cost as much as possible so that you graduate out of college with minimal debt.”
I’ll end with this testimony from Cindy Bunker of Green Bay, Wis., who shares my view that it is time to rethink borrowing for room and board. Bunker wrote:
“Earlier this year I felt panicked because my 19-year-old was heading off to a private college. She was going to owe over $100,000 after loans, grants and scholarships when she was done. On move-in day she decided not to go to the private school. She decided to attend a local technical college instead. She now lives at home and commutes to campus three days a week.”
Bunker said that in the beginning, her daughter had some second thoughts because she did think she was missing out on the “great dorm experience.” But, she added: “After two months she said she was glad she switched. Her friends were having difficult roommate and college transition issues. She was thankful to be sleeping in her own bed. Plus, two years at the local college will cost less than one semester at the private school. Did you hear my sigh of relief? My older son lives at home and drives to the local university. He is glad he made his choice, as well. A few thoughts: We don’t see the kids that much. House rules still apply. And they are still expected to pitch in with chores around the house. And, just maybe, my kids may be smarter than I ever gave them credit for.”
Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to washingtonpost.com/business.
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