My Interview With Derek, a 23 Year Old Soon to be Father


Derek and I met in Buffalo, New York where we hd a chance to sit down and discuss a wide range of topics. Since Derek is a young man and just out of college his opinions about student loans, campus credit cards, reading contracts, and trying to get by are very enlightening.

He remembers his mother having to use food stamps and he might have to resort to using WIC and food stamps again as he and his young wife try to make ends meet and prepare for the birth of their first child.

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Interviewer: I wanted to talk about the economy right now. So we’re in Buffalo, New York.

Derek: Right.

Interviewer: And have you worried about the economy? Are you concerned about it?

Derek: A little bit. Yeah, just coming out of a – got my master’s degree and it’s – you hear a lot about, you know, not being able to find a job and, you know, it’s kind of worrisome. (Laughter) But not too much in that, you know, try not to let it get to you too much.

Interviewer: Have you ever or have you known somebody that’s worried about money?

Derek: Everybody. (Laughter) Who doesn’t? But –

Interviewer: How does that feel when you worry about money?

Derek: It’s – you go into panic mode sometimes if, you know, you get, you know, in over your head or – you know.

Interviewer: Does it – I remember when I went though it. I felt like I really couldn’t talk to anybody. I was embarrassed about it.

Derek: Right, yeah. It’s –

Interviewer: You end up kind of suffering in silence.

Derek: Yeah, exactly.

Interviewer: So what do people do when they get in that situation?

Derek: It’s – I don’t know, try to find a way out anyway, you know, any way you can get out. (Laughter)

Interviewer: Well, who should people talk to?

Derek: I would talk to my parents. (Laughter) But I don’t know, somebody that you know is successful so you can see what they can do or if they can help you or whatever or look for a job.

Interviewer: Have you ever had to call a creditor and ask for help or some kind of –?

Derek: I have not, no.

Interviewer: No.

Derek: No, not yet, but maybe one day. (Laughter)

Interviewer: Do you have any loans or credit cards in your name?

Derek: Oh, yeah. I got a ton of student loans. I’m managing to pay out the credit cards, but student loans are a big deal.

Interviewer: How much do you owe in student loans?

Derek: I think around 20. You know, I had my graduate school paid for in the system chip but that helped out a lot, but yeah, a lot. (Laughter)

Interviewer: Did – were student loans easy to get into? I mean –

Derek: Oh, yeah. Yeah. And we always learn, you know, if you’re gonna have loans, student loans are pretty good because they’re really low interest and, you know, so that’s kinda the word around everywhere that I’ve been, you know.

Interviewer: Did the college promote student loans as, you know, here’s the easy way to get financing or –?

Derek: I’m not sure that they promoted it, but they offered it, you know. There’s always that option.

Interviewer: Did anybody – did you have to go through any financial counseling with the school before you got the student loans?

Derek: They make you do like an introduction counseling and actually counseling says, you know, I’m gonna pay these back and I understand how it works, you know, over time, the interest and everything.

Interviewer: What did you get your degree in?

Derek: I got my bachelor degree in anthropology and archeology, which, you know, is what I’m working on now and I got my master’s degree in historic preservation.

Interviewer: So you’ve been watching Time Team America?

Derek: I – when – we live out in the country now and it doesn’t come in very well when it’s on. (Laughter) But when it’s on, yeah, I watch it.

Interviewer: It’s funny because when I – I lived over in England for two years and Time Team actually started over there.

Derek: Oh, really.

Interviewer: And the crew that does it is really dynamic, so the difference is here on Time Team America they’re like, you know, scraping stuff away and after three days they’ve gone down this far.

Derek: Yeah. (Laughter)

Interviewer: Time Team Europe, they come in with a backhoe. (Laughter)

Derek: Yeah. (Laughter)

Interviewer: There’s just so much stuff they don’t care. (Laughter)

Derek: Yeah. (Laughter)

Interviewer: So what about that field? I mean is that a good income-earning field?

Derek: No, but I like it, you know. It’s – you know, obviously if you’re a teacher you can make more money and, you know, but it’s – I got into historic preservation thinking I would find a job easier ’cause, you know, more encompassing, but as I’m looking there’s more – they want the master’s degree in archeology or something, so I kinda, you know, got lost in that. But – and I like archeology a lot better than the architectural, but it’s all interesting and here in Buffalo we have a lot of it and it’s – with the stimulus stuff going on, there’s a lot of like Section 106 where, you know, if there’s federal money being put into a project, you have to make sure that there’s no historical value to it or archeological, you know, data that could be lost and all that has to be, you know, funds so it should be a good field with the stimulus going on, but I haven’t really noticed anything yet, so.

Interviewer: What’s your backup plan?

Derek: Just keep looking for a job, you know, hopefully something with my education, but if I have to, you know, I’ll work at McDonald’s or something, and I’ve been thinking about joining the Coast Guard or something, you know, as a last resort obviously. My wife doesn’t like it or – you know, and my mom. She’s been opposed to it since high school, but I – you know, I have to talk to a recruiter and make sure, you know, it’s all – like works out, but that’s a last resort, for me at least.

Interviewer: Are you working now?

Derek: Yeah, I’m working at like a seasonal-type job doing archeology with the Section 106-type stuff.

Interviewer: How does it feel being an expectant father?

Derek: Oh, geez.

Interviewer: Does that become – do you get a little stressed about thinking about money and ______?


Derek: Yeah. (Laughter) Yeah, it’s tough, you know, but New York State seems to be pretty – there seems to be like funding out there, like, you know, you can get WIC or, you know, food stamps if you had to. We haven’t done that yet, but if we had to we will and, you know, it’s time – you know, time-consuming. There’s a lot of paperwork and stuff and – but it’s – you know, it’s out there and it’s good, so.

Interviewer: So what do you think about people who can’t pay their bills and file bankruptcy? Do you think that they’re just in a bad situation? Are they losers? Are they cheats? Are they – what are they?

Derek: You know, it – I tend to think that they’ve been, you know, in a – you get caught up in a bad situation. You know, sometimes, you know, you can’t help but think that somebody – you know, maybe they’re a loser or something, but, you know, everybody, you know, goes through the hard times. And it’s – you know, you gotta look past, you know, what you might think of people and, you know, just realize that you could be in their situation at any time and you never know, you know. It’s scary and, you know, it’s not something you want to deal with ever. (Laughter) You know, you don’t want to run outta money. It’s important to us, you know, here, but –

Interviewer: What school did you go to?

Derek: I went to – I started out at community college which turned out to be a really good idea ’cause it’s cheaper and you get your early stuff, you know, your pre-reqs out of the way and I went to the University of Buffalo, and I actually went to graduate school outta state at Ball State University in Muncie, so.

Interviewer: Was – when you were on campus, was it easy to get credit card applications and –?

Derek: Oh, yeah, especially at UB. It seemed like there was a credit card guy out in the, you know, main commons all the time, you know. Yeah, there’s a Facebook group saying, you know, how to avoid them and everything. We’d come up with clever ways to get outta there. But, you know, they’d offer you, you know, free burgers at Burger King or a sub at Subway or something and, you know, most people know that – you know, not – don’t do that and – you know. But they’re – yeah, they’re all over. (Laughter)

Interviewer: Did you know anybody in school who got in over their head?

Derek: Oh, yeah. Yeah, there’s, a lot of our friends, you know, that did it and, you know, they’re thinking about going bankrupt and stuff already and they’re young. You know, I’m only 23 and, you know, it’s scary to think about that, you know.

Interviewer: So when you were watching your friends who were struggling, what do you think was going through their mind? What – were they stressed? How were they acting?

Derek: You know, surprisingly not as stressed as I think I would be. (Laughter) But it’s – you know, they seem – you know, if you want to go out or something, you know, I have no money, but they’d probably still go out anyway and, you know, then you start to think, you know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing this to them. (Laughter)

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Interviewer: Right. So what are your plans after you find this job? Do you want to eventually buy a house, buy a car?

Derek: I’d like to buy a house. I’d like to find a job here in Buffalo ’cause I like the city a lot and, you know, it’s – I hear their houses are pretty cheap here relatively, you know, and I’m hopeful. I think Buffalo’s gonna come back. There’s a lotta people moving out, but I think there’s a lotta people coming back in, too, so – but if I had to – I’d like to stay in the Northeast for whatever reason. I’m not really sure why. (Laughter) But I like all the seasons and I like the snow a little bit.

Interviewer: They do have snow up here.

Derek: Yeah, we do. (Laughter) Yeah.

Interviewer: Does – what – it’s that snowy in the wintertime. Does it – it obviously kills the seasonal jobs.

Derek: Oh, yeah. Yeah. You know, what I do now like is all – it’s all fieldwork and that basically comes to a standstill, you know, unless there’s some emergency stuff that needs to happen and I get called by boss and all that, but yeah, there’s a lot of seasonal jobs and all the kids are back in school and stuff, you know, for the fall and winter, so it seems like a lot of the lower-end jobs like the McDonald’s or working at J. C. Penney or something are taken up by them, you know, so that – I’m sure snow removal does pretty good. There’s a lotta people that have snow plows on their trucks and come clear driveways and stuff, but –

Interviewer: Well, who taught you about money growing up? Anybody?

Derek: (Laughter) High school teachers. I watched my mom and dad, too. You know, we had to take economics here. It’s part of, I think, the regents’ programming for the high schools here and, you know, you learn a little bit about that and just watching people, I guess. Watch CNN once in a while or, you know, hear about it on the radio or read in the newspaper.

Interviewer: Do you think that credit is too easy to get?

Derek: Yeah, I do. Yeah. (Laughter) It’s pretty easy.

Interviewer: You said that you do have credit cards.

Derek: Yeah.

Interviewer: And when you – did you get those in school?

Derek: Yeah, I think so. (Laughter)

Interviewer: What was the free gift that you got? The sub or something?

Derek: I don’t even remember. (Laughter) I might have not even gotten a free gift. I – just, you know, but –

Interviewer: So now a new law has passed saying that people under 21 can’t apply for credit cards.

Derek: Really? Well, that’s good. (Laughter)

Interviewer: Yeah. So can you imagine what college would be like if nobody had credit cards on campus?

Derek: Probably better. (Laughter) As long as they didn’t get rid of student loans, I think it’d be good, but yeah, credit cards, I tend to think that they’re not a really good idea, you know. You know, we’ll see how it goes when my kid’s old, you know, grows up. You know, I’ll try to talk him out of it, you know, unless something happened – good happens with them. I have no idea. But yeah, I can’t see any good coming from credit cards. If you don’t have the money, you probably shouldn’t be going after it.

Interviewer: Your student loans.

Derek: Yeah.

Interviewer: When – some people now are taking 25 to 30 years to repay their student loans.

Derek: Yeah. (Laughter)

Interviewer: Do you have some sort of graduated payment plan or –?

Derek: I honestly don’t remember what I selected. (Laughter) But yeah, that’s all, you know, offered on there, like you start out paying, you know, a little bit and then, you know, when you get older you end up paying more, which is kinda scary, ’cause I don’t know if I’ll have a job when I’m older. I don’t have a job now, you know, a permanent, you know, good, awesome-paying job now. But yeah, so it’s cool that they – you don’t have to pay it right away when you get outta school. They give you a little bit of time, so.

Interviewer: So when you get this job in archeology, do you have any sort of idea about if you want to save money or if you’re going to try to save money as you get your paychecks?

Derek: Yeah. I try to put it in the bank. (Laughter)

Interviewer: I mean is saving a priority for you to set aside any money?

Derek: Yeah. Yeah, you know, I – it’s hard ’cause I like to – I don’t like sitting around and so I like to go, you know, do whatever, even, you know, go walk around the mall or something. I don’t spend money all the time but, you know, the gas to get there costs money and stuff, but I like to save, you know, mostly.

Interviewer: Have you heard about people who have committed suicide because of their worry about debt?

Derek: Yeah. Yeah, you know, it’s – there’s always a better way out than that. It’s – you know, it’s – you don’t need to go to that extreme ever, I don’t think. So, yeah, it’s not – you hear about it all actually.

Interviewer: So what about people who can’t find a job that are running out of unemployment benefits? What are they gonna do?

Derek: I don’t know. Hopefully, something. I think, you know, if we had to resort to something like the CCC or something like in the – what was it? – the ’30s, something like that would be excellent and – I don’t know. I don’t know that anybody’s actually looked into that or, you know, the president has actually thought about that ____ _____ ______ _____.


Interviewer: So what role does government have in trying to support people who –?

Derek: I’d like to think not too much, but I think that they should. You know, if they’re gonna – if they say that they’re gonna, I think they should help. But, you know, I like to think, you know, the less government involvement, you know, the better but if, you know, they’re saying – they’re giving hope to all these people that they’re gonna help them then they should help. But, you know –

Interviewer: If you had a bunch of money on credit cards and somebody came to you and said, “You can pay off that debt for half of what you owe but it’s gonna leave you with bad credit,” would you do that?

Derek: Probably not ’cause I feel like having good credit is something that’s been, you know, taught to me. You know, you have to have good credit, so I would – I don’t know. I wouldn’t go with having bad credit. (Laughter)

Interviewer: Have you ever been tempted to apply for credit for something that you wanted right now?

Derek: (Laughter) Yeah. Yeah, about one of the new Camaros. (Laughter) But, you know, it’s – you know, and we’re looking for a house and stuff, too, but we don’t want to – you know, we can’t get approved for, you know, something. You know, we don’t have the money to do it because, you know, we don’t have permanent jobs right now, so it’s – you know, it’s – there’s a lot that I want, but you can’t – you know, if you don’t have the money, you know –

Interviewer: How does not having the money make you feel?

Derek: You know, there’s always – you always want what you can’t have, you know. It’s frustrating but, you know, they get by. Maybe one day you’ll have it, you know. Maybe one day there’ll be something better.

Interviewer: Okay. So if somebody came up to you right now and said, “You know the house that you want? You can have it right now. You just have to sign right here.”

Derek: (Laughter) Have to read the paper. (Laughter)

Interviewer: Do you read contracts, honestly?

Derek: I start. (Laughter) And then I get bored with it, you know, and I figure they’re all probably mostly the same, but I probably should.

Interviewer: So how many credit cards do you have? One, two –?

Derek: Whew. I think one now.

Interviewer: One, okay. And have they ever raised your interest rate?

Derek: Yeah, I missed a payment on one that I had a long time ago and they completely – they raised it. I lost my introductory rate and I had to pay a really high like, you know, minimum payment and they had a fee that you had to pay if you miss it, too, so I learned my lesson. I – it wasn’t even that I didn’t have the money or anything. I just lost the bill on the corner on the kitchen table, you know, so yeah, that was – it was a mess. (Laughter)

Interviewer: Probably the last time you do that.

Derek: Yeah, yeah. Lesson learned. (Laughter)

Interviewer: Do you have a government-backed student loan?

Derek: I think so.

Interviewer: Is it – or is it a private student loan?

Derek: (Laughter) I think they’re government, the Stafford loans.

Interviewer: Mm-hmm.

Derek: Yeah.

Interviewer: Yeah. There’s been a whole lot of stuff in the press about foreclosure and people losing their homes and have you known anybody who’s lost their house?

Derek: Not personally. No, I haven’t. You know, I hear that foreclosures are the way to go if you’re gonna buy a house though. I’m not sure and – you know, how true it is or not, but yeah.

Interviewer: When you were growing up, was there ever any feeling of kind of economic stress or having to do without or “you can’t get that now?”

Derek: You know, my mom always said – I sound like Forest Gump. (Laughter) But, you know, “You gotta learn like the value of the dollar,” you know, and I think there’s not a lotta that going on right now, and I think parents will just buy their kids anything and, you know, you notice that they’re kind of all snots now, you know. (Laughter) They’re – the kids are mean and – you know, and you always have to do like the social studies classroom stuff, like you had to interview somebody from the Depression, you know, stuff like that. But, you know, nothing – you know, I didn’t really worry about it.

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Interviewer: So when you interviewed somebody from the Depression, what did they say?

Derek: I interviewed my great-grandma and it – you know, it seems – from what she said, it sounds kinda like where we are now. You know, she wasn’t – they weren’t too bad. You know, they didn’t live in the city or anything so, you know, they didn’t have to sell apples on the streets and stuff but, you know, it sounded very similar to what’s going now and just hard to find jobs and stuff.

Interviewer: Do you have a checking account?

Derek: Yeah, I think so. (Laughter)

Interviewer: (Laughter) Okay. Maybe.

Derek: Yeah. Yeah, I have a checking or a savings. (Laughter)

Interviewer: Now usually – you know how opposites attract in a relationship?

Derek: Mm-hmm.

Interviewer: One person’s usually a saver and the other person’s usually the spender. Is that true in your relationship?

Derek: I – yeah, I think I might be more the spender. (Laughter)

Interviewer: Really.

Derek: Yeah.

Interviewer: What’s your vice?

Derek: Just – I don’t know. I just like to not sit at home. (Laughter)

Interviewer: I mean just do you feel that you spend to go do something or video games or –?

Derek: No, not – just going to do things, like just not being at home. You know, I don’t own too much to show for what I spend, I guess, but a lot of experiences, which is cool. I like – we like state trips, you know, weekends trips and stuff and, you know, they’re not that expensive so we try to do it on the cheap weekend.

Interviewer: You mentioned before just about benefits, about WIC and I think it’s now called SNAP actually.

Derek: Oh, is it?

Interviewer: Yeah.

Derek: (Laughter)

Interviewer: I don’t know who changed it from food stamps to SNAP. If you were – if you did have to go into a benefit program like that is that no problem? How does it make you feel? Is –?

Derek: I – you know, I was talking to my friends at work and stuff about it. I’m like, “Yeah, I’m a little embarrassed about it, you know.” But they’re like, “You know, you gotta do what you gotta do.” And, you know, I’m thinking if it’s out there you might as well take advantage of it. You know, there’s no – or you’re not being penalized for doing it at all, like I’m pretty sure that you don’t go under that ______. (Laughter) But, you know, so I don’t know how it all works exactly, but it’s – yeah.

Interviewer: It’s interesting. There are – some people have a big stigma about that.

Derek: Yeah. Yeah, it’s – you know, I mean I’m pretty sure I grew up on food stamps and a lotta my friends did, you know. You know, I don’t think – you know, we’re not too many – we’re not friends with too many rich kids or anything, so I think we all came from the same boat and – yeah, and – but you think, you know, you don’t want to – you think of a lotta dirty, you know, kinda people around food stamps and, you know, like drug dealers or something, you know, and just people taking advantage of the system and stuff. But, you know, it’s – you don’t want to be lumped into a group of people that – you know, that are taking advantage of it as opposed to people that are – you know, just ran into a hard time. You know, it’s very –

Interviewer: You mentioned when you were growing up you and other families were on food stamps.

Derek: (Laughter) Right. Yeah, so I was –

Interviewer: Did you know anybody that was taking advantage of it?

Derek: (Laughter) No, I don’t, but you hear about it, you know, so it’s – I mean I have no idea. Maybe somebody was. I have no idea. It’s weird. (Laughter)

Interviewer: It’s funny because, you know, I always hear those stories, too.

Derek: Uh-huh.

Interviewer: But it’s almost like it’s become an urban myth, you know?

Derek: Yeah, exactly. You don’t really – it’s, yeah, true.

Interviewer: Was there ever – did you ever feel embarrassed about the fact that ma had to _____ _____?

Derek: No, I don’t think I –

Interviewer: Just didn’t register.

Derek: Yeah and like that.

Interviewer: Yeah. Okay. I don’t think I have any more questions.

Derek: Cool.

Interviewer: So one – actually, I do.

Derek: Okay.

Interviewer: You’re 22?

Derek: Twenty-three.

Interviewer: Twenty-three. I was 22 when I got married, so –

Derek: Yeah.

Interviewer: So looking back on kids that are now 15, 16, 17 getting ready to go into college, what advice – from what you’ve learned about so far – credit, debt, money, student loans, whatever – what advice would you give yourself if you were going to talk to yourself when you were 17?

Derek: You know, apply for scholarships and stuff for school definitely. You know, the – you can go for as cheap as possible. You know, you gotta really apply yourself, but there’s help out there, you know, grants and scholarships and, you know, don’t get into credit cards. You know, probably stay from a car even if you can, you know, ’cause gas is expensive and you gotta pay insurance and all that. You know, if you can – you know, to have as, you know, a small amount of spending as possible, I think that would be great.

Interviewer: Before you went into archeology, did you think about how much – what those jobs paid or did you –?

Derek: Nope. (Laughter) No, I didn’t. I – you know, I wanted to – I started out thinking – you know, I was always interested in archeology and stuff but, you know, thinking like maybe I’ll be a – you know, a pilot or something and then I figured I wasn’t good enough at math or, you know, psychology and then I just kinda didn’t really like psychology. So I just went with my gut and went with archeology and, you know, I like it and I think that’s important but, you know, nobody ever really told you – like the high school counselors don’t tell you, you know, you’re not gonna make money doing archeology. You know, you gotta find a job that’s probably, you know, gonna make some money.

You know, a _____ _____ like, you know, nursing and stuff’s actually making a lotta money and the computer jobs are always pretty good and, you know, even entrepreneurial stuff. I think cities like Buffalo could benefit from that but, you know – and my wife and I talked about it and, you know, we were never told by our counselors, you know, “Go with something that’s gonna make money” or, you know, “This is what’s a hot, you know, kinda job right now.” I mean it’s mostly just, you know, go with what you want to do when you grow up, but that’s – I don’t think that’s necessarily how it is.

Interviewer: If an archeology job was open in Buffalo –

Derek: Oh, I would apply for it. (Laughter)

Interviewer: (Laughter) What’s the average salary for a job like that?

Derek: It’s not very high. I mean unless – there’s a lotta like federal government jobs and then, you know, I go on usajobs.gov a lot looking for them and they seem to be out Southwest and stuff, but they earn anywhere from like $50,000.00 to like in the 100 and something thousand, so there’s a huge scale but, you know – but you need your doctorate or whatever in there, so –

Interviewer: Do you think you could get a $50,000.00 archeology job in Buffalo?

Derek: No. No, there’s not –

Interviewer: What would it be, 20?

Derek: Yeah, 20, 30, you know, depending on how – you know, if you’re fulltime or seasonal. I mean there’s not too much fulltime here. You know, it’s – they call it shovel bumming. You know, you go where the jobs are, you know, and people that’ll just work all year long _____ _____ working here in – up here in the summer and they’ll wind up going down to, you know, Arizona or, you know, Colorado and stuff in the spring.

Interviewer: Would you consider doing that?

Derek: Well, if I wasn’t married and having a kid. (Laughter) But I would, yeah. It’s kind of a cool idea for me, you know, adventure. Yeah.

Interviewer: So let’s say that that job doesn’t show up in Buffalo. How do you feel about maybe having to set aside your dreaming in order to get some job just to pay the bills?

Derek: I – you know, you gotta do what you gotta do, you know. I haven’t ruled out going back to school for something else and it’s – I’m all right with it. Something might come up in the future and then I have the historic preservation that – you know, that – my higher education to fall back on, I guess. (Laughter) But yeah.

Interviewer: Okay. All right. Well, thank you very much.

Derek: Yeah.

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Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.
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