Money

Cheryl Strayed used her earnings from 'Wild' to pay off $85,000 of credit card debt

Reese Witherspoon played Cheryl Strayed in the film adaptation of 'Wild'
Tim P. Whitby | Getty Images
Reese Witherspoon played Cheryl Strayed in the film adaptation of 'Wild'

Cheryl Strayed doesn't mind talking money.

"I feel strongly that we're only hurting ourselves as writers by being so secretive about money," the bestselling author of "Wild" tells Manjula Martin in the new book "Scratch."

"There's no other job in the world where you get your master's degree in that field and you're like, 'Well, I might make zero or I might make $5 million!'" says Strayed. "There will always be such a wide range of what writers are paid, but at least we could give each other information."

Cheryl Strayed, bestselling author of "Wild"
Gregg DeGuire | Getty Images
Cheryl Strayed, bestselling author of "Wild"

Strayed, who grew up on food stamps, is candid about discussing both her financial victories and missteps.

"We almost lost our house before I sold 'Wild,'" she says. "I think we had about $85,000 in credit card debt by the time I sold that book. I can say that now because I don't have any debt, but I was so ashamed of that."

It wasn't the first time she and her husband were in the red. She accrued $50,000 in credit card debt to write her first novel, "Torch." When she earned a $100,000 advance for the book, it went straight to paying off the bills: "I got that check for 'Torch,' and it was gone the next day."

A similar thing happened after she sold "Wild" to Knopf for $400,000, Strayed tells Martin: "Again, the great, funny irony about that was that I got my first check, and we spent it all on credit card bills. We went out and had sushi. But our life didn't change. We only got out of credit card debt."

Through all of the financial ups and downs, her perspective on life has stayed consistent. "You have to take what you've been given and make the best of it and use it for good in the world," she tells Martin. "And that would be my belief whether I were applying for food stamps tomorrow or not."