Picture with me, if you will, a church. At the altar, amidst a group of well-dressed young people stands the groom, impatient with anticipation. But not with the thoughts you might expect. In a bubble over his head, we read, This is gonna be great. She’ll cook for me and clean for me. And, boy, I can sure use her income to help pay my bills. Uh-oh.
Down the aisle, we see his beautiful young bride approaching slowly and gently to the music, on her father’s arm. Her bubble: Finally. Someone to love me and protect me and fix stuff for me when they break down. And, he’ll help me with my bank loans and credit cards. Oh no.
Before you think this is a symptom of my wild imagination, let me assure you; this scenario plays out more than you know. At consultations and counseling sessions, couples explain how they came into relationship with overwhelming debt. As if marriage weren’t difficult enough to adjust to, debts and the stresses they bring contribute majorly to the sad statistics we read on separation and divorce.
Lest you think that this circumstance is limited to the young, I meet with people who should be enjoying their retirement but who are, rather, facing the future with trepidation, pondering the options for dealing with crushing debt.
It is no longer unusual to meet people who are in debt to the extent of hundreds – plural – of thousands of dollars in credit card debt alone. And with no tangible assets to speak of, except for perhaps some furniture and personal effects.
What has gone wrong?
Let me suggest that we’ve lost the ability to exercise self-restraint, self-sacrifice, delayed gratification and self-denial. The mantra of the day is, I want what I want when I want it and I don’t care what I have to do to get it.
Consumers are tempted and wooed to get into debt: credit cards, lines of credit, payday loans, student loans, home equity loans, car loans – and when the loans get out of hand, consolidation loans. To combat this dilemma, bankruptcy legislation is festooned more and more with rules and regulations that are becoming so complicated that government officials are issuing with greater frequency notices and releases on how to interpret and manage within the framework of the law. They’re trying to help us shut the barn door, but the horses have already left the stable.
This reminds me of the bubonic plague. So-called cures involved magic and superstition. It wasn’t until the simple yet effective use of soap and water were implemented that incidences of the disease rapidly declined.
Our society is plagued not with the Black Death but with greed. Avarice. Self-interest. Lust for material goods and instant gratification. You don’t combat that with laws; especially not with more complicated ones. You combat it with education. And morals. Prevention. We need to learn again how to say No to temptation, to resist today’s pleasure for the sake of tomorrow’s gain. We need to remind ourselves that credit is a privilege and not a right, and should be exercised as such. That being in debt does not have to be a given. That it is not only possible to live debt free but also preferable and immensely doable.
Let’s get our affairs in order. Mary Hunt, in her book The Complete Cheapskate, is only one of a multitude of authors who expound on relevant and very achievable means to financial freedom. Exercise is not necessarily something we all look forward to, but we’re always glad after we’ve done it. So let’s exercise self-restraint and delayed gratification. Let’s become savers instead of spenders. And then let’s pass these truths and principles on to our children.
I’m challenging you: put me out of a job. I’ll gladly find something else to do.