I remember it like it was yesterday. When I was in high school, I worked all summer to save up enough money to purchase a brand-new Sharp VCR from Wal-Mart. I remember how I felt when I finally walked into the store and laid down my hard-earned cash to make the purchase. I can still smell the fresh Styrofoam as I opened the box. I had zero regrets because it was worth the wait.

I also remember the times I’ve made impulsive purchases. Something would catch my eye that I wasn’t looking for (perhaps an infomercial??). After making the impulsive purchase, the product or service didn’t satisfy the same and guilt would eventually follow.

The Missing Word

There’s a word that’s missing from many of our vocabularies in America. That word is “No.” Saying “No” has become increasingly more difficult as we are now the most marketed to culture in the history of the world. That’s a fact. What’s more amazing is how much more effective (and less expensive) advertising is. The ads are more targeted now. They know what you want, or might want, based on your web and social media activity.

And what if you don’t have the money to make the purchase? No problem! It’s just 49 easy monthly payments of $1.99. Wait…what the heck did I purchase? A pair of running shoes?? And how much interest will I pay over these four years? Who cares…it’s just $1.99 a month. I can do it (although often the interest on an annual basis is anywhere from 39% – 400%). And no, that’s not a typo.

My old boss Dave Ramsey is often pleaded to by his listeners to run for public office. He responds with his classic shotgun laugh. But for fun, they came up with some slogans. One was, “Change…You’re Not Going to Like.” Another was simply, “No.” These were in reference to our government’s out of control spending habits.

Insert “No” Moving Forward

I read a time.com article just this morning regarding debt levels in America at every age group. The article opens with “Americans have fallen back in love with debt.” The statistics are staggering. We’ve exceeded debt levels prior to the Great Recession…just by a little. Below is from newyorkfed.org:

Aggregate household debt balances increased in the fourth quarter of 2017, for the 14th consecutive quarter, and are now $473 billion higher than the previous (2008: Q3) peak of $12.68 trillion. As of December 31, 2017, total household indebtedness was $13.15 trillion, a $193 billion (1.5 percent) increase from the third quarter of 2017. Overall household debt is now 17.9 percent above the 2013Q2 trough.

So how can we appropriately respond to this? Take a look at your budget and spending habits. Where do you see “No” inserted? Perhaps ridding yourself of credit cards would be a tremendous step. And what about that tax refund being applied to debt payoff or savings rather than a car down payment? Small steps like this go a long way.

Think about people from just a few generations ago. Could they finance a couch? Of course not. If they wanted a sofa, they were forced to save for it and delay pleasure. Today, we can stretch payments over five years. And no, I’m not buying the “Same as Cash” deals. It’s not the same as cash. Over 80% of these arrangements result in interest payments of up to 39% going back to day one. They win. You’re not beating the system. That’s why they keep on doing it and stretching out payments for even more years.

Saying “No” is healthy vocabulary. We need it in all areas of life. Prayerfully consider where you need to say “No.” Your freedom awaits.

Scott is the founder and a partner at Rivertree Financial Planning. Scott and his wife Helen currently reside in Jackson, MS with their three children Artur, Taylor, and Molly. They are members of Redeemer Church, PCA in Jackson.