A recent New York Times article revealed some terrifying data regarding debt in America. Consumer debt reached $12.73 trillion in the first quarter of this year. While around 70% of that is mortgages and home equity loans, about 11% is student loans, 9% is car loans, and 6% is credit cards. While these percentages might seem insignificant, history suggests that this data is cause for alarm. According to this same article, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported that “total household debt in the United States had reached a new peak — $12.7 trillion — in the first three months of the year, another milestone in the long, slow recovery of the nation’s economy.” The article goes on to note that debt “accounts for nearly 70 percent of all economic activity in the United States.” Once upon a time, I would have shrugged at these statistics. I didn’t consider incurring debt a problem. I borrowed money and signed up for credit cards without giving it a second thought. I didn’t have to wait. I didn’t have to ask an authority figure for permission. Going into debt allowed me to get what I wanted when I wanted it. But a year ago, the way I viewed debt radically changed.
The Cruel Master
Last year, I left a great job as a full-time writer and entered the financial planning industry. One of the reasons I pursued a career in this industry was because I knew absolutely nothing about money. I know this sounds ridiculous, but allow me to explain. At some point, I realized something was terribly wrong with my family’s finances. We were bringing in a high income but had little to show for it. We were living from paycheck to paycheck with no savings and taking on more debt. Since we were both working at the time, we earned enough to ignore our poor spending habits. The entire time, we treated debt like a pet rather than the cruel master it had become. From student loans to credit cards to car loans, we were up to our eyeballs in debt. We consolidated, refinanced, and traded in cars but never addressed the actual problem — we owed people that we had a legal and biblical responsibility to pay back. But with the arrival of a newborn and my wife coming home full-time, I knew something had to change. I’ve discovered that my family wasn’t an anomaly in this area — we were quite normal. Over the last year, I’ve met numerous families enslaved by debt and it breaks my heart. Many of them were depressed and afraid because they didn’t know freedom was possible. Although I’m leaving the financial industry, I’m committed to helping as many people as possible see the danger in accumulating debt. Rather than give you three reasons why you shouldn’t borrow, I want to share three ways debt was bad for me and my family. I hope this will help you see the dangers and risks associated with borrowing money.
Debt restricted my ability to gain, save, and give wealth.
I use to spend a lot more than I made on things I didn’t need. Even worse, I have little to show for all of the debt I compiled in the process. As my mother-in-law likes to say, I was chasing big while little was kicking me in the behind. By spending more than I made, it significantly affected my ability to save, give, and gain wealth. I was always left with the delusion and excuse that I didn’t have anything to give because I was overspending what I had. I thought that if I made more money, I could solve the problem. But I had a problem that a higher income couldn’t fix. Furthermore, my ability to gain and save was hurt because I had to pay back what I borrowed. Borrowing today robs tomorrow’s paycheck.
Debt discouraged patience and encouraged impulsiveness and instant gratification.
I borrowed from a place of want, not need. When faced with the decision to save and wait or go into debt, I often chose the path of instant gratification. Borrowing money wasn’t the source of my impulsiveness, but it didn’t challenge it either. The way of patience is always best. It’s never a bad idea to choose to wait to buy something, whether you can afford it or not. Patience gives you time to ask important questions that will help you determine whether or not something is an important investment. It’s never a bad idea to choose to wait to buy something, whether you can afford it or not. Patience gives you time to ask important questions that will help you determine whether or not something is a good investment.
Debt caused anxiety and stress.
Our money problems were emotionally and spiritually exhausting. The burden of our finances weighed heavy upon us, and it affected every aspect of our lives. We’ve experienced some dark seasons as a married couple, and as I reflect on those periods, most of it was directly or indirectly tied to our finances and debt. Our lives have changed for the better since we’ve begun addressing the white elephant in the room — our debt. We’re a happier family, partly because we’re controlling our money, rather than allowing it to control us. If you’ve borrowed money and you’re currently in debt, begin taking the proper steps to eliminate it as soon as possible. If you’re considering getting a credit card or taking out a loan, count the costs and be aware of the risks associated with borrowing. Not only are you putting your wealth at risk, but you’re also putting your mental, emotional, and physical health at risk. There is too much at stake to borrow money without giving it careful thought.
Phillip is an Associate Advisor and Creative Director at Rivertree.