Recently, I was reminded that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. This came to mind as I was listening to some young adults talking about wading deeply into debt on some purchases they were considering.
Today’s credit system has everything structured in a way that keeps us enslaved for the better part of our working adult life. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know if you have ever purchased a home, a car or anything else that promises instant gratification for just a small monthly payment.
Please don’t think that I am so wise that I haven’t fallen into the over-extended credit trap, because I have. Which is why I can speak as somewhat of an expert on the woes of it all.
I promise you that while experience is the best teacher, it is the cruelest of all teachers. And while today’s prices dictate that we sometimes must depend upon credit for things like a home, it is best to exercise some wisdom.
This is the sermon I have preached to my children all their lives. I never listened to those who advised me the same, so I don’t know why I was surprised that my kids, or other young people I’ve tried to help, didn’t heed my warnings.
At various points of my life I found that I had dug myself a hole that took me years to dig out of. A very good friend made a statement that I will never forget. He said, “You can’t borrow yourself out of debt.”
OK, so you can afford that house payment, that car payment, that payment on the lawn mower, the credit card payments that bought the clothing, the velvet Elvis quilt hanging on the wall behind the couch, and the $200 major brand name high-heel orthopedic sandals you won’t wear, it doesn’t mean you should.
What if Santa has a mishap on your roof next Christmas and you find you need to replace part of it? Insurance? Oh, did you figure the cost of insurance into those monthly expenses? How about the furnace? What if you find you need to replace it? Dip into savings account? Oh! Did you figure regularly feeding the savings account into those monthly payments? Probably not. I never did.
CNBC reported recently that the average credit card balance exceeds $4,200. More than one in three people fear that they will max out their credit card with the next purchase of more than $100.
Outstanding student loan debt has more than tripled over the last 10 years to more than $1.5 trillion.
“I deserve it” is often how we justify extending ourselves to the point that two incomes just cover the debt commitment. If you get hungry after a long day of toiling to satisfy the debt, you might discover that a second job is necessary to buy groceries. Food. Oh no, I forgot we must eat also. But what if children come along? Can we order the kind of children that don’t require nutrition, clothing and medical care? Heaven knows there is nothing left to handle all that.
It took me years to realize that there is a way to live beneath your means, and it doesn’t mean that you live in a dirt-floor cabin with no niceties. I learned that while I might be capable of financing a $100,000 home, an $80,000 home might be just as comfortable. I learned that even if I can afford a newer, more expensive automobile, one that I can save for and buy outright will get me from Point A to Point B just as well.
I learned that living to the extent of or beyond my means held me captive. I worried, overworked and often under-achieved because of the pressure. My family suffered and so did my health. It took me years to learn these lessons children, so don’t fret if this is the first time you’ve heard it and it doesn’t make sense to you.
The bottom line is this. Just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should. Have mercy on yourself.
Herb Day is a longtime local radio personality and singer-musician. You can email him at [email protected] and follow his work at http://www.HerbDayVoices.com and http://www.HerbDayRadio.com.