Debt Enslaves

Salesman talking to me, trying to run me up a creek
Says you can buy it, go on try it, you can pay me next week.
Ahh, too much monkey business.
Chuck Berry

With planning, determination, hard work, and a willingness to learn from mistakes, it is possible to substantially untangle from the chains of our materialist, consumerist culture.  As people discover that most of the things our culture tells us are necessary really aren’t, they can learn to live more sustainably, more independently, and with less reliance on money and stuff. Living that way is subversive of a culture that tells us it can’t or shouldn’t be done.  It is satisfying and authentic.  And of course it’s always a journey.

But there are plenty of things that can make living that way impossible.

For many people the most significant obstacle is debt.  Debt enslaves.

When people ask us about how to transition to a homesteading lifestyle we always start by telling them to get out of debt first.  By eliminating unnecessary expenses it is possible to live a peaceful and rewarding lifestyle with little income.  But if debt traps you into the necessity of income, then it may slam the door on your homesteading dream.

I’ve read plenty of stories from people who desperately want to leave the rat race but can’t, because they’re trapped by debt. I know people caught in the debt whirlpool, whose choices in life are dictated by the consequences of spending money they didn’t have.

These days students are coming out of college burdened with debt, often beyond what they can reasonably repay with the salaries they are capable of earning.  They are starting life encumbered by debts that will limit their career choices and control their life paths.

Thomas Jefferson’s legacy as the author of the beautiful, liberating truths of the Declaration of Independence will always be marred by his slaveholding. But because of his overspending Jefferson was so deep in debt he couldn’t free his slaves even if he wanted to.  They belonged as much to his creditors as they did to him.  He was trapped by debt.

When I was in college Amoco mailed me a credit card with a $400 limit.  I hadn’t applied for it. I guess they were just looking for victims.  Being young and foolish I used that card to go on a spring break trip to Florida that I couldn’t afford.  I paid for all the gas on my credit card and the people I was traveling with gave me their share in cash. And I spent the cash at the beach. It took me years to pay off that card, thanks in large part to the 21% interest rate.

Fortunately for me those kinds of bonehead moves were few in my life.  I’ve always been debt-adverse and so is Cherie.  We borrowed reluctantly when we had to (to buy our first house, for example) and paid back the debt as fast as we could. We managed to stay free of the debt trap that sucked in most people we knew.  We have always tried our best to live debt-free.

I’m convinced that the single most important step toward sustainable living is to stay out or get out of debt.  That won’t be easy.  We live in a culture that encourages and facilitates debt.  Debt is no longer considered a vice or a shameful thing.  It is celebrated as the driver of our economic engine.

But debt should be a last resort.  There may be times when it is necessary to trade future labor to meet some present need.  But the emphasis in that sentence should be on the word “need.”  Those times will be rare and when they happen all efforts should be made to pay the debt off as rapidly as possible.

We could begin to heal a lot of our culture’s problems (most of which relate in one way or another to overconsumption) by the simple common-sense policy of not buying something unless we have the money to pay for it.

I’m convinced that we should all try to live simple, sustainable lives, limiting our consumption to that necessary to meet our needs.

First and foremost, that means freeing ourselves of the chains of debt.

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33 comments on “Debt Enslaves

  1. DM says:

    you are a blessed man to be married to someone who shares your values in this area…(I am too) can’t imagine how maddening it would be to be yoked to someone who was a spender.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Very true DM. I read once that more marriages fail because of fights/disagreements over money than for any other reason. I’ve known couples where spouse was caught up in the unwinnable “keeping up with the Joneses” race and the other person suffered as a result. It would indeed be maddening. So glad we haven’t had that issue in our lives.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Joanna says:

    How right you are, but I despair for the next generation. Our generation has decided that exorbitant house prices is their right (at least in the UK) and so live in houses that cost a fortune feeling that it is their security, little realising that their children will not be able to afford to even get on the housing ladder. Our generation then feel forced to mortgage their own properties so that their children too can afford the high prices and so it goes on. Why are we playing this mad game?

    Like

  3. Laurie Graves says:

    Yes, yes!

    Like

  4. Bob Braxton says:

    But drops of grief can n’er repay the debt of love I owe

    Like

  5. ain't for city gals says:

    we have always stayed debt free…which has been our saving grace in the downturn construction business in Arizona these past 7 years. We stayed small (me and my husband), drove old pick ups and never took a job that was too big. The amount of money people spend totally amazes me still.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      As someone once said back during one of the borrow-and-spend booms, “When the tide goes out we’re going to find out who’s been swimming naked.”

      I saw lots of construction companies go under during the bust in Florida 7 or so years ago. Good for y’all for having the good sense and good fortune to avoid that.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Bill, I totally agree with you about debt. Some things on my journey through life were not particularly in my control. I would have to agree that in most cases debt is accumulated from over spending for things that are not needed. In my case the debt that I’m still paying was from many years of my wife’s ill health. Understand that if I had to do it all over again I would gladly do it and even today with the debt that will be paid off at 91, I have enough to be content with what I have. I have mentioned in comments before that contentment is the key to happiness no matter what state a person is in. As DM mentions, having a spouse that is in agreement with staying out of debt is a major factor of whether life is good or not. In my humble opinion, the most important decision in life is choosing who you will marry. It can be the best ever decision in life or the worst. Living a life free from debt is indeed the best way to live. Just think about how much more money in a family income would be available to use if there wasn’t a house payment or a car payment.

    I think of Ed Begley Jr., a some what mediocre actor, that lives in California. His life style reflects minimal living. His philosophy is when going some where to walk, ride a bike, use public transportation, or drive a environmentally friendly car in that order. He uses bike or public transportation for most of his local travels when he could well afford to drive any where he wanted. Lifestyle does not have to depend on how much money is earned.

    Have a great debt free day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Well said as always Dave. Debt is sometimes necessary and we’re in some ways fortunate to live in a time when it is not difficult to borrow money when necessary. Of course our society has abused that privilege and many people are suffering the consequences of it. We’ve tried to teach our children to only buy things they can afford. If they can’t afford them, just wait until they can. Hoping it sticks. If so they’ll be much happier in life. There is a Proverb that says, “The borrower is the slave of the lender.” That can be true.

      Speaking of Hollywood people who are modeling sustainable living (there aren’t many of them), I think you would enjoy a documentary titled “I Am.” We don’t watch movies any more but that one was recommended by one of our interns a few years ago. We watched it and really enjoyed it. Good message.

      Like

  7. avwalters says:

    Debt free is our objective. I am just now paying off the last of the credit card debt I ran up in my divorce. And then I’ll be debt free. Rick told his daughter we were building bee hives. She paused and asked, “You’re not turning into hippies or vegetarians, are you?” Anything that is not mainstream is threatening to the mainstream.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      I remember how liberated I felt when we became totally debt-free. It’s a great feeling and I hope you soon have it. 🙂

      I have to laugh at the “hippies or vegetarians” comment. We draw similar comments.

      Anything not mainstream is a threat to the mainstream. So true. I think of this lifestyle as an act of defiance to the empire.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. BeeHappee says:

    “I’m living so far beyond my income that we may almost be said to be living apart.” E.E. Cummings. 🙂

    Like

  9. EllaDee says:

    I’ve learned the hard way with finances… part of the have-it-now generation but have-to-pay-it-back is a good if hard lesson! I’ve been fortunate, some of my choices made me money but I reckon financially I’ve come out about even.
    Because we will soon be debt free with some savings, lifestyle-wise it has put us ahead. I can still call up the euphoria of paying that last house payment 🙂
    When you have debt you always have to service the debt first. Debt free gives you freedom that is priceless.
    Having both had other partners who had different financial philosphies than we do, the G.O. and I appreciate our common ground, and indeed you and Cherie are fortunate.

    Like

  10. smfarm says:

    We didn’t make the wisest decisions earlier in our marriage, but we became committed to being debt free and are now only a few months from achieving that goal and it feels great!

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Wonderful! I can remember feeling like that day was so far off that if felt almost impossible. But I also remember that great feeling when it finally arrived.

      Like

  11. My first marriage was all about conspicuous consumption. I used to call my [then] husband “Sir Spendalot”. He was a whiz with moving money around (or so I thought) and so I left the investing and high financing to him. That all came crashing down when it turned out he had a secret gambling and cocaine addiction. I wasn’t totally asleep at the wheel – just very trusting and working at a law firm 60 – 80 hours a week. I continued to work my tail off and cut our spending drastically to pull us out of that debt and then we ended up divorcing anyway. Lesson learned the hard way – but all for the better regardless – I have M now and we are both seriously debt averse and figured out from day one that if were going to choose farming as a lifestyle – we couldn’t carry ANY debt. It will take us longer to get everything built from scratch without taking on any debt, but we refuse to have a mortgage when we start farming full-time.
    My advice to those that feel they can’t get out from under debt – oh yes you can! Buckle down and start living “sustainably” right this very minute. Cut out all the extras now and put that money towards paying off your debt. A great website FULL of terrific advice on getting out of debt (albeit he is a bit “irreverent” at times ; D) is Mr. Money Mustache – I highly recommend following his advice. We certainly don’t suffer from the loss of all of that extraneous stuff. We just make better choices and always keep our eyes on the prize – le petit canard farm.

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    • Bill says:

      Y’all are definitely doing it the right way, in my humble opinion. I’m confident you’ll never regret being patient and diligent.

      Your advice is right on, in my book. I tell people the same thing. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of believing that it can’t be done, or that cutting out “small” expenses won’t help. But it works and the payoff is great. I can honestly say that I don’t think we missed out on anything by living that way.

      I also think it helps to have a specific goal (like you do). We did too and even though I sometimes thought it seemed like it would never come, eventually it did. As it will for you.

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  12. Zambian Lady says:

    There is nothing I like more than not owing anyone anything. One thing that I have had to come against regarding my simple ( thought not so) frugal lifestyle, are the discouraging words of a close friend. She is drowning in debt and yet she is always pestering me to buy non-essentials. She buys high-end stuff but is continually on edge in case she has an emergency. I was once like her when I was much younger, but have learnt to just say “no” to people like her and things that call out my name for me to buy them.

    Ah, the freedom of not being debt free.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I knew people with very high incomes who filed bankruptcy and others who lived from paycheck to paycheck just as a poor person would. If you spend more than you earn you’ll be in stress and debt, regardless of how much you earn. As you say, the key to gaining the freedom, is learning to say no. Self-control.

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  13. bobraxton says:

    Lots of great comments. In the course of preparing figures for CPA to fill out our joint Federal Income Tax return, we have printed his and her Year end Summary – of each of two banks with which we (individually) have one credit card (although “mine” is joint, only I use it). This is our second year (both retired) we have taken a look at this year Summary (two reports). Even though we are not in debt as such, these categorized spending clusters and reviewing them are quite enlightening. Between the two of us, over $2,000 per month Average. We were also out of the country one full month a year ago.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      An excellent (and enlightening) way to get a handle on spending is to write down every purchase (or track them in some other way). Most people are surprised to find that they’re spending much more than they thought they were.

      Like

  14. Seeking Joyful Simplicity says:

    Remember the old days when you had to pay cash or write a check for your purchases? Checks were useful, if you kept up with your balance. Now we have debit cards that make spending that much easier – swish-enter a pin- done!(even easier online, where we can simply “Click” a purchase).

    Liked by 1 person

    • bobraxton says:

      Not a very long time ago our Riggs Bank (no longer exists) returned cancelled checks each month and I sorted into income tax related categories / file folders. Then the banks switched to check images which, at first, were free. Then, even though images saves a lot of money for the banks, the bank began charging monthly for printing check images. We write millions of checks. Once a year, now, we take the original images pages (some on one side, some on two sides) to the photocopy business and make one-sided copies that I can then cut into tiny check facsimile pieces (difficult to read by elder eyes) and do the same kind of sorting. This work has taken me just about an entire week (last week) and today we go visit the CPA who graciously prepares the actual income tax returns. I am very grateful. The difference is that the balance and details are available any moment on line and in my mind monthly statements have no meaning any more. I would like to be able to download the details in one selection (now it takes at least five to cover one year) AND think that that bank should be required to keep visible check images on line for at least as long as required by the IRS. That is seven years except in the case of fraud, where there is no time limit. Banks could do much better than those I have experienced. My father took me to First National Bank of Alamance about 1960 when I began earning my own money from summer job building houses and then driving a NC school bus two school years.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Yeah I’m old enough to remember life before credit cards. What a concept–actually having to have the purchase price in order to buy something. These days that’s just so old-fashioned.

      Nowadays you can use a credit card at fast food restaurants. They’re the new normal.

      Like

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