In my Blog Roundup last Friday, I shared three posts that had all been written along the same lines: Yahoo! Finance’s Are Americans Too Comfortable With Debt?, Plunged in Debt’s But Everyone Has Debt!…Right?, and Enemy of Debt’s Being In Debt is NOT a Necessary Part of Life. I thought the coincidence of them all being written in the same time period was interesting, but it also showed that we as Americans are finally waking up to the fact that the way we’ve been living as a society isn’t working.
Having grown up in a family where debt was the norm, I am always very aware of this. I remember the first time I really understood how credit cards worked…I had to be in high school when I finally “got” the fact that they weren’t just free loans, they had strings attached. Once I realized that every dollar my parents charged would be dollars and dollars (and dollars) they’d have to pay down over the years, I had my real aha moment that made me resolve to never handle my money the way my parents did.
People are amazed when I tell them I really do have a card only for emergencies. Because lots of people say that, but their “emergencies” wind up being seeing a really cute pair of shoes on sale they have to snatch up even though they haven’t been paid yet. Debt is just another way for people to pay for things, when what it should really be is your last ditch option when you have literally no other choice.
Some things that really hit me from those three posts:
From the Yahoo! Finance post:
“’This data suggests that not only are many Americans using credit cards to fund a lifestyle their income can’t support, but they are comfortable doing so,’” said Gail Cunningham, a spokesperson for the NFCC who was quoted in the poll news release.
“While 61% of respondents said they believe paying credit card bills in full is the only responsible way to manage their finances, it should be noted the poll asked what consumers believe, not what they do.”
From Plunged in Debt’s post:
“I admit that prior to me putting my big girl panties on and start dealing with the crap load of debt we have, I lived with my head in a cloud where I honestly believed debt was just a part of everyone’s lives. That everyone accepted the amortization period and paid off their debts accordingly. That paying debt off faster was for people with less debt than me and more money than me.”
From Enemy of Debt’s post:
“Most Americans have a pile of debt. Are you one of them?
Debt has gotten to be such a normal part of life in this country that most people don’t even question it anymore.
In fact, some people think having debt can even be a good thing.
But really, do you need a pile of debt to get all the things you want and need out of life?
Let me answer that one for you…
No, you don’t.
In fact, I think it’s just plain silly to think that debt is a necessary part of living a normal life.”
Where we are currently
Every one of these posts talks about a sad (and scary) truth: as a society, we’re so used to debt that we’ve decided it’s normal. It’s just part of being an adult. Everyone’s got it…you can’t live a regular life without having some, is the reasoning.
If you need a new TV but you can’t afford one right now, you open up a store card. (Then forget to pay it down in that attractive “12 months no interest” period.)
If it’s Christmas and you don’t have the money to buy your loved ones all the shiny gadgets on their wish lists, you charge it. (Then are paying those purchases down for years after they stop playing with the gadgets.)
Credit card debt consumes people’s lives because we see it not just as an easy way out, but as a normal way out. None of us wants to pile on tons of debt, but we figure it’s just like getting a mortgage or taking out student loans…it’s just a part of life you have to deal with. We accept it when we should be avoiding it at all costs.
I’m glad to see posts like those ones cropping up more and more, because the more we talk about it, the more we can start to realize that there is another way…that there should not be anything “normal” about incurring debt. It should be an absolute last choice, life or death option.
Like for emergencies. Real emergencies.
Do you think we’ve become too reliant on credit cards as a society? How do you view the debt in your life?
photo credit: Bryan Rosengrant
personally, credit card is something I use rarely and with great care. It´s mostly used when I buy airline tickets, because my Mastercard has a travel insurance included in it. But other than that, credit use is a no-no in my view.
Same here. I saw too many bad examples of its use growing up to use it now except for in emergencies.
The old adage “Money makes the world go around” is somewhat dated and now quite incorrect. The updated version should read “DEBT makes the world go around”
That said, as an investor, I will have debt and carry it until I’m nearly dead. I can borrow money cheaply and invest it for a much greater return. Interest rate on debt = 4%, average yield +9%. That’s +5% return in my pocket on YOUR money with very little risk. (I manage the risk actively… Not for the passive investor) This is how the rich get rich and stay rich… I don’t risk my money! (I don’t have any!)
Savings are a lie. You LOSE money to inflation in savings. You MUST invest to stay ahead.
A very interesting counterpoint! Are you using Lending Club or a similar platform for your investments, or something else? I’ll admit investing is something I really need to learn more about, but there are so many options out there I’ve felt overwhelmed.
I think we have totally become desensitized to debt as a society. I agree that people should have more discussions around this issue. I published a somewhat facetious article just last week on this topic, arguing that the younger generation like college students should actually embrace taking on debt rather than shy away from it haha. Debt can be a huge burden, but it can also helps us financially if we understand all the benefits it has to offer. One thing I’ve been meaning to do is invest in credit card companies like Visa or MasterCard. The interest that consumers pay on debt turns into profits for these business. But if we own a piece of that industry, then at least we can get some of our money back 🙂
I’d love to see a link to that post!
Very nice! Love your style!
Although we don’t have credit card debt, we have a lot of student loan debt. Before this year, I thought paying minimum and taking a decade to pay off student loan was the norm, everyone does it and there’s no way around it unless you’re filthy rich. I accidently found some PF blogs and it change my thought process. My best friend once told me that her husband has a business debt that they’re trying to payoff ASAP and she doesn’t like that debt hanging around. I told her everyone has debt and not to worry. I’m singing a different tune now.
“I accidently found some PF blogs and it change my thought process.”
I know so many people who are the same way. Isn’t it sad how few people are really aware of how to properly handle their money? Reading so many PF blogs, it always amazes (and saddens!) me to realize the way they think and the way the rest of the world thinks is SO far off.
I 100% agree with you. When I have coworkers telling me that I’m just going to have to get used to debt because everyone has it I cringe.
I hate that “we need to bring you down with us” mentality! I have a friend who recently worked super hard to start her own business, which she loves and she’s so much happier now, but the whole time she was creating it, everyone kept telling her to be happy she had a job as it was and that “everyone hates their jobs,” so why didn’t she just get used to that?
Why do we all have to believe that life has to be unhappy and less than great? It’s so sad the way we try to bring down people who are trying to live differently than we are.