Consumer Debt? Think D.E.B.T.!

I’ve read a lot about personal freedom recently on social media.

My conclusion? Despite what marketers try to sell us, personal freedom does not come from having all the right stuff.

If anything, our pursuit of "having it all" ends up costing us years of work and clutters up our living spaces, our garage and even *gasp* a rented storage unit or two.

The right stuff that was supposed to provide all this flexibility, all these options, all this happiness just feels heavy, expensive.

And that cost compounds when debt is involved, even to the point of getting out of control.

When we get down to it, money—in all its forms—is the only possession we really need (unless we live like The Moneyless Man, but that’s pretty extreme). 

We can buy just about anything with it. It will morph into anything we need to satisfy us short-term or long term:

  • Shelter? Got ya covered!
  • Food? Sure!
  • Clothing? Well heeled in no time!
  • Heating/cooling? Done!
  • Communication? 10-4!
  • Transportation? Yup!
  • Entertainment? Rock on!
  • Medical care? Check (up)!
  • Anything else you need or want? Why, not!

Ironically, at least initially, being surrounded by borrowed belongings feels more secure than having money in the bank.

We feel we’re found the right housing, the right car, the right clothes, the right home decor, the right tools and electronics, the right [fill in the blank]. All that stuff can make us feel we’ve arrived.

That false sense of security comes from being able to both remind ourselves and show others “what we’re made of,” in all senses of that phrase. And this fact makes it seem worth it to use debt.

Debt is nothing more than yesterday’s spending taken from tomorrow’s income. It is a claim against your future.
— "All Your Worth" by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi, p. 136.

We willingly build our own house of cards because it’s the fast track to "having it all."

What we don’t appreciate up front is that this comes with a significantly increased risk of losing it all over the longer term.

How about an alternative to the use of debt:

D.E.B.T. = Don’t Ever Buy That

"Don’t ever buy that" is a refusal to believe the fallacy that debt is a solution to everything. Over the long term, it’s anything but.

Any rich person will tell you: It’s not how much you make, it’s how much you keep. Saving is what protects you from that rainy day, and it’s what makes your future brighter. Saving is the road to wealth creation.
— "All Your Worth" by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi, p. 24.

It turns out that we can all find the greatest freedom from managing our money in such a way that we can eventually buy or rent anything we need at any time. 

It’s all about tradeoffs. What do we really need?

What’s so important now that's it's worth reducing our ability to build a more secure future?

At first, that can mean walking/biking, taking public transportation or owning a very secondhand car, staying out of restaurants, having a roommate or two, possibly owning secondhand furniture or cheaper options from IKEA, having a small, modest wardrobe, etc.

BUT, it also means that whatever extra money we don’t spend is going into the bank to build up a solid store of freedom for the future.

In other words, Savings isn’t just about living better tomorrow—it is about living better today.
— "All Your Worth" by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi, p. 32.

And that accumulating money, as I wrote about in Liquid Courage, makes us start to feel different—even special, as it builds up in our short and long term savings. 

By avoiding debt, we move from a fear of losing the illusion of “having it all” that we’ve created to the sense of freedom that comes with having options, having the ability to roll with it when “life happens.”

By avoiding debt, we also don’t have to unnecessarily suffer undesirable circumstances over the long term.

Relationship not going well? We can stand up for our needs and desires because both partners have sufficient resources to choose to stay and not have to stay if it’s becoming toxic.

Boss is a complete pig or asking us to do something unethical? We know we can take action because we have a voice, we’re not scared of losing our job.

Want to buy something? We don’t have to limit our scope to retailers who take credit cards or offer weekly/monthly payment options. We can find the right goods for a price that we feel is fair and reasonable. And we can negotiate.

Feel the need for some time off work because it feels needed right now? We can decide to take an unpaid leave.

Want to change careers? We can decide to go back to school.

The short term pain of putting ourselves in a position to say we “don’t ever buy that” marketing BS about the benefits of "buy now pay later" offers an upside that’s beyond measure:

  • It’s the feeling of having dominion over ourselves, our lives and our options
  • It’s the freedom to do what’s right for us without giving anyone else veto power
  • It’s the ultimate in self-determination
  • It’s freedom from bondage

And it’s why I hope I “don’t ever buy that,” no matter who’s selling. The price is just too high.

Image credit/copyright: fantasista /

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