Recipes and Tips for Healthier Living and Smarter Budgeting

Monday, September 13, 2010

Budget Saver Tip #14: Get Out (or Stay Out) of Debt

Unless you live under a rock, you know our country has gotten into a lot of trouble because of the "D" word. Most of us can't do a whole lot about America's debt, per se, but we can do something about our own debt.

Joseph B. Wirthlin said: “All too often a family's spending is governed more by their yearning than by their earning. They somehow believe that their life will be better if they surround themselves with an abundance of things. All too often all they are left with is avoidable anxiety and distress” (

The average American has $8,000 of credit card debt and 3/4 of American households carry multiple credit cards. Unfortunately, it seems that most credit card holders don't understand (or practice) how to make credit work for them, instead of letting credit enslave them. And so, as a result, our country--collectively and individually--is a slave to debt. Which means a major lack of freedom.

Of course, there are specific things--namely shelter, education, and (sometimes) a vehicle--that are important enough in the long-term, or increase in enough value over time, that going into moderate debt for them may be a wise thing. But such decisions are not ones to jump into spontaneously or without educating yourself first.

This clever illustration shows just how ridiculously shocking the situation has gotten for the average person. (For example, did you know that the average American will pay $600,000 in interest over a lifetime?! No wonder creditors want you leashed to them for a very long time!)

"We must learn to distinguish between wants and needs. We should be modest in our wants. It takes self-discipline to avoid the 'buy now, pay later' philosophy and to adopt the 'save now and buy later' practice" (

My husband and I are naturally frugal people and we both grew up without a lot of money, but we were rich in wise teachings, such as the statement above. So we worked to develop our talents and get good grades in high school, then worked for and were blessed with various scholarships to pay for our college degrees (including my husband's recent Master's degree). This resulted in zero education debt for me and a small student loan for my husband, which we payed off as quickly as we could after his undergraduate degree. While it may not be possible for everyone to pull this off, particularly those who obtain very advanced degrees that take many years to complete, the statistic that the average student getting his/her first degree accrues $20,000 in debt seems painfully unnecessary from our perspective. After all, once you finish that degree, you still have to find a job--which is taking longer than it used to in this economy and may not at first pay you what you're worth. You also have to pay your other bills, of course, and--if you're like us--provide the necessities for your family. Paying off a large student loan on top of all that can really put a damper on everything, to say the least.

"We should avoid debt. There is nothing that will cause greater tensions in life than grinding debt, which will make the debtor a slave to creditors. A specific goal, careful planning, and determined self-discipline are required to accomplish this" (

Getting out of debt can be a painfully slow and difficult process, but it is so worth it! Of course, staying out of debt is preferable. And where there's a will, there's a way. For example, my husband and I are now on our third vehicle since we met, but we have never bought one on credit (except to my parents for a few months). If we had had a monthly payment to make on a vehicle, it probably would have broken us. Another example from our lives is recently "buying" a home for the second time. (I put buying in quotations because, of course, we won't have actually bought it for many years.) I can't tell you how gratifying it was to hear our loan officer's incredulity and congratulations when he realized that, while my husband was a recent graduate and we didn't have much, we didn't have any debt. Right before my eyes, his respect for us, strangers, rose in a giant leap, which told me more than anything just how rare this debt-less condition is. And this simple yet profound fact increased our home-buying possibilities. In our house search, we had figured out a conservative amount we weren't comfortable going above, and stuck to it. And largely, I think, due to our determination in this financial goal that would affect the next many years of our lives (and our prayers that God would help us do it), we found the right house (albeit a work in progress) within our price range that is worth a lot more than we "got it" for. So I repeat: Where there's a will, there's a way!

Educating yourself about finances, budgeting, building a reserve, and the truth about credit, etc, also goes a long way in you make wise financial decisions and living within--or below--your means.

N. Eldon Tanner said: "Those who structure their standard of living to allow a little surplus, control their circumstances. Those who spend a little more than they earn are controlled by their circumstances. They are in bondage” (

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