Being Bound By the Bills

“Seven Deadly Sins –
Wealth without work
Pleasure without conscience
Science without humanity
Knowledge without character
Politics without principle
Commerce without morality
Worship without sacrifice.”  –
Mahatma Gandhi 

Wouldst thou shut up the avenues of ill, pay every debt as if God wrote the bill.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson 

“Debts and lies are generally mixed together.” – Francois Rabelais 

“There are but two ways of paying debt: Increase of industry in raising income, increase of thrift in laying out.” – -Thomas Carlyle 

When I was in college, I bounced a check.  Once.  That was the only time.  The bank fees that were incurred because I was irresponsible….they embarrassed me…..and I learned my lesson.  There was no reason for it….it was carelessness on my part.  My parents were paying for most of my college education and the rule was when my bank account balance went down beyond a certain level I was supposed to tell them so they could replenish it.  I was very cautious with my money, because even though they never ever complained about it, I knew they were making sacrifices for my future.  But I just wasn’t paying attention.  And those bank fees….they were money they should not have had to pay.  I knew I was the one in the wrong.

My parents were always cautious about debt, and taught us to be the same.  If we couldn’t afford it, we didn’t get it.  If there was something we needed that we did not have the money for, other things needed to be sacrificed.   There was not an unlimited supply of money, and good decisions had to be made as to what was necessary and what was luxury.  I think the definitions of “necessity” and “luxury” have changed over the years.

I only had a small student loan in college, but it took years to pay off.  Years when I wasn’t making much money, so it was often a big frustration to figure out how to pay my bills.  I dealt with a car that broke down constantly, and a paycheck that just didn’t stretch very far, and often money was a stress.  I had to go to my parents for money on more than one occasion.  Sometimes they gave me money, sometimes it was a loan.  When it was a loan, it was expected I pay it back.  And I did.  I was an adult….it was time to make my own way in life. Thankfully a lot of my friends were in the same state….we found cheap entertainment, shared our stuff, and all worked to spend as little money as possible.  We learned to live within our means.  Today most of us are in pretty good financial shape, because we sacrificed then to plan for a better future.

As soon as I was able, I got out of debt completely.  The credit cards, the student loans….they were all paid off.  What freedom that was!  I made a vow that the only debt I would incur would be for a house or a car or medical bills.  So far I have stuck to that. To buy or not to buy?  If there is not enough money in the bank account after my current obligations, it is not even a consideration.  Vacations?  Though there is nothing I love more, if I can’t pay for it before booking, I can’t go.  The coolest car, the coolest clothes, the coolest anything….if I cannot afford it, it will not be mine.  If money gets tight, I cut back.  What is a necessity in my life and what is a luxury?  I carefully consider.  We screw that question up very, very often.  Food, shelter, clothing….those are really all of our needs. But even amongst those things, there is a limit as to when it is a necessity and when it is a luxury.

I am shocked that many people don’t understand that when they carry a balance on their credit card, they are renting money.  They look at their minimum payment each month….not at what they are really paying for the item.  So…the average US credit card debt is $7,117 (they include everyone in that figure….even people like me with a zero balance.)  Of those who carry a balance, the average is $15,257.  (Source – http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/credit-card-data/average-credit-card-debt-household)  So, using the average of $7,117 with a 17% interest rate and a minimum payment of interest +1% of balance, it will take that person 306 months to get rid of that debt.  That is 25 1/2 years…and that is if they don’t add to the balance (and how many have that restraint?) By the end of those years, they would have paid $9,523 in interest alone…..more than their original debt.  A total of $16,640.  Was that new living room furniture and big screen tv worth it?  (Note:  I used the bankrate.com debt calculator for this projection.) 

When you borrow (or rent) money, people own a piece of your future.  When you don’t pay it back, you have stolen from them.  Yep….even if because of bankruptcy and the courts say you don’t have to pay it back, even if the one who lent it doesn‘t bring up the subject or says it is OK, or even if they are someone who loves you is the one who loaned it to you…you need to pay it back! You have still taken something that wasn’t yours.  If you are of good character, shouldn’t it matter to you that you are not living up to your obligations?  That you are not the one taking responsibility for your decisions? 

As of March 3 our National Debt is $16,698,235,596.55.  That equates to $53,091.61 per citizen.  (http://www.brillig.com/debt_clock)  As you can imagine, this sickens me.  Our country is a world leader….but how long will that last if we continue to spend like thisWe are so very cocky.  Our creditors are other countries… like I said a few minutes ago, they own a piece of our future.  Our ability to act as a truly free country is somewhat hampered….because we owe them!

I am a believer in caring for our people, but it should be based on whether we have the money to pay for it.  There are so many things that our government pays for that are not necessities, but are instead luxuries.  So much they give away free, when they could require some sort of service for it.  So much they pay for which they could get better prices or they could get someone to volunteer to do it for free. Until our debt is paid off, our government needs to budget.  They need to only pay for those things they can afford, and only at the standard that the budget permits.  We need a budget that is based on what they will receive in taxes, but there also needs to be extra economizing so that we can pay off this debt.  The attitudes of our government officials these days (both Democrats and Republicans) are too often both pompous and thoughtless and weak…. they need to be responsible and creative and strong. 

I love the quote by Thomas Carlyle shown above.  We can only get out of debt two ways.  By working harder (or inheritance or spending the money of others…but let’s not go there), or being more thrifty in how we live our lives.  For individuals I think that means being willing to work second jobs (which is definitely difficult in this economy, but from all of the industrious people I know that have two or even three jobs….very possible.)  Sometimes it means finding a job that pays more, that may not be as convenient to your life, or taking a job that you feel is “beneath” youI have heard people refuse jobs because “I am better than that!”  No…if that is the only job you can get at the moment, you really aren’t!

The other means of getting out of debt is that you have to economize…yes, you princes and princesses…or you, USA!  You shouldn’t take advantage of those who have worked hard for what they have and expect them to pay the way for you.  If you are a grownup, your spending or standard of life should not be more than the amount of money you have earned.  Is cable tv a necessity or a luxury?  Is internet service a necessity or a luxury?  Is going out to eat a necessity or a luxury?  Are new clothes a necessity or a luxury?  We have so much luxury in our lives, that sometimes we fail to identify it as such and redefine it as a “need.”  So very few things actually are.  The choices you make….you should bear the consequences for them.

We need to apply the same standards for our country.  They either need to increase taxes, or economize.  I don’t know about you, but I see much waste in our government and have heard about much more.  Much can be cut out of the budget.  Many dollars that are wasted with no accountability.  No one seems to notice.  People turn a blind eye or say “That’s the way it is.”  But if I notice and I hear things….I don’t buy that those in the thick of it can’t do something about it.  There is a lack of concern for spending taxpayer money, and often those who work for the government forget they are a servant of the people.  They forget those extras or things that are not a need take money out of the pocket of their fellow citizens.  Many are not good stewards of our tax dollarsThere is more of a spending game going on (where they see how much they can get) than a team of people who are working together to protect the money of our people.  We are a world leader….are we acting like it in our spending?

We’ve become such a people of entitlement.  We think the world owes us everything, and we shouldn’t have to work or economize.  We can’t pay our bills, but we still keep spending.  Both our country and its citizens. We can make some wonderful excuses for why we do this….but you can’t kid a kidder.  There are very few valid reasons for debt.

Last week I paid off my car loan.  It felt good.  It felt like I gained a bit more freedom.  And I did!  Debt binds us.  But I know that even when it seems impossible, debt can be paid off,.  As impossible as that massive national debt figure, it can be done.  It takes work, it takes cooperation, it takes honesty, it takes creativity, it takes hard work and it takes a plan.  But it can be done….I have seen people have massive debt (far more than years of their original income) and get out of it.  They worked hard at it and made it a priority in their lives.  They attacked the problem from all angles and accepted the consequences for their past actions.  They were responsible grownups.  You just can’t ignore it.  Because unattended, it grows.  It does not go away.  

Money can free us….or it can burden us and make us slaves for life.  It really is our choice.  Are we spending like a millionaire, with a minimum wage paycheck?  Are we renting money for things that aren’t really important?  Are we the arrogant prince, princess, government that thinks “I am special….I deserve it.”?  Maybe it is time for a change.  I promise….you don’t have to spend a lot to live an amazing life.  Those years I struggled, the debt did cause me stressful moments, but overall they were excellent and happy years.  I didn’t have much, but I also worked to solve the problem instead of continuing to add to it.   In the long run if those who make our government’s budget decisions “lived” within our means, our citizens would be happier, healthier, wealthier and wiser. And maybe once again we could be a free nation.  One whose people are engaged in our government and don’t resent how yesterday and today’s decisions are going to impact us all in the future.  One who is free from obligations to others because we finally decided not to spend more than we make.
  
 

 

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