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The Only Debt You Need

Owe no man anything but your love.

This is definitely going against the cultural grain. When I first talked about this in 2010, the national debt to income was 54%. Today that relationship is 128%. What a great role model we have in Washington. This post is more about how we all got here and why love is still the best solution to every problem, especially debt. Part of this focuses on practical living, and the other part focuses on your spiritual outlook. Let’s start with the practical, i.e. avoiding debt.

Owing no man anything is simple but not easy. If you live within your means, you never go into debt. Imagine waking up everyday knowing that you have no financial obligation hanging over you. Isn’t that what we dream about? Yet, today most couples wake up in their 50s and start discussing what life will look like in their retirement years with no debt. Unfortunately, this is primarily driven by the fear that comes in your 50s when you also see your income going away. And status is at the heart of this problem.

Why should you worry about not having everything your TV says you should have when it’s above your current income? Status in the positive sense. Why do you have to have more clothes, stuff, and dining out charges than your income? Why do you need a car that costs over 25% of your income? Isn’t it negative status, the fear of what others will think of you? Isn’t it fear that if you don’t get the latest, greatest whatever, your life will be less?

The great irony is that somewhere in our 20s or 30s, we develop reality hypocrisy called HITS. HITS refers to every parent who starts telling his child how he/she had to work for everything. Had It Tougher Syndrome develops about the same time the parents begin incurring so much debt that the conversation of waking up debt free has a 20-25 year deferred start date. Just as you start achieving a little success, along comes the platinum credit card(s), larger car payment, larger house note, and nicer clothes, vacations, and resulting lower or negative savings. Simple question: Could we have a housing or credit bubble if everyone lived their wage?

Baby boomers fit this to a T. But even their parents, the greatest generation of WWII, did this by gladfully participating in the Ponzi schemes known as Medicare and Social Security and dropping the monetary gold standard. So post gold standard, inflation monetized their debt and created a necessity for baby boomer moms to work to maintain the same standard of living as their parents. Tom Brokaw and Ken Burns aside, make no mistake: HITS is an equal opportunity destroyer.

Here’s the great lesson: When you have to work hard and delay gratification, you discover the greatest satisfaction: achieving something difficult. Carol Dweck, in her famous TED talk, calls it the “Power of Yet.” The Power of Yet. Think of something that took blood, sweat, and tears, and I bet the memory invokes a smile. Self esteem is built this way, yet the Great Deceiver wants you to think that immediate gratification is the key. When you work hard for something, not only do you get it, you develop a trait that will carry you to the next thing and the next thing. Pretty soon you will realize that what you desire the most is the journey, not the destination. And that is priceless. Tom Brady is the current best example of this. He doesn’t need the money; he just can’t live without the struggle.

Think about the lottery. How many stories have you heard of winners going from rags to riches and then returning to rags? They usually lacked the skills developed through living below their means. So more money only allows more poor decision making. Think of famous entrepreneurs who made it, lost it, and then made it back. They understood hard work and delayed gratification.

The way to get ahead of your neighbors is to start behind and learn to earn what you want. See Living Below Your Means on compounding. And think of the peace of mind that comes from waking up out of debt, not in your 60s or 70s, if ever for boomers, but everyday of your life.

With that peace, do you think you would be more relaxed? And if you are more relaxed, do you think you would be nicer to those around you? You might discover the best of all syndromes, HAIT. Have All It Takes allows you to focus on the spiritual requirement of this rule: Love your neighbor as yourself. Just remember, when you HAIT, you can love your neighbor.

It’s hard to love someone when you are always in competition with them. How many conversations go on every night in cars across America as couples return from parties and events at more affluent friends that include statements like “Must be nice to have such a lovely (house, car, pool, ect.).” And the destination starts it’s subtle dance to replace the journey as number one. The joy of the struggle and resulting self satisfaction is slowly replaced by envy, resentment, short cut approaches, and a nagging sense of lower self worth. The worldly cure is, of course, more stuff, and as we all know, the cure becomes an even bigger illness.

Jesus’s brother James summed up this rule best, “2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. 9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wildflower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.

"12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”[1]


[1] James 1: 2-12

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