It's one of my new favorite songs.
I like the music, I like the nostalgia. I don't like the truth of it.
There are a lot of stressed out people in this world of ours.
One of the big reasons for this is debt.
So much debt.
Bryan and I chose to go into debt back when the kids were young/being born.
I hated it.
It wasn't that we were strapped for cash all the time. We had enough money to make the payments, but my nerves were always on edge about it.
Thoughts of Bryan losing his job and us being destitute were frequently on my mind.
The amount of money we were losing in interest ticked me off.
Thankfully, Bryan saw how much it bothered me and was willing to scrimp and save and pay those loans off as fast as we possibly could.
And we've never gone back.
I found myself in a conversation about debt not too long ago. I was just sitting and listening as folks told of the arguments they had with their spouses about debt and spending. They all had quite large sums of debt. At one point, someone asked me about our debt. I replied that we had none. It makes me nervous to have it and I hate it, so we don't have any. One person then said, "Well, you're lucky. Bryan makes enough money that you don't have to have any."
It's not the first time I've heard that sentiment. I have heard it said over and over again that only rich people don't have to have debt.
I don't agree.
As far as I can see, debt is most often a mindset. There are people that make $500,000 per year who are in debt up to their eyeballs, yet a man who makes $50,000 retires with over a million dollars saved up.
Sometimes, debt is beyond our control. Sadly, a medical emergency or chronic illness can send a family into bankruptcy, but most of the time debt is a result of choices that we make.
Borrowing money these days could not be easier. The government hands out student loans practically willy nilly. When a kid goes to college, credit card companies line up to sign them up. You can buy everything from jewelry to phones to carpet through "financing". Problem is, all of this comes at a huge cost.
Our parents didn't have these same problems. Debt wasn't nearly so easy to come by when they were raising us, and debt wasn't something that was discussed much. When it was time for us and our peers to go out on our own, many of us were caught off guard. We didn't know the pitfalls. We didn't know the toll debt could take. We walked right into it.
The biggest points we want them to hear:
1. College is about the education, not the "college experience" or the name of the school.
We are stressing to our kids that the point of college is to learn, and the point of that learning is to get good jobs that they enjoy. (First things first, pick a major that teaches you something useful. A major in European History might be interesting, but it doesn't have many career choices to go with it.) As long as they do well in their classes, the name of the college doesn't mean all that much. For example, Bryan was accepted to every law school to which he applied. He could have gone to Michigan, which was ranked one of the best schools in the country, but we chose Indiana. Knowing we wanted to live in Indianapolis when he graduated, and knowing that a majority of new hires at Indianapolis law firms came from Indiana's law school, we saw no reason to take out tens of thousands in loans to pay for a Michigan diploma. Same goes for our kids. Our kids have done well enough in school and on their standardized tests to get into just about any school they choose. However, the amount of scholarship money they get from each will vary greatly. Even though Buttercup would like to go to Notre Dame, it just doesn't make sense to borrow $50,000 to do so when she could borrow nothing and get a top-notch architecture degree from Ball State.
2. Making the choice to go into debt now limits the choices you have in the future.
It doesn't take long to get into crushing debt. A person borrows $40,000 to go to college. That person marries someone who has $30,000 of her own student loans. They finance two cars, and boom, they have over $100,000 in debt to pay off. Choices are taken away. They can't take the jobs they really want because they need the higher salary of the jobs they dislike to pay the bills. The couple has a baby, but despite their desire, neither can stay home with that baby because one salary won't cover the payments on their loans. A friend of theirs has a medical issue and there is a fundraiser to help pay medical expenses. The couple wants to be generous, but they can't because being generous means there won't be enough money for them to pay their own bills.
None of us knows what the future will bring, but making smart choices now will give them more options when that future unfolds.
3. Live below your means.
I think (hope (pray)) we have taught our kids that having the newest and nicest and most isn't the goal in life and these things won't make them happy. Being content and grateful for what we have instead of pining for things we don't will make for a much happier life. With this type of mindset, it is much easier to say no to the bigger house that stretches your finances, and instead buy the smaller house that allows you to save money for emergencies. With this mindset, it is easier to drive a car that has a door which doesn't open and rust as its paint color until you have saved enough cash to buy that dream car.
Saving money is important. It is important to have money in the bank for the "just in case". Just in case you lose your job, you have money saved to pay for food and housing for several months while you find a new one. Just in case the furnace goes out, you have the money to buy a new one. It is also important to save for retirement. Pensions are few and far between, and social security simply isn't enough to keep you from being a burden to your own children. When a bulk of your paycheck goes to paying off loans, there is precious little to go towards savings.
4. Borrowing money is expensive.
Borrow $28,000 to buy a brand new truck on a three year loan with 3.7% interest, that truck actually costs you almost $32,000.
Put $5,000 on a credit card with a modest 18% interest rate. If you pay $200 per month, never adding another purchase to it, it will take you almost three years and $6,400 to pay it off. If you pay only the minimum payment the credit card company requires, it will take even longer and cost a lot more.
Imagine what you could have done with that money. Saved some for retirement. Given some to your favorite charity. Bought those shoes you really liked.
It really gets expensive when it snowballs. You are making enough money to make your payments, but not enough to build up a savings. All is fine until your car breaks down. You don't have the money to fix it, so you have to put the repairs on your credit card. More debt, more interest, more money going out the window, and now you are having trouble making payments. Things can go downhill from there even faster.
Even more important than the amount of money you waste is the expense you pay in peace of mind. It is stressful to have those bills hanging over your head. That splurge Christmas present you put on your credit card doesn't bring any happiness when you're still paying it off long after the person you gave it to has stopped appreciating it. That student loan is a weight that exhausts you when you are working a second job to make ends meet. Fighting with your spouse over where the money goes puts a wedge between the two of you that is hard to overcome.
It just isn't worth it.
Yes, Bryan and I are fortunate to have a generous income, but we haven't always had it.
Besides the fact we could only afford to live in a roach-infested, horrible apartment eating the cheapest of the cheap food for the three years Bryan was in law school, both of us have divorced parents. Both of us helped our previously stay-at-home mothers pay for necessities when we were still teens and young adults ourselves. While we never went hungry, we saw what it was like to struggle financially. We saw how a tragic event can throw a family into financial instability.
Some might say that's probably what makes me so nervous about debt.
Our kids have not gone through the experiences we have. They don't know what financial instability feels like. They don't know what debt feels like. It is our job to teach them what debt is, what the downfalls of it are, and how to make good choices that give them the best chance at avoiding it.
I really, really don't want that song of being stressed out to apply to them when they're adults.
If you have anything to add, any other ideas I should pass on, please let me know. While I am knowledgeable on the subject, I'm no expert, and I would love to hear your thoughts.
Have a lovely day!