Debt is a worldwide epidemic, with both “wealthy” and third-world nations burdened by billions of dollars worth of spending beyond their means. The effects of debt are crippling. It creates a cycle that imprisons the debtor to a way of living that depends upon sterile institutions and policies that do not take human compassion into account.
“Debt is a social and ideological construct, not a simple economic fact,” said Noam Chomsky. An awareness of these constructs, and their impact on your family’s level of happiness and freedom, can help people avoid the pitfalls of what has become standard procedure — overspending.
Brigham Young University breaks down the causes for debt into 5 categories: Ignorance, carelessness, compulsiveness, pride, and necessity. By taking the time to find and weed out these characteristics in money management, we can successfully break free from the ideological constructs and spiritual boundaries that may also plague other aspects of our lives. Of course, it’s critical that we remember our children are learning by watching us. Showing them a lifestyle of financial freedom is a tremendous gift to their well-being.
BYU addresses the opposite, positive characteristics for recovery from the debt construct as follows:
Ignorance >> wisdom
Carelessness >> exactness
Compulsiveness >> diligence
Pride >> humility
Necessity >> self-reliance
Of course, these are goals. Breaking the debt cycle is a process rather than an instantaneous change. Here are a few ways to get started in evaluating your mindset about spending so that you may ultimately break the chains.
Separate want from need
In what ways does your family spend money that is unnecessary? Do you use the things you have already purchased? Do you value quality time with each other that doesn’t involve spending money? Begin to identify and eliminate the value of what uses your financial resources. When you identify expenditures in terms of your financial freedom, you may begin to make different choices.
Budgets get a bad rap because they involve the ever-elusive requirement of self-control. However, having a working budget can be very educational, and lead to a higher level of freedom. There are thousands of resources on how to create a family budget — choose one and dive in. Remember that it is a process. Start out with a realistic goal. The ultimate goal is never to allow your expenditures outweigh your income. It’s possible!
Give yourself a 24-hour window before making purchases
. When making larger purchases or miscellaneous purchases that don’t show up in your regular budget, allow yourself a 24-hour window before spending. Use this time to research your options. Pray about your need. Mention it to family members and friends. A few years ago, our television finally gave out on us. I found a replacement, but it required using a credit card. By waiting a day, and mentioning to a few friends that we were in the market for a television, another solution presented itself. A friend dropped one off at our house that was collecting dust in their garage. Taking pause allows you to not make impulsive purchases that you will later regret and gives an opportunity for solutions you may not have even considered to surface.
Identify where you are “keeping up with the Joneses.”
How does your family define success? Evaluate how often you look to your peers or coworkers for clues as to how you should dress, which car you drive, or what modern technologies you continue to purchase. Develop a family mission statement that genuinely reflects your perspective and keep it in front of you. Become aware of the subtle ways that advertising affects your spending.
Consider debt as a last resort
Disaster strikes. Jobs are lost. Health problems occur, and life presents us with financial demands that genuinely require additional resources. Before assuming that debt is your only solution — get creative. Are there community or church resources available to help your family in its time of crisis? Can you or another member of your family get a part-time job to help alleviate the burden? Again, remember that every dollar of debt is a threat to your financial and spiritual freedom.
Congratulate yourself on your interest in becoming free from the bonds of overspending. When you begin to become aware that your family’s financial health is an extension of your mental and spiritual health, you grow toward a greater level of happiness. Take the time to be grateful for the progress you make along your path to freedom.