We’re all in a bit of a pickle, aren’t we? Some of you are struggling, and that thought upsets me more than you can imagine. I wish I could swoop in like the superheroes in the comic books I read as a kid, and save everyone.
When I was a kid, I ruined a perfectly good pair of tighty-whitey Fruit-of-the-Loom undies, t-shirt, white socks, and bedsheet by taking my markers to them to design my superhero costume. I finished, and after admiring myself in my bedroom mirror for way too long, I exited the room and proudly produced my new, world-saving persona to my mother. I had imagined her lavish praise the way Ralphy did in “A Christmas Story.” The result was essentially the same.
After my mother stopped laughing, she admonished me for ruining those items (we were fiscally responsible—by necessity!). I dragged myself back to my room, defeated in my world-saving mission, and back to my comic books. In mom’s defense (best mother ever), I still laugh at the thought of my scrawny self in those scribbled-on garments. It took a lot of scrubbing to get the ink off my body.
I’ve been sitting in lockdown, like the rest of you, feeling that circumstances are largely beyond my control. I’ve been watching in amazement as people support each other virtually, remotely. The most talented artists, musicians, educators, teachers, and random people in the world are all stepping up. I realized I had to stop feeling sorry for myself, stop feeling inadequate, and do my small part to help.
Almost everyone has downtime now. These dark clouds will eventually yield to blue skies. They always do. It felt like the world was over in 2001, after 9/11, and again during the Great Recession following 2008. Rather than sit and go stir-crazy, or stay glued to screens watching other people do things, how about using this time to make sure you never have to struggle again? Let’s explore how.
I hate the thought of debt. I hate the unending marketing that has convinced so many that payments are “normal” and part of everyday life. I worry about how people are going to make all those payments now. I hate that people are sitting around asking each other “How are we going to make these payments?” I hate when people are sad.
Somehow, in just two generations, we’ve been convinced to carve up our paychecks into a jig-saw puzzle of payments to everyone else, and at the same time pay so much more for everything we own. Our grandparents (or, great-grandparents, depending on your age) didn’t live like this. They led a simple, easy-to-manage financial life. Money came in, and they allocated that money to their monthly expenses. For that month.
There were no credit cards. The only time you ever used debt was to buy your first house. Ever. If you didn’t have money for something, you didn’t buy it. Period. Because, guess what, that meant that you couldn’t afford it. “Afford it” meant you had cash to pay.
Over the years, the banks started to convince people they could “have it now” by taking out loans. Yeah, “have it now” by paying way more. By agreeing to carve up your paycheck into a jigsaw of payments. First it was cars, then furniture, now phones, pets, credit for everything. Now, somehow, “afford it” has distorted into “Do we have any space in our jigsaw paycheck for a new piece of debt?”
We were convinced that “zero percent” and “points, miles, rewards” were excellent ideas. We convinced ourselves that we were “winning the game” by paying off our balances every month. So much winning!
But now, unfortunately, too many are finding out why that jigsaw lifestyle was a dangerous game to play. The banks always knew we were being foolish. They’re not in business to give things away for free, including financing. They knew that one day, something would happen, and you wouldn’t be able to pay things off on time. And then they would swoop in and begin their high-interest assault on the money that should be going into your retirement savings and your kids’ college savings. They trained us like seals to say “You’ll always have a car payment.”
Angry yet? Good. Now let’s move on to a happier thought. Imagine you’re going through what we all are today, but with no debt and six months of living expenses sitting in the bank, in case of a layoff. Imagine your paychecks come in each month and your only disagreements with your spouse are not “which bills do we pay?” but how much to put in retirement savings versus the kids’ college funds. Because, this is how it should be. This is what’s good for us, not the banks. This is what I want for you, so you aren’t sad and I’m not sad.
This kind of financial crisis will almost certainly happen again in your lifetime. Now is the time to prepare, so that next time, you have no stress. Now is the time to change your life. Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Good. You have time now, if you’re forced to sit at home.
Vow to live by the old principals. Experience the joy of saving up for something and see first-hand the bargains you’ll get if you can say proudly “we’re paying cash.” Experience the incredible bonding experience it is to save up for things with your partner, rather than fighting over debt. It’s like stepping back in time, like an old movie, to something simpler, less stressful, more manageable.
How do you do that? Read or listen to the blogs on my website, they’re free. Read The Total Money Makeover, The Simple Path to Wealth, and watch Dave Ramsey’s Youtube show or listen to his podcasts. All free! You can order the books or audiobooks from your library.
If you need guidance, I’m here for you. I’ll fast-path you through it all. I feel like a superhero every time I help someone out of a life of debt and into the sunshine. Maybe I’ll go get a new superhero suit together to impress my wife, since we’re both a bit stir-crazy.