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Excellent comment about debt

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A Million Paths leaves this excellent comment on my recent post, When your debt feels like your arm.

I was going to say something about how I agree and how debt is bad and blah, blah, but something really bugs me about everyone’s comments.

Debt is the new fat. It’s just one more thing to be ashamed about and carry guilt about., and for other people to be pious about and to lord over other people about.

I have a ton of student loan debt (no credit card debt), but I spent seven months living and teaching English in France. Maybe I should have stayed behind earning a bigger paycheck working to pay my debt. But I’d been working real jobs for three years and the debt was still there, and I was still struggling to get by, and I wasn’t going on vacations or anything, and the debt could possibly be with me until I’m 40 if I do all the “right” things and by then I’d be too old to participate in the program!

I have a friend who now has as much student loan debt as I do (she got her MBA) and a mortgage and a husband and right now she’s miserable. She’s spent her entire life post-college, and doing everything “right” and while she’s probably in better financial shape than I am she’s infinitely more trapped. Not just because of the debt, but because of the mindset that comes with thinking that finances can dictate her life instead of the other way around. Your life dictates your finances. If you want something badly enough you can find a way to afford it that doesn’t involve getting into hock up to your ears.

We’re not taught that.

I think careless consumer debt is dangerous mostly because it stops people from living the lives that they really want to lead. But I think the opposite is true too. there’s such a thing as being too cautious too. Of waiting to do everything “the right way” and ending up dying and not having done anything.

Money is not an end in and of itself, it’s a means to an end.

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30 Comments on "Excellent comment about debt"

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Jason
Jason
9 years 7 days ago
I agree with this post – it’s a matter of what’s most important to you and how you allocate your effort and time in the short time we spend on this rock. However, I think the comment sums it up nicely in the end… there’s a balance – buying everything in sight is dumb, but so is living in a cave and never spending a penny. Some people get off on seeing a huge balance in the bank (or no balance on a debt ledger) whereas others are willing to accept the added cost of carrying debt in order to… Read more »
Jose
Jose
9 years 7 days ago

I agree with “A million paths”. My younger brother, who apparently is infinitely more wise than I, lives frugally but doesn’t deny himself the fruits of his labor. I was once spouting the virtues of being austere with ones finances, when he easily retorted, “hey bro, do you work to live, or live to work?” He quickly silenced my tirade and admitted than saving is good, but not the only thing. Thanks A Million for the reminder. (no pun intended)

Laura
9 years 7 days ago
That’s true and a well-thought-out answer, but you have to be careful when adopting an attitude like that about money or you may end up regretting it later. I have a close friend who basically decides what experiences she wants out of life, and goes and buys them without regard for her salary or future earning power. She’s a part-time executive assistant (secretarial work) and a part-time waitress. She has bought a condo downtown that she lives in which is just barely within her means to afford, and she financed the downpayment with a loan because she had no money… Read more »
Finn
Finn
9 years 7 days ago
I suppose that is one way of looking at it. On the other hand, debt continues to be money borrowed from your future. Not paying it off reduces what you can do, just as lending money increases what you can do. The money you spent in university still costs you today. This might not matter if you are happy with what you have at this moment. It doesn’t change the situation. This can be taken further – if you continue to spend more than you earn, the amount you will be able to do gets smaller and smaller. Many people… Read more »
Araceli Romo
Araceli Romo
9 years 7 days ago

I agree that everybody thinks diferrently inregards to debt. I personally can’t wait to finish paying off my car loan. I pay as much as I can every month and limit myself from buying other things and at the same time I save a little in my savings account. I figure that if I keep it up and when my loan balance is low enough, I’ll transfer all of my savings to pay it off. That is my idea of balance.

Meg
Meg
9 years 7 days ago
I don’t think that person who wants to take a big trip yet has debt needs to make such a stark choice. It is possible to live a fulfilling life without sacrificing saving and while paying back debt. Personally, I do not like to wait for the future to fill my life with interesting experiences and travel. I travel for work so I take a little extra time to explore the places I go. I take vacations to exotic locations but I stay in cheap (but clean) hotels. I don’t have cable TV or buy a lot of crap so… Read more »
Starving Artist
9 years 7 days ago

Amen! I’m personall buckling down for a year to get rid of my debt, but ONLY so I can live a better, more travel-filled life. I wanted to move about a year ago, and I realized I didn’t have the money to do it! If I get rid of all my bad debt, it’s about the same as giving myself a 20% pay raise, and I intent to do something fun with (some) of that money! Money is a means to an end.

Ryan
Ryan
9 years 7 days ago

I agree. Debt is the new fat. It’s true… I hate sitting next to debtors on plane flights. I wish the airlines would pull their credit report and make them buy an extra seat. It’s only to us people who aren’t in debt.

Moneymonk
9 years 7 days ago

I believe in expanding your means, than living below it. My only debt is my student loans and I am currently paying it off. But I do not want to give up my lifestyle by rushing to pay it off so I take my time and find additional income to pay off the debt and also still have a life. You don’t have to live like a caveman all the time to get rid of debt .

detlvr
detlvr
9 years 7 days ago

I love when people act like student loan debt isn’t that big of a deal. Cracks me up. They have no idea how much their diploma cost them. La-dida-da.

If debt is the new fat, Millions will undoubtedly develop heart disease– but damn those croissants were delicious weren’t they!

Mike
Mike
9 years 7 days ago
Most of the comments I’ve read regarding this post (and the original post that this one references) discuss the personal results of financial decisions. But I’m also a firm believer in the social effects of spending versus saving. People in debt affect others around them. Bankruptcy not only affects a person’s credit, but it affects that person’s lenders, who suddenly have to bear the debt burden of the bankrupt consumer. And that cost is ultimately passed on to other consumers, through higher interest rates and penalties. Social programs that are set up to help low income people are also strained… Read more »
NP
NP
9 years 6 days ago

What an idiotic rationalization. Don’t you foresee what this line of thinking is turning this country into? Open your eyes to a sense of urgency that will parallel the great depression.

Debt is a tool
Debt is a tool
9 years 6 days ago
I agree that careless consumer debt is very dangerous and often not used properly. On the other hand, debt itself can be used wisely as a tool. Student loans let you increase your earning power, if you pick a degree that will pay itself back and you pick an institution that doesn’t cost the same as a small mortgage for 4 years. For example, I received a degree in engineering and payed for it myself. I didn’t have the cash after high school so I used student loans. I now have the bulk of my student loan debt locked in… Read more »
Customer's Revenge
9 years 6 days ago

I wholeheardedly agree with the comment you posted. Personal finance websites and advisors seem to want everyone to become a money-grubber, spending all their time saving and analyzing instead of living. Granted it’s because that is the topic of their websites, but money grubbing is not the reason for living nor the road to happiness. Inot that long ago because I became a little disenchanted with all the constant harping on the stupidity of buying a cup of coffee, going on vacation, buying a car you like, etc.

LB
LB
9 years 6 days ago
Yes, I know exactly how much my diplomas have cost and will cost. I probably know more than those who had parents that paid the tuition bills. I have tons of student loan debt from college and law school, and yes it is hard. But, my life would be much worse if I had never gone to college and law school. I’ve met people from around the world and I have a career – and in the end I did it myself. I grew up in a lower middle class household in a rural county in Texas. My parents couldn’t… Read more »
Debting Thomas
9 years 6 days ago
The problem lies in making money your higher power. Lack of or not. I know rich people that are miserable and poor people that are miserable. I believe in living within my means. Still climbing out of credit card debt (and not using them anymore) it’s been my experience that when I buy things with cash I feel better, cleaner. Got to PBS Frontline and watch “The Secret History of Credit Cards” . They want to keep us as debt slaves and i refuse to do that anymore. That being said. Money is no longer my God. It’s just a… Read more »
J.R.
J.R.
9 years 6 days ago
Two comments: The first is his interesting statement that “It’s just one more thing to be ashamed about and carry guilt about., and for other people to be pious about and to lord over other people about.” Look at most of the comments here. Some are seemingly bragging from one perspective, but looked at from another perspective they may just be -overjoyed- to be out from underneath the burden of debt. But it is a very interesting perspective from someone looking at the issue of debt. That sentence has a lot of implications in it for both sides of the… Read more »
Mike
Mike
9 years 6 days ago

I think this is an example of the fact that a lot of personal finance advice isn’t very personal. “Debt is bad” might make for a good personal finance post, but without knowing a person’s goals and values and habits and circumstances, what might be good advice for one person might be bad advice for another. To some extent it’s just the nature of the beast– you can’t really tailor your posts to each individual, but a reader should use a critical eye in deciding what makes sense for them.

detlvr
detlvr
9 years 6 days ago
LB, I also knew how much my tuition was costing me. For instance, I knew that if I used student loans to pay for my $225/mo boarding room for 3 years, and I spread out the payments over 30 years like they recommend then I would be paying nearly twice that much even at a reasonable interest rate of 4.9%. And I didn’t even need to borrow money to go to calculus class to figure that out! And to counteract your sob story I should point out that I also grew up lower-middle class and did not qualify for any… Read more »
vh
vh
9 years 6 days ago
Student loan debt is a different animal from credit-card debt or a car loan, because (like mortgage debt), it buys you something that appreciates in value. For about what it would cost to buy a good new car, you can get a degree at a decent public university. Twenty years from now–no matter what that degree is in–most college graduates will have earned a lot more through their jobs (which are likely to be jobs they don’t hate, loathe, and despise) than they spent on the diploma…but after twenty years, a car purchased for the same price will be worth… Read more »
Ron
Ron
9 years 6 days ago
Forgive the assumption but this article appears to have been written by a twenty-something. I am sure you truly feel your response to your debt and the issue of debt in general is right. And maybe for today it is. But what about tomorrow? You will be shocked when you turn around a few times and you are 40 years old (or older, in my case) with kids, a pending retirement, parents who may need financial help, etc. Life is going to happen to you whether you want it to or not and you have to be prepared for it.… Read more »
hypatia
hypatia
9 years 5 days ago
I completely disagree with the parent post. I was in some student loan debt a few years ago. It sucked. I was paying down extra when I took off a year from school for an internship, and that felt good. I was getting somewhere. When I finally, finally stopped playing at grad school and got a job, after a year I was able to save, pay down student debt, AND travel. It takes you a year and a half of consistent employment, living below your means, and saving to shore your finances up. Moving from job to job, going to… Read more »
Ave
Ave
9 years 5 days ago
Sure, you think student loan debt is great. If you go to a state school and graduate with a little debt it’s not so bad, but those going to private schools now can often have over $180K of debt. That’s not so daunting if you make a BIGLAW salary of $160K – but the odds of getting those jobs are pretty slim. If you do, you racket up a lifestyle to hang out with your other law firm buddies who say that you have cheap debt, why would you ever pay it off. Heck, buy a condo, a car, and… Read more »
Anonyjomous
Anonyjomous
9 years 4 days ago

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-9050474362583451279 You will not understand debt until you watch this video.

A Million Paths
9 years 4 days ago
I’m the one that left the original post (whoa and was I shocked to find out that I’m up here). For the record, yes I’m a twenty-something: I’m 27. I don’t think that, really this is about me, so I’m going to be short on details, but basically all I’m going to say is that I my debt is all student loans, I live strictly within my means, and I don’t own a car or any large consumer goods, I brown bag it almost everyday, and that my trip to France though it I didn’t kill any more of my… Read more »
John
John
9 years 4 days ago
I am like your friend. I am a 25 year old recent college grad who, 2 months out of college, nailed my “dream job.” I am compensated extremely well for someone my age and I regularly put a few thousand dollars away per month accross various accounts – my 401k match, my Roth IRA, my taxable index fund account, and my high interest interim savings account. I have NO debt and I also pay off my credit card every month. Suffice it to say, financially I can’t complain…but this post resonated with a part of me that thinks this might… Read more »
Abhishek
Abhishek
9 years 3 days ago
Debt is a way of living, not dying though.. Debt would let you buy something for tomorrow at today’s price.. Obviously, you pay interest, but there’s inflation too. Debt is a way of organizing your finances for future or present needs.. Debt can work wonders, if you calculate your future cash flows appropriately.. Personally, I would not go for debt if I am not certain about my future cash flows. And given an option would surely love to fulfill my needs with my present balances. But if at all I go for it, it would be a tradeoff between “Wants”… Read more »
Minimum Wage
Minimum Wage
9 years 3 days ago
My position is opposite to LB’s: I would have been much much better off if I had never gone to college. I’ve worked hard since I was ten years old and had saved up $4,000 (about $20K in today’s dollars) by the time I graduated high school. Then I blew it all on a liberal arts degree so that I could go to law school. I graduated with student loan debt and couldn’t afford to go to law school without borrowing up to my eyeballs, and I became risk-averse when I saw many others go to law school and end… Read more »
unclebond555@yahoo.com
unclebond555@yahoo.com
8 years 11 months ago
About 2.5 years ago, I was owing 200k i.e two hundred thousand dollars in credit card debt … I almost went crazy . Minimum payments were almost 5k a month . I was making 5k a month so all my money was going to pay credit cards . My wife was working so that helped . I soon realized I would never get put of debt so I decided to declare bankruptcy but after doing a lot of research I found out that a lot of people that declare bankruptcy wind up in debt again . I decided to tackle… Read more »
Alex
8 years 5 months ago

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