This article discusses how our culture has normalized going into thousands of dollars of debt. This article may contain affiliate links, for more information please see my disclosure policy.
I will never forget sitting on my cousin’s couch talking about what Allen and my plans were for the gift money from our wedding. I was playing it cool and causally mentioned paying down some credit card debt that had crept up on us. I admitted I was embarrassed that we had gotten in debt.
Our cousin turned to me and said, “don’t be, it’s what you are supposed to do.”
I stared back dumbfounded, “Well actually everyone has told me the opposite. The big thing to do in your 20’s is to avoid going into debt.”
“That’s what everyone tells you but we all know the adjustment to ‘adulting’ is hard and most of the time leads to debt. It’s what you’re supposed to do. But the next thing you are supposed to do is get out.”
I sat there for a while quietly digesting his words. It really started to bug me how much it is ingrained in our culture that debt is what you are “supposed to do”.
You are supposed to have mountains of student loan debt
It has been hammered into kids heads that if they want to be successful after high school they need to go away to college, get a 4 year degree, and find a job. If you don’t have enough money to pay for school, simply take out student loans and pay them back once you are making money at your schwanky job out of college.
The average student graduates with over $37,000 in student loans. At a 4% interest rate and a 10 year repayment plan, that will cost someone $375/month for the first ten years of her career.
If instead of paying the $375/month for 10 years to student loans, she invested the same amount for retirement with an 8% interest rate, she would have an extra $650,000 when she retires (assuming retiring 40 years after graduation)
There are lots of ways to avoid student loans, however there are trade-offs (of course). Living at home, taking classes at community college, taking time to apply for scholarships, maxing out credits per semester, and finishing early are just some of the ways to avoid taking out loans.
You are supposed to have a fairy tale wedding
Do you know that the average cost of a wedding has risen to over $35,000?!
For your one day celebration you could pay the same amount as a hefty down payment on a house. People can go into a lot of debt to get the perfect dress, food, venue, photographs, flowers, etc for their dream wedding.
We are raised with the notion that every girl wants to be a princess on her wedding and that no expense should be spared.
There are many alternatives to a pricy wedding.Whether it’s simple things such cutting costs by using second hand decorations, or throwing the whole idea of a ballroom wedding out the window and doing a courthouse wedding with a fun dinner.
I highly encourage every couple to take some time to really think about what kind of wedding they really want/need and what their budget realistically is.
You are supposed to celebrate your first “real” job with a fancy car
Many high school kids are given the keys to a 20 year old beater car, while some others *gasps* don’t even have a car. I was handed the keys to a 2000 Honda Accord and was told “it will get you where you need to go until you have a real job and can buy a nice car”
It is expected that once you have a “nice” job you can afford luxuries such as a new car. Many people run out and buy a car, with a loan, shortly after starting a new job; sometimes out of necessity and sometimes out of desire
Our society has accepted that taking out a 5 year loan on a new car is a sign of wealth. In reality you are throwing away money on interest and depreciation.
Instead, it would be so much smarter to buy a moderately used car, in cash, and drive it until it won’t drive anymore.
You are supposed to whip out a credit card when money is a little tight
Has your friend ever invited you out to dinner and drinks at the end of the month when money is tight? While sometimes your friends are understanding when you say money is tight, other times you end up alienating yourself by not spending money.
Related: Keeping your friends and your budget happy
So what do you do? You whip out the credit card and promise yourself you will be extra good about going out next month.
Credit cards are such a norm in our society. If you don’t have the cash now, just swipe later and….what? Magically hope you will make more next month?
While I am not totally against credit cards (some of those rewards are great!), it should not be the norm to spend money you don’t have. You should also not use them to spend money you are “promised”. Just because you are getting a raise next month doesn’t mean you can spend more money now.
You are supposed to provide all the best things for your children
Of course you love your kids and you want them to have the biggest head start in life so it’s ok to go into debt to pay for their education.
No matter if it’s preschool, elementary, high school, or college, you shouldn’t have to bend over backwards financially for your child’s education.
While I don’t have children of my own, I have had friends that work out more financially responsible ways to make sure their child is well taken care of.
One friend found 4 other moms looking for inexpensive daycare and they all worked it out that they each watch the kids one day a week so they can work the rest of the week.
My other friend’s child was falling behind in middle school math. Her husband worked out a deal with their neighbor to mow the neighbor’s grass in exchange for math tutoring.
Sometimes it takes a little creativity, but there are plenty of ways to provide for your children without putting you into debt.
You are supposed to buy that big house with the white picket fence
One of the biggest aspects of the “American Dream” has been a large single-family house with a white picket fence and sprawling lawn for the kids and a dog. When you want to start a family or be seen as successful, you buy a house.
However, with house prices climbing, more people are taking out larger and larger loans to live in houses (that they may or may not need).
We have been taught that it is normal to take out a large sum of money, use a huge chunk of our monthly income to slowly pay back the loan over 30 years just so we can live in a nice house.
No, I am not saying you need to buy a house in cash, mortgages are one of the most (perhaps only) useful forms of debt, but I am saying that you not are supposed to be house-poor. When buying a house, make sure you calculate what you can realistically spend. You have to factor in many other costs including taxes, insurance, maintenance, utilities, remodeling, etc.
You are supposed to enjoy a life now and worry about money later
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead”
Enjoy life now and worry about the boring stuff later. I have heard it time and time again when people tell me “oh we just opened a great new credit card and put this whole vacation on it!”
The whole premise of a loan is to get money now and pay it off with interest, so that you can enjoy something now.
Our culture supports this mentality of enjoy now, pay later, as how you should live. However delaying payments on things can lead to financial stress and hardships down the road.
Instead, learn to enjoy what you already have, and save up for big purchases so that you don’t have to go into debt.
While it may be the norm, going into debt isn’t what you are supposed to do to lead a happy life. By taking control of your finances, learning to save and spend wisely, you can live a great debt-free life.
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