Debt: The #1 Dream Killer

big debt small manI hear so much about debt in this country and, truth be told, I’m puzzled. I don’t understand how anyone can put themselves into the massive amounts of consumer debt this country is known for. It seems to me that debt is the main dream killer in our country.

I get that sometimes the debt is beyond someone’s control. Even a minor medical crisis can put one in debt for the rest of their lives in the USA. Sometimes taking out loans for university in order to pursue one’s passion makes sense. A reasonable loan to buy a small house isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

But I hear over and over again about the massive credit card debt the average American carries and I’m dumbfounded each time I hear it. The average credit card debt per household in America is $15,956.

It seems to me that carrying that debt means that you’re paying for yesterday’s dream at the expense of what you want to do today. Debt kills dreams.

And that doesn’t make sense to me.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll tell you up front that I’ve never been in debt. I did graduate from college with a small amount of student loans, but they were offered through a special program to entice Special Ed teachers and were completely forgiven after five years of teaching Special Ed. That’s it. That’s the only debt I’ve ever had.

erase debtEvery car I ever bought was paid for with cash. Every article of clothing or piece of furniture for my house I paid for with money I already had. My bikes, my vacuum cleaner, my blender – all paid up front. Every house I’ve owned was paid for with cash. Granted, we’ve chosen to live in Boise where housing prices are reasonable – our houses did not cost half a million dollars.

And yet John and I were both school teachers. Teaching is not exactly known as the highest paying profession in America ((insert sarcastic voice here)).

I can’t help but feel that if two school teachers can live debt free, then you can too. It’s all about setting priorities and spending wisely.

Do you really need a brand new $50,000 car or would an older used one get you to work and back?

Is that 3,000-sq-foot home necessary or can you live in something smaller?

What about that couch in the living room? Does it need to be replaced now or can you wait until you have the money saved up?

Is that shirt or those shoes worth going into debt for?

Are you paying for yesterday’s dreams?

shackled by debtI look at our life right now and I realize that the reason we are free to live the way we are is because of the freedom we have to spend our money as we choose today. We’re not paying for choices we made last month or last year. We’re paying for what we want to do today.

Every penny of our income now can be spent on today’s dream.

I’m not a financial guru and don’t claim to be qualified to provide financial advice. But still, common sense tells me that paying for yesterday’s dream isn’t a good idea. If that’s what you’re doing, get yourself out of debt. Then you’ll be able to breathe life into your dream.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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18 Responses to Debt: The #1 Dream Killer

  1. Barbara Frank March 29, 2012 at 6:37 pm #

    You make an important point and one that many people need to understand. We’ve been completely debt-free since 2002. It’s given us an amazing amount of freedom. Given the state of our economy, young people who avoid debt will be in much better shape than those who see debt as free money, which is unfortunately the mindset of many. Great post!

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Barbara Frank, Exactly. Debt is definitely NOT free money – far from it!

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  2. Ben March 29, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

    Since you make your lifestyle public I read your columns because I have an interest in people who appear to have a leaning or abosolute belief in a socialistic society. But you and I have a very different perspective on healthcare. I have excellent health insurance and am very happy with it. But it’s because I have a JOB and my employer supplements most of the cost of my healthcare. If healthcare in all these other countries is so great, and you don’t want to get a job, then my suggestion would be to move to one of those countries. Or quit complaining about the healthcare in the US. I don’t think it’s fair for you to expect those of us who work to pay additional taxes in order to provide you with free health insurance because you don’t want to get a job. Also, during your recent tour, you took advantage of the generosity of several individuals and families accross many countries. Why don’t you get a job as a teacher again and become a giver as opposed to a taker and give back to society for a change and quit expecting the citizens of the U.S. to provide you with free health coverage? You may already have a job or you may already teach again, and if so, I’m out of place and apologize for my comments. Or if I’m correct with regard to your current employment status, I stick with my comments. Ben Simpson

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Ben, You make some interesting points here, Ben. I can see where you are coming from and, I suppose, at one point in time I probably would have agreed with you. I would have said the exact same thing – go get a job.

    However, I do have a job. It just doesn’t come with health insurance. I happen to be self-employed. My job pays my bills, but doesn’t provide health insurance.

    But here’s where we differ – I feel that the priorities of the USA are off. I feel that we CAN provide health care for our citizens if we place a priority on it. We’ve chosen to spend trillions of dollars on a war in Iraq – if we had taken that money and put it into health care instead, I feel we would be a lot better off. It’s all about priorities.

    We’ve been in many other countries and most of them have made health care for all a priority. They may not have as much money as the USA, but they’ve decided that health care is something they value, so they’ve put money there.

    Yes, we could move to another country – we could do that no problem. It’s just that I feel that I SHOULD be able to live in my own country AND get health care. Maybe I want to have my cake and eat it too, but I truly believe I should be able to do that.

    As for your question: Why don’t you get a job as a teacher again and become a giver as opposed to a taker and give back to society for a change and quit expecting the citizens of the U.S. to provide you with free health coverage? It takes all kinds of people to make the world what it is. It takes teachers, and accountants, and doctors, and trash collectors. And yes, it takes entrepreneurs as well – the trouble in this country is that those entrepreneurs can’t get health insurance therefore can’t get medical care.

    I suppose you could interpret my comments as complaining and, I suppose, in a way I am complaining. But mostly, I think I’m putting my story out there so that maybe, hopefully, somebody out there will see that honest, upright, good-standing members of society are struggling with our health insurance situation in the hopes that something will change.

    Maybe I’m idealistic, but I guess I would rather be that way than feeling that all is gloom and doom.

    I’ve commented further on your comment on this post: http://familyonbikes.org/blog/2012/03/and-they-say-the-usa-has-the-best-medical-system-in-the-world/

    [Reply]

  3. Amy March 30, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

    Once again while reading your stuff, I am so grateful to be an Australian. I’ve got way too many uni qualifications, and I have a debt for it. But it’s a government debt, and once I earn over a certain amount of money I have to pay a little bit extra. I think if I end up earning over $100,000 then I have to pay an extra 9% a year off my university debt. But if I earn nothing, I pay nothing. I’m quite content to never pay it back. It doesn’t matter. No time frames, no pressure.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Amy, There are many times when I wish I was Canadian or Aussie – it would make our lives so much easier! I love the USA, but it has its issues.

    [Reply]

  4. Laurel March 31, 2012 at 4:02 am #

    This is so true! I graduated from university with a lot of student loans and it took a long time to pay them back. That was a good investment, but I also believe that a lot of debt is caused by things we don’t need. I prefer to spend my money more on experiences than on things, that brings me much more happiness.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Laurel, I think the key is making wise choices about what you’ll go into debt for. Some things are worth it, but others most definitely are not!

    [Reply]

  5. Mike March 31, 2012 at 5:38 am #

    Well stated. Sometimes things happen and debt is unavoidable. Modest debt can sometimes also be a good enabler for education or reasonable house.

    However, if you make can make choices on spending and also life choices to live more simply and frugally – then those choices can bring more freedom to chase dreams like extended travel.

    I am grateful and have been fortunate with education and vocation. At same time, I chose to live well below my means, to save and to avoid as much debt where I could. This enabled me to take some extended bicycle trips.

    Those bicycle trips also reinforced living modestly. After spending a year living with just with what one could carry in four panniers – you look differently at all those possessions you bought and stored away and ask “how much of this did I really need to buy?” and think “how fortunate am I in material possessions compared with some I saw in my travels”.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Mike, Living beneath your means is huge. If you can do that, you can save a lot. I don’t consider that I’ve suffered by living beneath my means at all. And geez – it’s given me a lot of freedom!

    [Reply]

  6. Justin April 1, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    America’s a business. We are the customers. And both parties are very good at what they do. To think about it any other way is not very realistic.

    Paying off my debt was awesome and has helped me do so much more with my life. It’s that simple.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Justin, Debt is like handcuffs chaining us to yesterday’s dreams. That’s crazy.

    [Reply]

  7. Jon April 4, 2012 at 8:07 am #

    Read Dave Ramsey’s book – ‘The Total Money Makeover’

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Jon, I’ve heard great things about that book!

    [Reply]

  8. Rilla April 10, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    I have just under $50k student loan debt, and just over $14k CC debt… That said, we are paying down our debt every month, and live beneath our means and are saving up for a month long trip to Europe in 5 years… Before we retire in 26 years we will be mortgage-free and debt-free. We drive a mint condition ’89 Toyota Corolla with 140k km’s on it, all own bikes, and live within walking distance of all amenities. We live in an affordable yet adequate 630 sq ft and our mortgage is less than we’d be able to find in a rental property… For us it’s 100% lifestyle choices. We are self-employed and make enough to support our casual laid back life on a gulf island where we can enjoy the ocean year-round, grow fruit and veggies in our own yard, and don’t have to deal with the hectic pace of city-living… We are living OUR dream.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Rilla, For sure! Too many people feel they can’t make the choices – that they “have” to do what society says. If we make conscious choices about how we’re living, there is no reason to be a slave to corporate whims.

    [Reply]

  9. Jen August 29, 2013 at 7:39 am #

    “The average credit card debt per household in America is $15,956.”

    It is a huge amount! I don’t see the point in using credit card.
    Go in debt only when you need to buy something big and IMPORTANT. But best if you don’t go in debt…

    [Reply]

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