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Debt Myth #5: “Everybody’s Doing It”

Via Flickr, by user Richard

Sometimes the myths that we hold as true aren’t really based on misconceptions or faulty logic — they can simply amount to lies that we chose to believe because they make us feel better about ourselves. That’s the case with this particular debt myth, the one that says “Everybody’s doing it.”

The myth goes something like this: “Debt is a part of life. Everyone carries a little bit of debt to help them through life. You’re going to have to borrow money now and then — it’s inevitable. Only rich people can make it through life without borrowing.”

It’s easy to say things like this to ourselves to justify borrowing money. It helps us feel normal; it can even make us feel like we’re doing something good. After all, everyone borrows, right, to get through rough patches? And if everyone does it, it must be a good idea. Millions of Americans can’t be wrong.

Or can they?

When someone poses the challenging statement that debt is not part of God’s plan for your life, we can get defensive, and react with this thought that it must be okay to borrow money because everyone else is doing so. But if we stop to examine the situation honestly, I think we find that it’s pretty childish reasoning. Think about how many times you argued with your parents as a kid, insisting that you should be allowed to do something just because all of your friends were allowed to do it. (Or was that just me?)

There are numerous problems with this logic. First, can we really safely say that everyone else borrows money? I don’t think so. Personal finance is a notoriously private subject, and there’s a lot about the way that our friends and family handle their money that they might not tell us about. Think about it — how much do you share about your finances with the people in your life?

The truth is, we often have no idea if the people around us are in debt. Granted, our society likes to make us think that everyone else is borrowing money. But isn’t that a result of slick marketing and an advertising culture that has pervaded our mindsets? We see ads for no-down-payment new car financing deals on TV every night. And we get offers for new credit cards in the mail every day. But all that really proves is that the banks and finance companies want us all to borrow money. It does not mean that everyone actually does.

The truth is that many, many people live debt free — Laura and I among them. True, it’s not always easy, and there are luxuries that we bypass to stay away from borrowing. But the rewards of financial freedom far outweigh our small sacrifices. And we’re not alone — around the country, thousands upon thousands of families pay off their debts every year, and vow never to go back. Debt-free living is not just a fantasy; it’s a real, achievable financial discipline that allows us to be masters of our own money, instead of letting money and debt master us.

Here’s the kicker: Most people who live without debt aren’t rich, but many are well on their way to becoming so. When you don’t have monthly payments to make, it’s much easier to use your money to save, invest and build wealth. In other words, the myth suffers from a misunderstanding of cause and effect. It’s not wealth that allows people to live debt free; it’s living without borrowing that allows people to build wealth.

Debt is not inevitable, and there are people in your own neighborhood, school, church community and workplace that live debt-free. Instead of getting financially flabby off of sloppy thinking and intoxicating half-truths, maybe it’s time to take some difficult steps and whip your money man into shape.

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Trackbacks

  1. […] with a bunch of myths and excuses: Debt increases buying power; debt is a safety net; everyone has a little bit of debt. They’ll say that some debt is good debt, or that carrying debt is okay, as long as you can […]

  2. […] We’ve talked about how America suffers from an extreme debt addiction. And while credit cards may be the crack cocaine of the middle class, car payments have become the financial equivalent of smoking: It’s no good for you at all, and yet it’s widely socially acceptable. In fact, one of the main reasons that people borrow money for cars is that all the other cool kids are doing it. […]

  3. […] One of the sneakiest myths in our debt culture is the notion that borrowing money must be okay because everybody else is doing it. It’s true that borrowing has become so commonplace in society that it can appear normal and even safe. What people don’t tell you, though, is that bankruptcy rises as borrowing rises. The fact that many people borrow doesn’t make it safe, or even a good idea. And besides, not everyone is doing it: There’s a whole subculture of people who are committed to living debt free. You probably know some of them. They’re the ones enjoying financial freedom. Learn more here. […]

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