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Linda & Richard Eyre: Act your wage: Thinking about personal and household debt

Published: Sunday, Oct. 7 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

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As we watch the debate over our 16 trillion dollar national debt, we ought to also be thinking about our own personal and household debt.

Unfortunately, we live in the first era in the history of the world where debt, even very big, almost-impossible-to-repay debt is socially acceptable. Credit cards are a way of life, and credit ratings sometimes seem to be the most important and consequential thing we have.

What a profoundly negative effect this mentality has on our children and our families!

Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have reminded us again and again of the dangers of excessive debt and of living beyond our means. But at the same time, advertisers, retailers and our whole consumer culture remind us of all the things we want, and are often successful in confusing us between what we need and what we want.

Why wait and save up for something when we can have it now and pay for it later? Why sacrifice and opt for delayed gratification when we can have instant gratification? Why envy what other people have when all we need to do is sign our name a couple of times to have it ourselves?

Well, because we don’t want to pay the big interest; because delayed gratification is actually much sweeter; because we really shouldn’t envy anyone who is in bigger debt than we are; because we like to sleep at night; because saving a little actually makes spending more fun; because those who live within their means have lower blood pressure; because fixing it or waiting for it or finding a good deal is actually more satisfying than just running out and replacing it; because peace of mind is better than emptiness of purse. That’s why!

And there is one more reason — and the best one of all. Because we love our kids and we want to teach them, by example and in every other way, that living prudently and providently and with as little debt as possible is financially savvy and emotionally happy.

If we can create a family culture of saving, of conserving, of living well within our means, that home culture can supersede the consumer culture, the debt culture, the credit card culture and produce kids who simply refuse to yield to the siren song of debt and pretension.

Some argue, and we have been two of them, that a certain amount of education debt might be necessary to get the degree you want, and that taking a mortgage on a non-pretentious and well-researched home is often smarter than paying rent. But these two kinds of debt, for education and for a house, really should be looked at as investments and can be, with plenty of care and caution by us all, become worth far more than what we paid for them.

But not many other kinds of debt work this way. Why borrow for a new car and be saddled with a hefty monthly payment (and have it depreciate mightily just by driving it off the lot) when there are great used cars out there that you could now (or soon) pay cash for? Why use a credit card at all if you can’t pay the full balance each month? Why become a slave to more stuff when you can get along just fine with what you already have?

And why create a model of debt and instant gratification for your kids when it can poison them just as surely as hemlock?

Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times #1 Bestselling authors who are in demand throughout the world as speakers on Parenting and LifeBalance. You can visit them anytime at www.TheEyres.com or at www.ValuesParenting.com

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