Joe is 32 years old, handsome and muscular, in his second marriage and burdened by an overly abundant stack of monthly payments. His wife is a stay-at-home mother of two who hopes to complete graduate school.
They live in what they consider an embarrassingly small, 700-square-foot, run-down house, but they both make up for the lower-class image away from home by driving two late-model cars with payments of $400 and $500 a month. Joe also pays $550 in monthly support for a child from his first marriage.
Sound familiar? Joe is a consumer debt addict, and his story is just one example of America’s growing debt tragedy. It is repeated in different forms many millions of times in the world’s wealthier economies. Many of these people don’t see it now, but there is a way out.
Digging into the debt hole
Joe’s story of debt started when he graduated at age 23 with a $40,000 college loan, which is still unpaid. He recently signed a loan for a newer Harley-Davidson motorcycle because his old bike was “too bumpy.” And so he took on $3,700 more debt.
Joe says he needs a better bike so he can get away by himself for an eight-day trip (which he’ll finance using his credit cards). He says he needs to clear his mind so that he can come back to tackle his burden of debt, his challenged marriage and his career, which seems like it’s going nowhere even though he works 16 hours a day.
Joe senses a need for change. He wants to escape from his bondage of debt, and so he is taking on $6,000 more debt (including lost wages) for his trip. He thinks this next debt-financed experience will help him successfully deal with his already overwhelmed life.
You might think this decision is irrational. But Joe really believes he needs to get away. He thinks he won’t enjoy his escape except on a new bike because his emotionally driven logic deceives him. Joe does not understand that his dubious “solution” to his debt problem is fueled by a terrible habit that has firmly entrenched itself in his character. Like all destructive habits, it has turned into his greatest enemy.
Like countless others, Joe looks impressive on the outside, but is desperate on the inside. He reasons and acts like an addict, and he is not alone in his debt lifestyle. It is an addiction that is destroying the happiness, freedom and even the future of millions of people.
Do we have tendencies that make us candidates for this addiction? Like all people, we can let a few bad choices launch us into a downward spiral.
Fantasy and the debt addiction cycle
To escape from debt addiction, Joe must start by facing the realities of his motivations. Debt addictions often have roots in emotional problems. Joe must realize how his fantasies have crippled his capacity to make sound financial decisions; only then can he make progress.
The next step is deciding to do whatever it takes to escape the addiction. Overcoming any addiction is not easy, but it can be done and the rewards are great. Financial stability does exist beyond debt, but the change requires a complete mental makeover, including a new set of personal values based on reality.
Addictions typically start with a fantasy. In drug addiction, the addict is looking for a “fix”—a dose that will deliver an experience people desire, covet, lust after and feel they need. The “fix” becomes so real, compelling and powerful that they indulge. As long as the addict is in his fantasy experience, it feels right. But the fix is only a temporary illusion of achievement, pleasure and success.
Behind debt addiction is an inevitable cycle. The euphoria of acquiring new things leads to a sense of edgy emptiness only relieved by another debt-financed fix. Enough is never enough. Wise King Solomon observed this phenomenon 3,000 years ago when he wrote these words now found in the Bible: “The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing” (Ecclesiastes 1:8 Ecclesiastes 1:8All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
American King James Version×).
Experiencing more and more pleasure will ultimately not give anybody the true success that brings happiness. As Jesus Christ said: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the first and love the second, or he will be devoted to the first and despise the second. You cannot serve God and Money” (Matthew 6:24 Matthew 6:24No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
American King James Version×, Revised English Bible).
Materialism will not satisfy or bring inner peace because true happiness doesn’t come from having more stuff. Christ warned, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15 Luke 12:15And he said to them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.
American King James Version×).
Wrestling with debt addiction: Seven steps to escape
If you’re overwhelmed by debt, in most cases you can’t blame others for being the victim. You made choices. Regrettably, a debt-financed lifestyle was a bad choice. It’s possible you never completely understood the internal processes at work that created the debt addiction and you were never taught how to avoid debt. If you are addicted and feeling the pain it causes, you can find a way out, but there is only one way that really works.
Freedom from debt addiction requires a complete change in motivation, from mental and physical pleasures of consumption to building character. Today’s world is structured to seduce us into the fantasy of promised rewards through debt. The feelings of desire and bad ideas they arouse are the ultimate source of a debt addiction.
But the good news is that there is a way to escape the debt trap! Overcoming an addiction always begins by shattering denial patterns. It starts by admitting you have a problem. But this is just the first of seven steps necessary to lead a debt-free life.
Step One: Declare spiritual war on fantasy
Facing up to debt addiction as a form of slavery is the greatest requirement to motivate and sustain the process of gaining financial freedom. A person has to want to overcome his own deception and live in reality. He has to declare total war on the problem and its origin in his thinking and behavior. Here, the Bible works as the greatest tool for spiritual warfare—a mirror. It allows you to clearly see through your addiction.
The Bible reveals the inner motives that lead to true success. The values it contains are far superior to human values and, if followed, will lead to financial freedom and blessings. The Bible provides correction to put an addict’s life back on track.
“The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender,” says Proverbs 22:7 Proverbs 22:7The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.
American King James Version×. The term for servant used here is actually slave —a person without freedom. Being a slave to the lender means you are not really free, and you are subject to someone else in a way God never intended.
In God’s dealings with men and women throughout the Bible, He shows His will and authority to make us free in every way, and He encourages us to use our freedom to care for others and develop our character. God did not design human beings for the servitude of financial debt, nor is a man or woman really satisfied while in the slavery of debt. As long as a person is constantly worried about paying bills, he cannot be free.
Overcoming any addiction is a profoundly spiritual process, a form of spiritual wrestling to see reality and act on it. It takes muscle, speed, agility and experience to win a wrestling match. But if Joe is going to defeat his problem, he must wrestle with spiritual issues. Successful wrestling requires the strength of muscle applied against a demanding opponent.
Steps two through seven show how to develop the muscle and character to overcome the opponent, and the process starts by confessing distorted thinking.
Step Two: Educate yourself to develop your vision of victory
To paraphrase a biblical proverb, without vision people perish. It takes a vision of victory, as well as a game plan with techniques, strategies and knowledge, to win a battle and war.
If you have a debt habit, read books about overcoming debt and achieving financial success. Challenge your habits with knowledge. This develops a vision of success with insight into how it can be achieved.
Write out a plan of financial goals for your life, both for the short term (the next year) and long term (the next five years or more). Study, think about and be creative in finding ways to save, and place priorities on real needs, not fantasies or desires. Start saving now. The vision should have a victory goal to eliminate all debt. Have a firm timeline.
Step Three: Change to a new lifestyle today
Develop a mental hunger for financial success by making lifestyle changes today. Make coffee at home in your own coffee pot at 10 cents a cup instead of buying a $1 cup at the gas station or coffee shop.
A triple café mocha cappuccino once every three days can add up to $400 a year, and that amount triples if you buy one for a spouse and teen daughter. It all adds up to hundreds, and even thousands, of dollars each year.
Some people spend more eating only 25 percent of their meals out (at triple or more the cost of staying at home) than they spend on the rest of their food budget. Why buy a $20 meal on a credit card and take 18 months to pay it off at 18 percent interest when you can cook a $6 meal yourself at home? Cut all unnecessary costs from your spending. Instead learn to spend more time with family, do no-cost leisure activities and shop used stores rather than buying everything new.
In a very short while, buying new things on credit will seem like robbing from yourself, and you’ll hate it—and rightfully so.
Step Four: Replace bad debt habits with good character-building habits
If you are a typical adult, chances are you might need to get more exercise, read more to develop your mind and learn to be a better husband, wife, parent, friend or neighbor. Nobody is perfect, so become a student of God and learn to be more like Him. As Jesus said, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 Matthew 5:48Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
American King James Version×).
Make a list of 10 to 20 things you can do each month that don’t cost anything—and then do them. This allows you time to get your exercise, help your family and volunteer. Replace getting and debt buying by giving your time and effort to others, and it will come back multiple times as blessings. All the while, you will be moving toward financial freedom.
As Christ said, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom” (Luke 6:38 Luke 6:38Give, and it shall be given to you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that you mete with it shall be measured to you again.
American King James Version×).
Step Five: Have a slash-and-burn debt strategy with the No! habit
To get relief, take a look at all existing payments and consider selling anything associated with a big payment. In Joe’s case, his two cars with $400 and $500 payments could be replaced with two cars with $100 payments.
This could save him more than $8,000 annually, money he could then use to pay off other debts. He could also save substantially on car insurance by having older cars. These savings alone would almost pay off all his debt in five or six years.
Look at all your outgoing expenses and be totally honest. If you are making payments on anything you could sell to get out of debt, sell it now. Learn to say No! to yourself with pleasure, and relish the financial freedom it will give you.
Step Six: Resist the debt culture
Materialism is the core of the debt culture, and it motivates many people’s lifestyle choices. People are choking in debt and all the personal problems it causes because of inverted values that place fantasy and egotism above reality. Sadly, it is all caused by human nature, which is so susceptible to lust. Face and reject the culture, and turn from all its lies.
The Bible explains how to overcome our vulnerable nature and the self-absorbed materialism in the world: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it” (1 John 2:15-17 1 John 2:15-17 15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
17 And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God stays for ever.
American King James Version×).
The love of physical things does not produce happiness, no matter what all the advertisements say.
Step Seven: Pursue true spiritual happiness
The book of Hebrews says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness, and be content with such things as you have” (Hebrews 13:5 Hebrews 13:5Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as you have: for he has said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you.
American King James Version×). Every one of us is created in the image of God with a virtually limitless potential for creativity, accomplishment, growth and happiness. The earth is a beautiful place if we have the right values and can learn to be content with our physical possessions.
Real contentment comes from building character, achieving worthy goals and having rich and rewarding relationships. It also comes from the freedom of owning what is yours and being content with that. Life is good when people love you because you have given to them, been a friend, helped, loved and shown by example that you care.
Ultimately, real joy and contentment come through knowing life’s great purpose and fulfilling that purpose day by day through a personal relationship with our loving God. Again, the book of Hebrews says, “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ ” (Hebrews 13:5 Hebrews 13:5Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as you have: for he has said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you.
American King James Version×).
Make God your partner. As Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33 Matthew 6:33But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
American King James Version×). Use your relationship with God to get out of debt and ultimately to find an endless future of freedom in His Kingdom! GN