Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems

So we have been meandering through my 10 Resolutions for 2012, and so far we have been through 5 of them:

1. Know God more and more every day by dwelling on the Gospel of Jesus,  living in such a way as to know the love of God more deeply                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. Stop biting my nails and address the anxiety behind it.                                                                                                                                                                      3. Get in and stay in a regular habit of planning my wife’s spiritual encouragement and leading my house spiritually                                                                                                                                                                           4. Get in and stay in a regular habit of Prayer, Fasting, Meditation, Study, Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, Service and Worship.                                                                                                                                                                       5. Get in and stay in a regular habit of Exercise and Healthy Eating so that I can keep the 30 lbs off that I lost already, get into great cardio shape, improve my physical limitations, and live a healthier, fuller life by starting to eat all organic foods.

This brings me to my 6th Resolution –

6. STAY OUT of debt in 2012.

To get to the heart of this resolution, I have to do a bit of backtracking. Remember when you were a kid and a $20 bill was an ENORMOUS amount of money? Well, if you are younger than 21 years old, you probably don’t remember those days, but the rest of us do. And I’m only 30 – if you talk to someone in their 70’s or 80’s, a $1 bill used to be a significant score back in their childhood. Money, specifically CASH money, had significant value. I remember when the idea – just the idea – of one million dollars was inconceivable. I don’t think I have ever seen one million of anything at one time, much less dollar bills, and now we talk in terms of billions or trillions of dollars. Those are terms we used to use for stars in our galaxy!

Debt is not a modern problem. There is a biblical parable on debt. From a Federal standpoint, The United States has had a public debt since its founding. Debts incurred during the Revolutionary War amounted to $75,463,476.52. The Civil War raised the debt from $65 million in 1860 to $2.7 billion by the end of the war. Despite this, personal debt has rarely been so rampant and widespread as it is today. Back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the average American consumer had less than $2,000 in total personal debt. Today, debt has become more widespread, mainly due to the credit card. A larger share of families (46.2% in 2004) than ever before carry credit card balances, up from 39.6% in 1989. Typical credit card debt has grown to its highest level on record. By 2011, the typical family with credit card debt owed $15,956! http://www.americanprogress.org/kf/creditcarddebtreport_pdf.pdf

Here are some more startling numbers:

  • Total U.S. revolving debt (98% of which is made up of credit card debt) equals $793.1 billion as of May 2011
  • 609.8 million credit cards held by U.S. consumers. (Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, January 2010)
  • Average number of credit cards held by cardholders: 3.5, as of  2008 (Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, January 2010)
  • Total U.S. consumer debt: $2.5 trillion, as of December 2011

http://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/credit-card-industry-facts-personal-debt-statistics-1276.php

So while we don’t like talking about money and HATE talking about debt, it seems to be one of the biggest elephants in the average American household today. It is as if our pursuit of the American dream and of happiness has gotten us into a lot of trouble, because “dreams” and “happiness” are translated as “stuff.” In our efforts to get the house with the white picket fence, we have also decided to get $30k SUV’s, $20k in electronics (MacBooks, iPads, iPhones, 102 inch Flat Screen TV’s…), and a myriad of other trinkets and toys to make us happy and end our boredom, WHILE neglecting our $40k in college debt.

That may be why this Resolution may seem strange to some of you, because debt is not just about money, it’s about the heart. How we spend our money shows us where are hearts are, where our priorities are. Having a budget and sticking to it so that my wife and I can pay our bills, stay out of debt, give generously to friends and causes, and actually save money for our future expenses and our retirement is not something many couples do or plan to do. According to MSNBC and other financial networks that have conducted surveys, less that 40% of American families have ever used a budget, and much less actually stick with it. Many Americans don’t do it BECAUSE IT IS DIFFICULT, it can lead to arguments with your spouse, and it represents where our hearts are. It is so much easier to not think about it or deal with it in the short run, isn’t it? Ignoring almost makes it go away … almost.

I used to hate checking my online bank account, always afraid of how little money I would have left, but then my wife and I went through the Crown Financial course, got a biblical perspective of our debt, and got on the envelope cash system. It is difficult to stick with, but it is worth it. We actually know how much money we can spend, have it categorized according to our needs, and use whatever is left over to give away, accelerate our house payments, save for retirement, or save up for a purchase we know we have coming up.

So my goal for 2012 is to stay out of debt – car debt, credit card debt, and all other debt. Give it a try and see what happens. Sign up for a Crown Financial class or listen to Dave Ramsey. Develop a plan to get out of debt and stay out of debt. It won’t happen by accident, I promise.

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