I was accused the other day on another financial site that I frequent of caring only about money. I was responding to a poster who was asking about the benefits of being debt free, because the person couldn’t see that so much could be gained by not owing anyone anything. So I listed some of the benefits you’ve seen me post here and talked a bit about how much I enjoy being debt free and about the freedom it gives me. I also mentioned that there were some sacrifices (e.g., I can’t have everything I want when I want it), but that those were well worth the peace of mind.
Well, another poster came on and said that, “If you’re debt free, all you care about is money. Real, normal people who live their lives to the fullest have debt. Only misers and miserable people don’t have debt. You have to have debt in order to have any fun in life. I feel sorry for you because you’re putting money ahead of everything else in life and you’re missing out on all the good that life has to offer.”
Wow. I thought this person was kidding (troll, anyone?), but as the thread played out, it was clear that this person was serious. I took issue with his stance and got flamed a lot in the process. Well, since I’m an open minded person, I thought about what this person said. Does being debt free (and unafraid to admit it) mean that money consumes me? Is money the most important thing in my life? After some thought, the answer was no to all of the above.
There’s no denying that money is important and worth caring about. In some ways, money is as or more important than other things. We need money (at least some of it) to buy the necessities of life such as food, clothes, and medical care. Money may not be able to buy you love or happiness, but it can keep you clothed, fed, and in some degree of comfort. So it is in your interest to care about money, at least up to the point that your basic needs are met. If you care nothing for money, you’re going to have a hard time getting the things you need and life is going to be painful. Saying that you don’t care about money is a lie, because we all have to care up to a point. Beyond your basic needs it becomes a balancing act to ensure that you continue to care for and manage your money wisely without going overboard in either spending or saving.
Sadly, some people never master this balancing act. Some care about money to the exclusion of everything else. Even when they have plenty, these people are loathe to part with any of it and refuse to buy anything, even things they need. These are the misers of the world. However, there is a big difference between caring about money to the point where it rules your life and being debt free. Others, like my accuser, choose to forget about basic math and just spend and have fun without giving money a second thought. That is the path to crushing debt.
Being debt free means that I have to worry about money, more so than someone who chooses to live life blindly racking up debt as my accuser apparently does. That’s a given. In order to remain debt free I have to weigh my purchases against my savings and always know where I stand. I can’t let myself have too many periods of wild spending or I’ll end up in debt. That means, of course, that I do miss out on some fun in life. I can’t do everything I want to do because I don’t have unlimited funds. (However, I bet my accuser can’t do everything he wants, either, because of things called “credit limits.” Eventually, he will run out of credit and be denied some of this fun he thinks he’s having for free.)
However, while I do think about money, it certainly does not rule my life to the exclusion of all else. I live life to the fullest extent that I can afford. I go places, take part in activities, and purchase things I find valuable (even if they aren’t necessary), but I keep it within the bounds of what I can afford and still remain debt free and keep saving for my future. I enjoy my family and the non-material blessings I have around me every day. That’s living life and having fun, even if it doesn’t involve a 72-inch plasma TV.
As for “real, normal people who live their lives” all having debt, I think my accuser is wrong on this point, too. I know plenty of debt free people and many of them (including myself) are having a lot more fun in life than people who are shackled by debt. Why? Because we don’t have to worry about the bill coming due and, no matter how much my accuser wishes to deny it isn’t so, that bill will come due soon enough. My accuser may be having the time of his life right now, not worrying about money and spending lavishly, but one day he will run out of credit, or grow old and want to stop working. At that point the spending will have to stop and the pain will set in. He will have a lifetime of fun to look back on, but there will be no fun in the future. Whereas I will be looking forward to years of fun because of the money I’ve saved and I’ll be looking back on all the fun I’ve already had in life. I’ll have it both ways; he’ll only have the past.
Being debt free doesn’t mean that I think of money and nothing else; neither do most of the other people I know who are debt free. We simply think of money differently than others and we are more careful about balancing our present lives with our futures. There is certainly no need to feel sorry for us, as my accuser suggested. I doubt that if you asked went up to a debt free person and said, “Do you feel like you’re missing out on all the fun life has to offer because you’ve chosen to remain out of debt,” that the answer would be yes. They might admit to wanting to do some things they haven’t done, but they’d probably also say that they look forward to doing them at some point because they are saving for them. Whereas, if you were to walk up to my accuser in ten years and say, “Do you wish you’d saved more money and financed less fun in your youth so that you’d be able to live well now,” I doubt that the answer would be no.
Concern and care for money is part of the debt free life. But showing concern and care for money is not the same thing as valuing it more than anything else. Respecting money and what it can buy, both now and in the future is part of responsibility. Responsibility means that sometimes you don’t get to have everything you want when you want it, but it doesn’t make you miserable or a miser. It simply means that you know how to balance your needs with your wants so that you can live a comfortable life with some fun and good times thrown in. And that’s a lesson that my accuser needs to learn for himself.