A Life Without Debt: Is Money Too Important?

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.

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24 Responses to A Life Without Debt: Is Money Too Important?

  1. Tic Toc says:

    People get very emotional and overly dramatic about money. It’s funny how they can also have a mental block about it and may not really know how much they and spending or where it’s all going.
    If there is too much focus on living in the present, these people are doing their elderly selves a disservice.

  2. SaveBuyLive says:

    I’ve always thought that debt was akin to a sort of Faustian deal with the devil. You can take it on and have whatever you want. But then it comes time to pay up. If you can’t pay, then the debt will take back everything it gave you and more. Even to the extent that it could ruin your whole life in the process.

    I’ve never considered a lack of debt to be a hindrance to living a good life. That’s what personal finance, budgeting and frugality are for. One reason that I’m pinching pennies is so I can direct them towards something more worthwhile later on.

  3. My Crossover Point says:

    I kind of go back and forth on this issue. I want to save and invest as much as possible so that I can become debt-free and financially independent.

    Then I’ll swing to the other end of the spectrum and realize that life is short, I have no guarantee that I’ll like to 90, let alone 60. If I find out I have cancer with six months to live, will I be glad that I am on track to be debt-free and financially independent in 20 years? Or will I regret the fact that I didn’t fly in a hot air balloon, visit Japan, or do some of the other things on my bucket list?

    I think you have to strike a balance between the two. You have to find a way to frugally enjoy your life, and also pay down debt, save, and invest.

    I think I’m also becoming more of a believer in having a blow-it-all budget category. A specific amount set aside that *must* be spent gratuitously. Then your uncontrolled spending is contained and controlled.


  4. Broken Arrow says:

    Now there’s a familiar tune, except this person isn’t very bright.

    Look, here’s one of those crazy, seemingly paradoxical things in life. If you do NOT care about money, if you care about so much more out of life, then please, by all means CARE about money so you don’t have to.

    Does that make sense?

    For example, let’s say what you really care about is taking a trip to the Grand Canyon. It will be adventurous. It will be great. It’s more important to you than money.


    Now, the smart way to do this is to save up money and then pay for the entire trip in cash. Let’s say it’s a $1000 trip.

    The dumb way to do this is to charge it on your high APR credit card. Now your trip is about $1200, assuming you pay everything on time.

    BOTH WAYS GETS YOU TO YOUR ADVENTURE. But one will cost you even more and shows your level of ignorance and impatience. The other highlights your discipline and planning.

    So, do you want to be a smart adventurer into life? Or do you want to be a dumb one?

    Seriously, does this person even watch the news? Does this person realize that we are currently in an economic recession exactly because people bought more than they can ever re-pay?

  5. Monkey Mama says:

    I always find these comments so ridiculous (thanks for sharing – I didn’t see it). We entered adulthood with a debt-free lifestyle and this very quickly paid off. We had our first child at 25 and most of our peers were very worried about money when they had children. Those were some of the most carefree years of our lives (took a lot of time off work to be with our newborns, etc.). Even now, most of the stay at home parents are rushing back to work once their children turn 3, 4, 5. We don’t have to!

    The whole point is you have so much LESS to worry about if your financial house is in order. Plus you have more money to splurge on that which you enjoy (& you tend not to spend as much on things that don’t TRULY make you happy when your money is more finite).

    I know for a lot of these people, money and THINGS are equated with happiness. They simply can not imagine being happy without spending money. For people without debt I think they tend to realize happiness has nothing to do with money. Though the extra cushion you are able to save with this mindset certainly brings an extra layer of security and comfort to your life – no doubt.

  6. A Marino says:

    There is such a divide about being debt free and having debt. A vast majority of people were born to parents who used debt as a tool to invest and get ahead.

    Now with our economy as it is, has brought more uncertainty from those who really can’t seem to make the switch to not using credit.

    We bought a new TV (after 16 years), a few months ago. It is a respectable size under 50″ and BIL asked why we didn’t buy a larger one. I answered that we had been saving for a few years knowing that the older model would be going soon.

    His answer back to me was that he would have taken the savings and added the rest to the credit card to get the set HE WANTED. I am happy with my TV. But most people just have to have more, the largest set, the one with the most bells and whistles (which will be outdated within t6 to 12 months), and with little or no money or planning to buy it.

    The difference in debt-free people is that when they purchase the item and bring it home, it is theirs and they had a chance to shop for the best prices and will not pay interest for years to come.

  7. Annie Jones says:

    So, you care only about money? Sounds like your accuser cares only about SPENDING money.

  8. Jackie says:

    My sisters’ mother sounds like the guy on your message board. Over the years, I can’t count the times that I’ve heard them justify going on an expensive trip as being more important than paying their bills because they’d rather have the memories. I don’t know how the memory of a trip to Disney World is sooooo good, that you don’t also mind the memory of having your house put up for auction THREE times because you didn’t pay your taxes.

    I’m still working on getting debt free and I have trouble keeping myself as disciplined with my spending as I should, but I can’t imagine the stress of worrying about still having a roof over your head because you went on vacation instead.

  9. MrsSmith says:

    Buying things you can not afford is just wrong, in my opinion. If you find out that you are going to die and you charge fun times on your credit card knowing you won’t have to pay for it, then you are a thief.

    If you charge a 1000$ TV on your credit card because you can take a year to pay it off and the final bill with interest is closer to 2000$, then you are a moron.

    Anyone who is trying to convince people that debt is normal and everyone has, or should have, some is just someone who is trying to make themselves feel better about the mess they have so obviously put themselves in. They are in denial!

  10. Sean says:

    Frankly, the posters comments do not make any sense to me and for anyone that knows anything about money – have quite the opposite meaning. Living a life free from debt means that money DOES NOT consume you and that you have taken responsibility for your relationship with money, and often other areas of your life as well.

    People are amazed when they find out that we “took off” to travel around Latin America for a couple of years with our school aged kids…and always ask how we did it. No Debt is the simple answer! And I believe we are living our lives to the fullest.

  11. Eddie Money says:

    Sadie- I own a great book called “Your money or Your Life.” I think it can be that simple. Your life energy devoted to work earns you money – debt service sucks even more life energy from your essence. Less debt and a little more money allows us all to give back. What you earn makes you a living, but what you give back makes a life. Stay well. Be at peace.

  12. “Real, normal people who live their lives to the fullest have debt.”

    This made me think of Dave Ramsey saying “It is ok to be weird.” “Being debt free is weird.” And don’t forget “Live like no one else, so you can live like no one else.” They are saying the same thing in principle. Living debt free requires you to not be ‘normal’ and make different decisions. He would be well served by reading a copy of The Total Money Makeover.

  13. cheap chick says:

    I think that credit card and buying things without having the money is a bad thing. Not because of religious or moral reasons but for practical reasons. When you use credit, you’re paying for the privilege of doing so. Even if it’s American Express or whatever… or if you pay off your balance every month, why? What’s the advantage.

    So I dumped my credit cards except for one for EMERGENCIES. Cash or debit card only now.

    I also looked carefully at “regular” expenses and decided to dump my AT&T phone for a prepaid phone. Got a Tracfone for 30 bucks but it was kinda-sorta free since it came with 30 bucks worth of air time.

    Now I budget my phone use by buying the amount of time I want, up front. I also got a double minutes card which makes it an even better value.

    There are some expenses that can be “managed” and those are the ones to budget.

    btw, I do have a mortgage. That’s a different story. But routinely buying stuff on credit? No way.

  14. bunnytoes_mussolini says:

    Funny, I am in debt and I regret it greatly, a short year ago it didn’t bother me, because the debt was ‘sustainable’ with our income…well as we all know a lot can change. My husband lost a lot of business and I am due to give birth in two weeks, and lost my old job last october. Now that debt keeps me up at night and hangs over my household…if I ever crawl out of this I will be more carefull in the future. Lots of debt is never a good thing, because you are gambling with your future

  15. Diane says:

    Balance is key! I’ve lived on both sides, deep in debt (due to my ex-husband) and debt-free now, other than a small mortgage. I didn’t have everything I wanted either way…

    The fact is, most everyone worries about and thinks about money, either about saving it, spending it, or paying the bills. It’s just part of life.

    I DO care about money, which is why I’m debt-free. I think that’s caring about money in a good way. I buy gifts, buy things that my family needs and a few that we want, take trips – I just don’t spend more than I can afford or charge more than I can pay off each month.

    I don’t want to spend my life worrying about money, or how I’m going to pay my bills. I do want to spend enough to enjoy my life and time with my family. Balance…

  16. Jackie says:

    Today at work, one of my coworkers was looking at digital cameras online. He bought a $10 storage chip and it turned out not to be compatible with his girlfriend’s camera. He was making fun of himself for thinking about getting a $200+ camera because he spent $10 on storage. The sad thing was that he was talking himself into this camera that he doesn’t need and can only afford by putting it on a credit card to pay off in installments.

    We’re good friends so I half jokingly asked him if I needed to go all Suze Orman for him. He then flabbergasted me by saying that “normal people have credit card debt” and if he made as much as Suze he wouldn’t have debt either! Normally I’d just let it go, but after reading this post I pointed out that I pay off my balance every month and I don’t have any higher of a salary than he does. No hurt feelings, he just said he wished he was rich like Suze so he could pretty much spend what he wanted and didn’t have to worry about it.

    I hate that attitude though, it’s so much hooey and he should know better considering his poor financial past.

  17. Slinky says:

    I think there’s a balance to be had. High interest debt is always bad and owing nothing is always good. But it’s ok to live somewhere in the middle too. It took me a while to realize that. Moderation in all things.

  18. wnlbutterfly says:

    Living “in the middle” can be tricky though. I equate that as “living paycheck to paycheck” and one lay-off or lost job, one big medical bill and it can tip the scale. We aren’t debt free yet, but in the last 4 months we have made so much progress that we are better off than we have been in 25 years. No kidding.

    #10 comment was on target…this is someone that wants to justify their spending by claiming “everyone else does it”. Just like the people that are have affairs and says “everyone is doing it”. NOT!

  19. Slinky says:

    What I meant by living in the middle was that low interest and sometimes secured loans (like car loans and mortgages and student loans) don’t always need to be paid off right away. Sometimes you’re better off keeping those around and saving more.

    I think I live in the middle. I have student loans and a car loan. I also have four months of expenses in the bank, put aside 10% (gross) for retirement, and generally have at Least a third of my net salary available for savings. I do NOT live paycheck to paycheck. I chose to put off paying down my loans so that I could save for a wedding and a house. My interest rates aren’t all that high and these things are more important to me.

  20. Gail says:

    I don’t know why someone would choose to rack up debt to make themselves happier. It doesn’t equate. I hate the stress of debts and am trying very hard to apy off our debt. The lower those balances go the happier I am. I know full well how life can come and chop you off at the knees leaving you without the ability to pay on those debts that you made to be ‘happy’. I would much rather be debt free than than owing money. The other way around just shows how messed up our society has become.

  21. Eddie C. Note says:

    I applaud Gail’s efforts to work her debt down. In mmy view, cash is king and being debt free is freedom. You must first have the desire to get rid of debt and then have a reasonable plan written down as an ongoing checklist. If the plan is based on actual record-keeping and logic, you can succeed. Good luck to all.

  22. Maggie says:

    I appreciate your writing on this topic. I believe that when you are debt free you actually have more financial opportunities to buy things you may want from time to time – the little luxuries, e.g., vacations, top of the line gas grill, Wii, etc. because you are in control of your money and more than likely have a slush fund with savings allocated for purchases like these. I am debt free except for my mortgage which I am super fast tracking with additional principal payments plus add substantially to different savings accounts/investments monthly. This can occur because I am not a frivilous spender. It is a secure and liberating feeling knowing that you are in control of your income and outgoing money which I wouldn’t give up for anything. Monitoring your expenses is the resposible, mature thing to do. I don’t know what is going to happened to the spenders and non-savers in thier old age. I wish them well.

  23. Ed says:

    I can usually spot the debt free people, because they usually want to borrow my pickup or get a copy of my updated software..or they don’t want to do something because it costs too much. I really don’t have debt, but some necessities (house) sometimes require it. My 70 year old mother is still using a VCR somebody gave her years ago and drives a 20 year old car…I told her she can probably opt for the gold sarcophagus.

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