One of the biggest enemies of a debt free life is complacency. Not only is it an enemy, it’s a very sneaky enemy. When you become complacent (apathetic is another good word for this problem) you relax too much. You stop worrying about where your money is going. You start spending more and more, thinking it’s no problem. You accept things as they are and don’t look to see if they could be better. You don’t question expenses. You stop shopping for the best deals. In other words, you take your foot off the gas and start to coast on your prior success.
It’s easy to let complacency take over your financial life. After all it’s hard to always be vigilant. It’s tiring to track spending and adhere to a budget. It’s a pain to always watch the pennies. It’s human nature to take the path of least resistance and coast where possible. But if you want to become and remain debt free you can’t afford to ever relax. Sure, you can blow a little money once in a while, but when you make a habit of letting things slide it becomes harder to get things back under control. Coast for too long and the next thing you know debt is knocking on your door.
I have a debt free friend who had this problem last year. She’s been debt free for about ten years. In those ten years she and her husband started making more money. They bought a newer house, better cars, and traveled. They could afford it and they were debt free, so there was no reason not to. The problems started when they did this too many times. Then they stopped watching the everyday expenses. They stopped checking insurance rates. They stopped fighting price increases and negotiating better deals. They stopped buying store brands and using coupons. They stopped balancing their books every month. They gradually backed away from frugal things like making their own cleaning supplies, doing repairs themselves, and eating at home. They relaxed their spending and started treating themselves to meals out, convenient cleaning products, and the joy of letting someone else paint the house. While they were making good money, it wasn’t enough to cover this amount of relaxed spending indefinitely. One day my friend was balancing the checkbook and she couldn’t believe it. They were going to have to transfer money out of saving to cover their expenses. Otherwise, it was going to have to go on a credit card. Debt was lurking, just waiting for her!
She tried to rein things in, but they had become so accustomed to the new way of living that it was difficult and uncomfortable to go back to being frugal. It wasn’t fun to paint their own house. They missed eating out. They missed their name brand products. It was a pain to call service providers and check for lower rates. Suddenly everything that had gotten and kept them debt free was a pain and an inconvenience. This couple had allowed themselves to get too comfortable. It was a painful few months as they gradually pulled themselves back form the brink of debt and relearned how to live low to the ground.
Can you splurge and be debt free? Sure. Can you have a comfortable life? Sure, as long as you keep that comfort to a level your income can reasonably support. Can you use name brand products and not buy everything on sale? Sure, as long as you are watching your overall spending a few treats can be worked into the mix. You don’t have to live an anxiety-ridden life where you constantly sweat every single penny. But you cannot allow yourself to let things slide for long.
You can never become too comfortable and relaxed about your finances. Even as you earn more money you have to remember and practice the things that got you debt free. What happens if you lose an income or your income is cut? What happens if someone becomes too sick to work or incurs huge medical bills? Life throws the unexpected at us (and it seems to do that at just the moment you’re thinking you’ve got it made) and you have to be on your toes. You have to keep your frugal skills sharp and your expenses low if you want to stay debt free. Complacency and thinking that you’re home free is the path right back into debt.