I don’t know why this even sticks out in my mind, but I remember riding with my dad to play with his company softball team. On the way Dad decided to swing into Wal-Mart and buy a new softball glove. It sticks out in my mind, because at the time I could not just swing by and buy anything! I was on a budget. Things were tight, but I was not in debt – yet. My salary, as meager as it was, did not land me in debt. Looking back it was a thought process that led me into debt. Let me break it down for you.
1. I am just as good as everyone else, so I deserve what everyone else has.
I got tired of watching friends buy new cars I could not afford, so I finally got my parents to cosign for me to buy a brand new Subaru Justy with no radio or air conditioning. It was the cheapest new car I could afford and for some reason I thought I had to have a new car because all my friends were buying new cars at the time. Later, after making several payments, I had a dream that I had my old car back, which was old and used but paid for when I had it. While I thought I deserved what my friends had, I failed to realize that things don’t determine your self-worth. I also forgot that the homeless man sleeping in the alley was just as good as I am. Coveting instead of being thankful led me into debt. The richest person is not the one who has the most. Its the one who needs the least.
2. There is no way I can max out this credit card!
I was in my late twenties by the time I got a major credit card. Now I could get whatever I needed whenever I needed it. It came with a credit limit of $5,000.00. My friends told me to be careful and not max it out. The interest rate was high. I told them there is no way I could max this card out! It has a $5,000.00 limit. I will never reach that! Before the year was over it was maxed out. I was drowning in debt because I was living like I was rich. I finally realized that rich people are rich because they live like they are poor. Poor people are poor because they live like they are rich. There are exceptions, I know, but it applied to me. If only I had realized my self-worth did not come from what I could buy.
3. I didn’t realize it’s okay to say ‘I don’t have the money’
During this time I studied the Bible with a couple my age and we quickly became good friends. I would call them and ask them to go out to eat with me, and occasionally they would say something that I did not know was even possible to say. They would say, “We don’t have the money right now.” I was too embarrassed to say such a thing, but when they said it, they were not embarrassed at all. How could that be? Instead, when they said it, they sounded strong, like they had self-control.
Remember the whole reason I got my credit card was so that I could get whatever I needed whenever I needed it? No reason to say I don’t have money when you have a credit card, right? Wrong! Too late in life I learned that if I can’t afford it, I don’t need it. When I would fall behind on bills, I was afraid my phone would be cut off. Meanwhile I had friends whose phones did get cut off. To my amazement and astonishment, their lives went on. Yup. If you can’t afford it, you don’t need it. It’s amazing to recognize all the things we think we need that we really don’t!
4. When using a credit card you still have to pay for it!
Okay, after I share how stupid my thinking was here, you are going to wonder how I was ever smart enough to land a job. Believe it or not, I would be in a department store getting something I needed, and I would literally ask myself (Yes, these are the exact words that would go through my numb-skull brain), “Do I want to pay for it or just put it on the credit card?” What an idiot! I was going to pay for it either way! And I’d pay for it with added interest. By putting it on the card I paid for things four times over! Now I know you are not that foolish. But if there is just one person out there just as foolish as me, then I hope this saves them from making the same mistakes I did. If you save for something and pay cash, it’s all interest-free. Why not wait a little while and pay for it once, instead of getting it now and paying for it four times over later? Some things were worn out while I was still paying on them!
So there I was – drowning in debt, unable to afford things I needed today, because I was still paying interest on things I bought long ago. Here is the kicker: When you are in debt, your money is not your own. It does not belong to you. You owe it to someone else. So I was not even donating my own money to the church. It was money that belonged to the credit companies. Let that sink in. If I owed $15,000.00 and got paid $2,000.00 a month, then each month my money belonged to the credit companies. The money I was spending for food and clothes and even giving to the church was not my own money. My $2,000.00 check did not belong to me. I had already spent that check seven times! Did I still owe tithe? Of course! But I was paying it with borrowed money. That is not returning tithe! That is giving God money you borrowed from somewhere else!
I was in a mess, and it was my own fault! Thankfully I serve a God who loves and rescues the most stupid of people!