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Thriving in Tough Times Part 6

May 5th, 2009 · No Comments

Living Debt Free

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except for the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8)

I changed the oil in the Suburban this morning. I’ll do the same for the Nissan this evening. Both cars work fine, even if they’re getting a little age on them. The Suburban is a 2003 and the Nissan is a 1993, but like I said, they work fine – and they’re paid for. That’s my favorite kind of car.

It’s tempting to think about getting a new car. There’s never been a better time to buy – the car companies are desperate. The banks may not be lending money for other things, but financing a new car is a piece of cake. But that’s the problem – financing. Borrowing money means owing money. And that shiny new car looses a little luster each month when the payment comes due.

We really like our Suburban. It’s like a truck with nice seats; we live in the country and we’re always packing it with stuff. It’s not our first one either – this is our fourth Suburban. Back in the day of our conspicuous consumption we had two. I wouldn’t hold my breath about that day coming around again – the world has changed.

If we did want to trade in our six year old SUV for a shiny new one, the nice man at the dealership might give us about $8,000 on trade for old Betsy. A new Suburban is just over $44,000, but we could haggle the desperate dealer down to $42,000. We’d have to get a car loan for $34,000; at 9% that’s about $613 per month. At the end of six years we would have paid the loan company just over $44,000. Of course, by that time we’d have a six year old Suburban – and that’s what we have now.

Unless I find a Cuban mechanic, I’ll have to buy another car eventually. But the idea of buying a new car for $52,000 ($8,000 for old Betsy + $44,000 for the financed balance) only to own another $8,000 six year old car once I’m finished making payments, makes me queasy. Not to mention the minor detail of locating a bottomless money bag from which to draw $613 each month for the next six years.

Whatever you want to call this thing we’re living in – recession, depression, financial crisis – bottomless money bags, unless you’re the president of the United States, are no longer available. And even if I had $52,000 to spend on a car that would be worth $8,000 the day I made the last payment, the idea of it is completely ridiculous.

But what to do? How about putting the $613 away each month for three years and then buying a three year old Suburban (the same one the dealer is itching to sell me today) for $22,000? That way I’d be buying a $22,000 car for $22,000 and then I’d drive new Betsy for another six years until I did it again; but by that time I’d only be stashing away a little over $300 per month because I’ve got six years before it was time to buy new, new Betsy. As a bonus, I could give away my old Betsy every six years to someone who needs a truck with nice seats.

By driving old Betsy until I can pay cash for a three year old new Betsy I figure I’ll save about $5,000 a year … forever. But the real incentive for driving the older car is that the $613 I’d be paying the loan company each month for a new car is called debt. The $613 I’d be putting away each month in the next three years for new old Betsy is called savings.

The down side to this whole plan is that I’d have to suffer the social shame of driving a really nice three to nine year old vehicle instead of driving a really nice one to six year old vehicle. My family and friends don’t care about the age of my car but total strangers might think less of me.

Same thing goes for my clothes, my furniture, my boat (if I had one), even my house. Too often, what I’m willing to buy has more to do with what strangers might think of me than it has to do with what I need or what I can afford. That’s pretty dumb. Going into debt for it is dumber.

In good times being in debt isn’t a good idea. In tough times it can be tragic. Debt is a lot more complicated than just a way to get stuff now without paying for it now. It involves pledging yourself to pay in the future for what you owe now; and you don’t know what the future holds. That means you don’t have complete control over fulfilling the promises you make. And that means the possibility of damaging your reputation as one who keeps his or her promises. And if you consider yourself a steward, that reflects poorly on the One you serve.

Debt also affects your decisions about life. Instead of doing what you know God has called you to do; you do what pays the bills – “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.” That’s a conflict of interests. Jesus puts it a little more bluntly. “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:24)

Did you notice how ‘Money’ in the passage above is capitalized? That’s what debt does – it capitalizes money. My world only has room for one capital letter – ‘G’. Total strangers will just have to think less of me and old Betsy.

*****

I hope this letter is completely irrelevant to you. I hope the only debt you have is ‘the continuing debt to love one another.’ I hope you spell money with a little ‘m’.

But if you are in debt – for a car, a sofa, the kid’s teeth or even your house; make a plan to get out. No one can serve two masters. Getting out of debt may seem impossible from where you’re at right now, but it’s not. You can start with baby steps. Elaine and I are big Dave Ramsey fans. Dave Ramsey, if you haven’t heard of him, is the best guy around for helping people get out of debt – one baby step at a time. More importantly, Dave serves one Master, and he’s not afraid to tell people about Him. You can find out about Dave at www.daveramsey.com.

For me, it’s not about the money – it’s about who I owe. Who I owe is who I serve – and I’m already spoken for.

“The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7)

Tags: money · possessions · success · Thriving in Tough Times

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