I’ve been reading a lot about the psychology of money and why we spend the way we do. It’s a fascinating subject that has led me to think about the reasons we got into the debt problem we’re in – and the reasons we want to get out of it now. I’ve identified a few motivators that aren’t good ones, and some motivators that are. (This is by no means an exhaustive list.)
While guilt can be a good short-term motivator, it’s not a good long-term one. Guilt is exhausting, not energizing. It can be a good catalyst for change, but it doesn’t give you the determination to change your mindset and way of life. This is definitely a “negative” motivator – it tells you what you SHOULDN’T be doing, while not really telling you what you SHOULD do.
Because you think life will be easier
Maybe “less complicated” is a better word than “easier.” When I start to think about investing, saving for retirement, college planning, it truly makes my brain hurt. Lots of things about having money will not be easier when our debt is paid off. Instead of just “paying the bills,” we will actually have to start making some decisions about our finances.
So you can buy more stuff
This one is so tempting. We’re already building a list entitled, “As Soon As We Get Out of Debt, We Are Going To…” So far we’re up to about $20,000. Okay, so that’s a slight exageration… It doesn’t take long, though, to realize if you spend all the money you wanted to spend, you’ll be right back in the same mess you started out in! (I didn’t really mean for that to rhyme, but maybe it’s catchy…)
So you’ll look better to your friends
I like this one. I’d like to look successful. Notable. Efficacious. (Can you tell I’m looking up synonyms for “successful?” Not sure I even know what “efficacious” means…) But the favor of others can never be a good motivator for major life decisions. For one thing, popularity is fleeting (as any high-schooler can tell you). For another, people never think about you as often as you think they do. I promise.
So you can get more credit
This is so obviously stupid it shouldn’t bear mentioning. BUT…we’ve done it. How’s that for transparent? We’ve never had all of our credit cards paid off, but we did get close once earlier in our marriage, and then got lazy, or greedy, or just tired. Whatever the reason, that debt started to slowly creep back up. I’m willing to bet we’re not the only ones who have done this. (Just maybe the only ones willing to lay it out on the internet for the whole world to see.) Until our mindset completely changed this fall, credit has always been a “backup plan” for us. Which made it a sure thing that we would be using it. The only way to prevent this from happening is by changing your mindset: No credit. Period.
So why should you get out of debt?
If I had to choose only one reason to get out of debt, this would be it. Because it encompasses EVERY OTHER REASON that exists.
If you have no debt, you have the freedom to give.
If you have no debt, you have the freedom to invest – in retirement, college savings, wealth-building.
If you have no debt, you don’t have to worry about payments to someone else, interest rates, credit scores.
Whether you’re looking for a spiritual reason, a practical reason, or an emotional reason, it’s all summed up in that one word: Freedom.
This is what I want for my family, my kids, myself. The peace of mind that comes with knowing all of your obligations are met (and – if it’s even possible – still having money left over afterwards!). The freedom to live the life we want to live, to help others, to contriute to the many worthwhile efforts of our church and community.
Jon Acuff, on his blog, is challenging his readers to make 2012 a “Finish Year” – not just a year of starting things, planning and “resolving” – but of FINISHING. I’m working on my goals for 2012, but I already know this one: I want to finish these credit cards! I’d love to put “get out of debt,” but realistically I know that might not be possible in one year. But a very feasible goal is to pay off all of our credit card debt this year, so that’s going at the top of my list.
So what’s missing from my list? Did I miss any bad motivators, or any good ones? Let me know what you think in the comments.