It's easy to think the American lifestyle is frivolous. If you turn on your television, you're bombarded with ads and reality shows from the extremely rich who can afford a lavish lifestyle. Heck, a whopping 80% of Americans have some form of debt. That statistic may be jarring at first, but what—are people never supposed to drive a car, go to college, or own a home?
Living a debt-free life is ideal, but it's far from reality for most people. Despite this, there's a population of people who are legitimately afraid to spend money.
"I'm going to do something a little wild and explain why some debt is a good thing."
Now, there's a difference between being naturally thrifty and afraid to spend money. If you're in your 20s and just starting out, you're usually not just afraid of spending money—you simply don't have any! We're not talking to you. We're talking to those of us who flat-out deny ourselves life's simple pleasures to save money out of fear that everything will go away one day. If that sounds like you, stick with us here. I'm going to do something a little wild and explain why some debt is a good thing.
Yes, you should be responsible with your money. Yes, you need to save for retirement and sock money away in your emergency fund. But what good is being alive if you can't enjoy some simple pleasures?
Fear of spending money is not only bad for your mental and emotional health, but it can also be detrimental to your credit history and, ultimately, your finances. Let me explain in two scenarios.
Scenario No. 1 : Prioritizing Saving Above All Else
You're afraid to diminish your savings, so you finance anything and everything to the fullest extent. You put a small down payment on a car instead of a larger one that would lower your monthly payment. You put large expenses on credit cards and pay them off slowly.
These mistakes can cost you thousands of dollars in interest. Sure, you have a lot of cash on hand, but what does that matter when you are literally throwing money away when you don't have to? Financing everything also means you could have a higher debt-to-income ratio, meaning eventually, the money train will run out. You could be seen as risky business to a lender who could charge you more interest or deny your loan outright.
Scenario No. 2: Terrified of Debt
You won't finance anything, meaning you don't have any credit history when you want to buy a home or car.
My grandparents are a perfect example of this. Both grew up very poor in Mississippi and Alabama. My grandpa served in the Army for 20 years and later managed a Chrysler plant when he retired from the service. My grandma didn't work while her husband was overseas, but she eventually went back to work when he retired from the Army. They paid for every car in cash and even paid off their mortgage in 15 years instead of 30. They stockpiled bonds, but other than that, they didn't have much cash and certainly had no credit, except their mortgage.
"A good credit history is a safety-net, giving you access to affordable credit when you need it"
Perfectly responsible, right? But as they got older, their credit union's financial adviser told them they had to build-up credit for emergencies. They each got a credit card and now they manage their credit well, but think about how badly that scenario could have gone for them if something unexpected happened that they hadn't saved for and they couldn't get approved for a simple loan because of a lack of a credit history?
This happens to a lot of people with little or no credit history, and it oftens leaves them prey to predatory lenders. A good credit history is a safety-net, giving you access to affordable credit when you need it. But to build it up, you actually have to, you know, spend and responsibly manage it.
Have you recently overcome the fear of spending? Tweet us your story @MoneyMix.