I’ve enjoyed many hiking and camping trips since I was a young child. Walking through the forest, listening to the sounds of wildlife and seeing the sun gleaming through the trees, I’ve had a chance to appreciate the beauty and creativity of our Father’s world. Occasionally, my hikes have become extended for a bit longer than I was planning on, due to an underestimation of how long a climb might take or a casual disregard for things like maps and compasses….
Oblivious to the Peril
The funny thing about getting lost is that you don’t realize you’re about to get yourself in trouble until you suddenly realize that you are in trouble! On a certain camping trip with a buddy of mine in Arizona, we hiked out into the desert loaded with many gallons of water. We found a good site, set our provisions down, and trotted off in search of a good “sitting log” to place beside the firepit. We found a good one a short while later, and began carrying it back to our campsite. At first, we thought it was pretty funny that our campsite was taking so long to get to. “Strange how it only took us 10 minutes to find this log, but we’re taking 20 minutes to carry it back,” we laughed. Slowly we realized that we were actually lost, and we’d been walking for so long because we didn’t know where we’d left our jackets and water!
A few hours later, tired and thirsty, we found our campsite as the sun finally set. This set us up for a cold night (the coldest night of my life, in fact), since we’d wasted our afternoon and now had only a half-built shelter. But we were thankful at least for the jackets and water that we had nearly lost.
This story is an example of how we can be walking along unaware, and suddenly find ourselves in an overwhelming situation. We were too confident that we wouldn’t get lost, and by the time we recognized our precarious position, it was too late.
Common Financial Dangers
In a similar way, we can tend to be very blasé with debt in America today. We look around at our friends and neighbors, and many of them have student loans. Everyone’s got a mortgage, and some debt on their cars. And of course we’ve all got to have our credit cards! But even though we all know that people get trapped and pulled under by debt, we mistakenly think that this can never happen to us.
Confident of our ability to keep our debt in control, we walk right along the edge of a financial cliff. We buy a nice big house, great new cars, and a brand new living room set—all on payments. At the end of the month, we’ve got $25 leftover after all the credit payments are made, and we think, “All right! Everything’s going great!” But then comes something unexpected, and all of a sudden we’re $175 under instead. No big deal, we think, “I’ll just pay the minimum credit card payment this month, then get everything cleaned up next month.” But again, something unexpected comes, and now the balance we carried last month is compounding on us. On and on it goes, and the debt pulls us down deeper and deeper.
Recognize the Trap
This story has sadly happened to too many people who are able to escape only through a long and painful bankruptcy. If you’re fighting this now, know this: many have overcome this situation through wise money management, hard work, and tenacity. If you’re still dabbling with debt and don’t think this could ever happen to you, think again. Banks are not evil, but they are concerned with making money, not ensuring that you keep your head above water. Knowing what you can afford and what you cannot is your responsibility, and you owe it to your family and to God to manage the money He’s given you wisely.
The most reliable way to make sure that you can afford something is to simply buy only with cash (or debit cards/checks). The one exception might be a mortgage on a 15-year fixed rate with the monthly payment of 25% of your take-home pay, which can be a reasonable debt, provided that you have a substantial down payment. And some financial experts would contend that there are a few other “reasonably safe” debts as well, but use these very carefully. It is much easier to lose your way than you think. Decide instead to take control of your financial life by eliminating debt and paying with cash. The confidence and freedom that come with becoming debt-free will serve you well on your path to a thriving life.