I saw a billboard recently that deserves some comment. Over a picture of a middle-aged man in a convertible, hair blowing in the wind, were the words, “Freedom is being able to afford my mid-life crisis.” The bank that presented this ad would like to loan you the money you need so you can live your life without worry. But it’s just possible that following their advice might lead to big trouble.
I have to take every opportunity to harp on debt. Debt is not freedom. Debt is slavery. Debt is the extra weight that keeps an airplane on the ground. Debt is the extra cheeseburger that keeps you from performing your best. Debt is a suitor that promises us the moon, but delivers a dungeon. Debt builds wealth for the lender, and keeps you from building your own. We as a culture, and you and I as individuals, need to be extra vigilant that we don’t fall for the false promises debt makes to us. The truth is, without the debt, we’d be able to save enough money in a very short time to pay cash for our mid-life crises. And since we’re paying cash, we might just realize how silly the whole mid-life crisis thing is anyway.
Why does a mid-life crisis flare up, and how does spending money help soothe it? I often joke that my master plan was to conquer the world by age 30. Oops! Just missed it. So do missed goals prompt crisis? How about the realization that your goal was too lofty to begin with, and you probably will never achieve that goal? How about the oncoming train of old age? The same old job year after year? Divorce? Bankruptcy? Depression? All of these are serious issues, of course, and all of them need to be dealt with for your own health and the health of those around you. So do it. Address these issues. Don’t let them smolder just below the surface and flare up at the slightest provocation. But understand that none of these issues would be helped by digging your debt hole just a little deeper. In fact, additional debt only exacerbates the problem. Our depression, lost goals, or whatever other problems we’re facing will be more difficult to deal with if we add additional debt.
So don’t fall victim to the cultural messages that debt is the answer. You know better. Now go conquer the world.
This article originally appeared in the October 15, 2008, edition of the Greenhorn Valley View.