Originally published on February 10, 2016.
I’ve seen this picture float around the internet that says, “you weren’t born to pay bills and die”. I can see the point it’s trying to make: life is about more than working and paying bills. But, not to burst the picture’s bubble, the simple fact is that there will always be bills to pay. Unless you become the man who quit money, you are always going to have to pay for something, like utilities or a phone service. So, while I agree that you weren’t born to pay them, you will, in fact, probably always have to.
What you don’t have to do forever is live with debt. You don’t have to spend every month calculating how much you can afford to put towards debt repayment, while continuing to use credit, and staying in the never-ending cycle of borrowing money and trying to pay it back. It’s not an easy cycle to get out of; I know that firsthand. But it is a cycle that will not only control your finances, it will control your mind and your life—and our time on this planet is far too short to let debt control your life.
I don’t mean to sound morbid, but I’ve been thinking about life a lot lately—specifically, what exactly it is that I am doing with mine. When I turned 29, I began to have a sort of panic attack about turning 30, as though the number somehow marked a milestone in which I must have crossed off a certain list of goals. By the time I turned 30, I realized the numbers didn’t matter, nor did the list of goals; all that mattered was that I was doing my best and I was happy with my life—and I was, and still am today.
I can look back and tell you that I still haven’t crossed off most of the items on that imaginary 30 before 30 goal list. I still haven’t gotten a new tattoo (got all mine before age 22) or taken a painting class or pottery class. I haven’t run a half-marathon yet (accident was 6 weeks before the first one I’d signed up for) or gone bungee jumping or skydiving. And I haven’t driven across Canada or travelled to Europe yet either. But it’s ok. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t do those things before 30 or any other age.
What matters is that I wake up every morning and think, “yes, this is the life I want”. What matters is that every time I reach a crossroads, I choose the route that aligns with my goals and my values—because that’s the only way to live a life where you can wake up and think, “yes, this is what I want”.
I’ve been working on a project that has required me to take myself back 3, 5, even 10 years from now, and reflect on who I was and why I did the things I did. It hasn’t exactly been a pleasant experience; eye-opening, for sure, but not pleasant. As I worked through those memories, however, I was reminded of how drastically different my life is today—in a good way; no, a great way—and that’s because of the decisions I made when I reached certain crossroads.
The most important one was the day I finally forced myself to decide if I was going to keep drinking or not. I couldn’t have achieved any of the things I’ve written about on this blog, if I was still drinking. In fact, my guess is this blog wouldn’t even exist. I likely would’ve deleted the whole thing, in a fit of self-consciousness. (I say a “fit” because alcoholics don’t have control of their emotions, and I made a lot of hasty decisions when I was still drinking.) There is no doubt that sobriety is part of the life I want.
The second most important crossroads I’ve reached appeared on the day I decided I wasn’t going to keep using credit to float my lifestyle. You might think I got there on the day I realized I was maxed out, but that’s not true. I didn’t have a choice. I was maxed out, so I had to stop using credit. No, I reached that crossroads about 6 months later, when some of my debt was paid off and I finally had some available credit. I chose not to use it then, and I choose not to use it now. Being debt-free is part of the life I want.
We reach crossroads every single day of our lives—many of them, in fact. When you wake up in the morning, you choose to be happy or grumpy. When you walk into the kitchen, you choose if you’re going to eat something healthy or indulge in something your body probably doesn’t need. When you’re invited to hangout with friends, you choose if you’re going to go or stay at home. When you go home for the day, you choose how you’re going to spend your time.
And when you think about buying something, you reach two crossroads. The first asks if you’re going to buy it or not; the answer to that probably lies in a mini crossroads of whether it’s a need or want. The second asks if you have the money or if you’re willing to go into debt for it.
Every time you go into debt to buy something, you are making a choice. You are choosing to give up some amount of your next paycheque, your time by having to work more hours to pay it off, and your mental capacity which stores the stress and anxiety we carry when we owe money. You are also choosing to take on the physical reactions that come with carrying that stress and anxiety around. If you’ve ever been in debt, or are currently in debt, I think you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Fortunately, there is another way to live. When you reach that crossroads and decide you want to buy something, you can choose to wait until you have the money for it. You can also choose not to buy it at all—especially if it doesn’t align with your goals and values. But if you decide to get it, you can choose to wait. You can choose to pay with cash. You can choose to take the route that comes with the least amount of stress and anxiety. You can choose to not owe anyone money.
You weren’t born to pay off debt and die. You don’t have to spend every month calculating how much you can afford to put towards debt repayment, while continuing to use credit, and staying in the never-ending cycle of borrowing money and trying to pay it back. It’s not an easy cycle to get out of; I know that firsthand. But it is a cycle that will not only control your finances, it will control your mind and your life—and our time on this planet is far too short to let debt control your life.
You might get 85 years on this planet. Don’t spend 65 paying off a lifestyle you can’t afford.