by BrijBrand Contributor, Dr. Chris Hawkins
When I was teenager, a friend of mine went out exploring one day. He wandered into the woods not too far from where we lived and came across something he had never seen before.
The next day, he told me I had to go see it. When I asked why, he replied, “It’s unbelievable.” I was puzzled how something “unbelievable” could be that close to our home.
When he told me where it was, I realized it was just off the main road that we traveled every day. For this reason, I told him I didn’t believe him. He assured me it was something that couldn’t be seen from the street but if I went around to the back side of the property, I would be at a higher position and could see it clearly.
Curious, I wandered into the woods to see for myself. When I arrived, I found it to be unbelievable, but not in the way I had expected.
What I was looking at was so large I couldn’t understand why we didn’t know about this before. Despite being shocked, there was a part of me that was upset that I had wasted my time trespassing through the woods.
A few years later, I had a similar feeling.
For years, I had been told that to win financially, I had to embrace debt.
I had seen commercials promising how credit cards would help me build credit, provide money for emergencies, and keep me from getting robbed.
Okay, I embellished the last one but that is what people think when they hear that credit cards are safer.
When buying a home, I was told a 30 year mortgage was the way to go because it would allow me to afford a bigger home in a better neighborhood.
TV commercials showed how financing was the best way to buy a car.
We were told that borrowing money for college was a “good investment.”
The banks were right.
Borrowing money to buy things now and pay for them later was unbelievable, at least that’s what I thought.
- I was able to purchase a home at age 25 with very little money down.
- My wife and I were able to buy two brand new cars. How? With debt!
- I even financed my master’s degree by borrowing over $20,000 in student loans.
- We even had multiple credit cards that we promised ourselves we would pay off every month. Of course, they were all maxed out.
I had bought into what the banks were selling. I believed debt was unbelievable. I really thought debt was a way to build wealth and prosperity.
Who needed to wait until later in life to enjoy things? It was there for the taking. All I had to do was say “YES.” I had mastered that answer.
Why did I believe that debt was unbelievable?
The banks had sold me on the idea that debt was amazing and awesome. What they didn’t tell me was they were using these words in the wrong context to confuse or manipulate me into behaving in a way that benefited them.
It wasn’t just me. They had convinced my friends and family along with our entire society that debt was cool and normal.
The message was, if we wanted to be prosperous, we had to use debt. I followed this theory for years.
One day I began to seriously think about my financial situation and I realized I wasn’t winning financially.
Over the next few years, I became increasingly frustrated with where I was financially.
One day my mind brought me back to my teenage years and my feeling of being upset that I had wasted my time wandering through the woods. Back then, I had learned that when someone describes something as “unbelievable,” it might be amazing, but it might also be something else.
Replaying the story in my mind, I could remember arriving at the spot that my friend had instructed me to find. I was high above a plot of land that was flat from the main road.
My friend was correct. It looked very different here than it did from the street. What we had driven past every day looked like woods. The only thing to suggest there had ever been anyone on the property was about 5 feet of broken driveway. The rest had been dug up and the woods had long grown over what was once the only way onto the property.
Naturally, we couldn’t see what was beyond 20 feet of trees. Standing on the back side of the property, I now saw things clearly. In front of me was an old landfill. There must have been hundreds of acres of old garbage just piled up. I did find it amazing that I had never known this was here before. But after a few moments, I realized I was just looking at a big pile of garbage. The size was unbelievable but the contents left much to be desired.
Remembering that day made me realize the truth about debt. Banks had used the right word but I had defined it in the wrong way.
I had been defining the word unbelievable the way they wanted me to define the word.
Thinking back to the landfill, I realized debt was unbelievable.
- It was unbelievable at keeping me from building wealth.
- It was unbelievable at helping me live paycheck-to-paycheck.
- It was unbelievable at keeping me from saving for emergencies or retirement.
- It was unbelievable at creating stress in my marriage.
- It was also unbelievable at building the bank’s wealth.
For years I struggled with how to reverse course. Finally, I got on track and was able to pay off all my debts except the house.
What I found then was truly unbelievable. The money I had been sending the banks for credit cards, car loans, and student loans was now mine to keep. I realized at that moment I had received a pay raise of over a thousand dollars a month.
What was most unbelievable was the peace I felt knowing I no longer owed money to the banks. I was no longer living paycheck-to-paycheck. I was now able to build wealth.
I could save for emergencies as well as car and home repairs. I could save up and pay cash for cars and vacations.
Life was truly unbelievable. I was living a life that a few years earlier I would have never believed possible.
The most important piece of advice I share with young people is to stay out of debt.
As a society, we have bought into the notion that we can’t live life without debt. Adults believe this so much that they teach their children the same thing.
Unfortunately, what happens is generations after generations march down the same path that I followed.
It all seems glorious until you realize too late that what you’ve been sold isn’t the truth. It’s hard when you see other people living what seems like an unbelievable life.
When faced with the temptation to borrow money for college, cars, boats, motorcycles, vacations, emergencies, or any other non-home purpose, I want you to realize that debt isn’t your friend. I realized this when I became debt free.
All of those previous debts weren’t just a bunch of old, payed off debt but rather a large pile of garbage.
Don’t fall for the unbelievable garbage the bank is selling you.
If you heed this advice, you won’t look back one day and realize you wasted your time building wealth for the bank.
Dr. Chris Hawkins is a financial writer, speaker, podcaster and coach who is passionate about helping people of all ages live a financially prosperous life. After turning his financial life around, he began teaching both students and adults how to send their financial problems on a permanent vacation. He is the face behind the brand Dr. Thrift, which focuses on providing both knowledge and hope for those looking to improve their financial situation.