When I got married, I had never heard of saving money, being frugal (although I did know about finding old furniture and fixing it up), or in any way living within one’s means.
Or if I had, I certainly wasn’t paying attention. And I married someone who basically couldn’t say no to his little spoiled brat of a wife, and anyway, I’m not all that sure he knew anything either.
So it’s not surprising that we got into debt.
For many years we struggled. I won’t say it’s over. Along the way I learned some lessons the tough way — like, you are in so deep it’s no longer about a budget, it’s about not having any money at all to buy anything. Sometimes it wasn’t too bad, but sometimes it was bad, like eighteen months of no steady job starting the day after baby #6 was born…
So yes, I’ve regretted every dumb meal out (not the fun ones though), every shopping spree, every stupid purchase we’ve ever made. I’ve wept over some big choices too, even though at the time they might have seemed like good ideas.
I’ve read a lot of books, articles, and blog posts about getting out of debt, and they have been very helpful. Sometimes, though, they veer into a strange land, theologically.
They start to make it sound something like this: You’ll never be happy if you are in debt; you aren’t doing God’s will if you are in debt; even, and not in so many words, mind you — your salvation can be gauged by whether you are solvent.
But I have to say there are worse things than being in debt. Here are a few (addressed to you, wife and mother):
1. Worse than being in debt is losing your peace.
Now, some might say that you lose your peace because you are in debt, and the good Lord knows I have been there. But today, this very moment, the situation I’m in is God’s will for me when I’m doing my best and sorry for my bad choices, as the mommies at the park say.
Everyone experiences adversity. It’s called being human. For some people that adversity takes the form of being in debt. The main thing is to keep your peace, to know that God is taking care of each of us, and to remember to trust Him to provide.
Do you use being in debt as an excuse not to trust God? That would be worse even than being in debt!
2. Worse than being in debt is not realizing how much good comes out of a real struggle.
We all know that St. Paul said, “My strength is made perfect in weakness” — but we don’t like to think that it will work if the weakness is of our own making, or, for that matter, whatever the present challenge is.
If God sees fit to try us by the adversity of being in debt, we can’t wriggle out of meeting the test by thinking that it’s our own fault we’re in the fight at all. Whatever. Whatever the fight is, external, internal, our own making, a bolt from heaven, we should see all the good things that come from it.
What real benefits do you have from not having enough money? I bet if you really thought about it you would see many, including, possibly, learning patience with ourselves for being idiots.
3. Worse than being in debt is not having a baby because you think you don’t have enough money.
See #1, and trust in God.
There might be reasons for not getting pregnant — I think I used to think there are more than I now do.
But not having money is not one of them. If you are reading this, you have enough money.
There is only a limited amount of time in which you can have a child, no matter what you might think now that you are in the midst of it. Thirty years from now you won’t be thinking about the bills you had to pay.
Do you know what the Bible calls riches?
In thirty years you will be telling yourself that you should have been willing to live in a tent and eat roots and berries to have had more children.
Using debt as an excuse to postpone a baby would be what the world calls prudent and what I would say is a lack of confidence.
I know, this makes me very bossy. But really, you can get money later, but maybe not kids.
4. Worse than being in debt is getting a job to make ends meet.
Let’s be real. Let’s take all the quid pro quos as read, okay?
If you can do a few heart surgeries and rescue your family from bankruptcy, do it.
If your husband is bedridden or one semester away from a doctorate in money-making, I get it.
If you are so used to working and keeping house (and your mother and maiden aunt live with you, contributing their own retirement funds to your show) that no one really notices when you are not there, go for it.
But the rest of us are needed at home with our heads in our game.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can contribute more by leaving for work — or, if you have more than one napping baby, even working at home. The chaos, confusion, stress, childcare, carpools, and taxes are not worth it.
All that happens is that you are so frustrated with home that the center is lost — sometimes forever. In other words, you start frustrated about money and end up feeling like no one values family life as you once envisioned it because you can’t find your way to pulling it together.
It can seem like medium-aged children can be fine with this state of chaos, and for a while they will be.
But older children need very much to have order at home. By the time the need is felt, it can be too late. The habit of home making is gone, and it’s often too hard to recover while coping with the demands of older children. Their locus then becomes their peer group, with all that entails.
Don’t make the mistake of putting getting out of debt in a higher category than keeping home.
Don’t make the mistake of having a vague idea that things will run themselves without you — that’s rating yourself too low, my friend.
5. Worse than being in debt is having your husband think he’s not a good provider.
Sometimes he’s the one saying you should get a job. I’m telling you that in the end, he will feel like he’s not doing a good job protecting his family, which is the very worst thing a man can feel — much worse than being in debt — and leading to worse problems than money.
Tell him that you will do your part to be frugal and save money (and there is so much you can do!), and that you know he will figure out a way. Tell him you know he is working as hard as he can, that you admire him for it, and that you will back him up no matter what.
Tell him you don’t mind being in debt for longer if it seems there is no alternative.
It’s not the worst thing in the world to be in debt. Now go wash some plastic bags.