Growing up in the U.S. in this period of time has given most of us a relatively impaired view of ourselves. We grow up believing strongly in our rights, but those rights have little to do with what's allowed and a lot more to do with what we think the world owes us for merely existing.
We don't necessarily believe these things should be free, but we think a normal person who works for a living should have certain things and be able to afford to do certain things.
Yet some of the things we think we're owed end up leading us into debt -- things we might actually be able to live without. Here are a few examples:
At some point, a car went from being a long-distance transportation device to being a substitute for legs. We don't just use the car to visit relatives 30 miles away; we take it to work a couple of miles away or to the grocery store down the street.
If we find ourselves without a car, we feel trapped. We consider it to be a "fixed cost" of life, so we figure we'll just have to take out a loan to buy one. We now care more about the ownership of a car than its intended use, which was to facilitate necessary (relatively) long-distance travel. Sure, cars allow people to commute further to work, but those of us who don't actually go far for work, or don't get paid enough to make up the cost of the vehicle, might just be throwing money out the window.
Food and Health
Americans eat out more than any other people on earth, and as a result, we're also the least healthy. We think being hungry is occasion enough to go to the nearest burger joint and drop $10 for a meal that probably racks up another $10 in medical bills in the long run. Not only do we think this is acceptable, we think it's normal.
We assume that growing fresh food in the backyard is for "granolas" and gardening hobbyists. Cooking is a rare skill only held by people who studied that sort of thing, and eating vegetables is for rabbits and vegans. We demand to subsist on processed corn derivatives and pulped animals because they're "tasty." The result -- besides a food bill that's five or six times higher than that of someone who cooks their own food -- is a lifetime cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars in over-the-counter pills and more serious medical treatments for our failing livers, hearts and arteries.
Many of us spend our time at work trying to make the world more efficient. We work to make systems work better, to add new innovations, and to remove dead weight where we can.
Yet when we leave work and come home, we leave that philosophy behind. Somehow we consider things like a big-screen TV, the latest video games, cable service and an awesome sound system to be required in the same way that a dining table, chairs, and a frying pan might be. We never consider that we might better substitute things that could actually save us money, make us healthier, or help us become more competitive as employees. This is surprising since the list for such pursuits is incredibly long, including anything from playing sports to gardening to studying a foreign language or starting our own business on the side.
This is a big one -- we think going to college is our right. We don't really worry about how much it costs or how much money our degree will help us make later in life; we just sort of assume the cost will take care of itself and someone will hire us and give us lots of money for our ability to drink 15 PBRs and still flawlessly quote Voltaire.
No one bothers to consider that the four years you spent in a drunken stupor could have been spent learning a useful trade and contributing to society. As an experienced plumber, you could have a permanent job making $50,000 a year, with zero debt and a nice chunk of change already saved up in that time; yet somehow an unemployed graduate with a degree living in destitution, massive debt and with no employable skills at all has the nerve to look down on such people.
If we were to let go of our ridiculous ideas about what we're entitled to and what's "normal" for us as Americans, we could begin to shake off the shackles of our creditors. If you don't borrow money, you don't have to pay interest, which is why the quickest way to debt-free living is not to take out major loans in the first place and to match your standard of living to your income (or beneath it).
Alan Brady is a passionate blogger who spends his time researching and writing about the economy, recent job market trends and business. He is currently writing for the labor lawyers locator attorneys.com. Brazen Life is a lifestyle and career blog for ambitious young professionals. Hosted by Brazen Careerist, we offer edgy and fun ideas for navigating the changing world of work -- this isn't your parents' career-advice blog. Be Brazen.