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What Not to Do When You’re Addicted to Debt

by Shawanda Greene

Erasing Debt

A few days ago, after listening to The Rush Limbaugh Show, a friend called me with the answer to America’s debt problem: Oil.

Apparently, we’re sitting on a lot of it. All we have to do is sell our oil and pay off our debt. Problem solved, right? Well, let’s think about this for a minute.

Someday I might be okay with America using a nonrenewable resource that’s absolutely essential for our way of life to pay down debt. But right now, the idea scares me.

Here’s my issue. The United States is a junkie.

Some say we’re addicted to oil. I say we’re addicted to debt.

As I write this, our national debt is about $15.6 trillion dollars. That’s roughly $50K for every man, woman and child living in the United States. If you were to include all debt, e.g., national debt, student loans, credit cards, mortgages, etc., the average U.S. resident is burdened with over $180K in debt. Sadly, that figure includes the children.

We have to get our income, our expenses, or both under control before we start selling off assets.

For instance, if you were to tell me you wanted to take out a home equity loan to pay off your credit card balances, I’d ask you one basic question: How’d you find yourself in credit card debt?

Were you just a spoiled brat doped up on instant gratification?

Or was an uncontrollable event, such as a medical illness, the catalyst for your financial downfall?

If you’re an undisciplined spendthrift, you’ll borrow money on your home, pay off the credit cards, and quickly find yourself back in debt.

Keep repeating the process, and you’ll eventually run out of assets. Except then, you’re bankrupt AND homeless.

You have to deal with your addiction first.

Let’s look at another example just to nail the point home.

You probably didn’t know this about me, but I’m pro-liposuction IF you’re in tippety top physical shape and you only need to remove a little fat in trouble areas.

Why?

Because if you don’t correct your eating habits and sedentary lifestyle, you’ll gain all the weight back. Not only will you have subjected your health to the risks of surgery, but you’d have paid a large sum of cash only to find yourself right back where you started.

The quick fix is rarely the way to go.

What do you think?

Would you sell assets to pay down debt without addressing the issue that led to the debt in the first place?

Did you enjoy this article?
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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

addvodka March 26, 2012 at 9:07 AM

I think you're absolutely right; that's a quick, bandaid fix. The wound is too bit and the bandaid won't cover it all.

Reply

ImpulseSave March 26, 2012 at 12:40 PM

I think it has to happen at the same time. If we're talking about my own personal debt, I make sure I go through several steps to alleviate my debt. 1) Figure out how I ended up in debt in the first place and immediately put a strategy in place to not end up there again. 2) Evaluate my assets and see which ones it would be wise to sell off to help me get out of debt faster. 3) Make sure I don't sell off everything I have, so I have something to fall back on in case of an emergency.

I think the US Government sould probably go through a similar evaluation!

Reply

Shawanda March 27, 2012 at 3:08 PM

I like your three step process. I'll add that I wouldn't sell any important assets without changing my habits first. For instance, it's okay to sell the super duper wet vac you haven't used in five years, but you may want to hold on to your mineral rights until you can kick the recreational shopping habit.

Reply

downswithdebt March 26, 2012 at 3:09 PM

It might not be a 1-2-3 – maybe selling off assets could give you the kick-start that you need to get started and give you some positive reinforcement.

But overall I agree with you – until the mindset changes, the behaviors wont.

Reply

Shawanda March 27, 2012 at 3:12 PM

One of my friends has the bad habit of NOT paying taxes on self employment income. Every time the IRS comes a knocking she borrows money on her house. Well, at least she used to. There's no equity left in her house anymore, and she still can't seem to pay her taxes on time. I told her what would happen, but she didn't listen. *shrugs*

Reply

Jen March 26, 2012 at 8:01 PM

I think you're right on track (though I still don't go for lipo). Selling off assets to pay down debt does NOTHING for us if we're just going to continue living as we have and again build up debt. With no assets remaining, THEN what will we do?

Reply

Shawanda March 27, 2012 at 3:20 PM

Okay this has nothing to do with personal finance, but my inner thigh fat is so frickin' stubborn. It's the last to leave my body when I'm losing weight. You could see my rib cage and the inner thigh fat would still just hang in there. So, I'm not ruling out lipo just yet.

Now back to money. What I find particularly unfortunate are the instances in which a spendthrift inherits assets that someone else worked hard and sacrificed for only to lose them. One of my friend's neighbors house recently burned down. The home actually belonged to his mother. The only responsibility the neighbor had was to pay the homeowner's insurance. He didn't do that! Now the house is destroyed and there's no money to fix it up.

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YFS March 27, 2012 at 2:03 PM

I agree with you 100%. If you do not address the problems, bad habits or issues which got you into debt in the first place you will repeat the process. I don't know how many times my friends called me to ask. "You think I should file bankruptcy?" I ask them, how did you find yourself in the position to want to file bankruptcy and let them know that bankruptcy will not help you unless you change those bad spending habits. I guess people like quick fixes instead of looking in the mirror and realizing that nothing is easy and it will take time to change your habits.

As for the liposuction. I'm all for that too.. but something is so satisfying about working hard and getting those trouble areas in check. Just like our debt problem wouldn't be more satisfying to say.. I turned things around because I got my spending under control and exercised some discipline?

last but not least.. I'm thinking you should up your blog about 4-5x a week :-)

Reply

Shawanda March 27, 2012 at 3:29 PM

I'm amazed at how comfortable some people are with filing for bankruptcy. You'd think one time would be enough!

The thing about habits is that they take a long time to develop. A lot of people get frustrated with their circumstances or themselves before they kill the bad habit. When you yourself are the problem, you can't get rid of yourself. You'll always be around to screw things up again. So even if you get rid of the symptoms (debt) of your problem (you), your symptoms (debt) will continue to crop up because the problem (you) hasn't gone anywhere

As for updating the ol' blog 4 to 5 times a week, I dunno. It's hard enough to come up with 3 decent posts. But I'm glad you want to read my writings more often. :D

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@chase_dream April 1, 2012 at 2:28 PM

Hi Shawanda,

I have included this post at my site's weekly roundup

thanks,
Karunesh http://www.chase-a-dream.com

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