Does It Pay to Go Into Debt?
“NEVER spend your money before you have it.” Since going into debt is for many people a way of life today, does this advice given by former U.S. president Thomas Jefferson sound old-fashioned?
In many lands wages remain low in comparison with prices, and inflation eats away savings. Also, the economic climate affects people’s sense of values. Yet, honesty is important. Because such things as cheating on taxes and failing to repay debts are widespread, it is indeed a challenge to maintain a good conscience. No wonder, then, that the economy is often the talk of the day, and stories on saving or making money abound in newspapers and magazines and on television as people try to figure out how to deal with economic complexities. At the same time, you are rightfully concerned about how to provide for yourself and your family.—1 Timothy 5:8.
Since relatively few people enjoy economic stability, what can you do to avoid hardships for your family? For one thing, there is a vital lesson to keep in mind.
Avoid Too Much Debt
Why do some go into debt? Borrowing is not always due to a dire situation, such as illness. The desire to possess certain material things may be very strong. On the other hand, the inducement to go into debt may not in itself be wrong. In fact, it may be better to pay a mortgage on a house than to pay rent, or it may be necessary to buy a car. A breadwinner wants his family to be happy. He wants to be a success as a husband and father. Likely, he feels that his family is entitled to enjoy many of the material things that others possess.
Admittedly, it may be tempting to borrow money to purchase a desired but nonessential item. Acquiring things makes one feel good, does it not? Who does not enjoy a beautiful dress, a new pair of shoes, or even something like a brand-new car? And who would not like to have a more attractive home? Yet, beware! Businessmen can be persuasive, and a lot of money is made selling items to people who do not need them and cannot afford them.
Remember, too, that keeping up on payments can cause a strain on family relationships. Disagreement and bitterness may result. Playwright Henrik Ibsen was right when he said: “Home life ceases to be free and beautiful as soon as it is founded on borrowing and debt.” If you do not make your payments on time, your good name may be tarnished. Since it is much easier to spend the borrowed money than to pay it back with interest, many discover that what they bought does not bring the joy they had anticipated.
Commonly, governments persist in borrowing more and more, increasing their interest payments. Although this may be normal, why imitate the debt-ridden nations? Rather than creating riches for the people, too much debt can increase poverty and insecurity. As a Danish proverb puts it, “it is hard to pay for bread that has been eaten.”
Happily, stress due to the burden of debt decreases greatly when you learn to spend wisely. So take the time to plan your shopping carefully to avoid pressures to borrow. Even in countries with hyperinflation, there are ways to save money—by shopping for bargains and by buying only necessities. It requires living within your means, being willing to wait or to do without.
Ask yourself: Will my going into debt cause hardship for my family? What about my reputation if I cannot repay the loan? It may take a long time to be trusted again! In this regard, practical, solid counsel is available. Why not examine the Bible to see whether it can help you and your family to deal with the matter of debt?
Can the Bible Help You?
Most important, the Bible can help all of us to cultivate implicit trust in Jehovah. Surely we need help in these “times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1) We are admonished: “Let your manner of life be free of the love of money, while you are content with the present things. For he has said: ‘I will by no means leave you nor by any means forsake you.’ So that we may be of good courage and say: ‘Jehovah is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5, 6) How vital it is to develop strong faith in God as our Provider!
Although the Bible does not tell each person how to make a living, it does provide sound guidelines. Jesus Christ urged his listeners to care first for their spirituality: “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need.” (Matthew 5:3) We are also told to set goals: “Make it your aim to live quietly and to mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we ordered you; so that you may be walking decently as regards people outside and not be needing anything.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11, 12) To live quietly and enjoy a measure of tranquillity, does it not require living within our means?
God’s Word can help us to adjust our thinking. The writer of Proverbs showed a balanced viewpoint in requesting of God: “Give me neither poverty nor riches. Let me devour the food prescribed for me, that I may not become satisfied and I actually deny you and say: ‘Who is Jehovah?’ and that I may not come to poverty and I actually steal and assail the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:8, 9) So do not feel ashamed if you have to get along with a little less, at least temporarily. Never let your happiness depend on material things, as many do, comparing themselves with others or unduly worrying about material possessions.—Matthew 6:31-33.
In addition, the Bible can help you to cultivate good habits. Learn to be thrifty without being stingy, finding satisfaction in the things you can afford. If you are a youth, do not expect to get instantly what adults have obtained by years of work. Avoid being enslaved by materialism. Aptly, the Bible warns us about, not money, but “the love of money,” saying: “Those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and ruin. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.” (1 Timothy 6:9, 10) How essential that you recognize the difference between what you really need and what you merely want!
Do you feel, however, that your income is too low? True, it is not easy to bear privations without becoming frustrated. Nevertheless, be willing to go without some nonessentials rather than going into debt for them, which may cause you heavy burdens and even financial loss. Plan carefully, and be economical. You may get practical suggestions by talking with an experienced friend. Would it help to learn a new skill? Remember: Following Bible principles, putting spiritual matters first, and trusting fully in Jehovah are vital—whatever the circumstances.—Philippians 4:11-13.
Yes, going into debt may not pay. It has been said: “A man in debt is caught in a net.” The burden of debt can be damaging to family life, health, and spirituality. Debt may make the borrower even more poor. Says Proverbs 22:7: “The rich is the one that rules over those of little means, and the borrower is servant to the man doing the lending.” Hence, avoid unnecessary debt. We can still benefit from the principle involved in what the apostle Paul recommended to Christians: “Do not you people be owing anybody a single thing, except to love one another; for he that loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.”—Romans 13:8.
Regardless of the condition of the economy in your country, look forward confidently to God’s new world. Soon mankind will no longer be divided into lenders and borrowers. Under God’s Kingdom, no one will be poor. Jehovah’s promise will come true: “He will deliver the poor one crying for help, also the afflicted one and whoever has no helper. He will feel sorry for the lowly one and the poor one, and the souls of the poor ones he will save.” (Psalm 72:12, 13) Rather than struggling merely to survive, earth’s inhabitants will then “find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.”—Psalm 37:11.
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Painting by Gilbert Stuart. Courtesy Bowdoin College Museum of Art/Dictionary of American Portraits/Dover
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Going heavily into debt can put a strain on your marriage