The statistics are stunning. According to a recent Washington Post article, the majority of Americans with 401(k)-type savings accounts are accumulating debt faster than they are setting aside money for retirement. While the amount varies, it has also been found that the average credit card debt per U.S. household is around 3,364 (Source: Federal Reserve) along with an average mortgage debt of $149,925 per household and average student loan debts of more than $26,000. In total, American consumers owe more than 856.9 billion in credit card debt and more than 11 trillion in debt overall.
Meanwhile, our culture and the media continue to urge us to spend beyond our means to buy even more! As a result, we are steeped in a buy now, pay later mentality, with little thought given to financial consequences down the road. It seems everywhere we turn; we are bombarded with ads that attack our self-esteem or body-image if we don’t purchase the latest and greatest anti-aging creams, automobiles, or outfits. “Retail therapy” has become a popular term of our time in which we seek to spend ourselves happy. Beyond this, there is the ongoing barrage of credit card solicitations and endless parade on online shopping sites where one can easily purchase everything from major appliances to trips abroad without even leaving our homes.
A recent survey among our youth (ages 18-34) showed that 60% said they were jealous of celebrities and other public figures whose lifestyles are glamorized by television shows such as Rich Kids of Beverly Hills, Real Housewives and Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Of course, I don’t’ need to go into detail about our national debt which now tops more than 17 trillion dollars and continues to grow by nearly 2.5 billion a day!
Is it any wonder that so many of us find ourselves in debt? Of course, it can’t all be blamed on external pressures. We must look a hard look at ourselves, our spending habits, our lack of control, our priorities, and our ability to identify needs verses wants. We know that debt leads to depression, low self-esteem, failed marriages, health problems, hopelessness, and despair.
Yet, God wants us to be debt free! In fact, he calls us to be debt free! He wishes us to be free from the shackles of debt and the psychological ramifications it has on our minds and spirits. Not only does he want us debt free, he in fact, wants us to prosper, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). God also discourages us from getting into debt in the first place and warns of its dangers in Proverbs 22:7, “The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is servant to the lender.” This clearly states, we are in a form of bondage to our lenders until our debt is paid in full.
So what can we do in our own lives to get our debt under control or make sure we don’t go into debt again? The bible offers some solid advice to guide and direct us. First the bible emphasizes we develop a realistic budget to make sure we can afford our purchases. As we all know, we can easily get in over our heads financially by making even one purchase that is more than what we can afford. The Gospel of Luke emphasizes this – “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish” (Luke 14:28-30). In prayer then, ask God if what you want is really something you actually need. After all, God has promised to meet our needs, but not necessarily our wants, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31-33). In my own life, I’ve prayed over significant purchases and have on occasion waited 24 hours to think about them. More often than not, I’ve discovered I didn’t really “have to have” what I thought I wanted and was later glad I didn’t make the purchase after all.
Ultimately, we must gain control over ourselves when it comes to our spending habits and also teach our children to do the same. Enlisting God’s help along with creating a budget to keep us from the temptations of overspending can go a long way in keeping out of financial hot water. Sometime a health crisis, emergency home repairs, or natural disasters cause us to go into debt through no fault of our own. Yet, in this case, it is the same. We must do everything we can to pay down our debt and never lose hope that God will continue to provide for us as we work our way out of our debt crisis. We can trust that God will show us the way and offer ways to move beyond it, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you” (Psalms 32:8). Most of all, we must never lose hope nor give into despair in the face of that which seems insurmountable, recognizing that the circumstances of today do not define our tomorrow’s and that God has plans for us that are so much greater.
In a culture where material possessions and status are more important than character, we must strive to keep God in the center of our hearts amid all the consumerism and temptations to over spend. To this end, Pope Francis recently offered advice saying, “The world tells us to seek success, power and money. God tells us to seek humility, service and love.” We know that it took time to get into debt and it will take time to get out of it. So if you find yourself in debt, be patient! Have faith and don’t despair! God is in the midst of your debt crisis and working with you as you work toward your financial freedom!