Debt is a modern form of slavery. If you owe money to someone else, your time belongs to them, and you are not working for yourself or your own financial gain. Many people view debt as a means to an end or a necessary evil, but in fact debt is holding you back and preventing you from achieving your dreams. In reality, you are stealing from your future self, with interest.
I strongly believe, however, that most people don’t need financial education to get out of debt. Rather, they need to accept that they have to modify their behaviour. So I have listed the eight behaviours that get people into debt and into trouble. You need to put these behaviours behind you to achieve financial freedom.
If you have other people depending on you – whether it’s a parent, a sibling or a child – you always give them what they want and try to shield them from the reality of your financial situation. This is a surefire way to get into debt, because not only are you trying to meet your needs, you’re trying to take care of theirs as well. Most budgets don’t stretch that far, so where do you turn? Debt of course! But remember that when you start getting into debt to meet regular monthly demands, you’ll be stuck with that and more debt for many years to come.
You work hard and you make sacrifices, so you believe that you should have expensive items to show for it. But your hard work should enable your future, it shouldn’t be a justification for getting yourself into financial trouble now. If you want something, I suggest you save for it. Buying on credit is not a good reward for your hard work.
You earn, for example, R5 000 per month. But you behave like someone who earns R50 000 per month. You want so many different things, immediately. You think time is moving fast and you are missing out so you resort to taking up an amount of debt fit for someone earning ten times your salary. Stop doing that, get real and learn to live within your means.
You believe that your future will be better one day and you’ll be able to pay off your debt then. Debt is a trap, and once you are caught in the trap it’s very difficult to free yourself. Behaviour modification now is the key. If you believe that debt is a short-term solution, you will always think like that and the debt hole will just keep getting deeper. I call this the ‘debt merry-go-round’.
You take up all sorts of credit from banks, retailers and loan shops. You conveniently forget that these credit lines are not a gift, but loans that must be paid back. And at the end of the month you never ever check your bank statement to see how you have spent your money. Stop burying your head in the sand – your whole body is still exposed! Sit down and calculate exactly how much money you owe and work hard to get rid of your debt.
This sums it up. Good financial behaviour requires discipline. It’s not about spending at whatever cost. It’s about understanding your income, meeting your expenses, saving and then cautiously spending the rest. Those with no discipline adopt an “easy come, easy go” approach to money, but the truth of the matter is that money doesn’t actually come that easily. Besides, if you treat money like it doesn’t matter to you, it will treat you the same way.
Very few people have the money to buy a house or a car with cash upfront. And so you convince yourself that by buying these things on credit, you are actually making some kind of an investment. As you see it, this is good debt because in the end you have an asset. But actually, you’ll always need somewhere to live and something to drive and the value of a car depreciates the longer you drive it. Of course, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have these things, but you should be treating this debt as a liability – not an asset – simply because it’s costing you money. Pay it off as quickly as you possibly can to save yourself as much interest as possible.
You don’t think past today. All your desires and plans are expressed in the “now”. You don’t give any thought to the future, to savings, investments or to your retirement. Or if you do think about these, you put them off until some future point when you feel you’ll be able to afford them. Remember what I said about debt being a trap? If you’re not planning for your future now, it’s only going to get harder, not easier, because you’ll need more later. Consider this: if you don’t have your own goals in life, you will continue to fulfil the goals of those who have them!
Do you recognise yourself in any of these behaviours? Chances are, with 4.9 million South Africans showing signs of over-indebtedness in 2014, you did. There are many things that you can do to get yourself out of debt, which I’ll discuss in future columns, but tackling these behaviours will mean that you’re laying the foundation for a debt-free future.
Winnie Kunene is known by her followers as a money psychologist. She educates and helps people to get out of debt – and stay out! You can visit her website at winniekunene.co.za or email her on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of 1Life or its employees.