So I’m sitting here on Facebook, looking at cats and babies and trolls, and I notice my sidebar ad has this adorable picture of a newborn, with that cute little surprised face babies make where their mouth makes a perfect O. It catches my attention: well played, ad. But then I read the title below: “Need Help With Law School Debt?”
Now, here’s what probably happened. They probably had a slough of attention-grabbing stock photos (like cats and babies and possibly even trolls) that would catch your eye enough to get you reading the ad, and they just cycled them randomly through the ads. Doesn’t matter if it’s relevant – it gets you reading the material, right?
But here’s what happened in my brain: Oh, a baby! I love babies! (Glance at the baby in the bassinet next to me, making sure he’s still sleeping soundly.) I wonder what they’re selling. … Law school. No, wait – not law school. Debt management. For law school. The internet thinks my firstborn son came out of the womb with a financial payment plan for all the crippling debt he’s already acquired from a law school program he hasn’t entered yet. Wow, internet. You have such aspirations for my son.
And this got me thinking – I know the internet doesn’t think my son has crippling debt. But most people think we do. My husband has put “debt-free” on his resume, and it’s been the most impressive part of his job interviews. When we told people my son was due in January, they immediately told us to “hurry up” so we could get a tax break. We frequently refuse credit card offers from our bank tellers, and when we tell them we’re planning on getting by without a line of credit, they stare at us like one of us just sprouted a tumor on our head that looks the spitting image of Jaleel White. Being debt-free is not only uncommon, it’s unheard of. Debt is so normal in this society that going without a credit card is like going without pants.
It’s completely possible, though. My husband and I both have Bachelor’s Degrees from a major university. We have zero debt. He had a trust fund, and I had help from family, friends, scholarships, and a constant part-time job. When we got married, we got help from my family, and didn’t overspend. We didn’t go into debt for a honeymoon. My husband bought a used car from his parents, with the money he already had. And while we’re applying for – and would really appreciate – Medicaid’s help with our bills from my son’s birth, we’ve kept enough money in savings that we could pay the bills ourselves in a few months if we need to.
We rent a small apartment, because that’s what we can afford. We eat out occasionally, and usually stick to fast-food or just a step up from that. We shop at secondhand stores. And you know what? Nobody notices. Ethan goes to work in secondhand slacks and nice (but cheap) white shirts, and he looks just like anybody else would (but with a red beard). It’s not a huge sacrifice.
When we decide to buy a house, we plan to buy it outright. If we can’t find a way to save up that much money, we may simply continue to rent. If we find a house we really want to buy, we’ll discuss alternative payment plans with our lender.
I’m not harping on those paying off debt. What I am harping on is the peculiar modern notion that it’s “responsible, adult behavior” to spend more than you earn. This is how the Great Depression happened, people. If you’re working on your student debt, keep going. I’ll cheerlead that effort. But if you’re using your credit card because your weekly paycheck isn’t enough to fund your Starbucks addiction… check that. In the meantime, I’m going to keep laughing at people when they ask how I survive without a credit card.
With money. That’s how I do it. I use money. ♦