The Road to Debt
There are four common causes of problem debt. They're somewhat overlapping, and they're shared by all kinds of people, regardless of race, religion, social status, and so on. In other words, you may see yourself in more than one category. The causes are:
- A lack of discipline.
- A lack of contentment.
- A search for security.
- A search for significance.
Lack of Discipline
Based on my professional experience, I've concluded that most people who find themselves drowning in consumer debt are there because of a lack of self-discipline. Most of these people don't even realize they're overspending, because the one thing that will cure the problem a budget is anathema to them.
Being self-disciplined means making the right decisions consistently. Some people are just naturally more self-disciplined than others because of their personalities, and some have learned self-discipline over time. Because of what self-discipline is, how it's learned, and how it's applied on a daily basis, there are many ways to acquire it, but the ultimate decision is up to you.
Lack of Contentment
A lack of discipline may be caused by a lack of contentment. The problem could be stated this way: If I lived someplace else, had something else, or did something else, I would be content. But contentment is really a choice.
Many things cause discontent. Reading and believing ads is a common cause. Another is browsing in shopping malls, which can raise your level of discontent to the point that it becomes almost impossible not to yield to the temptation to buy. It's the same as putting a drink in front of an alcoholic. Not surprisingly, the level of personal debt and the amount of time people spend in front of the television and in shopping malls have both increased dramatically in the last 30 years.
Contentment is found by understanding and accepting a few important truths: More lasting joy is found by nurturing relationship with friends and loved ones than by buying things. It is much healthier to focus on what we have than on what we don't. Contentment is also a spiritual issue. Replacing an "I want" attitude with an "I'm grateful for what I have" attitude begins in the heart.
Search for Security
A couple in the Northeast inherited a large sum of money a few years ago. The wife spent almost the entire inheritance buying and then decorating a new home. She was searching desperately for the security of a home that she never experienced as a child. Having almost depleted their small fortune, the couple seemed to think that borrowing was the only way they could maintain their lifestyle.
Men often evidence a search for security by their desire to participate in get-rich-quick schemes. I've seen many people compromise their standards and good judgment to try to quickly achieve the "financial independence" they think will make them secure. But being able to earn even hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by exploiting others will never provide ultimate security.
Search for Significance
The drive for significance is another reason people make foolish financial decisions. In my observation, this is more of a male problem than a female problem.
As a man, I can readily identify with the drive for significance. Unfortunately, men often attempt to achieve significance through investments, businesses, possessions, and sexual conquests. They also try to meet this need through heavy borrowing, which threatens the security of their wives. As has been said, "The only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys."
After I spoke to a group of clients on one occasion, a former client who had been invited to the dinner approached me. He asked if I knew anyone who could lend him some money, because he was on the verge of bankruptcy. This was quite a turn-around for him since he had retired financially secure from a large corporation.
Following retirement, he had started a new business both to occupy his time and to give him an ongoing sense of worth. The business had done well, which encouraged him to speculate in undeveloped land and other real-estate investments using large amounts of borrowed money. Then the economy in his area turned down, and his real-estate deals soured. His drive for significance through investments destroyed his previously secure financial position.
Both security and significance are legitimate needs. Likewise, the problems of lack of discipline, of contentment, of security, and of significance are timeless. They just happen to manifest themselves in our culture through getting into debt because of the ease of borrowing.
Questions and Answers
StoriesIf you've been through a experience related to this topic, we invite you to share your story with others.
Share Your Story
Other Things to Consider
Relationships: Communication Gaps
Parenting Teens: Communication Problems