Over the past few years, much of the news has revolved around the economic crisis in the United States. I have opened newspaper after newspaper only to find the words “debt” and “budget” streaming across the headlines more mornings than I would have thought possible. One can conclude one of two things from these frequently reoccurring words. Either journalists are having an incredibly troublesome time finding synonyms for them, or debt and budgeting are two serious issues facing both individual Americans and our overarching political establishment.
I would venture to say most would agree that it is the latter. Debt is a financial reality for countless Americans, as well as the United States government; however, this discussion will not revolve so much around the government but the American people.
Debt could be easily be compared to a common illness that seems innocent enough—until you find yourself unable to get out of bed because it has rendered you helpless. Debt starts out a bit like that. It seems harmless enough until you receive the credit card bill at the end of the month.
Far too many individuals in the United States not only spend recklessly but spend far beyond their means. Just think about it. A grande cappuccino from Starbucks costs somewhere between $3 and $4, possibly more if you prefer soy milk or extra flavors. Now I am well aware that drinks such as these are delicious treats. With every Chai Tea Latte I consume, I feel an instant peace ensue throughout my body. That may be due to my caffeine addiction, but whatever the case may be, it would undoubtedly be more cost-effective to purchase a pound of coffee beans and brew the caffeinated beverages myself.
That is only the beginning. Consider the number of new vehicles you see driving along the highway each morning, some worth well over $50,000. That in itself could fund almost my entire college education.
I fully admit I spend money on many unnecessary buys. I love a new blouse as much as the next girl. The issue, however, is not simply buying an expensive cup of caffeine, a costly vehicle, or an overpriced top, but the combination of all these things and more.
What was the last thing you bought? Think about it. Maybe you really did need it. I understand trips to the grocery store can become expensive; there are specific prescriptions that are necessary for the health and well-being of certain individuals. The car has to be filled up with gas. Your children have to have warm coats and boots to wear during the winter season. But what could you cut back on?
A couple of years ago I asked my dad how so many people could afford to buy new cars so frequently. He replied with a simple answer I will never forget: “Well, honey, they can’t.”
At first this comment startled me. Then how the heck are they buying them? He had one word for me. Debt.
Unfortunately, many individuals have grown to believe debt is completely permissible. Perhaps they hope it will magically disappear one day with lottery winnings or something of the sort. But debt can be detrimental—not because it is unethical or immoral but because it can become a hindrance to the lives of those who suffer from it.
Obviously there are certain circumstances in which being in debt may be necessary. I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy a house or have necessary surgery or go to college. Things such as these are crucial; however, because we all have crucial things in life that require money, we must be much more careful when spending money on things we don’t truly need.
I may have been extraordinarily brainwashed into my passion about the importance of financial budgeting. My father is quite budget-inclined. So much so that my twin sister and I do not have cars at college. I live in a sorority house with 87 girls. I am the only one of 87 who does not have a car. At first it was quite irritating and sometimes can be somewhat overwhelming when I am in desperate need of an escape from the madness. But I know his intentions are pure in that he is teaching my sister and me to buy only the things we need and can afford. And while not having a vehicle at hand can become a tad bit frustrating at times, I am confident that whenever I purchase my first vehicle—debt free—it will be liberating.
I am very fortunate that my parents have instilled such wise financial advice into my sister and me; however, a majority of college students my age have not been blessed with the same wisdom. Unfortunately, many undergraduate institutions do not offer classes which teach the importance of personal monetary budgeting. Obviously there are plenty of financial planning courses offered for business majors, but this is something that is necessary for every undergraduate to know.
Personal financial planning classes should be required. Students must learn to make budgets for themselves, how to invest, and most importantly, how to save. The rainy days will always come—usually at the most inopportune moments. But if you are prepared and have money saved, those moments will not be anywhere near as painful as they would be if you had nothing saved whatsoever. I’m not exactly sure what such courses would look like, but I do know that individuals preparing to enter the workforce would greatly benefit from understanding the importance of living debt-free lives.