One of the great threats to financial freedom is debt. It handcuffs the young, increasing stresses that come naturally from beginning careers and building families. It burdens those in their greatest earning years, eliminating desirable options from life’s choices. It prevents seniors from pursuing the dreams and passions they envisioned over the years.
One of the better questions we can learn to ask concerning major purchases is, “Can I (we) afford the payment?” If we learn early how to ask this question, establishing our own parameters of affordability, we can avoid the adverse consequences from some questionable decisions. Unfortunately, “I can afford the payment” is a double edged sword that must be used carefully.
Improperly framed, this question may lead us into building debt burdens and encountering financial pressure we never wanted. If the question of affordability is asked with the motivation to justify a purchase, we may easily respond positively when the better choice would be to say, “NO!”
We can prevent the loss of financial freedom 1) by understanding and rejecting our penchant to justifying our preconceived conclusions AND 2) by identifying some of the financial land mines that typically cause problems. We have already touched on the former and we will now examine just four financial land mines that unquestionably threaten our financial freedom.
The first land mine to avoid is building student debt. This issue received significant focus in the recent past. Lately it has faded from view. Student loan interest rates nearing historic lows (https://cnb.cx/2Kg7ufQ) and the growing pressure for forgiving student loans (https://politi.co/2XRTAsm) helps cultivate a “Why worry?” attitude. The wise choice is not to fall into the trap of indifference. Student debt severely restricts financial freedom in the early career and family years, because monthly debt payments begin shortly after the cap and gown are folded away.
A second land mine to avoid is affluence creep. This pothole is illustrated by the urge to purchase a larger, more well-appointed home than is needed with less than a 20% down payment. We may well conclude, “We can afford the payment” of the nicer house in the upscale neighborhood, but the higher payment and lower equity mean the interest expense is greater. The risks of this decision are normally greater than the rewards offered.
Creeping affluence also creates a third land mine, the urge to purchase a new car when a well maintained pre-owned vehicle would increase affordability and be equally serviceable. Salespeople are trained to “up sell” customers to a vehicle that is newer and has more options. This is not sinister. It is normally because the new car, the more expensive car, has a greater profit margin. The higher priced car may offer a payment that one can afford. However, the question now should be, “How much can we save each month with a lower payment?” The savings from a lower payment may enable someone to purchase the next auto with cash, resulting in even greater financial freedom.
The fourth (and final for this post) land mine to be avoided is the temptation to purchase anything on credit, because “We can afford the payment!” We are tempted to buy the nicer birthday present, give the kids something everyone else has, take the vacation we cannot afford, and much more because payments seem so easy. Unfortunately, without realizing the growth of the payments, we soon find ourselves unable to make all the various payments on schedule. Agreeing to purchases based upon the ability to make payments moves us, almost imperceptibly, from financial freedom to financial hardship.
Here is to living financially free!