We don’t talk about these things enough. Seriously, how is there not an entire course in high school dedicated to the discussion of money management and debt?
How to Get Out of Debt, Stay out of Debt and Live Prosperously By Jerrold Mundis is, as the subheading says, “based on proven principles and techniques of Debtors Anonymous”, an organization that I was unaware existed.
I have a modest debt challenge. I didn’t read the book out of crisis–I once received a collections notice from a credit card company when I was 19 and have been quite terrified of them since, although more because of the sense of failure than anything actually terror-inducing in the collection notice. Collection agencies on the other hand are assholes. I suppose they have to be. I’ve dealt with two collection agencies in my life, both under circumstances of principle. I was wrongly sent to collections. I won one and just threw in the towel on the other.
So I’m not in a crisis, but the debt I’ve incurred as an adult is not insignificant. And the effects on my mood and general well-being are real.
It was about three months ago that I started to realize that debt was, without a doubt, going to become a limiting factor in my plans. Incurring debt isn’t always bad, especially if you have a good reason to believe that the debt can be invested in a way that produces more than you spent. This is a notion which I think Mundis would disagree with, but more about that later.
So not being on the brink of disaster, my status quo would be to let it slide until an actual disaster looms. They’ve loomed before, but I’ve never seen the fallout. In a moment of personal clarity, I realized what a shame that is. If just once, disaster was at the door and my lack of earlier motivation came and bit me in the ass, today I’d probably have a better head on my shoulders.
Instead of thinking that and then letting irony punch me in the face, I decided to act now, while there isn’t a disaster lying in wait. The world of knowledge and experience is at my finger-tips in a way that leaves public libraries embarrassed.
Without hesitation, I started googling books about debt elimination, and there was How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously, with all of its four and a half stars on Amazon. I bought the book without delay.
(With some exceptions, when I settle on a book, I often do very little research on the author or the book itself. I find it’s better not to go in with too many expectations. There’s valuable insight everywhere.)
Debtors Anonymous is a 12 step program, like AA. And with much of the same attitude. The Wikipedia page for Debtors Anonymous says, “DA’s program is intended to facilitate a progressive personality change in its members, ultimately transforming their world views and changing their behaviors.”
That’s essentially what greats readers of How to Get Out of Debt, sans any particularly numbered steps. I was honestly shocked, as I considered the first chapters of the book. I realized that there was in fact a fundamental flaw in the building blocks of my behaviors concerning money. Yes, I have incurred debt–not more than I can presently manage. But certainly more than has been truly necessary. My shocking realization: I don’t just have a debt problem. To some degree, I have a debting problem. Albeit not a crippling on–yet–but one I’d be a fool to ignore. When was the last I’d been debt free? None of my adult life. There’s something there worth considering.
Mundis begins by demystifying debt. Debt according to Mundis is, strictly speaking, unsecured. The house and car loans are not debt, in this view. They are loans that have been secured. If you don’t pay back the loan, the secured item will pay it for you, at your cost of that item; your house, your car, your boat, and so on.
Then he gets into the meat of the first part of the book, problem debting. The feelings, the warning signs, the bad habits, how those things hurt us in very real ways, but hide behind the guise of some practical reasoning. I suspect many people would find personally revealing things in these chapters, even those who aren’t struggling with debt. It’s just insightful and thought provoking. This whole section is densely packed with encouragement. He doesn’t want you to get scared and put the book down. And it’s not nonsense, his encouragements are logical and reasonable.
Into the next section, the author begins to crank the problem solving gears, and he does so delicately. As in the last chapters, leading in with heavy encouragement.
“Right now, you’re fine.”
He repeats this throughout the rest of the book, gently helping to separate the ideas of need and want in the reader’s mind. He builds a foundation of positive things to ground a “debt recovery”. You Are Not Your Bank Balance, The Cavalry Has Arrived and Debt is Nothing But a Temporary Situation. All title sections of chapter Five, the beginning of where the reader is finally encouraged to act.
“Today, create no new debt.”
Another one of Mundis’ mantras, repeated throughout the book. It’s a specialized version of “Take it one day at a time”. If every single day, a person in debt specifically chose not to take on any new debt, their debt would have only one place to go: down. It sounds like a bit of a platitude taken by itself, but means much more in the context of the entire book. Though I did feel that I was appreciating the concept more having already read books on mindfulness and meditation. I felt some attention could have been given to the practical idea of keeping your mind rested in the present moment.
Through the rest of the book, Mundis takes apart old arguments, looks at various specific kinds of situations and offers advice for adapting these methods into something useful in real life. Almost always well lined with gentle encouragement.
As I said earlier, Debtors Anonymous has an all-or-nothing attitude, similar to AA. And How to Get Out of Debt, being based on Debtors Anonymous, has much the same. I hesitate to accept that all debting is bad, and Mundis would agree, but to a lesser degree than I. Debt is always risk. A risk only becomes worth it when the reward is high enough. This was another thing I wish had received some attention. He spent quite a lot of time dealing with problem debting in a luxury sense; “I want a new dining room set”, “I want to go to Jamaica, but the car needs a new transmission”.
However, in my case, the majority of my “bad debt”, as I have called it, has come from badly managed risk taking, not depression or poor self-esteem. I’ve created debt taking business risks. Some have panned out and exceeded expectation, creating real revenue, and others have fallen flat and left me with a high credit card balance.
I genuinely had difficulty translating some of the book’s firmer advice into my situation. Although I’ve chosen to abstain from rendering judgement on my own circumstances, and the efficacy of the book, it was something that felt out of date. It’s a common practice in entrepreneurial circles and I’d have really appreciated the insight.
I really enjoyed this book and starting tomorrow I’m going to read it again. I’m a reasonably fast reader and zoomed through this book in just three days. But I believe it was intended to be read one chapter per day. I think the advice is worth considering seriously, and I intend to pay it that respect. If you’re in crisis debt, or just regular debt, I think this book is really worth reading. It’s not the end all be all of truth, but if you find just one little insight into yourself, or your life, or your debt, you won’t have wasted your time.