Debt Re­duc­tion and Wealth Build­ing

Can you do both?

Activated - - FRONT PAGE - By Ruth McKeague Ruth McKeague lives in Ot­tawa, Canada, and teaches in a high school. For the past six years, she has chron­i­cled her jour­ney out of debt at her web­site, Pru­dence Debt­free.

Read­ing the blogs of other peo­ple fight­ing debt helps me keep my re­solve in fo­cused debt re­duc­tion. As I browse ar­ti­cles that re­late to where we’re at in our jour­ney out of debt, I of­ten sift out those to do with in­vest­ments and sav­ings. There is an over­lap be­tween writ­ings on the sub­ject of debt re­duc­tion and those on the sub­ject of wealth build­ing, and while I’m 100% in when it comes to elim­i­nat­ing debt, I strug­gle with the con­cept of build­ing wealth. Where I as­so­ciate debt re­duc­tion with be­com­ing re­spon­si­ble, ex­er­cis­ing dis­ci­pline, and clean­ing up my act, I have tended to as­so­ciate wealth build­ing ex­clu­sively with greed and self­ish­ness.

A few years ago, I wrote a post ex­plain­ing how faulty in­ter­pre­ta­tions of cer­tain Bible pas­sages had taken root in me long ago, lead­ing me to as­so­ciate money and rich peo­ple with all that is bad.

1 It can be touchy to quote the Bible when shar­ing a per­sonal is­sue—like per­sonal debt—be­cause it can alien­ate the lis­tener or the reader. But debt re­duc­tion is many-lay­ered, and leav­ing out the spir­i­tual side of it gives an in­com­plete pic­ture of the ex­pe­ri­ence. A col­league of mine who reads my blog and who is not Chris­tian told me last year, af­ter read­ing the post men­tioned above, “You’re one of the few peo­ple who can quote the Bible with­out leav­ing me an­gry.” That gives me en­cour­age­ment to delve into the sub­ject again.

Phys­i­cal and Fi­nan­cial Fit­ness

I re­mem­ber once lis­ten­ing to a Chris­tian ra­dio show as I drove my car. The guest was a man well into his six­ties who was talk­ing about phys­i­cal fit­ness and the need, with age, to in­clude pro­gres­sively higher ra­tios of weight-bear­ing ex­er­cise in daily work­outs, as op­posed to car­dio ex­er­cise, in or­der to re­main strong and healthy. Peo­ple were able to phone in, and one man who did so said, “As Chris­tians, we are called upon to serve oth­ers, so how can we be so self­ish as to jus­tify spend­ing a half-hour or an hour a day train­ing for fit­ness?” The ques­tion ir­ri­tated me. Of course you have to look af­ter your­self if you’re go­ing to be of any use to any­one else! I thought. And how does be­com­ing out of shape and risk­ing ill­ness and lack of mo­bil­ity serve oth­ers?

I get that con­cept with phys­i­cal fit­ness, so what stands in the way of my adopt­ing the same at­ti­tude with fi­nan­cial fit­ness? With debt­free­dom and sav­ings, I would have more flex­i­bil­ity to give gen­er­ously to my church, lo­cal char­i­ties, and even in­ter­na­tional ef­forts. These are good things. And they can more read­ily be done by peo­ple who have built up some wealth. Of course, you have to look af­ter your money if you’re go­ing to be of any fi­nan­cial sup­port to oth­ers! How gen­er­ous can you be when you’re debt-rid­den?

Re­mem­brance Day and Free­dom

In the run-up to Re­mem­brance Day, “They died for our free­dom”

2 is the mes­sage we of­ten hear, and for me it’s par­tic­u­larly mov­ing be­cause both my fa­ther and grand­fa­ther served in war. It’s also an es­pe­cially pow­er­ful mes­sage for a Chris­tian: we read in the Gospels that Christ served and died “to set the op­pressed free.”

3 I looked up the word “free­dom” in three dif­fer­ent dic­tio­nar­ies (I re­alise that’s a pretty nerdy thing to do), and in each, there are two parts to the def­i­ni­tion:

1. hav­ing power to de­ter­mine ac­tion

2. the state of not be­ing im­pris­oned or en­slaved

Free­dom is a gift that many of us squan­der. It’s a gift that we un­der­mine by mak­ing de­ci­sions that ren­der us cap­tive to things like ad­dic­tions, ma­te­ri­al­ism, pride, fear … and debt. So how do we hon­our this gift and the sac­ri­fices made for it? “It is for free­dom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let your­selves be bur­dened again by a yoke of slav­ery.” We hon­our

4 the gift of free­dom by liv­ing it fully and in grat­i­tude—and by “stand­ing firm” in vig­i­lance to main­tain it. Care­less­ness means slip­ping back into cap­tiv­ity.

Fi­nan­cial Fu­ture

I know that the free­dom in­her­ent in fi­nan­cial fit­ness has the po­ten­tial to be good. Time will tell if we main­tain the dis­ci­pline nec­es­sary to keep things go­ing in a pos­i­tive di­rec­tion once we’re out of the red. Time will tell if we use our grow­ing fi­nan­cial free­dom well and gen­er­ously or if we squan­der it fool­ishly.

My hope is that we will em­brace it and that we’ll “stand firm” to main­tain it—be­cause I don’t like cap­tiv­ity. It is for free­dom that we are set free. I want to live it.

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