Debt Steals Your Dreams

Discover the Path to True Financial Independence

If a lie is told long enough and loud enough some people will believe the lie.  One lie that we have been told loud and long is that debt and credit are not only an acceptable way of life, but a better way to live.

Myth: Debt, credit cards and car payments are tools that allow you to live the good life.

Truth: Debt, credit cards and car payments are dream stealers.

The typical American has bought into this myth and has been wooed by consumerism.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against owning nice things and having wonderful experiences.  I’m against being owned by things and experiences and the stress that is caused by the resulting debt and overload.

Take this quick quiz to see if your things and experiences own you.

  1. Do you have a written budget where you consciously and specifically allocate each dollar of income to spending, saving and investing before the month begins?
  2. Do you save money for irregular, annual, bi-annual or quarterly expenses like car repairs, gifts or insurance?
  3. Do you have medical insurance, short-term disability and long-term disability insurance and life insurance?
  4. Do you have an emergency fund equal to three to six months of your living expenses?
  5. Are you spending less than 35 percent of your take home pay on housing (rent, mortgage, property taxes, HOA fees)?
  6. Do you only pay for purchases with cash or debit cards?
  7. Are you investing 15 percent of your take home pay for the purpose of achieving financial independence?
  8. Are you saving for your children’s college fund at a rate that will allow them to attend a four-year institution without taking on student loans?
  9. Are you paying on your mortgage at a rate that will allow you to pay it off in 15 or fewer years?
  10. Do you work at your job because it is your passion?
  11. Has it been more than three months since have you worried about money?
  12. Do you have a dream toward which you are moving consciously and deliberately?  If you have a partner, is it a shared dream?
  13. When asked, “How are you?” do you answer authentically, or do you answer “busy”, “fine” or “good”?
  14. Can you name three or more people, other than your partner or children, with whom you have discussed matters important to you in the past six months?
  15. Do you consider how your purchases and lifestyle affect the environment?

If you answered “no” to one or more of these questions, you may be owned by your stuff and experiences.

The Results of Being Owned by Your Stuff

Being owned by your stuff manifests four syndromes.  Syndrome: a group of signs and symptoms that occur together and characterize a particular abnormality.

  • Insufficiency
  • Busyness
  • Social Isolation
  • Financial Insecurity

The Insufficiency Syndrome If you have ever thought to yourself, “I’ll be happy when I get____________________.” you have experienced insufficiency.  There is nothing that can make us happy except for our own decision to be happy.  As the Sheryl Crow song says, “it’s not having what you want it’s wanting what you have”.

1957 was a historic year.  It was the year in which the percentage of Americans who described themselves as “very happy” reached its peak.[1] This should be no surprise.  Since 1950 the daily number of commercial messages we receive has increased dramatically.  These messages are designed to create unhappiness, want and desire for something different.  Since we are constantly bombarded with messages telling us what we need to buy to be happy, popular, rich, sexy, and the like, we are accordingly unhappy with what we have.  We have bought into the lies!  The result is that we try to buy our way to happiness.  It’s like trying to get out of quicksand by struggling; it doesn’t work.


What we need to do to find happiness is to unstuff.[2] We must let go of the “more is better” philosophy and the material things that do not bring us true happiness.  Most of us have far more of everything than we need to meet our basic needs and comforts.  “Whoever has the most toys wins” is a lie – a lie you may have bought into unconsciously.

From a practical approach, the more debt you have, and the less money you have saved for your three to six month emergency fund, the more stuff you need to sell.  Selling stuff is a way to both unstuff and to generate money to move toward true financial independence.

Unstuffing is both a mental and physical exercise.  Mentally we must realize what makes us truly happy.  My experience shows that most people are happiest when they:

  • Take time to connect with other people
  • Develop intimate relationships, not only with their partner, but with a few close friends
  • Give their time and money to causes they believe in
  • Spend time outside and experience nature
  • Take time daily to experience silence
  • Exercise daily
  • Eat healthfully
  • Sleep until well rested

Notice that these actions, which create true happiness, cost very little money and do not require any stuff.

Exercise: Walk through your home and look at all of your possessions with a critical eye.  Make a list of all the things you have not used in six months or more.  Make another list of all of the things that are not bringing you true happiness.  Consider selling or donating these items to charity to unstuff.

The Busyness Syndrome

If you have ever answered, “Busy!” to the question “How are you?” or if you have forgone connecting with someone important to you so that you could get something done, then you have experienced busyness.

Part of the lie of consumerism producing happiness is the concept of quality time.  Quality time cannot be created on demand; it is the byproduct of carefree timelessness.  We need periods of time with nothing to do and nowhere to be to create moments of deep sharing and intimacy.  I’m not talking about sexual intimacy, but building trust so that we feel safe to share our authentic selves with others.

Carefree timelessness is not a new concept.  In the late 19th century the United States saw a reemergence of the concept of simple living.  American workers demanded an eight-hour workday as early as 1886, but it did not become the American standard until 1926.  The desire for shorter working hours was driven by the desire for time to develop the spiritual and intellectual aspects of their being.  However, the industrial leaders of the 1920’s feared that increased leisure time would be the downfall of consumerism.  The need to generate demand for the output of the industrial revolution gave rise to advertising and marketing and the use of psychology to push goods and services.

During the Great Depression there was a push by the federal government to put the six-hour workday, thirty-hour workweek into law.  It ultimately failed to become law, but some businesses, including the Kellogg Company put it into place.  Founder A.K. Kellogg is said to have “never learned to play” and to have been addicted to work; he did not want the same for his employees.  Kellogg found that the reduction from the forty-hour workweek to the thirty-hour workweek created 400 new jobs and increased productivity so much that within two years he was able to pay workers the equivalent of forty-hours pay for thirty-hours of work.

After Kellogg died, the company began a long campaign to return to the forty-hour workweek.  The company finally succeeded in 1985.  Interviewed by Ben Hunnicutt for his book, Kellogg’s Six Hour Day, most Kellogg workers remembered the thirty-hour workweek with fondness.  They used their leisure time well – to garden, learn crafts, practice hobbies, exercise and share in a vibrant community life.  One man noted that he was not all worn out from work when he got home and had energy to do things –what a novel concept!  It is also noted that following the return to the forty-hour workweek volunteering decreased and crime increased in Battle Creek, Michigan the home of Kellogg.

With the “usual” stress of debt and overload many of us fail to create an environment that is conducive to carefree timelessness; instead we have created an environment where we must rush off to work.  We lack presence in the moment when we aren’t working because we are worrying about our finances.  It is time that we create financial security so that we can choose carefree timelessness.

The Social Isolation Syndrome

Have you ever hesitated to call a friend because they’re too busy to be bothered to socialize?  If so, you have experienced social isolation.  Dropping by is a way of life … on sitcoms not “real life.”  Social isolation follows busyness because busyness is, in part, the cause of social isolation.  It used to be that neighbors dropped in on one another, but now busyness is seen as a virtue.  Now people assume that everyone is busy and dropping by is seen as rude and as an intrusion.

Excessive busyness can be caused by the real need to work extra to earn enough to survive.  More often than not though, busyness is caused by the decision to buy into the lie of consumerism producing happiness; the decision to appear successful or the decision to keep busy with activities that do not promote connection and community.  We often treat socializing as a waste of time when we could be getting something “important” done.  The reality is that socializing is a legitimate human need and an act that creates connection.

The result of this real, or created, busyness is isolation.  The long-term consequences of isolation are well noted.  To name a few, social isolation affects physical health.  The lack of social connections increases heart attacks, dementia, poor diet and obesity.  A 2003 report from the Dahlem workshop on attachment and bonding provides a summary of the many research findings.  “Positive social relationships are second only to genetics in predicting health and longevity in humans.”  In addition to physical consequences, civic involvement drops with busyness, as seen in the drop in volunteerism and rise in crime in Battle Creek when Kellogg made the final shift from the thirty-hour workweek to the forty-hour workweek.

Financial Insecurity Syndrome

  1. Do you know how you would pay the bills if you or your partner lost a job or was otherwise unable to work?
  2. Do you have $10,000 to $15,000 set aside for a rainy day?
  3. Do you save for future purchases and the maintenance and repair of your possessions?

If you answered “no”, to any of these questions, then you are experiencing financial insecurity.

Financial security is peace of mind.  The peace of mind created by:

  • Making purchases only when you can afford to pay cash.
  • Being prepared for major financial emergencies with financial reserves and insurance.
  • The ability to easily reduce your monthly outflow of cash without jeopardizing your basic needs and comforts.

Financial security is achieved by putting in place some key tools: a realistic budget, an emergency fund equal to three to six months of expenses, proper levels of insurance and a method for saving for future purchases and expenses.  Financial security is not the same thing as financial independence.  Financial independence is the ability to pay for your basic needs and comforts from a source other than paid employment.  Financial security is the path you must journey on to reach true financial independence.

The good news is that there is a simple – not easy, but simple – way to move from financial insecurity to financial security.  It requires a dream, a vision and discipline.  The result is the opportunity to live your dreams and a life of true financial independence.

The Path to True Financial Independence

The path to true financial independence starts with a dream; a personal dream of the things you want to do and how you want to be.  If you have a partner you must find a shared dream.

The next step is to create the vision.  In addition to breaking the dream down into manageable steps, the vision must incorporate the steps which lead to financial security because every dream has a financial component.  Without financial security you cannot reach your dreams or true financial independence.

The final step is to practice the discipline required to create the vision daily so that you can live the dream.  Without daily discipline we trade our dreams for instant gratification and shortchange ourselves.


If insufficiency, busyness, social isolation and financial insecurity sound too familiar, you may be suffering from debt and overload.  Go back to the quiz at the beginning and review your answers.  Think about how your life would be different if you were able to change your answers from no to yes.  The people I know who have changed from insufficiency to enough, from social isolation to connectedness, from financial insecurity to financial security are happier, more confident, calmer, and less affected by outside influences, such as the economy, marketing, and other people’s moods or opinions.  The way out of debt and overload is to begin the journey to true financial independence.

Exercise: Now, write down for each question how your life would be different if you were able to answer yes instead of no.  Is that the kind of life you want?

[1] Affluenza, The All-Consuming Epidemic, De Graaf, Wann and Naylor

[2] Getting A Life, Blix and Heitmiller

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