You are currently viewing THE BIG LITTLE LIES WE TELL OURSELVES ABOUT DEBT

THE BIG LITTLE LIES WE TELL OURSELVES ABOUT DEBT

LIAR, LIAR, PANTS ON FIRE!

You lie, you know you do. You know you shouldn’t. We tell our kids not to and then we turn around and tell our spouse that the burnt dinner is “not that bad” and “no, those jeans don’t make them look fat”.

One of the people we are best at lying to is ourselves, we excel at it. Often when we don’t want to do something, we will create an excuse (perhaps even a lie) about why we shouldn’t, and we make a subconscious decision to believe our own excuse.

It might be something like, it’s raining outside so I can’t exercise today. It’s not raining inside is it? But we decide that the reason is good enough because we actually want to avoid doing it.

Or perhaps we tell ourselves we ‘need’ something, really, really need it, when we actually don’t. It could be that slice of cake or perhaps even that fancy car.

When it comes to debt, there are all sorts of excuses people give for staying in debt instead of taking steps to become debt free. Here are some of the most popular lies and why they are not actually true:

EVERYONE HAS SOME DEBT

24 Million South Africans are credit users (so, around 1 in every 3). Out of those 24 million, many have missed a payment or two as they struggle to decide who to pay this month with the income they receive. Around 9.6 million people are behind on debt repayments by 3 months or more.

7 Million people have credit cards, and on average owe R20 000 each.

6.7 Million have personal loans and owe on average R45 000 each.

And those are just the loans in the ‘formal’ sector, which reports to the NCR, and does not cover loans to family members of local Mashonisas.

It is normal in South Africa to borrow money. It is normal to take a really long time to pay off your debts, and many people will live in debt their whole lives, never paying off their credit cards and always taking on more loans to pay off previous loans.

So, then is it silly to ask if you really need debt? Surely, based on those stats, you need debt just to get by in South Africa.

No, you don’t. Going to those stats again, you soon realise that if there are 59 million people in SA and only 24 Million credit users then 35 Million South Africans are not making use of credit from the banks and stores. That means more people don’t use credit than those who do. It is just likely that all your friends and people that you work with make use of credit.

It is simply not true that everyone has debt. Millions of South Africans live debt-free every month.

SOME DEBT IS GOOD

People will tell you that you need some debt to get a good credit score. So, go out and take on debt so that you can get more debt later when you really need it.

It is true that credit scores do take into account your debt and repayment history. If you don’t have debt, then it is hard for a credit provider to know if you will pay them back or not. But every time you apply for credit, whether you get the credit or not, is not dependent on your credit score. It depends on whether you can afford it or not.

The credit provider has to do an assessment when you apply. Do you earn enough and have enough left over after paying for your monthly running costs to pay them back? That is what is important.

Even if you have lots of credit and pay it all back reliably if you cannot actually afford to repay some new form of credit, you will not get that credit, it is illegal.

THERE ARE GOOD AND BAD DEBTS

While it is true that some debts can help you get an asset, there are also massive risks associated with taking on big debts.

For example, you may take on credit to buy a house. You may live in it for decades and raise your children in it, making regular monthly repayments. You may feel like you have made a good investment.

Then the economy turns, the property loses value. You lose your job and miss too many home loan repayments, and suddenly the bank is selling your home at auction. You find that the investment you have been paying off for all these years, actually still belongs to the bank and after it gets sold for cheap, you end up owing the bank a lot of money.

It happens with people’s flashy cars all the time and they end up paying off a car (for years) that they no longer have. It is very sad and frustrating.

The only good debt is one that you have paid off.

MONEY IS COMPLICATED

A lot of people in debt think they have to be some sort of math wizard to understand and win when it comes to money.

But that’s not true, we tend to over think money, money is simple. It is good to have money because you can use it to buy stuff and do things.

If people owe you money, that’s not good.

If you owe people money that’s not good.

See… simple.

I DON’T EARN ENOUGH TO PAY OFF MY DEBT

Whether it takes you six months or six years, paying off your debt is possible no matter what your income looks like. It might not be easy, but it is possible.

Often it is just a case of making a plan, putting more funds into settling your debts and making it a priority. There are things you can do to reduce how long it takes to pay off your debts.

EARN MORE
Sounds simple but it is not. There are however some things you can do like:

  • Start a side hustle and use those funds towards settling your smallest debts first.
  • Ask your boss for a raise.

REVIEW YOUR MONTHLY EXPENSES
You may have cut costs in the past but it is good to regularly look at how you spend money. What we spend tends to creep up each month.

GET HELP
If you are sick you go to a professional doctor, right? If you have debt issues then you should also get help or advice on how best to get rid of your debt from a registered professional Debt Counsellor.

I DON’T KNOW WHERE TO START

Yes, you do. You just have to cut your spending on some things, especially if you are unable to earn more.

It’s hard to say “no” to eating at restaurants and going on holiday. Maybe you feel you deserve it, but you deserve to live without debt even more. A very interesting thing happened when lockdown first began. People were not able to go out and spend money like they usually did. So, even though lockdown messed with how much people were earning, it also meant they were not spending as much. As a result more people than normal managed to pay their debts, they actually had the money they needed.

So, if you have debts then ask yourself: Are there things I can give up to reduce my monthly running costs? It might be small things. Maybe you don’t order out today or this week, perhaps you don’t buy that pie at the tuck shop for lunch each day and rather make a sandwich.

In fact, it is probably good to start with small things so that you can convince yourself that it is possible. Once you see how you can manage to save a little with smaller changes, then you may begin to think about other bigger ways to save a lot each month.

MAKING A BUDGET IS TOO HARD

Some people who are in debt don’t even know how much debt they owe because they’re not keeping track of it.

They just pay their instalments each month, often the minimum amount, and then use their credit cards and overdraft to make it through the month without ever wondering how much it is costing them to be in debt every month.

Talk about sticking your head in the sand!

Budgeting isn’t hard, it just requires using your calculator to work out 3 figures:

  1. How much do you earn (take home after tax and all that)?
  2. How much do you owe to your credit providers every month (what should you be paying them)?
  3. How much do you spend on stuff every month?

Once you know those 3 figures you will quickly see if there is a problem or not, and where you need to make adjustments. The rest will happen by instinct.

I NEED TO USE CREDIT TO LOOK GOOD AND GET THE RESPECT I DESERVE

People who appear to “have it all” are normally the ones deepest in debt.

Everything they appear to own is actually owned by the bank, or other credit providers. They have sold their future work hours and their peace of mind to appear to have it all.

What do they actually have?
Ulcers probably, if they miss a few payments and could end up with nothing. Goodbye house, goodbye fancy car, hello summonses, judgments and public auctions.

If your friends only respect you because of the things you own, then you don’t need more credit, you need better friends.

CREDIT LETS ME HAVE WHAT I WANT NOW

While it is true that credit is a great way to get something now rather than later, it is also true that many of the things that you ‘think’ you want will ultimately lose their glow and you will realise you could have done without it all along.

You may need that fancy phone now, but in a few months when they start advertising the newer, better version you may find that your phone doesn’t seem so good any more. The question is: Was it ever?

Did you really want it or where you chasing something else? Having lots of things can make us feel important and safe. But if everything you have is actually owned by the bank then what do you really have?

Have you fallen into the trap of buying things you don’t need, with money that you don’t have, to impress people you don’t really like?

I CAN GET OUT OF DEBT ANY TIME

Some people tell themselves that they are using credit all the time as a luxury and they could get out of debt anytime if they really need to. They just don’t want to right now.

As a result, they usually just make the minimum required debt repayments each month and live in debt.

They never think about what it is costing them.

This is often because they have never sat down and had a close look at what it costs to be in debt.

Every month they are paying interest, account fees. Every year they are paying access fees. Your car is losing value as you read this article.

I NEED A CREDIT CARD FOR EMERGENCIES

It is true that having access to a credit card in an emergency can be a lifesaver. If the geyser suddenly bursts then you can reach for the card and pay for the repairs immediately.

If your car tires are looking a bit dodgy, you can just put the new tires on credit now and pay it off over time. The problem is that soon everything begins to feel like an emergency. New appliance now, rather than later? An emergency! That new dress for your date. An emergency! Groceries from that fancy brand store? An emergency!

Before you know it, you can be right back in debt because your entire life seems to run from emergency to emergency.

Rather than using credit continually for emergencies, why not start to set a little bit aside every month as an emergency fund. Don’t go wild, start small and let it build up over time.

By just learning to wait and live with a little inconvenience, you can also find that many emergencies can wait till payday to be resolved.

I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT CREDIT

Maybe you have been using credit for many years. In the past, your solution to running out of money would perhaps be to run out and get another loan or get a higher credit limit. You just kept digging yourself deeper and deeper into the debt pit. Old habits are hard to break.

But hundreds of thousands of South Africans have made a change, and taken the first steps of their debt review journey. Yes, it is a big change at first, and most do it because they are desperate at the time, not because they want to live without debt.

Then something strange happens. They adjust, people are amazing. They learn to live a cash lifestyle. They no longer buy things they cannot really afford. They learn that sometimes you have to wait to buy something even though it is inconvenient and difficult but, they survive.

At the same time, they pay off their debts every month, getting closer and closer to being debt-free and eventually not owing anyone anything. It is possible, hundreds of thousands of people are doing it right now, you can too!

STOP LYING TO YOURSELF

Well, it is true that getting into debt is a lot more fun (and a lot easier) than getting out of debt.

Paying off debt requires first changing the way you think about money and possessions. That can be a real challenge, if you carry on thinking that your personal worth comes from the things you own, then you are always going to struggle with having enough money.

But paying off debt is something people do every single day. Millions of people live without any debt whatsoever. Millions of people only use the money they have to buy the things they can afford. They have a budget and they stick to it. They even budget in a little for having fun and buying nice things every month.

Getting out of debt can be tricky if you have a lot of it and you may need a little advice. Well, hundreds of thousands of South Africans just like you have gone online, picked up the phone or walked into a Debt Counsellor’s office and asked them how they can get out of debt, and they are successfully doing it. You can too…if you really want to.

So, stop lying to yourself.

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