DH = Dear Husband
The strange phenomenon of fearing debt-freedom
We were about to pay off the last of our consumer debt. There was still plenty of debt left over – a business loan of $80,800 and a mortgage of $150,000 – but this was a significant milestone for us. Then why was DH so clearly agitated about it? I wrote about it 4 years ago: “‘I don’t know if I’m going to be comfortable not having any debt,’ he said. When I asked him why, he struggled to pinpoint the reason, but he came out with, ‘People in my class don’t have money to buy things. They borrow money to buy things.’ It was the first time I had ever heard DH refer to ‘my class.'”
This week, Laurie wrote about the fact that she still has a fear of being debt-free, and when I wrote in the comments section about DH’s strange words of discomfort about our milestone towards debt-freedom, she responded with,
“Wow – wise words from your hubby! I mean, wise in that he recognized that subconscious view. Amazing, Ruth! I would love to see a post on that, but no pressure.🙂”
So last night I asked DH to tell me more.
He has had a lot of time since that consumer debt payoff to get his head around our growing financial fitness. At this point, our business debt is gone, our savings are up, and our mortgage is down to $86,700 – and we are on track to pay it off in the next 2½ years. All good stuff, right? But last night, DH said, “The thought of paying off our mortgage scares me.”
Debt freedom = loss of something familiar
I remember the trip to the bank that DH and I took to pay off the last of that consumer debt. He was so off-kilter, he almost made a wrong turn on the way home. “We’ve had that debt for years,” he told me in an effort to explain it. So it was a like a loss. No. It WAS a loss. Negative as it was, that consumer debt had been a familiar presence in his life, demanding attention, effort – and of course, our money. Its sudden absence really was an absence.
DH first became indebted at the age of 17 when he borrowed money from his dad to buy a used car. Before he had finished paying for it, he had a credit card, and credit card debt. That debt soon blended with student debt, which then blended with a loan for a new car, which eventually blended with a mortgage, which later blended with a business loan . . . “I’ve been in debt for 40 years,” he calculated. “It’s provided structure – something I’ve had to pay into.”
“like a freed slave who chooses to stay on the plantation”
“It’s like the freed slave who chooses to stay on the plantation,” DH said. “I’m not sure I’ll know what to do with financial freedom.” The word “freedom” has very positive connotations, but compelling as it is, by its nature, freedom lacks structure. There are repeat criminals who prefer the boundaries and routines of prison. There really were freed slaves who preferred the familiar duties of plantation life.
Maybe DH is onto something. Maybe one of the reasons so many stay in debt is that they prefer the familiar structure and routine it gives them. “Think about it,” he said, “How many people go from one debt to another?” Just like he did from the age of 17 on.
“Wax on; wax off”: Debt repayment as a training ground
“I think of financial freedom as being like winning the lottery,” DH said. And he didn’t mean it in a good way. According to “the lottery curse”, 2/3 of lottery winners go broke within 7 years. “If we got a sudden windfall that allowed us to pay off the rest of our mortgage, that wouldn’t be a good thing. Our debt repayment is a training ground,” he continued. Then, DH quoted The Karate Kid: “‘Wax on; wax off.‘”
If you don’t know the movie (and he was quoting the 1984 version), a young boy is trained by a karate master who has him do menial tasks like wax a car. The boy is frustrated by it, unaware of the fact that his sensei is actually giving him valuable training to become “the karate kid”.
In the same way, according to DH, all of the budgeting, discussion, tracking, reflection, and cutting back we’ve been doing for years in an effort to become debt free – it’s all training. Mundane, yes, but leading to something worthwhile.
I challenged him on what he’d said about the negative impact a windfall would have: “If we suddenly got enough to pay off our mortgage now, we would know what to do,” I said. “We’ve been paying off debt for almost 5 years now. We’ve had our training.” DH had to admit that was true, but he is still strangely grateful for the years that separate us from complete financial freedom.
Will financial freedom be disappointing?
“You know how people strive and strive to accomplish something, and then they finally get there and it’s disappointing? Maybe financial freedom will be like that,” DH said. “And what about us? We’ve been so unified by our debt-payoff mission. It’s brought us together. What will replace it once the mortgage is gone?”
Again, I found his concerns strange, but they give food for thought. I’m approaching my word limit, so I’ll stop here even though there is more to write about what DH and I discussed last night. (Perhaps that will be next week’s post?)
Is DH off his rocker? Or do his fears resonate with you.
- Do you fear the unknown and the lack of structure that comes with financial freedom?
- Are you afraid you’ll blow your financial freedom once you reach it?
- Do you fear that financial freedom will be a disappoinment?
Your comments are welcome.
*Image courtesy of Pixabay