What is enough? Thoughts about spending and debt

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We’ve been staying with my Mom for the last couple of days, and like many times before, I find myself stricken by the contrast between our life and the life of people in town, if only an hour ‘s ride or so away.

My kids are very unused to being cooped up in an apartment 24/7, so naturally, I go out with them a lot. Luckily, there are many beautiful parks in the area where they can run, jump, swing, climb, and take out all their seemingly boundless energy.

One thing that really struck me every time we go out is how much people buy. It seems that possibilities to spend money are endless – clothes, toys, books, any kind of stuff you can imagine, as well as eating out. I hardly know what to think when I see a waitress moving forward with a tray that probably costs as much as we spend on food in a week.

I must be honest, and can’t say the only thing I’m thinking is, “sheesh, how much money are they throwing out, these mindless spenders!” Sometimes I feel a pang of envy, wishing that I, too, could just sit down and order a meal in a cozy cafe without comparing its cost to my grocery budget; or whip out a credit card, walk into a store, and buy heaps of clothes – things that smell beautiful and new and that had been owned by nobody before; and if the size doesn’t fit, why, I can just go to the saleslady and ask for a bigger or smaller one. These are things we have gone totally out of habit of doing, and most of the time I’m not sorry we can’t afford them.

The thing is, judging from statistics on income and poverty, I’m not sure all the people who are caught up in shopping sprees can afford it, either.

Last Shabbat, I participated in a Torah class led by a lady who brought out a variety of very interesting sources, which all seemed to point into one direction, essentially stating that borrowing money and being in debt is wrong from the Jewish point of view, and should be avoided as much as possible. Of course, many people who are not Jewish or even religious at all have come to the same conclusion regardless. The big stumbling block to this principle is, of course, a mortgage, without which buying an apartment is impossible for most Israelis in most parts of the country. When women pointed this out, the lady said that the best compromise she knows of is to take as little a loan as possible and settle for a modest apartment.

Being committed to avoiding debt, we have never taken a mortgage and bought, so far, two houses with cash. They were old and fixer-uppers, and many people would no doubt say they wouldn’t have chosen such a bargain, but I still consider it a good choice. Financial freedom does not come without certain sacrifices.

Would love it if anyone cares to share their thoughts on this.

10 thoughts on “What is enough? Thoughts about spending and debt

  1. Yes, debt is such a terrible burden. My only debt is a mortgage, so-called “good debt” because one day I’ll own my home and my housing costs will be very low from then on, but there is still such a weight on my mind that I have to pay off this mountain of debt. Yet when I see my friends spending money on any whim, with no plans for the future, though I can be a little envious too I know I”m making the right choice.

    I once read of a man (if I could remember the book or source I would quote it here), who when he was in college lived with his father, who charged him rent. The author had friends whose parents let them live with them free, so he was a little disgruntled that he didn’t always have money to go out, buy anything he wanted, etc like his friends did. However, four years later when he graduated from college, got a job and was ready to move out on his own, his father gave him back all of the rent he had collected over those four years – with interest. That was when the author saw that you are not depriving yourself when you don’t buy anything whenever you feel like it. You are depriving yourself when you DO live that way, because a month from now, a year from now, five years from now you are not going to care that you didn’t just order a pizza instead of cooking something at home, or buy that brand new pair of shoes to join the other 10 pairs you already had in your closet.

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  2. We too used to be slaves to debt. We have whittled things down to spending only cash and only in what we need. We did borrow for the farm, but just the minimum needed. Debt is definitely a bottomless pit that is difficult to climb out of. But, once you are out, it is glorious!

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  3. What we did is build two tiny houses on wheels where we now live with our four kids! Not having to pay rent sure feels like a sort of personal exodus. We used to pay around 5000 on monthly rent and city tax when we rented in the city. It’s good to know there are people who point out from a Torah perspective that it’s wrong to live on debt. How can I connect to them? Unfortunately I don’t hear such things from lecturers in our community.

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    • Do you mean that you live in two houses simultaneously? How does that work??
      I sure wish I could find more like-minded people myself… sometimes I meet kindred souls in second-hand stores or swap fairs.

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      • Well, we parked our tiny houses parallel to one another on our friends property, then we used light materials to put a roof on top of them and close off the space in between to be used as kitchen and living room. The tiny houses themselves are bedrooms. We do have plans to perhaps buy land and start a family farm, and we certainly would love to get to know like minded people. How can we get in touch?

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  4. Yes, definitely. I love the idea of living in a “shed home” or other small space homes.

    I really wish people would choose “indigenous” styles of homes also. I don’t think it is heavy poverty to live in a wigwam or tent for quite some time.

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