Thoughts on Becoming Consumer Debt Free

I started thinking last night about how big of a deal getting out of debt except for my mortgage truly is.  And the question came to me: WHY?  This was considered the “normal” way of living not too long ago.  Now I am considered “weird” in an America that has credit cards and car loans and every other kind of loan imaginable (and many I simply can’t imagine!).

Back in my grandparents’ day, it was considered an embarassment if you couldn’t pay for your things outright.  Yes, people went into mortgage debt, but they paid for their cars in full usually.  If you didn’t have the money, you either got things from family or went without … and my dad tells stories of going without when times were hard because Grandpa was too proud to go on public assistance for food even.  Mom grew up on a farm, so they were never lacking for food, but she tells of going shoeless over the summers when she was a kid.

So just what changed American life so much in the past 50 years?

Was it television?  I’ve heard some folks say this is “the most marketed-to culture in the history of the world.”  (Another Dave Ramsey quote for those keeping track.)  But advertising isn’t a new phenomenom.  Abraham Lincoln advertised when he started practicing law.  If it is advertising and marketing, how has it changed significantly in past 50 years to make such a difference?  Just when did all the credit card and loan commercials first appear?  Because I can vaguely remember the commercials for when Bank Americard changed its name to Visa … yes I must be old!  LOL  I can remember the advertising blitz when Sears came out with Discover card.

I may have grow up watching way too much TV, but I hardly ever watch televison anymore.  In fact the only time I do is in between delivery runs at work since the pizza shop has two TVs on for dine-in customers.  I do listen to radio quite a bit, and debt is marketed on that medium as well … even during commercial breaks during Dave Ramsey’s radio show!

Of course, there is the interesting little fact that the very first ever credit card started up 52 years ago: Diners’ Club in 1956.  Debt is a product, and always has been to some extent.  But now it seems different.  Now debt is marketed as the solution to anything and everything.  It seems every single commercial break during prime time has at least one credit card commercial. 

But the question still lingers: how could attitudes change so quickly for my parents’ generation, the Baby Boomers?  How could we go from a “save up and pay cash” mentality to a “charge everything and be in debt up to your eyeballs” culture?  And even more importantly: is Dave Ramsey’s popularity (and others like him) an indictaion that the pendulum is beginning to swing the opposite direction?

I honestly don’t know the “why” or “how” of this.  I just know that becoming consumer debt free has made me a statistical anomaly now.  I am enjoying being such an anomaly as I drink my coffee on the first morning in many years that I wake up debt free but the house.  But the question still lingers in the back of my tiny, caffiene-fueled brain: Just how did this seismic shift in attitude happen?