Is DEBT Always a 4-Letter Word?

Photo "Wiping out debt" courtesy of

Photo “Wiping out debt” courtesy of

According to the 2015 American Household Credit Card Debt Study, U.S. consumers owe a total of $712 billion in credit card debt, and $8.37 trillion in mortgages. The average American household has $132,086 in debt, with $15,310 of that on credit cards. For those carrying student loan debt, the average balance is about $49,000.


Like risk tolerance, debt tolerance varies greatly from one person to another, depending on one’s circumstances, upbringing, etc. Some people seem to embrace debt like an old friend, while others avoid it like a weekend visit from the in-laws.

Financial guru Suze Orman believes that there can be such a thing as “good debt” in certain circumstances: student loans for an education that will improve your earning potential and net worth in the long run; a reasonable mortgage, when it’s managed responsibly and has an end in sight.

The Minimalists, on the other hand, wholeheartedly profess that “There is no such thing as good debt!” Debt is the thing that keeps us stuck in jobs we hate, making payments for a bunch of stuff we don’t need, trying to impress people we don’t know or like. All debt is evil. Avoid it at all costs.

Unfortunately, many people do get in over their heads, taking on more debt than they can comfortably afford. Hopeful twenty-somethings graduate from college with six-figure debt, only to move back home with their parents and work at Starbucks. Young families bury themselves in decades of mortgage debt in order to buy the McMansions of their dreams, furnish them with credit cards, and lease luxury SUVs to impress their equally indebted neighbors, without really looking at the big picture or questioning whether or not it makes sense for them.

While mindless consumerism likely accounts for some portion of this mountain of consumer debt, according to NerdWallet, other economic factors are also at play:

Household income has grown by 26% in the past 12 years, but the cost of living has gone up 29% in that time period. And some of the largest expenses for consumers — like medical care, food and housing — have significantly outpaced income growth.

When cost of living outpaces income growth, debt increases.

It would be easy to say consumers are spending irresponsibly, leaving the recession (and their budgets) in the dust. But it’s not quite that simple.

Personally, I don’t think any type of debt should ever be considered “good.” But I will acknowledge that, in certain situations, when entered into mindfully, with a clear means of repayment and an end in sight, some debt can be used as a tool to improve our lives and help us meet our long-term financial goals.

A small mortgage, for example, can make sense if the monthly payment, including taxes and insurance, is equal to or less than you’d expect to pay for rent. If you’re blindsided by an unanticipated financial emergency without adequate savings, a credit card can be a lifesaver. A small car payment can provide the means to obtain a reliable vehicle to get you to work every day.

What do you think? How do you feel about debt? Is it an important financial tool, the root of all evil, or somewhere in-between?


A Few Good Reasons to Appreciate Your Day Job

Find your passion! Follow your dreams! Quit your day job!

Great advice, but what if you’re not ready to follow it? Maybe you don’t even want to. There’s nothing wrong with earning a decent living from a “day job” while nurturing and developing your creative side outside of work. Most of us weren’t meant to be or do just one thing. We’re complicated individuals, with multitudes of interests and abilities. We were never meant to define ourselves by what we do to earn a paycheck.

Austin Kleon sums it up perfectly in his bestseller Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative:

“The truth is that even if you’re lucky enough to make a living off doing what you truly love, it will probably take you a while to get to that point. Until then, you’ll need a day job.

A day job gives you money, a connection to the world, and a routine. Freedom from financial stress also means freedom in your art. As photographer Bill Cunningham says, “If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do.”

A day job puts you in the path of other human beings. Learn from them, steal from them. I’ve tried to take jobs where I can learn things that I can use in my work later — my library job taught me how to do research, my Web design job taught me how to build websites, and my copywriting job taught how to sell things with words.”

Your day job buys you some breathing room in the budget. It pays the bills, and hopefully provides you with some savings and disposable income for travel or other meaningful expenditures that contribute to your overall happiness.

Hopefully, your day job offers you additional benefits, such as health insurance and retirement savings, to further enhance your (and your family’s) financial security.

Having a day job takes the pressure off of pursuing your passions, making it easier to enjoy them when money isn’t a factor.

The structure and schedule of a day job forces you to use your free time more efficiently.

Your day job may provide more social interaction than the “lonely creative life” of an artist, writer, etc. You may also make valuable contacts and connections for your freelance/consulting/side-gigging self.

You can learn valuable skills at your day job that may transfer into other areas of your life, both now and in the future. Everything you’ve done in your life so far has made you who you are today. Don’t discount any of it.

You may be passionate about some aspects of your day job, such as marketing or workers’ rights, that keep you engaged and involved in activities you enjoy.

Maybe you actually LIKE your day job. It’s OK to admit it! It may not be what you dreamed you’d be doing at this point in your life, but if it meets some of your needs and makes you happy most of the time, there’s nothing wrong with that.


Take One Step Toward Financial Freedom

So many of us say that we want to work less and enjoy our lives more, but what’s keeping us from actually doing so? For most people, the obvious barrier is money. After all, who would go to work every day if we didn’t need the money?

But why do we need all this money? To pay the bills, of course! But wait. Why do we have all these bills in the first place? Umm…

The less money we spend, the less money we need. When we need less money, we don’t have to spend as much time working. The less time we spend working to make money to pay our bills, the more time we have to actually enjoy our lives.

Sounds simple enough, right? It is and it isn’t. Learning new financial habits definitely requires some reprogramming.

A fundamental first step toward reducing our spending calls for an honest assessment of where our hard-earned money is actually going. How much do we spend on the things that we truly need, vs. those that we simply want, or merely like?

For guidance, The Minimalists’ insightful essay NEED, WANT, LIKE breaks down this essential process of separating our basic needs from our various wants and likes (many of which often masquerade as needs in our complicated modern lives), and recommends action steps to move us closer to our ultimate goal of financial freedom.

Everyone’s different, but most of us don’t really need as much as we think. Once we start casting a critical eye on everything in our lives and asking, “Do I really need this?” it’s surprising to discover how often the answer is “No!”


Quick & Easy Dairy-Free Corn Chowder Recipe

If you’re lactose-intolerant like I am, here’s a simple quickie (and vegan!) corn chowder recipe I made up that’s short on prep time and long on flavor! Feel free to add whatever else you like to make it your own. I kept it very basic.

You’ll need:     IM Vegetable Broth LS 2.14.13

  • 1 quart Imagine Organic Creamy Potato Leek Soup
  • 8 oz. frozen organic corn (I used half of a 16-oz. package)
  • 2-3 small red potatoes, cubed into small (1/2″ or so) pieces
  • a sprinkle of dried thyme
  • OPTIONAL: dash of cayenne pepper — if you like a little “kick”

Pour the Potato Leek Soup into a large saucepan, then add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer approx. 20-30 min., stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender. Makes approx. 4 servings.


From NHWN: The Magic of Small, Basic Tasks

“Simple tasks hold magic. They have the ability to untangle our thoughts. They can set us free from our doubts, giving us a chance to feel a small bit of accomplishment. The simple task grounds us, body and mind. ”

I often find inspiration in the shower, while doing the dishes (by hand in the kitchen sink, of course!), or when I’m stuffing mail into post office boxes at my day job. I hope this latest post from Suddenly Jamie on Live to Write – Write to Live inspires you to seek solace in the simple things as well!


Live to Write - Write to Live

Keep things simple. Keep things simple.

When things get a little crazy (and when aren’t they a little crazy?), small, humble tasks create pockets of sanity in my day. I expect my gravitating toward these menial chores in moments of crisis is a bit like the British tendency to make tea even when (sometimes especially when) everything seems to be falling apart. There is comfort in the simple and the mundane, in purely functional activities that are what they are. These manual labors provide a sense of grounded rationality that is often otherwise hard to find.

Take for instance, mending. For months now, a small pile of clothes has been sitting high on a laundry room shelf, patiently waiting for me to repair ripped seams and broken fastenings. The job was not all that complicated, but I just never seemed to get around to it. And then new damage to my daughter’s favorite…

View original post 1,144 more words

The Importance of Finding Your Tribe

As I strive to embrace simplicity, turn my back on mindless consumption, and form positive habits in my daily life, I feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle every day. All around me, friends, family, coworkers, and even casual acquaintances question why I want to live this way.

Why don’t I want to eat a bag of Cheetos and a box of cookies every night?

How can I possibly be satisfied with a 3 year-old cell phone and a 5 year-old TV?

Why don’t I want to go to Wal-Mart?

How could I even consider giving up such a “good job” at the post office, when I’ll be “all set” with a pension for life if I just “hang in there” until I’m 60 years old?

Why don’t I want to make more money?  

Why am I giving away half the clothes in my closet?

Sometimes, in my darker moments, I even start to ask myself those same questions.

Then, every once in a while, I meet someone who gets it. Or I listen to the latest episode of The Minimalists’ podcast. Or I read a new blog post from Leo Babauta or Joshua Becker or Courtney Carver. And I remember that I’m not alone. I’m not crazy. I just want to do things a little differently. I want to live my life a little more deliberately.

If you’re following this blog, then chances are, you’re interested in living a simpler and more purposeful life as well. Some of the people around you probably don’t understand. But remember that there are plenty of us out here who do. Those are the people you have to surround yourself with. They are your inspiration and your allies.

Thanks for reading, and for being on my team. I hope we can continue to help and inspire each other to follow our own paths to meaningful living. It isn’t always easy, but it’s always rewarding.


A Lesson in Passion, and Balance, from Dr. Dre

Yesterday afternoon, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Tim Ferriss Show. He was interviewing Cal Fussman, the “interview master” himself, best known for his “What I Learned” feature in Esquire magazine. At one point in the three-hour segment, they briefly touched on Cal’s interview with Dr. Dre – specifically, Dr. Dre’s take on passionate pursuits.

Fussman asked him, “What’s the longest you’ve gone, working on a passion project, without sleep?” His answer? 72 hours. 72 hours! That’s THREE days! This was just unimaginable to me. I have never felt passionate enough about anything to stay up for 3 days. I need my 8 hours, right? So I felt kinda bummed out. I guess I’m just not a passionate person, or maybe I haven’t found my passion yet, I thought. How boring am I? What’s wrong with me?

Then this morning it hit me. My health and maintaining balance in my life ARE my passions! Getting enough rest is something that I’m passionate about! Does that count? I don’t know. I’ll admit that I’m (sometimes) a little envious of people who are so passionate about the activities in their lives that they’re willing to sacrifice just about anything for them – sleep, health, relationships. Am I missing something there?

I suppose my slow-living, everything-in-moderation, baby-steps, super-balanced, small-incremental-changes way of life isn’t for everybody. I’m a postal worker and a writer, not a rap star. It’s not very exciting or glamorous, but it’s who I am, and I’m (mostly) OK with that.