At one time, it went like this:

Something catastrophic occurred — a crop failed, there was a fire, a death, a flood or some unplanned event took place in a person’s life that they were not prepared for. So new priorities would arise. How will this person put food on the table? How will they repair that building, replace that income, or even have a roof over their head?

This individual would go through all their many options — what can be sold, what can they do without, what extra work can be found, what sacrifices can be made? And after painstakingly going through every single possibility, every potential solution, they may arrive at the very end of the list. The last resort. And with heavy heart and humbled head, they would go to a person that lent money and they would borrow. They would agree to go into debt bondage until the money was paid back, and with interest.

And once a loan was taken, this person would work hard, they would sometimes go without basic life necessities, perhaps not even eating if it meant the difference between paying this loan back or not. If it meant being free again. If it meant getting back to the way life should be.

And if something even worse happened so that they could not pay this debt back — if something occurred where they could not earn the money to repay the lender — then they would be imprisoned. After all, they had gone into debt bondage and they now belonged to the debtor — and they would remain there until their family and friends could repay the loan. Until their debt could be paid back in full. Until they would no longer remain the collateral for that debt.

That’s how debt used to be seen.

Here is a modern day example:

Let’s say you take out a car loan and are about to make your last payment. This last $350 means that the car is now yours. You make the payment and the loan is fulfilled. The car is now completely paid for.

The next month you are excited because you now have an extra $350. You have found money. It’s like getting a raise. And for the first few months you enjoy the found money and just blow it, until it quickly gets absorbed into something else, or your decide it’s time to trade in the car for something newer.

That’s debt think. In reality, you don’t have an extra $350. You have the same $350 that no longer has to be turned over towards your debt bondage.

Debt think is when it becomes normal to have debt, and it’s strange when you don’t.

And when you first bought the car and friends and family asked what you paid for it, what was the answer? $30,000? That’s debt think too, because when the loan is completely paid for you will have actually forked over $50,000 for the car. That’s the real cost.

Debt think is when we celebrate because we got a boat loan — not a boat. We get to revel in the debt bondage of something we hope to someday own and get high on the temporary illusion of owning something. We didn’t work for it yet. We didn’t sacrifice for it — we may not even really want it. We just agreed to go into bondage for it.

Debt think is signing that student loan agreement and being so excited because you don’t have to make a single payment until 6 months after you graduate. What you didn’t realize, because you didn’t read the fine print, is that the interest starts the minute we sign the paper — actually, most student loans take decades to pay just the interest off before the principle is even touched. Debt think let’s us see only the small, $50 monthly payment, without thinking about what the loan actually costs us.

Debt think sees in monthly payments. Debt think sees how fast something can be turned around. Debt think sees the power of borrowing and not the slavery of it. It’s buying into the sexy, slick way that stuff is supposed to makes us feel about ourselves and our lives.

Hey, not that credit is bad. It’s not. Using other people’s money can be the smartest thing you can do, if done right.

But debt think is a lie. It is a trick and an illusion.

If you have to go into bondage, do it. But don’t celebrate the bondage. Get free, and celebrate that.


Everett De Morier has appeared on CNN, Fox News Network, NPR, ABC, as well as in The New York Times and The London Times. He is the author of Crib Notes for the First Year of Marriage: A...