It is easy for me, an avid reader and literature professor, to reference Shakespeare, who was obviously aware of the Proverbs, as he echoes Proverbs 22:7 and 26-27 in Polonius’ advice to his son in Hamlet: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” These verses explain the risks of debt: you become a servant to the one you are indebted to (22:7). And then Solomon counsels us not to purchase things we aren’t able to pay for in the first place. When we do, those things don’t really belong to us, and the actual owner could come and take them away (22:26-27).
Debt is a bit of a dirty word in my house, but I realize that I live in a culture that embraces the convenience and instant gratification of borrowing. I’d like to focus here on the wisdom and satisfaction that can come from saving before spending. Perhaps one of the reasons debt is mentioned harshly by Solomon is because it can counteract other important characteristics and life skills the author says wise people have. Debt is often the temptation of the immediate or the perceived salvation for the ill-planned.
I’m not saying we’ve never had to borrow before. My parents have helped us out of a few scrapes. Throughout Jay’s graduate degree, we didn’t take out a single student loan. We lived carefully from paycheck to paycheck, but that meant little went into savings. Soon after Jay graduated, we found a house that my eight-month-pregnant brain and heart said we needed to own. My parents helped us with the down payment, and we knew we’d get a tax refund back within two months that would allow us to repay the loan. In my normal state, I had always wanted to save up a healthy down payment before purchasing our first home, but it was hard to argue with my hormonal soon-to-be-a-mom’s imposing need for more space for her coming child.
Many months later, when part of my logical brain re-engaged, I would think about the rushed decision to buy, and how perhaps we could have gotten a better deal on the house in general if we had waited until we saved up our own down payment. (Also, perhaps we would have been stuck for several months in a cramped apartment with a nursery that smelled like cat urine, so it’s hard to consider all the what if’s.)
When Jonas arrived, our car was too small. This time, though, we thought and acted differently. Jay worked a second job for a couple of months, and we are put away money to pay cash for a mini-van.
The lessons of patience, of working ahead instead of getting behind, of thinking about owning instead of owing: these are at the heart of the avoidance of debt.
Hard to believe it was over eight months ago when Jonas came into our lives, cramping our car and filling our hearts.
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