We need to talk about debt. If you’re anything like me, the mere mention of the word will make your eyes glaze over, your chest tighten and your mind duck like an ostrich burying its head in the sand.

But don’t. And don’t click away. Debt is not so bad. Just breathe through the fear.

Okay, I lied. It is bad. It’s brain-crushing and soul-destroying and very, very scary and it can ruin your life if you ignore it and let it consume you.  

So don’t ignore it. These days debt counselling, debt websites, and debt management is a real thing.

And you know what? You are not alone. In fact over the last four years total consumer debt increased by 22% and stood at R1.39 trillion. And the average age of a debt-ridden consumer has fallen from 42 to 34. That means the younger generation is already stepping into the debt trap.

I think we need to ask why we get ourselves into debt so readily.

Sure most things in life are ruinously expensive and for many South Africans just covering the basics is already enough to eat through our monthly salaries. But are we putting ourselves under pressure because we keep on buying things we don’t need? Do you have unsustainable borrowing habits because you are living beyond your means?

I’ve found that everyone I know has fallen into the trap of spending more as soon as they start earning more. Because we live in such a crazy consumer culture, in which we are constantly pressurised to buy, buy, buy, we have become obsessed with acquiring new and upgrading existing possessions. Once we’ve covered all our basic needs i.e. shelter, food, clothing, safety, leisure, etc, we don’t feel content and start focusing on bettering ourselves as people.

Nope. Instead we focus on acquiring better houses, more luxuries, more expensive clothes, and bigger cars.

Maslow would be so depressed.

Is it too late to turn it around? Maybe. In a society where “frugal” is a swearword and a person’s status is determined by how much wealth she has, it’s definitely going to be a challenge. But it can be done. Start budgeting properly. See where you can cut costs. Learn the difference between need and want. Teach your kids that value and worth should not be measured in money. Reduce, reuse, recycle.  Be thankful for what you have instead of bitter about what you don’t have.

To help you with this you can visit this awesome debt management site brought to you by Fin24.

But the real change has to happen in yourself. Say no to the crazy lifestyle you can’t afford. I promise you, a good night’s sleep is worth more than anything you can buy.

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