Thursday, November 21, 2013

Challenging the Status Quo

Today’s post is about something I think about quite often: challenging commonly held notions. We all fall into the trap of acting like everyone else. We can’t help it. Humans follow leaders and find strength in numbers. But what about when “what everyone else does” stops making sense to you? 

Take debt, for example. All my life I was told that “money doesn’t grow on trees” and that there is “good” and “bad” debt. Student loan debt and a mortgage are “good,” credit card debt is “bad.” The two lessons here are that money is hard to come by and that debt can be both good and bad. The first is true, the second is the one I challenge.

If my money doesn’t grow on trees, it means it is hard to come by or you have to work extremely hard to get it. Following that logic, many decide that they’ll just take on a debt to have what they want now rather than later. In the case of a student loan or in some cases a mortgage, this makes more sense. You need an education to get certain jobs and you need a place to live. You don’t need to buy that one thing you want right now just because you really want it.

Debt has always been a bad word to me. It was what kept my parents paying bills on top of bills and working long hours. For a long time I thought that was just how it was, that this was how all families (except the extremely wealthy) live. We weren’t wealthy, so we lived on credit and everyone worked until they were physically unable.

I say NO to this. I challenge this status quo. Once I actually had debt, I realized it was a huge burden that was going to follow me around for over 10 years. My education was worth getting into debt for, but had I known then what I know now, I would have done things differently. Taking general education requirements at a community college, for example, would have saved me thousands of dollars.

Once I woke up to the fact that I could actually do myself a huge financial favor by getting out of debt quicker (thus saving a ton in interest), it was like a light-bulb went off in my head and I started examining other areas of my life where I kept with the status quo:

  • I live in a big city with good public transportation and bike lanes. Why would I need a car?
  • My clothes fit fine and last a long time. Why do I need to buy something new every season?
  • Something broke and I don’t know how to fix it. Why would I automatically buy a new one when I can teach myself how to fix it (i.e. Youtube videos) or take it in to a repair shop for less (i.e. shoes)?
  • I have plenty of food in my kitchen. Why would I need to go out and buy more just because I crave something particular?
  • I have functioning electronics that fulfill my needs. Why do I need to go out and buy the latest gadget?
  • I get a haircut at a local salon, spending close to $70 a few times a year. Why do I do this when my mom is a hair stylist and can cut my hair just fine?
  • I have plenty of makeup that looks just fine on me. Why do I need to buy more just because the fashion industry says something is “in” this season?
  • There are plenty of options for free exercise at my disposal: outdoor trails, free weights, yoga videos online, and a community indoor pool. Why do I need to “go to the gym” and pay for it?
  • I love reading and want to read as many books as possible. Why do I need to buy them when the library has perfectly good options?
  • I don’t have a ton of stuff so I don’t require a ton of space. Why do I need to buy a huge house or rent a huge apartment?
  • I don’t watch a ton of TV. Why do I need the fanciest cable package?

These are just some of the questions I’ve asked myself over the last 2 or 3 years. In every single instance I’ve realized I don’t need what society says I do. Some of these things are wants, yes. And once I’ve taken care of the real priorities, getting out of debt and building a comfortable emergency fund, then I’ll go back to some of these wants and reassess.

It isn’t always easy challenging the status quo. Even your most well-meaning friends or family members won’t always understand your reasoning. I’m the only person I know in real life that has attacked debt the way I have - paying off close to $20,000 in one year. I’ve made it my top priority to get out of debt, and have made the sacrifices necessary. But what is funny is I don’t consider any of the things I listed above - cable, car, gym membership, new clothes - as sacrifices. I started out thinking perhaps they would be, but then I realized I was perfectly happy without these things. I’ve become more financially stable in the process, and learned to prioritize the activities I truly enjoy.

These are my ways of challenging the status quo. What about you? Are there things you reject that “normal” society would think you are bonkers for not doing?


  1. I think student debt is good debt ONLY if you are doing something with that education! if you went to school for 4 years and racked up $50,000 in debt, but your field only really pays $25,000 a year, well then that's crazy. You get no return on that investment!

    1. Agreed! And I think it is even worse for those who never even finish their degree, yet they have student loan debt. It doesn't make sense! I don't know how Canadian high schools do in this area, but one thing I think US high schools lack is adequate financial prep for the real world. Looking back, I really had NO idea what I was getting myself into. A basic class on finances would have been really helpful.