March 5, 2018

Debt Slavery Hits New Highs

Do an internet search for "sad debt stories", and you will open a door to misery and woe. There are no shortage of horror stories, ranging from celebrities to the folks next door. Debt, and the resulting sad stories, should come with a strongly worded warning label.

Such labels could have pictures of things like someone burning their furniture to stay warm, or a debt collector appearing at a grave. And leaving with the headstone. And flowers.

The only thing worse than buying a bunch of stuff you don't need, is borrowing money to buy a bunch of stuff you don't need. Globally this is what seems to be happening as people gorge on consumer credit like never before. New records are being broken every year - for debt and for sad stories.

Consumer debt includes credit cards, car loans, and student loans, but not mortgages, and it has reached nose bleed levels in both the US and Canada. In my own country of high expectations, people have borrowed to maintain their lifestyles, and owe, on average, $1.73 for every $1.00 of disposable income.

Hey, if you can't support a bloated lifestyle with earned money in the bank, don't downsize - borrow, borrow, borrow, and get all the things that are going to make you happy. For a while. Maybe. Good luck paying it off.

The faster we shop, the deeper in we go. We can't seem to stop. It is an addiction, and if it weren't so darn profitable, we would consider it a national mental health crisis. Debt is the crack of consumerism, and we are smoking it as fast as we can.

In another trend, more Canadians than ever before are retiring with debt. Cue more sad stories. Some of them will die with debt. If there is no hope of ever paying it off, you fit the very definition of "debt slave".

Meanwhile, in the lending industry, the banksters lick their chops at consumers' desires, and laugh about the slogan hung on the board room wall that says, "Lend With a Smile -  Collect With a Fist".

That is why, if one is considering living a freer, simpler lifestyle, getting out of debt is of utmost importance. The chains must be broken, the debt paid off, and no new debt accrued ever again.

You can't go wrong with this in mind.

When you begin to not buy anything (or at least as little as you can get away with), you will at least not accumulate new debt. In the best case scenario, you use the money you save on not buying anything to bring your debt down, hopefully, one day, to zero.

That is freedom day. That is when you can laugh at the banks as you throw your broken chains through their front window. I would call that performance art. Get it on video if you do it, then share it far and wide so other debt slaves can see that breaking free is possible. Potentially difficult, but possible.

No unnecessary spending = no debt = freedom.

It should be noted that many people are using debt for necessary spending in an attempt to compensate for the dismal state of the wage labour situation today. Or should we say wage slavery situation? I see a disturbing trend here.

However, hope can be found in voluntary simplicity because it allows us to be less dependent on the sick systems that are trying, successfully I might add, to exploit us. They will get their pound of flesh - unless you don't buy what they have to offer.


  1. Anonymous3/05/2018

    Yes I can relate, having a debt horror story of my own. But the funny thing is, when I found your blog years ago, it helped me move toward feeling free-er even while I was working my way toward debt freedom. Even though sometimes debt is due to a bad experience that happens you still can make choices . And making better choices stops you from feeling the victim in all of this and you can move more freely towards your goals of simplicity and freedom. So thanks for the positive impact you've had on my journey! Nancy

    1. Nancy,

      Simplicity and freedom are the way to go. Out of control debt moves one in the opposite direction. We are so happy that we have been able to help you reduce your debt. Helping people and the planet is why we started NBA almost 10 years ago.

      It is great that you have been with us on our journey.

  2. Anonymous3/05/2018

    This hits SO close to (my) home. For more years than I care to remember, I carried credit card debt on two credit cards. In 2010, I decided to get real about my finances and began paying them off. It took me two years of serious frugal living but, in December of 2012, I paid off the final balance. I have been debt-free since then, but I know only too well the misery that debt brings. Paying off debt CAN be done! The lessons I learned about frugal living have stayed with me and have helped me remain debt-free. Yes, I still want to buy things that I don't need (and certainly can't afford), but all I have to do is remember how it felt, dreading those Visa and Discover card statements that I knew I couldn't pay to keep me from clicking "Buy Now". Your blog helps me stay focused and I know it helps inspire others to begin their journey towards living debt-free. We can do it!


    1. Sophie,

      Thanks for sharing your hopeful story - people need to hear about individuals such as yourself. Debt can be a crushing experience, and it feels great to get over it. What an accomplishment for you - debt-free is the way to be.

      Together we are doing it. That gives me hope.

  3. Hello Gregg,

    I do believe it is a national, and international mental health crisis. People have lost their grip on reality when they think they can spend like there is no tomorrow, and spend money they haven't even earned yet.

    Advertising is a sneaky, evil disease that in just one generation has turned us into 'consumers' instead of citizens. My parents and grandparents would never have dreamed of carrying the debt people have today. The message young people are getting is 'you can have it all, and you can have it all now'. I know this because I work with young people and have a couple of my own.

    Aside from debt, the other thing that keeps us as wage slaves is the rising cost of living. In my own area ( a large country town) the cost of housing more than doubled in the last housing boom. Although my electricity use has gone down my recent Summer bill was more than double what I paid 5 years ago. It is depressing, worrying and frustrating. Installing solar panels is on the list but still not the whole solution. They don't last forever - in other words, you have to keep earning to pay for the next lot! We are working on reducing our usage even lower, although I dream of buying a little piece of land and just being completely off the grid. Our land taxes are also fierce - about AUD $2600, and just continue to rise each year. We have greatly increased the size of the vegetable garden in an effort to buy less, and want to see just how little we can get by on. I think back to my grandparents who had good, happy lives and try to note, what did they live without that we have, and could I do that too?

    For my generation (born in the 60s) so many things have become 'needs' that were luxuries, or simply not available not too long ago. Technology is another thing that enslaves us. As a young adult I was not paying for a computer (and it's maintenance), a mobile phone, a printer (essential for work), the ink, repairs and replacement of said printer etc...I did not pay for internet connection, just a small landline fee. I also did not have a clothes dryer, hair dryer or many of the things that people now see as 'needs' - and I was perfectly happy without them.

    I guess the point of my long ramble is that simplicity is the answer. It is hard to completely escape the system and to avoid being complicit in enslaving others (eg by buying things made in unethical conditions) but being debt-free and stopping shopping certainly puts us in a strong position to move towards a freer life.


    1. Madeleine,

      I think that looking back at our grandparents is an excellent idea. Even when we were younger things were considerably simpler, and less expensive. Now it seems like even a simple life can cost a lot.

      When Linda and I moved to the east coast in 2014 it was partly to reduce our living expenses. Land is cheap here compared to out west, and if we rented a comparable home out there it would cost twice as much, or more. We would like to not have to pay rent, and are always looking for a place we might have a small home, and large garden.

      Regardless, living simply will always be cheaper than the alternative, wherever you are, as you point out.

  4. A few further thoughts....Owning a house in town we have no choice but to pay for garbage collection, even if we choose not to use it. We could choose to produce very little waste and drive it to the dump ourselves once a month for a very small charge, probably about AUD $10. By contrast, we pay almost $800 a year for garbage pick up as part of our land taxes, and we do not have the option to choose not to use the service. A friend also recently pointed out that even if you produce all your own electricity with solar panels you are still charged a tariff as your home is still connected to the grid, whether you need it or not.

    This leads me to my dilemma. I would like to completely get off the grid and off the system by living out of town where there is no water, sewage lines, electricity or garbage disposal provided. However, this would mean I would need a car, whereas in town I could manage without one. So that is an ongoing cost I would have to foot. I wonder what other readers think? Would they weigh the decision up based where the cost of living would end up lowest, or would they choose the option that gave them the most independence from the system? I am lucky to have enough land in town to grow the bulk of our fruit, vegetables and nuts and also have room for chickens. So the food side of things would not come into the equation.

    I hope many will share their thoughts!


    1. Madeleine,

      That is a tough one. I dream of not having to own a vehicle, so that part of it appeals to me a great deal. But I sure do like it out in the country. It just points out all the trade-offs we need to consider and make while crafting our perfect lifestyle.

      The system as it exists sure does not make this kind of decision making any easier. They have got us right where they want us wherever we are, and however we are living. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try for a more total separation from harmful ways of business as usual.

      Creativity and innovation are required. Solutions are out there. It sounds like you have come up with many already. I will be interested to hear how other people are dealing with all this.

    2. Anonymous3/06/2018

      I know what you mean about having to own a car. We live in a small town on the border of a larger one. We don't have a transportation system, but we do have many services that are within walking distance. We require a car to visit relatives,over the border in the US, doctors and dentists etc.
      Apart from that we don't drive great distances.

      We have a large garden and grow lots of veggies, we also live close to farms so in summer there are many roadside stands to access fresh food. I preserve and freeze in the summer.
      Sometimes we have to make the best of what we have around us and look for the blessings of local amenities.
      We are not allowed to have backyard chickens and I am too old to start looking after them anyways, but I can buy local eggs at the Farm stands around us.


  5. Anonymous3/06/2018


    We live in the middle of a medium-sized city and have thought of moving to a plot in the country (30 minutes from the city) often over the years. The land would be free - a gift from family - and we would need to build a home (rarely an environmentally-friendly undertaking). While this would allow us to grow food (we currently rent a small apartment), it would take us away from the very close grocery store, library, and jobs - we would have to drive much, much more than we do now. And with the rate of growth in North Texas, the "country" may not be the somewhat removed place it now is. Things are changing quickly here.

    So we have decided to remain where we are. We rent our small apartment and it is comfortable and cozy. We have wonderful neighbors and our backyard is a trail system on a river that we both use daily for recreation and exercise.
    When we do think of buying a house in the city (which we do about once a year), we are always brought back to the fact that housing prices are volatile, you can't pick (or move away from) your neighbors, and taxes are skyrocketing!

    This is straying from your situation, but I want to share that I have a dear, near-80-year-old friend who reminds me that buying a house is never a good financial decision, it is an emotional one. I try to remember that when the "grass is greener" feelings come and I long for a backyard with rows of vegetables. I remember that I can grow a little on my patio, and we have a bustling farmers market down the road. We enjoy the city and all it affords us. For us, renting is the answer. -Erin

  6. Anonymous3/06/2018

    Hello Erin,

    thank you for your response. I too have done the sums on home ownership and agree that it is an expensive financial decision. A major reason for me wanting to own my home is that in Australia if you are still renting in retirement you are likely to be living in serious poverty.

    Rents have sky-rocketed here over the years and in my part of the country it would cost me as much to rent as to pay my mortgage. The pension is not high and I don't have a lot of retirement savings. So for me owning a home makes the most sense. We are well on the way to having no mortgage, and for us that will mean the freedom to choose how much we work, and not to be slaves to the job to keep a roof over our heads.

    I do think sometimes you can live quite sustainably in the city because often you are close to everything and there is transport, and if you are lucky cycle lanes too. Community gardens are springing up everywhere, and they are a good option. In the end we all have to do our best to 'bloom where we are planted'. Thanks again for your thoughts!


    1. Anonymous3/08/2018

      That makes a lot of sense - good for you! And it is troubling that you have to own to have a decent retirement in Australia. That may be the case in some areas of the US, but not here. Best of luck as you move forward! -Erin

  7. Interesting timing of this post for me. I became debt free again when I paid off my mortgage (12.5 years into the 30 year loan). I can't say I never do any unnecessary spending, I'm far from perfect, but I do live below my means and love not having to worry about paying for bills and unexpected emergencies. I find that the less I shop, the more painful it becomes.

    It does feel pretty good although I didn't throw any chains. 🙂

    1. min his,

      Congratulations on your debt-free, shackle-less status. That is a very rare thing these days. It is nice to live so simply that money is not a constant worry. A large percentage of Canadians report that if they had an unexpected bill it would cause financial hardship. Many have no savings, and lots of debt. That is no way to live, although in these times I understand how someone could get there.


Comments will be printed after moderation to eliminate spam. We are proudly a no buying, no selling website.

We enjoy reading all comments, and respond when time permits.

If you put a name to your comment we can all recognize you for your contribution.

Thank you for visiting and commenting.