DH = Dear Husband
Log Jam of Debt
DH and I are truly sick of our debt. With huge business expenses in December and serial vet bills in January, our debt-reduction has been painfully slow lately, and we’re stewing in exasperation. We’re ready to do something radical to bust this log jam of debt. We just don’t know what.
When the same bit of wisdom is presented to me from three different sources in a powerful way and in a short period of time, I take hold of it with the understanding, This is for me; I’d better pay attention. In the past few months, I have been struck by the message and/or example of three different men, and I’m paying attention.
Anthony de Mello
Born in Bombay, India in 1931, de Mello became a Jesuit priest and a psychotherapist who taught and wrote about spirituality. Although he was widely known before his death in 1987, DH and I had never heard of him until this past fall when a friend sent us a link to a YouTube audio recording of one of de Mello’s seminars. Over the next couple of weeks we devoured all eight hours of it, and I have since read three of de Mello’s books.
“Happiness is our natural state,” he says in Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality. “Happiness is the natural state of little children, to whom the kingdom belongs until they have been polluted and contaminated by the stupidity of society and culture. To acquire happiness you don’t have to do anything, because happiness cannot be acquired. Does anybody know why? Because we have it already. How can you acquire what you already have? Then why don’t you experience it? Because you’ve got to drop something. You’ve got to drop illusions. You don’t have to add anything in order to be happy; you’ve got to drop something. Life is easy, life is delightful. It’s only hard on your illusions, your ambitions, your greed, your cravings.”
Sixto Rodriguez (Searching for Sugar Man)
Looking online for good movies one Friday night in November, DH came across the title Searching for Sugar Man. He watched it with a friend and then told me, “You have GOT to see this movie!” When I asked him what it was about, he said it was a documentary, but he refused to tell me anything more. “Just watch it. Trust me.” The next week I did watch it, DH sitting eagerly by my side to catch my reaction. He was right. What a fantastic movie! And I’m so glad he hadn’t told me anything about it. It was wonderful to discover the story as it unfolded. (Spoiler alert: If you haven’t already watched Searching for Sugar Man, skip to the next section.)
An American folk singer of Mexican heritage, Sixto Rodriguez was considered up-and-coming by powerful people in the music industry in the late sixties and early seventies, and he released two albums. They went nowhere, and Rodriguez faded into obscurity. He raised his three children, worked as a labourer in Detroit, and for twenty-five years was completely unaware that in a country on the other side of the world, he had become a legend. Hundreds of thousands of his records had sold to teenagers in South Africa through the seventies. Released as CDs in the nineties, his albums were still being purchased by the next generation of a nation where everyone understood he was dead.
Thanks to the efforts of two ardent fans to discover how Rodriguez had died, in 1997 South Africans discovered instead that he was still living. Eager to host him, they flew the Detroit labourer and his daughters to their country in 1998, and for the first time, Rodriguez sang to his South African fans in person – and they sang every single word along with him.
Six visits and thirty concerts later, Rodriguez was asked how he felt about missing out on all those years of possibility – of a better life. “I’m not sure it would have been better,” he said in his quiet way. Twenty-five years of hard labour, poverty, and unappreciated talent, and he wasn’t sure that fame and fortune would have been better? “It was so sweet,” he said, full of emotion, about his first concert in South Africa. But it did not change him. He continued to live humbly in his old house in Detroit, giving most of the money that came his way to friends and family. Happy to sing again, he was neither overwhelmed by adulation nor spoiled by sudden wealth. He took it all in stride and stuck with his simple lifestyle in enduring contentment.
Mr. Money Moustache (M.M.M.)
The first time I heard of Mr. Money Moustache, I was in the car listening to the radio. Canadian-born and now living in the US, he was being disparaged for his miserly ways, and someone said he looked like a seventies porn star. I wasn’t paying much attention. A few months after DH and I started our journey out of debt though, someone asked me if I read Mr. Money Moustache’s blog. I automatically rolled my eyes, said “no”, and since the person who asked thought he was bizarre, that was it. How quickly I had been biased against him by the demeaning quip of a radio announcer!
A couple of months ago, an anonymous comment on my blog referred to Mr. Money Moustache in positive terms. The woman who wrote it was enthusiastic in her praise of M.M.M. saying that she and her husband were now on track to retire early and debt-free because of his influence. She invited me to read his blog, recommending especially his early posts which explain his unique situation.
When I checked out his blog, I cringed at the moustache – probably still influenced by that seventies porn star comment – but I read, and was properly humbled. M.M.M. and his wife worked for nine years after graduating from university and then retired at age thirty. Now a thirty-something couple, they are raising their son without any financial stress. No mortgage to pay. No worries about job insecurity. Complete financial freedom. How is this even possible?
M.M.M. and his wife lived without excess through their nine years of work. They were well-paid, but they were not tempted by the siren calls of materialism and “lifestyle” that lead most of us to our debts. Ridiculed by friends who drove sexier cars, wore finer clothes, travelled and dined out, they lived very simply – and saved hand over fist. Together, they invested $4,000 per month, and after nine years of compound interest, they had a nest egg of $700, 000. And they’re living happily ever after.
I’ve read a few of M.M.M.’s withering insights to DH, like this one from a recent post in which he responds to a detailed analysis of “the retirement issue” published in a newspaper: “Let’s be clear about this: The retirement issue in this country is because people are buying way too much sh** they don’t need, pampering themselves with ridiculous lattes, restaurants, shoes, and massages, and riding around constantly in huge bullsh** bank-financed trucks for no reason.” Offensive? DH didn’t think so. He wants to hear more from M.M.M. And funny thing, I get a kick out of that moustache now.
What We Are Going To Do
Anthony de Mello, Sixto Rodriguez, and Mr. Money Moustache all share a common wisdom. Materialism and exorbitant lifestyle don’t buy happiness. Happiness is found in simplicity. The promises of credit cards, banks, and ads are hollow. And yet so many of us hold so firmly to them that we’re in chronic debt – something that robs us of happiness.
“I want to purge,” DH said earlier this week. “We’ve got so much stuff.” So this week-end, that’s what we’re going to do. Starting with the kitchen, we’re going to weed out stuff. It’s not with a plan to sell anything – though that’s a possibility. The main objective is to shed, drop, simplify. It’s a very tangible move in what I think is a good direction. It won’t clear our debt, but I’ve heard that setting one’s house in order plays out positively in other areas of life – including one’s finances. So much clutter jamming up our debt-reduction. Time to clear it away.