Friday, November 11, 2005

Land, Debt, etc.

My father (may his soul rest in peace) paid off the house mortgage in about 8 years. I remember I was in first or second grade at the time. He always paid cash for a new car. He had a credit card in later years only as modern travel dictated its necessity for car rentals, hotels, etc. We didn't have all the new gadgets. (I recall we didn't get a color TV until the mid-to-late eighties-after I was up and grown. The first time I watched the Wizard of Oz with my wife, she chuckled with amusement as I watched it for first time on a color TV. I had never known that half of it was in color, or how the reference to the "horse of a different color" played out.) But we were happy and comfortable.

Now Mrs. Curley and I can't claim the frugality that my parents had. We spent some years with a mortgage, two car payments, multiple credit card balances-the American Dream right? With all that, we still didn't rival our neighbors for material goods or new gadgets. With a large, growing family in this society, you either need a very high salary or extremely deep debt to have all those things. Yet bills always hung over our head, and caused anxiety and at times, discord in our marriage.

After hearing a friend with 11 children comment one day about his trust in God and tithing, Mrs. Curley and I decided to get out of debt, cut expenses, and increase our giving once and for all. We certainly did not do it all by ourselves, but I think (at least in this instance) we did a fairly good job of cooperating with the blessings God sent in those next 7-8 years that we worked on getting rid of our debt. By the time I lost my job 18 months ago, we still had a mortgage, but no other debt at all, plus some savings, and this with a daughter in college at the time. We didn't have everything which was 'expected' of us by friends and neighbors. (The very first expense to hit the cutting block had been cable TV. It was more symbolic at the time then substantial.)

Getting rid of the debt (even having the mortgage) gave us a real sense of freedom. Sometimes things were tight by our standards then (little did we know how tight things can really get....), but we were never happier.

When I lost my job, 18 months ago, we had little anxiety. The modest severence package seemed more of a Godsend than the loss of the job, a tragedy.

Mrs. Curley and I had been discussing moving to a small place in the country very seriously for 2-3 years. I had looked at a beautiful 18-acre farm and house (remnant of a 100+ acre dairy and potato farm) in northern (very North, 10 miles from Canada) NH several times. But we couldn't see our way to buying it. Now, with a little extra money in our pocket, and finally a plan (Requiem Press) we decided to look for a country place.

The small farm I had seen in NH was a little out of our reach, and by the way, I didn't know what I could really do with 18 acres and a still work a full-time job at Requiem Press. Personally I wouldn't mind being a small-scale farmer full-time, but here were the problems: 1. My learning curve, and thus fruits of my labor, would probably be too slow for the nutritional needs of the family (some would say this about Requiem Press too...); 2. I really do think that my God-given talents would not be best utilized as a farmer; and 3. I tend to believe you should not purchase more than you know what to do with. (this sometimes saves you some $$ too).

Thus we were looking for a place with 2-5 acres. 5 acres would allow us to have a cow or two. 2 acres would be too small for a cow, but chickens, rabbits, (maybe some goats) and a large garden would be acceptable for our needs. And this is what we eventually found. The house is more modest than we were used to. We had to part with many things to fit into the new house, [we still need to get rid of more-the "yard sale", (see below somewhere), didn't quite work out].

I guess my point is that greatly limitting or eliminating debt opens the door not only to financial freedom, but also being more open to God (The more stuff we have, the more time we spend taking care of that stuff-as opposed to taking care of our soul.) Having little or no debt of course doesn't necessarily mean financial troubles are over. You still have to pay taxes, electricity, heating fuel, etc every month-and thus you need an income to do so. But these expenses are more easily met. You can also better discern and follow you vocation if you are not hampered by the burden (both real-the necessity of paying, and psychological-anxiety) of much debt.

Agrarianism? I think there are benefits, listed on Bethune Catholic before and other places, to growing some (or all) of your own food, raising animals, and in general learning how to do things for yourself. Although I do not mean to say you should be "self-sufficient" and rely on no one else. Man is a social being. We need community and the help of others. (It is good for developing own humility and charity). But that is just the point. Our community should be smallish, so it can be very real-along the lines of Distributism and the principle of subsidiary.

From Bethany, the small holding in Bethune...Oremus pro invicem!


Iosue Andreas said...

I absolutely agree with your thoughts on debt.

My Korean wife, God bless her, got me to kick the American debt habit. "Why pay off your student loans in ten years" she asked after we were married, "when you can do it in one?" We tightened our belts and did it.

We were later able to buy a car with cash and to pay for a surgery for our daughter in the US, where we have no insurance, with our savings, as well as some help from our parents and from God. We are now saving again in order to someday live as you are living, God willing.

Most Koreans and Asians, my wife among them, simply abhor the concept of debt. It seems we Americans used to as well. We'd do well to resurrect that abhorrence.

Jeff Culbreath said...

Jim, thanks for this very helpful post. You're a blessed man.

Joshua - we're counting the days.