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Why are we so comfortable to live in debt?

A recent headline shouted out the fact that an eye-popping 40 per cent of Canadians “think they’ll be in debt forever.”

The article by Anne Gaviola, posted on the Vice website, cites data from Manulife. The article goes on to note that the average Canuck has $71,979 in debt – up from $57,000 five years ago. These figures, the article says, come via Equifax.

It wasn’t always like this, was it? Why are all willing to live with debt levels that are approaching record highs?

Save with SPP had a look around for answers – why are we so comfy carrying heavy debt loads?

According to the Advisor, it may simply be that paying the way with debt has become so common that no one gets worked up about it anymore.

“Living with debt has become a way of life for both Generation X… and baby boomers as the stigma of owing money is gradually disappearing,” the publication reports, citing Allianz Life research originally published by Generations Apart.

The research found that “nearly half (48 per cent) of both generations agree that credit cards now function as a survival tool and 43 per cent agree that ‘lots of smart, hardworking people who are careful with spending also have a lot of credit card debt,’” the article reports. Having debt is making people plan to work indefinitely – the article notes that 27 per cent of Gen Xers, and 11 per cent of boomers “say they are either unsure about when they plan to retire or don’t plan to retire at all.”

Why the comfort with debt? The Gen Xers got credit cards earlier than their boomer parents, and half of Gen Xers (and nearly a third of boomers) never plan to pay anything more than the minimum payments on them, the article notes.

“Over the last three decades, there has been a collective shift in how people view debt – it’s now perceived as a normal part of one’s financial experience and that has fundamentally altered the way people spend and save,” states Allianz executive Katie Libbe in the article. “If Gen Xers continue to delay saving for retirement until they are completely out of debt, their nest egg is clearly going to suffer. For Gen Xers who are behind on saving, better debt management, with a focus on credit card spending, should be the first issue they address to get back on track,” she states.

To recap, it almost sounds like there’s a couple of generations out there who have never worried about debt.

What should people do to get out of debt?

According to the folks at Manulife, there’s a five-step process that will get you debt-free.

Manulife cites the fact that Canadians owe about $1.65 for every dollar they make. That suggests they aren’t ready to “make a budget and stick with it,” and always spending more than they earn, the article says.

In addition to getting real about budgeting, the other tips are paying off credit cards by targeting those with the highest interest rate first, considering debt consolidation, earning extra money, and negotiating with creditors.

Tips that Save with SPP can personally vouch for in managing debt include giving your credit cards to a loved one, and instructing that person not to hand them over even if you beg; paying more than the minimum on your credit cards and lines of credit; and trying to live on less than 100 per cent of what you earn, so that you are paying the rest to yourself.

While a country can perpetually run deficits and spend more than it earns – and most do – the math doesn’t work out as well for individuals. The piper eventually has to be paid. And if you only pay the minimums, that piper will get paid for many, many years.

Getting debt under control and paid off will help you in many ways, including saving for retirement. Perhaps as you gradually save on interest payments, you can direct the savings to a Saskatchewan Pension Plan retirement account, and watch your savings grow.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22