Philosophical Musings

Monkey See, Monkey Do

  • Debt is normal.
  • Debt is evidence that good things have happened in your life.
  • Debt is paid off over the long haul.

A lot of people agree with these statements. It’s common for someone to have a 30-year mortgage on their beautiful house.

…or $60K in debt from their college degree.

…or $40K in debt from their new work truck.

These are nice things to have. And yes, that debt takes a while to pay off. But here are my additional feelings about debt, that I think you should consider:

  • Debt is a gorilla that is sitting on your chest. It’s crushing you, stealing a significant number of your hard-earned dollars bananas. And if you run out of bananas or forget to feed it, it could maul your face and scar you for life.  

Or, if the gorilla metaphor doesn’t do it for you, perhaps these less hyperbolic statements will make more sense:

  • Debt is a shackle.
  • Debt is exigent.
  • Debt is a silent financial killer.

Debt is what’s leftover when you spent money that you did not have. Virtually everyone goes into debt at some point, and often for very good reasons. I’ve done it, and I continue to do it. First, I accrued 5-figure debt from college loans. I needed a college degree. Then, more 5-figure debt for a car. I needed to get around. I recently got myself into near 6-figure debt to buy a house; it’s a better deal than renting, for me. But spending money that you do not have is a risky one-off behavior—and a downright terrible habit. And what is the leftover remnant of that terrible habit? It’s debt!

I love my house, I think it’s great, I take pride in it. But I hate the debt that came with it. That debt is my gorilla, and I’m doing everything I can to get out from underneath it. Every day in debt increases my financial risk, and decreases my net worth. What if something happens in my life and I can no longer afford to make mortgage payments? The gorilla doesn’t care; it continues to sit on my chest, and gets even fatter. Soon he’ll start slapping me. That’s financial risk! Every month, I see that ~40% of my mortgage payment pays off interest on the debt–it’s not paying off the debt itself. I’m burning that money up…poof!…for the luxury of owning a house. Burning money = decreasing net worth. This debt is a miserable monkey.  

Don’t fall into the trap of “debt has a long-term solution.” I mean, technically it does, but it’s sitting on your chest for that entire long haul. Don’t submit to that fate. Instead, think of your debt as exigent, demanding your action. Squirm, fight, scrap resources together to get out from under your debt. Sure, you might be able to make your minimum debt payments and still afford nice dinners, dates at the movies, or a new pair of skis. But just remember that the gorilla is still sitting on your chest while you do those things.   

Sounds great. Makes sense. But remember, I’m writing this from between a mortgage gorilla’s cheeks. So why’d I do it? Why voluntarily slip into this painful, smelly position?

The key, I believe, is that I saw the debt coming. I planned for it, understood the costs and benefits to taking on that debt, and I am currently implementing a plan to reduce the debt as rapidly as I can afford to. I’m aware of debt’s silent assassination technique—long term interest—and I’m actively counteracting it. I’m making extra payments every month (against the principal of the mortgage), and plan on using extra savings  a few times a year towards lump sum payments against that principal. I did this with my college loan (a chimpanzee, if you will) and with my car loan (one of those Japanese monkeys in the snowy hot springs), both of which are now off my chest. The early release from those debts saved me a little money, sure, but I also got out of the shackles of debt at an earlier time. I decreased my risk, and increased my financial freedom.

I gave myself the knowledge and confidence that I’d be able to apply similar techniques to my mortgage. I still hate this mortgage gorilla, but I knew he was coming, I know when he’ll be gone, and I understand exactly how many bananas he’s going to steal from me.

So next time you make a big purchase, size up that monkey. Plan out your debt, think about your payments, and how much money you might lose to interest. Look forward to the nice things that come with debt (that truck, that house, etc.), but also plan out the financial risk. Don’t put yourself in a position where the pain of the debt surprises you, hurts you, or damages your future. You’re in control. Turn that scary King Kong into a cute Curious George.

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About Jesse Cramer

I’m Jesse. I’m an engineer, a new owner of an old home, and an avid reader/writer. I hope you enjoy my thoughts, numerical breakdowns, and general musings. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@BestInterest_JC) or on Reddit (u/BestInterestDotBlog). Many of my posts have been directly influenced by my readers. It’s the most fun part of writing this blog. And as always, thanks for reading the Best Interest. Jesse
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14 thoughts on “Monkey See, Monkey Do

  1. Interested in your thoughts on whether the increasing debt statistics are culturally driven, spurred by industry driving demand, increased access, passed down generations, self perpetuating?

    1. Hi Craig. Thanks for your interest in the Best Interest. I’m no economist, nor a sociologist, but I certainly have my own opinions. So, what are some of the heavy hitters?

      Let’s start with student loan debt. That one, I think, is culturally driven. Lots of young people, including myself, are drilled with the idea that a college education is essential to long term success. While there is some merit to that thought process, it also means that some folks end up $100K in debt for a degree in, proverbially, Underwater Basketweaving. I feel terrible for people who say to themselves, “I did everything my mentors, leaders, parents, etc. told me to do. And now I’ll be paying off my student loans for 15, 20, 30 years, or even longer.”

      Consumer debt (e.g. credit card debt)…I think this one can be blamed a bit more on individual choices. For example, the idea of “keeping up with the Jones.” It usually comes from the individual choice to outspend one’s income on a consistent basis.

      And much of it is self-perpetuating…perhaps that deserves it’s own blog post at some point. Once a ship starts taking on water, it’ll sink faster. And therefore take on more water…and then sink even faster, and faster. Etc. You get it. People often take on new debt to pay off old debt. Or they take on debt with no understand of the ramifications, or no plan to pay it off. They go into debt thinking it’s the cute baby monkey in the zoo, completely unaware that it might one day become the scary life-altering gorilla.

      **No monkeys were harmed in the writing of this post.
      **For any complaints involving the libel of primates, please contact my attorneys Dewey, Cheetum, and Howe.

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