Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Is being out of debt (or at least working towards that with vigor) a major ideal of distributism?

It seems to me it should be. Americans are so poor at money, no savings, most of the time our savings are in the negative, consumerism is touted as being patriotic, etc. We don't learn to save, we learn how to be in debt. Then we become wage slaves to the corporations that treat you like a number, and when you turn up at the wrong end of the bottom line, umph, you're kicked out the door. There is no "treat you like family" mentality in the world of work anymore, people are commodities to be used or discarded as the competition dictates, or the stock holders.

Can we really do anything about debt, besides trying to get out and stay out ourselves?


  1. I wholeheartedly agree Mrs. B.

    My great-grand mother, a simple peasant girl, had a saying about debt - that you can only cover yourself as far as your blanket will reach. As poor as she was, she refused debt of any kind, because she didn’t trust the banks.

    What can one do? Here is a “quick & dirty” bakers’ dozen plus:

    - Avoid buying on credit. Never get a loan. Save first, then buy. Use cash whenever you can. Don’t be an impulsive buyer - think before you buy! And don’t worry too much about your credit rating.

    - Don’t use the debit card. (Depends on you plan, be aware of charges. Generally, YOU pay to use a debit card.) Use a credit card if you must, but pay it off ASAP - and have enough savings to pay it off right away.

    - House is difficult to buy without mortgage. Get an open mortgage and repay it ASAP.

    - Get some expert advice (from a friend?) about how to save on paying unnecessary taxes. The rich can save, why couldn’t the poorer people?

    - Get rid of the TV cable. (Buy or borrow DVD’s if you must.) Don’t waste money by going to movies, rent or borrow.

    - Don’t subscribe to magazines if you can borrow them. Same with buying books. (Other than Chestertonian books & magazines which you want to support.)

    - Don’t buy a used car from a dealer. If you cannot buy second hand from somebody you know or trust, buy new, even though it depreciates about 30% the first year -- at least you are getting an (extended) warranty. (It is a bit tricky to buy second hand, especially for mechanically challenged, but there are good guides and Lemon Aid books.)

    - Negotiate your car insurance down if you can, but not your 3rd party liability! (No glass, pleasure or not for business vehicle, seasonal coverage only, etc.)

    - Don’t buy all the latest gadgets like iPods. Get rid of the cell phone if you can. Buy a faster and better computer and keep it longer.

    - Don’t eat out, avoid expensive gourmet treats like specialty coffee or ice cream. Cook or make your own, and bring it to work as well. Limit vending machine pop, coffee, etc. (Carry a small bottle of juice or water wherever you go, and a granola bar, if you can’t be without food or drink.)

    - Grow your own food in your backyard, if you can, there are very effective methods of small square gardening. Make your own preserves, pickles, etc.

    - Check out garage sales, there are good items one can buy for real cheap. Check the “for sale” message boards, newspapers, sometime people even give things away for free.

    - Walk or ride a bicycle if you can and where you can.

    - Organize your shopping trips, wait until you have several items you need from the different stores that can be reached only by a car, and then plan your route and go. (Off hours work better.)

    - Make your own wine and beer and anything else you can make. And stop smoking - liquor and cigarette taxes are extremely high.

    - Fix what you can, don’t just throw it away and buy new.

    - Buy good quality if you want an item to last - avoid ‘Made in China’ dollar store items, especially the ones that can easily break.

    Wild Goose

  2. Here are five reading suggestions.

    Die Broke (1997) challenges widely accepted ideas about jobs and money. Ridiculing the whole idea of a job as "personal fulfillment" and the source of financial security, the authors asked their readers to start thinking as though they are working for themselves, not for a company: Long term benefits like pension plans are worthless. Most will be fired long before being fully vested.

    Thomas Stanley and William Danko, The Millionaire Next Store. Country club members with sleek new cars, stunning wardrobes, and twenty-room homes are mostly broke. Most self-made millionaires live far below their means, reside in conventional middle-class neighborhoods, drive older model cars, and take cheap vacations.

    An entire grass roots movement has grown up around a book by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, a married couple who authored Your Money or Your Life, a step-by-step plan for getting out of debt and achieving financial independence.

    Duane Elgin, Voluntary Simplicity, is a guide to freedom from the complexity and pace of our lives, our enslavement to jobs, and our obsession with material gain and status symbols. Janet Luhrs publishes Simple Living, a quarterly journal. She has also assembled an encyclopedia of practical ideas and suggestions titled The Simple Living Guide, a big book covering everything from gardening to getting rid of stress.

    Amy Dacyczyn, The Tightwad Gazette: "Saving money is more fun and creative than spending." Diane Rosener, A Penny Saved: "You can live well without going broke" Melodie Moore, The Skinflint News Jonni McCoy's Miserly Moms: "I explore older cookbooks, written before convenience foods were available."

    ~ John Petrerson

  3. John:
    Until I saw your name at the end, I thought my husband had been on the ACS blog! He's read all these books and we live by them.

    And Wild Goose: we live by your principles, as well. (And thanks for mentioning that supporting the ACS is a worthwhile endeavor.)

    These are all excellent suggestions, thanks both of you.

  4. I'd like to quibble with a few of Wild Goose's suggestions:

    "Use cash whenever you can." Perhaps this is a good suggestion on principle, or for terribly undisciplined savers, but for those who are good at managing their money, it's probably not optimal. Using a no-fee credit card that you pay off in full each month before the grace period expires has several advantages over cash: Many cards offer cash back or rewards points; having a credit card helps you establish a credit history, which in turn helps improve your credit rating; and assuming you always pay off your entire balance every month, it's like getting a 20- or 25-day interest-free loan.

    "Don't worry too much about your credit rating." Seeing as how one's credit rating is the primary determiner of one's mortgage rate, as well as rates for auto loans and other lines of credit, I'd say you'd be a fool not to worry. If your credit score is suboptimal, do everything you can to get it back up to par. It could save you tens of thousands of dollars.

    "Don't buy a used car from a dealer." I'd say buying a used car from a friend and buying a used car from a dealer are both, when it comes down to it, equally a crap shoot. Just because your friend is an honest person doesn't mean that he can predict the future: No matter who you buy from, there's always the chance that some part will conk out unexpectedly. Rather than buying new and having the car depreciate, say, $5,000 in the first year, buy a "certified used" vehicle and add on whatever extended warranty you can get -- most used car dealerships now offer their own extended warranties. It'll cost you plenty, but probably not $5,000 plenty.

  5. Simple Living? AKA the Simple Life? Advocated on a Chestertonian blog?

    Wow. For a quick encore, maybe there should be a few paeans to secularism, eugenics, divorce, and imperialism, too. We wanna make sure we get all the ideas GKC loathed the most, right?

    Obviously there should be moderation and proportionality, not to mention reason, in one's economic choices (that's what's really lacking in the modern consumerism), but to have money and not use it, wisely and proportionally, is the same sin as excessive consumption. They're both forms of waste, and undervaluing the Good.

    A better approach would be, of course, to live as frugally as one can, but not to shy away from having a good thing one can afford merely because it's popular, or consumerist, or whatever. That would be to be a prig. Simply try and avoid excessive debt, pay your credit-card bills and other debts on time, and plan ahead, when it comes to your finances. Avoid both the madness of consumerism and the equal madness of the simple life, by simply, like a child (or a certain plus-sized journalist), only getting the things you want and need. If you can make what you want, then do. If you can use something else, then do. If you have to buy it, buy it as wisely and responsibly as you can.

    This way isn't as easy as the "Avoid Everything Modern and Live Like a Mountain Hermit (probably one of the ones who's really a goblin)" approach, but it is far more Chestertonian, and more Catholic. It forces one to clear one's minds of superstitious aversions to things that actually aren't related, and think clearly and rationally about what one really wants.

  6. Tom,
    As you well know, there are ways of looking at The Simple Life with Chestertonian eyes. We are mainly talking about distributism here, and some of the concepts of that overlap with some of the concept of simple living. We aren't dishonoring the name of Chesterton by bringing up an aversion to corporate slavery, growing your own vegetables or trying to get out of debt.

    You bring up some good points. Sometimes people mean small, (As in Small is Beautiful) sometimes people mean meaningful, sometimes people mean anti-big box store, etc. I don't think any of us were advocating hermitages and isolationism. Even though there is a place for certain people in hermitages, too.

  7. I think there is a vast difference between "living simply" and "living the Simple Life". All you have to do to see this is go to ChesterCon - where we have homemade Petta wine, and expensive imported Stilton cheese - and some of the most impossibly hard-to-find books are sold in the lobby - and people come from the East and the West - from all over the world - yes, even scholars have also heard - they come to hear a farmer, or a housewife, or a former lobbyist, or a pediatrician, or a recent college graduate, or a priest with two doctorates talk about a the writings of a journalist who has been dead for 70 years.

    We don't go shopping in elite wine shoppes for our wine - we might buy a lesser vintage because it has a colorful label. It was Mr. Mandragon in The Flying Inn who lived the Simple Life, not Innocent Smith in Manalive. We might call that way simple too as Little St (Doctor!) Therese would. But it is supernaturally simple: "But you have kept the good wine until now."

  8. Tom, since I intrduced “Simple Living” into this thread, I take it that all or part of your refutation is aimed at what I said. When I blow it, I hope I will always have the good grace and the good sense to acknowledge that lapse and apologize if an apology is appropriate. I do not believe I said or implied that people should “avoid everything modern and live like a mountain hermit.” If I did, I seriously misspoke. Such a life has never appealed to me and I have never recommended it to others. Take a quote from a Voluntary Simplicity web site:

    “You’ll be surprised to discover how much you can do without and still have more than enough to eat, stylish clothes to wear, a reliable car, a comfortable home -- and time to do the things you really want to do.” http://www.word-works.com/simple.htm

    But I guess thinking "simple life" implies the hermitage is better than thinking it endorses a TV series starring Paris Hilton. :>)

    ~ JPeterson

  9. "- Don’t subscribe to magazines if you can borrow them. Same with buying books. (Other than Chestertonian books & magazines which you want to support.)"

    A far better option is to subscribe to Gilbert Magazine, which allows you to buy all your Chesterton books from the ACS at a 20 percent discount.

  10. Maybe Consumer Reports is the first magazine one should not subscribe to. It seemed like a good idea. If you are going to buy this or that, you might as well get the most bang for your buck. But instead, we've learned to obsess over the most minute differences in material goods, while elevating procurement into a quasi-religion.

  11. I do apologize for being a bit terse about the references to the Voluntary Simplicty movement--I just ran out of my anxiety medication, and being without it makes me a a little crabby.

    However, since both my aunt and mother used to dabble in Simplicity, I think I know what I'm talking about. The movement equates almost all desire for property with greed. Though it is a movement rife with Catholics, it is also infected with the dumbed down Tolstoyism of the 60s, and also with a lukewarm Socialism with a Christian veneer.

    I never did really address the main point of the blog entry, though, debt. I do think getting out of debt ans staying out is important to any kind of economically feasible lifestyle, but what do you do about system-wide debt, as exists in America? All the debt relief programs really just slow down payment plans, and actually your creditors end up getting more out of you.

    The only solution I can think of, which would work but which nobody'll do, is to establish charities that will pay for debt forgiveness, the way there are charities that fund research into diseases. That, or we establish Islamic shari'a law, which forbids charging interest to fellow Muslims. But that kinda seems like a big step just to get out of debt.

  12. Should've said 'Or we all convert to Islam,' and establish Shari'a law;' Shari'a wouldn't help nonmuslim debtors.

  13. Hello Aquinas,

    The whole credit & debt concept, including the credit rating, is a very anti-Distributist thing that sucks in many people into the black hole of dependency and worry. It is also very unfair to the poor.

    Do we have to be optimal about everything? True, you if you wisely use your credit cards you can save a few bucks and improve your credit rating. But, considering the almost non-existent interest rates of our savings accounts lately, how much are you really saving? You do the math, but I am sure your numbers will not impress me.

    I don’t even know my credit rating, I have never inquired, (apparently each time you do, it goes down), and I have never had any problems. I have been offered several credit cards with up to $150,000 credit limit, which I promptly declined by destroying them. (I use my credit cards very cautiously, and I have never had bank or a car loan, etc...)

    Besides, there are other issues to worry about. I am quite convinced that there is a push or a plan to abolish paper money in favor or fully electronic banking with cards, chips and what not. Some secret towns have been supposedly selected as a pilot project to test the concept. (This I heard on regular news some time ago.) No need to say explicitly what it means if such plans succeed. By not using cash when you can, you are supporting such Gogmagog initiatives. I do believe in the “Use it or loose it” principle.

    I have heard horror stories about used cars sold by dealers, and I will never buy one even with extended warranties. The dealer is in business to make profit, and by golly, one way or another, he will. I know people (and their relatives, and parents, etc.) who have had such bad experiences buying used, that they now buy only new, and it is less of a hassle in the long run, if you can afford it. If you cannot, you have to settle for a beater and live with it. True, a friend cannot predict future, but he will be at least honest about the car’s history and problems. I am not sure what a certified used car is, and who certifies it. The only certification I trust is an independent car inspection arranged by me. And even those are not infallible.

    Wild Goose

  14. And then there are those who make less than they need to physically survive.


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