After paying off the mortgage, and burning my mortgage graph in the grill, I decided to do some research on the history of mortgage burning parties. I was curious about what had happened to them. After all, I had heard of them when I was a kid but hadn’t heard anything recently.
Why had they become outdated? When did we stop doing them? Were these another thing millennials have supposedly killed? I had to know.
So I Googled it, hopped on one of the first search results (Wikipedia), and was struck by this line in the description:
” Even when a personal mortgage is paid off at the conclusion of payments, throwing a party to celebrate is now generally considered gauche since the traditional paying off of a mortgage is no longer a standard rite of passage. It is now seen as bragging about one’s secure financial condition.”Wikipedia
Celebrating Debt Freedom Is Gauche
Living, as I do, primarily in a personal finance bubble on social media leads you to a skewed perception of that is normal to celebrate.
I get the honor of seeing people pay off tens of thousands in credit card debt and car loans. Hundreds of thousands in student loans. Mortgages at relatively young ages.
I feel privileged to cheer on people of all income levels, walks of life, and financial situations to reach their goals. I’ve seen people pay off more in a month towards debt than I earn, and others for whom an extra $100 per month is a reason to celebrate. To me, everyone working to reach financial stability and financial freedom should be celebrated.
Seeing this every day, I forget sometimes that for most people, they don’t get to see these celebrations. Instead, what they see are both traditional and social media celebrations of extreme wealth, and of debt.
Unless you exclusively hang out with the debt free community on Instagram (#debtfreecommunity), or others in the personal finance space, your Instagram is likely very different than mine.
Most of the most popular accounts are celebrations of wealth. Photos of huge, immaculate houses with the latest decorations. Fancy cars. Trips to exotic locations, which must have cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Lets not forget about traditional media. “Keeping Up With The Kardashians”, the various “Housewives” series, Food Network showcasing expensive ingredients, and HGTV making it seem like you can buy a $3 million dollar home when your job is sharpening pencils for a living.
It’s all about building an image of an envious life, which makes other people feel like “everyone” has these amazing things, and they should too.
In fact, people go into debt trying to become Instagram famous. Because living a life to be envied by others costs money.
On other social media platforms, and in the real world, people will celebrate when you buy your new, more expensive home. They’ll drool over your costly new car, admire your expensive purse, and be ecstatic about a second home.
They won’t celebrate paying off your student loans, becoming credit card debt free, or paying off your mortgage. Those are not things to be celebrated – those are bragging about your financial condition. Even if you make the same income they do (or less!), come from similar life circumstances, and have the same exact opportunities.
People frequently confuse the external vision of wealth with actual wealth in the bank. They think if you “look rich” or “look successful”, you are rich. The funny thing about this is that often people who are actually rich reject the expensive external “stuff” that proclaims their wealth, and instead live a modest life compared with their income.
When Did Debt Become Normal, And Debt Freedom Abnormal?
When you look at the history of debt here in the United States, it become obvious that there has been a huge change in the availability and perception of debt compared with decades ago.
Not too long ago, a second mortgage was considered an act of absolute desperation. It was something you only took on to save your family from being thrown out on the streets and was almost shameful. Now people are encouraged to take equity out of their homes to remodel, to pay for kids college (this was mentioned by my bank when I originally refinanced to the 15-year), or for various other reasons.
Car loans used to be hard to get, and expensive. You had to buy a car you could afford. Student loans were the same way. The first credit cards forced you to pay the balance in full every month.
Over time, we’ve gone from a cash-based, debt-averse society to a debt-normalized one.
I, for one, would love to change that.
Why Celebrations Are Important
People who reach any form of debt freedom aren’t doing it by accident. And it’s never easy.
Typically, it takes years of careful budgeting, living below their means, putting extra money on debt, and avoiding the myriad social pressures to spend, spend, spend.
Sometimes it takes giving up friendships that revolve around excessive spending, or one-upmanship when it comes to owning the latest and greatest stuff.
People are ashamed to talk about money. They think that the fact that they took on debt should be hidden from friends, family, and their kids. They feel like they need to pay it all off in secret, all alone, because no one will support them. In fact, many will try to sabotage their efforts.
This fear of talking about money, about the realities of debt, and about paying off what you owe help to encourage the perspective that everyone else is able to live the high life but you.
Those who have taken on the long journey to pay off debt should be celebrated. Not shamed.
So if you, dear reader, are looking for a community that will celebrate your journey to debt freedom, you’re going to need to surround yourself with positive reinforcements.
If you can find real-life friends and family members who will celebrate with you, that’s great! But if not, join the online community. There are countless Facebook groups dedicated to paying off debt, as well as the #debtfreecommunity on Instagram, and the personal finance community on Twitter.
Be part of changing the conversation around money. Debt isn’t something to be ashamed of. Paying off debt is something to be celebrated. So join in with a community filled with positive reinforcements, and not one that will call your celebration “gauche”.
And if you want to celebrate by holding a student loan burning party, a credit card cutting ceremony, a car ownership BBQ, or a mortgage free house warming, send me an invite. I’m happy to be there to celebrate with you.