Financial indebtedness is a new form of slavery. There’s no doubt; the financial system is stacked against African Americans. According to one recent study, "The Ever-Growing Gap", the wealth gap between black and white Americans is so extreme that it would take 228 years for black people to obtain on average what white families have today.
As bad as the situation may be, it will only get worse unless you act now to gain control over your finances. I know just how debilitating being broke can be. While my parents taught me by example to be frugal, once I left their household, I found myself far from following their lead. I had never felt so unaccomplished and incomplete. While passionate about social change, I had done nothing about my own personal financial responsibilities. I had proposed solutions for solving huge social problems, but had never balanced my own checkbook. I had fought for justice and equality, but could not afford to make a donation to a black college, the NAACP or any other cause I supported. Fortunately, my shame and humiliation motivated me to take actions that changed my life.
You have to find your motivation. Think deeply about the reasons you spend money you don’t have, or why you don’t budget, and why you don’t worry about paying bills on time. Maybe you never had any luxury you wanted as a child, so you’re determined not to deprive yourself as an adult? Maybe your parents sacrificed so you could have everything you wanted, but never showed you the price they paid? Maybe it just makes you feel good to have new stuff? And who doesn’t want to feel good?
While immediate gratification has become almost synonymous with being an American, the consequences of indulging this behavior are long-term and severe. The deeper in debt you get, the faster your debt accumulates, thanks to things such as interest rates, late fees and poor decision-making. If you’re in this situation, you’re not alone. According to a Prudential study, a majority of black Americans reported having debt, particularly credit card debt, while at least half reported that reducing debt is a top priority.
The gap we need to focus on is the gap between wanting to eliminate debt and actually eliminating debt. It takes discipline and determination. It won’t happen overnight. Yet, one of the most important things you can do is make up your mind now to live debt-free.
Decide today that you are going to change your situation. If blood were streaming from your arm, you wouldn’t bandage it and think about it later. You would seek immediate medical help. Yet, you’re allowing your finances to bleed you dry at a time when there’s plenty of help available.
As a pastor, I turn to God when I need help with difficult situations. One powerful biblical example of someone who knew how to take on new tasks and succeed is Joshua. Joshua, the great conqueror who led the Israelites after Moses, knew that success required the right attitude. Anything worth doing is worth attempting to do very well. Great ideas do not guarantee success. Rather, it is great execution of great ideas that produces successful outcomes. Great execution is execution that is saturated with integrity—doing what is right versus doing what is expedient. There are no shortcuts to success. Someone is always going to accomplish great things in order to get great results. Furthermore, achievement does not happen by accident; it happens for those who aim high, remain focused and, I believe, follow God’s instruction.
The most important step to annihilating financial dis-ease is setting your mind right. You must want to break the chains and end financial slavery. With a clear and determined mind, you can properly assess your finances, or address the mess, and be on your way to gaining control of the situation.
DeForest B. Soaries, Jr., author of Say Yes to No Debt: 12 Steps to Financial Freedom, is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey and is the architect of the dfree® financial freedom movement.