Managing Debt

Unless you’ve been in hiding you have certainly heard that the United States Congress voted to raise the country’s national debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion while pledging to cut spending by nearly the same amount.

In her day, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher insisted that any housewife could manage the country’s economy. The average homeowner knows and understands that its bad policy to borrow from MasterCard to pay off the Visa card.

So why does the government do it?

Simply put, the Government can get away with things that would ruin the average citizen. If the United States Government votes to raise its debt ceiling, creditors will likely extend more money because they realize that if the United States collapses, the economy world-wide will be devastated. The average family doesn’t have that luxury.

Yet, as many pundits and analysts keep warning us, if the economic crises in Portugal and Greece have taught us anything, it is that we can postpone, but not prevent, the inevitable day of reckoning. At some point, even the Government must make a decision and either pay up or default.

That the Government has vowed to curtail spending in a bid to save at least the same amount of money that will be borrowed is helpful.

Confronting this reality is a painful process. Indeed, we are now experiencing the market’s plummet, triggering drastic financial loss. But, despite the short term pain — and I do not intend by any means to discount its devastating impact on so many – this correction might very well spare us greater agony in the future. If the problem is fixed today, the American economy can recover and our losses can largely be restored.

The Love Loan

We are all familiar with the system on the micro level: Ideally, we deposit funds into the bank and withdraw based on the amount we have deposited. Our troubles often begin when we withdraw more than we have deposited and ask for a loan. Initial credit may be easy to obtain, but when we seek multiple loans we run into difficulty.

Relationships work on a similar model. We deposit good will towards our friends, family, spouses and coworkers through the kindness that we offer. The more good will we express, the more we deposit in the bank of our relationship. If a coworker’s car is in for repairs and we offer him or her a ride to work, we are making a deposit in the bank of that relationship.

But sometimes, we need to make a withdrawal. If we are ill and a friend takes the children out for a few hours and a relative cooks us a nurturing meal, we must remember that this is the equivalent of a withdrawal. We cannot make the mistake of taking this love withdrawal for granted. We must recognize that the store of kindness we had on deposit is slowly being depleted.

Unless we continue to add to the account, the other partner in the relationship will soon have given more than he or she received. At first this won’t matter. Good relationships have ebb and flow. Sometimes one party gives more, sometimes the other gives more. Each is willing to extend love on credit. But deep down there’s an awareness, or an assumption, that it will eventually be returned.

The problem begins when one makes so many withdrawals that the credit limit is maxed out. When we take out too many loans and fail to make payments, our spouse, friends, family and coworkers can easily begin to feel abused. The accounts are empty and there is nothing left to give.

At first we may not understand why we can’t just continue to withdraw. The other partner may then begin to experience a nagging sense of emptiness, often followed by frustration, anger and finally full blown resentment.

Balanced Solution

If our personal relationships were anything like the United States Government there would be a simple solution. We would raise the debt ceiling and go right on making withdrawals. But real life is not that simple. We can raise all we like but it doesn’t mean the other party will continue to give. The only way forward is to acknowledge the problem and overhaul our spending practices.

This requires a balanced effort to deposit more and withdraw less. Making deposits won’t help if we continue to demand the same rate of withdrawal. The other partner to the relationship also needs to be nurtured and shown kindness. It also won’t help to just stop withdrawing. If we ask for nothing, and appear to require nothing, our friends may feel unneeded and prefer to terminate the relationship.

The proper approach is a blend of giving more and taking less. This demonstrates a genuine love and a continued commitment to make the relationship work. Fixing this problem is a painful experience in the short term, but, handled correctly, the relationship can recover. Though we can’t resolve every crisis, every relationship deserves a fighting chance.

Be Proactive

Detecting love deficits early can be a challenge, particularly in marriage. Loving spouses hate to confront the reality of a burgeoning problem and prefer to believe that all is fine. This only postpones the inevitable day of reckoning. Ultimately, the problem will have to be confronted.

The solution is to be ever vigilant and cognizant of the little things. Every time you make a major withdrawal be sure to return with a major deposit. You don’t need a reason to offer a smile, a hug or a kind gesture. Flowers and gifts don’t have to wait for special occasions. Give it now while the giving is good. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Between Jew and G‑d

At Sinai G‑d struck a covenant with the Jewish people: we would obey His commandments and work towards making this world a holy, spiritual place, and He’d shepherd us through history.

When we experience G‑d's goodwill in the form of an outright miracle, a salary raise or a narrowly avoided disaster, it is a withdrawal of sorts. G‑d might have an infinite reserve of patience, but to raid it is an abuse of the relationship.

A proper relationship has give and take. We can withdraw at any time, but we should also reciprocate with fresh deposits. In fact, it is best not to wait for a withdrawal before making a deposit. When we go out and give a dollar to charity, help out a neighbor or attend an online Torah class today, we fulfill G‑d’s desire to make this world a better, holier place. This will top off our account and enhance our relationship with G‑d.