You're in a lot of trouble, Louis

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"The IRS finally caught up with Louis," says the ominous voice on the radio.

"I hadn't paid the IRS in 8 years," says Louis. "They were going to take my house; take my paycheck".

"Louis was in big trouble," the ominous voice says.

Growing up in South Dorset in the 1950s and '60s we learned some valuable lessons. First, playing outdoors all day long was not only good for you, but kept your mother from killing if you stayed in the house watching TV.

Then there was frugality. If you were lucky enough to have any money (most times we weren't) you spent it wisely. I'm not talking about a hundred bucks here. I'm talking more like a dime or a quarter and if you were really lucky you might have a dollar. With that dollar you could walk 0.9 miles to the South Dorset General Store (now HasGas) and shoot the breeze with Annie Jewel (and she was a gem). For a dime you could get a bottle of soda. If Annie liked you (and you had better work hard to make sure she did) she might give you one of those very small Tootsie Rolls.

What we didn't do was spend money we didn't have. The idea of borrowing money never crossed our minds. We lived in a pay-as-you-go world. If you had money, you bought what you needed, and you rarely had enough to buy what you wanted. If you didn't have money then you found something/anything to do to make some.

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My dad worked for his dad. He saved enough money to build our house. It cost $7,000. His take home pay was around $110 per week and for that my mom stayed home and raised three, unruly boys and we lived a modest life.

In the span of less than one lifetime our country has morphed from being nearly a debt free country to one so laden with debt that it might be impossible to get out from underneath. Our leaders have gleefully led us down a path (with our sanctioning) to believing that we're going to be just fine borrowing tens of trillions of dollars and just paying the interest. The U.S. banks love debt. They're making money hand over fist knowing that taxpayers are on the hook.

We've become complacent on the subject of our national debt, probably because we've been living in a suspended state of non-stop distraction for the past three and a half years. While we've been busy focusing on payments to porn stars, pardons for criminals and the COVID-19 crisis, our leaders have handed a two trillion dollar tax cut to the wealthiest among us. Then there was the late, and mishandled, response to COVID-19 which forced us to spend trillions more in bailouts that mostly went to large corporations resulting in the need for yet another trillion-dollar bailout. Hopefully, now that the rich donors have been placated, maybe some of it can go to people who are hurting, but probably not. Our gross domestic product has fallen by 5% thus far this year and based on what we're seeing is likely to crash even further. Borrowing money is like a sugar high. You have all this money to do all kinds of great things that in your wildest dreams you never thought you could do, because you couldn't afford to. You just didn't have the money. The first credit card appeared in 1950 with an $1,800 limit. It was mostly for rich folks so they didn't have to carry cash. It wasn't until the late 1960s and early 1970s that the credit card caught on with the masses.

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My dad had a credit card in the late '60s. He let me use it to buy gas for my car, but I had to pay the bill. How great was that. I was driving all over Timbuktu having the time of my life. The tank would get low and I'd just pull right on up to the pump, fill' er up and pay with a card! Didn't cost me a dime (not that I had a dime).

When my dad got the bill he sat me down and showed it to me. It was around five hundred dollars. I had never seen $500.

"What's your plan for paying this bill?" he asked.

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I was speechless and told him I had no plan.

He said, "Don't worry. I have one." That caused a whole lot of bile to congregate in my stomach. "You can work for me this summer/fall/weekends/vacations until you pay it off," he said.

It took me months to pay that card off. I worked every spare moment I had for my dad in his plumbing company. The end of the week would roll around and everyone would get a paycheck but me. All I got was a balance due.

From that day on to this day, I only use a debit card. If there's no money in the account then I'm not buying anything. Companies that encourage people to believe that there's no consequences from never paying your bills are doing us more harm than good.

You're in a lot of trouble, Louis.

Bob Stannard writes a regular column for the Journal.


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