Freedom Means Nothing Left to Pay Off

Teresa Roberts
6 min readDec 10, 2020


I winter in Spain.

I wrote the following article in 2015. Little did I know that I’d be in the middle of a world pandemic five years later. I did, however, suspect that large swaths of the American public weren’t prepared for a major disruption to our economic system. After all, I’d watched thousands and thousands of Americans lose their homes and investments in 2008. That economic fiasco effected most of the world. I also knew that toward the end of 2019, pre pandemic, America had the highest federal, corporate, and personal debt of all times. Yeah, it appears that instead of corporations taking their tax cuts and investing in the company or saving for a rainy day, they bought back their own stocks. So, when the shit hit the fan, as it eventually does, America was ill prepared.

Now, I’m not talking about the working poor, a growing segment of our population.

No, I’m talking about those who make solid six figure incomes and more, treading that thin line between living above their means and losing it all. An alarming number of people who make lots of money still don’t have any money. If you subtracted their debt from their assets, you’d soon discover that they have no cash. I personally know plenty of these people. In fact, lifelong debt is the model for the American Dream. Yeah, apparently, you can have it all but still have nothing. So, bear in mind as you read my 2015 article that although my model for financial security is “no debt with lowest overhead possible”, I also realize that there are more and more Americans who have slipped into poverty since 2015. With dwindling opportunities and stagnating wages, sadly, it’s becoming harder and harder for people to dig themselves out of debt. Was I reading tarot cards when I wrote the following?

Freedom Really Does Mean Nothing Left to Pay Off

Would you believe it if I told you that debt is in part what runs our economy? Your personal debt is helping to make someone else richer and inherently makes you poorer. Would it surprise you to know that our entire economy is dependent upon everybody wanting more and more, never reaching a feeling of satisfaction, and always postponing getting our own house in order until after we buy the next best thing on our list. Incidentally, for many that day of reckoning never comes because there is always another tantalizing item to purchase, guaranteed to make us happy. Of course, it never does. Why? Well, things don’t make us happy, but living in debt is guaranteed to make us miserable and anxious. It robs us of our freedom without exception.

Living in debt IS the American Dream.

Whether we know it or not, the entire philosophy of materialism is not designed to make you happy but instead is designed to make someone else feel happy. That’s right! There is someone else out there who benefits far more from your debt than you ever will from your material possessions. Believe it or not, many of those individuals are also in debt even though they are making a lot more money than you have ever dreamed of making.

There is an endless array of social requirements, subtly layered since the day you were born, telling you that in order to be worthwhile and happy you must acquire as much stuff as possible.

Yet, once we have certain basic needs met, there is no evidence out there that supports the notion that we will be happier if we exceed that threshold. In other words, people who have two homes are not happier than people who have one.

The pressure of living with debt causes lots of anxiety.

Anxiety is high in our modern culture. There are many reasons for this phenomenon. Every day I meet someone who is on some kind of anti anxiety medication and is also living under extreme financial duress. Not necessarily because they weren’t making enough money to meet their basic needs either. Largely because they fell for the propaganda that a bigger house, bigger car, bigger wardrobe, bigger collection of baubles and geegaws were exactly what they needed to feel happy. Quickly, they overextended themselves. Now, they are living the life of an indentured servant, buried under a pile of worthless junk.

If we owe our lives to someone else, we will never be free no matter how much we long for it.

You belong to someone else if you carry a debt. You’re working for them not yourself. Every dollar you make, they get a piece of it. For many Americans, that means forever, because they can’t seem to resist the urge to purchase what they can’t afford. So no matter how much we espouse the wonders of liberty and freedom, we can’t be free. We can pretend to be free, but our lives are truly not our own. We traded our lives for a lot of STUFF.

Practice makes perfect…

Living within our means is an acquired skill. It must be understood and practiced in order to have it become our own personal norm. Committing to this lifestyle will make us stick out like a sore thumb amongst our friends and relatives. People from all socio economic brackets who are NOT living within their means will be everywhere, tempting us to lose our resolve. Careless fiscal behavior is the norm. It can be tough to withstand the mainstream practices that appear to be so rewarding but in reality merely get people into trouble. Every time they sport a brand new luxury car, a piece of expensive jewelry, a bigger house, a new toy, we are being tempted by the flash and promise of fulfillment. It takes a strong person to resist.

The good news is that the more you live within your means, the more benefits you reap.

Given enough time, this lifestyle will attract a few people along the way who begin to scratch their heads in wonder at the carefree quality of your life. You’ll start to get envious remarks as you easily maneuver your way through life, unencumbered by debt. You’ll have less stress, more choice, and FREEDOM that others lack.

You might even become a minimalist along the way.

Living an uncluttered life is often a hidden reward of living within your means. You might not immediately notice that by simply refusing to collect junk leaves room in your life for things of value or more useful items, but it’s true. You can live in a smaller space. You can find the things that you need when you want them. Everything will be easier to keep organized and clean. Each time you decide not to buy another item that will require space for storage and upkeep, life will be less restricting. Every item that we add to our collection has the potential to be a weight around our necks. Stuff is a burden whether we realize it or not. This isn’t the main reason for living debt free. However, for those individuals who equate living debt free with minimalism, there is a definite feeling of liberty that comes from making the choice to travel light through this life.

Living debt-free is a lifestyle.

It is, however, becoming a rare lifestyle in much of the modern world today. We have been told that all of us should strive to live big, like a king. Finally, as we survey our kingdoms and our vast collections, we count ourselves among the happy, the successful. We admire, emulate and envy the super wealthy as they squander resources and collect and hoard the best of everything. This is who we are told we should be. As even the biggest tycoons and celebrities go bankrupt, everyone begins to believe that the goal in life, the only natural conclusion to simply being alive is to buy and spend until we drop in our tracks from sheer exhaustion and depletion. It is the American Dream that for many turns into the American Nightmare.

It doesn’t have to be that way. There are those among us that have chosen a different path, one of simplicity. We get to breathe easier, thankfully.

This post was first published July 30, 2015 on my now retired website Creative Paths to Freedom.

Originally published at on December 10, 2020.



Teresa Roberts

Teresa is an author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. She’s also a top writer on climate change and the future.