If you’ve found yourself in debt from credit cards, new vehicles, and student loans, chances are you’ve fallen into instant gratification debt. However, fear not.
The good news (or not so good news depending on how you look at it) is, you’re definitely not alone. We live in a culture that thrives on instant gratification.
Amazon.com – same-day shipping and even same-day arrival depending on where you live.
Want to watch a movie? Just download it or watch it on-demand.
Want a friend? Click ‘add a friend’ on Facebook.
Want to go shopping, buy a car, or go to school but don’t have the money to pay for it? Don’t bother waiting and saving the money. Head to the bank to receive your own personalized set of shackles in the form of credit cards and loans.
Debt is the single biggest form of instant gratification in our society today. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, the average American holds over $25,000 of debt, including car loans, personal loans, student loans, and credit cards. However, of just Millennials with consumer debt (that lazy and entitled generation – or so say some people), 64% have the largest debt balance of $29,000, not including student loans. With student loans, that debt total skyrockets to $40,000, with some Millennials experiencing six-figures worth of debt between school and consumer loans, like car loans and credit cards.
Did your mouth just drop? Because mine did when I first heard those numbers.
Some of you may be thinking that some debt is unavoidable, like student, car, and house debt. Many people argue that incomes are stagnant and just aren’t keeping up with living expenses. Although this is somewhat true, the problem isn’t stagnant income, nor is it inflation and the rising cost of living. The problem is instant gratification and the attitude that “I can just pay for it later,” which is basically the same as “I’d rather pay more than its actual value because I want it now and I don’t have the cash to pay for it now.”
Is Instant Gratification A Sin?
Instant gratification in and of itself isn’t a sin. However, it doesn’t build virtue. Instant gratification makes it easy to fall into temptation, especially the sin of greed.
Greed is the immoderate desire of earthly goods (CCC 2356). Although often equivocated with “keeping up with Jones’,” this sin goes beyond the simple desire to have what your neighbor has. Most often, the focus on greed is about desire. However, desire is not what is wrong. It is immoderate desire – the focus and the giving of the will to earthly desires – that is the problem.
Immoderate desire can come in the form of material items, career dreams, and even the overuse of technology. When our desires start to rule our lives, i.e., we spend more time on social media or we care more about having the most expensive clothes, we fall into the trap of greed. This is even more pronounced when we use debt to fund our greed.
Greed is the opposite of temperance, and instant gratification is the opposite of patience. Even if our instant gratification does not lead to greed, it is not building a life of virtue in temperance or patience. We are called to not just avoid sin, but to be virtuous:
“And now, brethren, all that rings true, all that commands reverence, and all that makes for right; all that is pure, all that is lovely, all that is gracious in the telling; virtue and merit, wherever virtue and merit are found – let this be the argument of your thoughts.” (Phil. 4:8-9)
Through virtue, we are able to freely practice good and fight temptation. Without virtue, it becomes difficult and even impossible to control our passions and desires, giving the best of ourselves. (CCC 1803)
What Does Debt Have To Do With Any Of This?
So what do debt, instant gratification, and greed have to do with each other?
Greed is even more dangerous when it comes to debt. By going into debt, we become slaves to the lender. Debt may not be a sin in and of itself, like instant gratification. However, more often than not, our debt is due instant gratification – our greed for our earthly desires, and our overindulgences.
We wanted the career and so we needed a degree, but didn’t have the money to buy it. Student loan debt.
We wanted the car, but didn’t have the money at the time and didn’t want to wait. Car loan debt.
We wanted the computer and didn’t want to work extra for the money. Credit card debt.
We wanted it now. We didn’t want to wait. Perhaps, we didn’t even need it at all, we just wanted that particular thing. Instead of waiting, saving for it, or looking for an affordable option, we gave in to our earthly desires, our greed.
In the case of many 20-35 year olds, debt has become such a burden that it has come to rule their lives. They must work extra, giving up time with children and family. They must cut their charitable giving. In some cases, it even means putting off marriage or having children because it’s so burdensome. Debt and financial woes are a major point of tension in many marriages, causing stress that can often lead to divorce.
Is The Answer To Avoid Debt?
In a perfect world it would be great to avoid debt entirely. But some debt is unavoidable – like a house, for example; or even taxes and medical debt. However, once we accrue debt, it is our responsibility to pay it off and pay it off as quickly as possible. Simply making the minimum payments to make room for funding an instant gratification lifestyle is not a good excuse for carrying debt your whole life.
Growing up, many of us learned how to budget and be frugal with money. We were taught to ask: “Do I really need this thing?” However, many of us end up asking a different version of that question: “Do I really want this thing?” Then, the question becomes: “Do I really want this thing and do I want it now?” With instant gratification, the answer to that question is usually ’yes.’ We shrug off the virtue of temperance, convincing ourselves that buying in isn’t a sin, immoral, or wrong. We neglect the gift of patience, telling ourselves that it’s OK to give into our earthly desires every now and then. However, that “every now and then” can quickly and easily turn into “every time.”
Instant gratification is not exactly going to land you a first class express seat to Hell. In other words, no it’s not a sin. However, by giving in to instant gratification and neglecting to practice the virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit, we make it easy to fall into the sin of greed, and even other sins, as our thirst for earthly desires easily obtained instantly becomes unquenchable.
Asking the Wrong Questions
Perhaps, we are asking the wrong questions when it comes to money and purchases. Instead of focusing on obtaining the means to purchase something, especially through debt, we should focus on whether it’s necessity or strictly a desire. Are we satisfying a need, or chasing down instant gratification? Did you really need that degree at the private school that left you with thousands of dollars’ worth of debt? How about the $30,000 car that inevitably put you into $40,000 worth of debt? Did you need the $2,000 in credit card debt for clothes, a computer, and a new phone? Did saying yes to the bank and accepting your chains make it easier to say yes to God, or have you had to sacrifice more God-given gifts to pay off the debt?
Perhaps if we asked these questions before signing on the dotted line and accepting that debt, we would be freer to live more virtuous and fulfilling lives, free of debt and instant gratification