April 27, 2019
Aaron Draplin, a well-known graphic designer out of Portland, went to art school in his twenties. He received a substantial scholarship, but during his time in school still found himself with $27,000 worth of debt. After eight years of faithfully paying every month, he called to find out his current balance. Even after drastically increasing his monthly payments a few years in—he was still $20,000 deep. He felt like he’d made no progress in nearly a decade.
He emptied out his savings account and paid off the entire balance that day. A few years later, he was debt-free on all fronts and hasn’t looked back since. “Walking a little lighter,” he said after the payment. (From Pretty Much Everything, a monograph of Draplin’s design career as of 2016.)
But financial debt isn’t the only type to avoid. Other notable forms:
Technical debt in software engineering: Writing “quick-and-dirty” code that solves a problem in the short-term, but will have to be fixed in the long term.
Relationship debt: Stephen R. Covey describes relationships in the context of the “Emotional Bank Account.” Each person makes deposits through their actions, but the flip side is that you can easily fall into relationship debt and, thus, destroy a great relationship.
Debt is any decision that has significant future consequences.
Far too often, we don’t acknowledge those consequences and, thus, make a short-term decision without thinking. As Ben Horowitz says, “if you incur the management debt without accounting for it, then you will eventually go management bankrupt.”
Long story short: Avoid debt as much as possible—or pay it off as quickly as possible.