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Financial Empowerment & Entrepreneurship

Why Personal Debt Isn’t All About Money

4 min read

It can happen fast. You miss a credit card payment. A holiday rolls around and it’s time to go shopping. Then you’re out sick from work and fall behind. The medical bills pile up. The water heater breaks and the utilities are due.

The debt piles up faster than you can pay it down. But from the outside, everything looks fine. Before you know it, you’re stuck in a cycle of debt and you don’t know how to get out.

Personal debt can have that effect. One of the five interconnected factors driving perpetual poverty, debt is a silent predator in millions of American households. The effects of debt trickle into relationships and even affect mental health – resulting in added anxiety, stress, and depression. Without addressing serious personal debt, it’s impossible to get at the heart of poverty.

You may hear the radio ads or see the TV commercials – countless programs, workbooks, and seminars attempt to reach individuals with the keys to financial freedom. The thing is – most people know the basics of financial management. Don’t spend more than you have. Save for a rainy day. Set up an emergency fund. Financial literacy programs reiterate these tips, yet millions still struggle with unmanageable, crushing debt.

That’s why Rev. Dr. DeForest “Buster” Soaries created dfree® in 2005 to address the growing national debt crisis caused by financial illiteracy, overspending, and consumerism. dfree® is a financial literacy and empowerment program that has helped thousands of people get out of debt and get their lives back.

It’s Not Just About Money

There are a lot of financial literacy programs out there. What makes dfree® different?

Soaries realized it’s not just about money. dfree® gets to the root of financial issues – the heart. Most people ignore the psychological, spiritual, and emotional aspects of financial literacy and skip right to the practical tips and tricks. But, to break a destructive cycle, we must understand what’s fueling it. The dfree® curriculum encourages participants to identify the “why” behind their behavior. While things like a nice home, fancy shoes, and a daily latte aren’t inherently bad, they’re often the fruit of insecurities, a desire to keep up appearances, and mistaking “want” for “need.” In a culture of consumption, it’s hard to resist the temptation to always look your best and “keep up with the Joneses.”

For many, overspending and mismanaging finances result despite good intentions. “Debt isn’t intentional for most people. It happens out of survival and doing whatever it takes, which can be a blessing and a curse. People are just trying to survive the best way they know how,” explains Tamika Stembridge, executive director of dfree®.

Sometimes it’s just to give your kids the best – at any cost. Recognizing the various factors fueling serious personal debt, dfree® helps people identify the triggers to their reckless spending, which are often psychological and spiritual.

Maybe someone grew up getting teased for their old hand-me-down clothes, and now they have developed a shopping problem, making sure to always have new, clean clothes. Maybe overspending comes from an insecurity that without the right car, clothes, or home, you wouldn’t be accepted by others. Whatever the reason, dfree® helps participants recognize the root of their habits in order to change them, getting to the core of the issue by addressing identity.

Created with a faith foundation, dfree® is a culturally sensitive, biblically based curriculum. Soaries developed the program for the African-American community, one that disproportionately struggles with debt compared to white Americans. Part of the effectiveness of the program comes from how it considers unique aspects of the African-American culture. It’s a communal culture, one that is quick to help neighbors in need – physically, emotionally, and financially. That’s one reason why accountability is a key aspect of the program. Inviting trusted friends into financial struggles creates a transparency that helps people stay on track.

Finding Freedom

dfree® doesn’t just help people break out of a cycle of debt; it helps people find freedom. The ripple effects of financial stability and healthy habits help improve relationships, reduce stress, and breed mutual respect between parents and children. The downstream effects are restorative.

The four-step curriculum ends with “Give Back.” For a communal culture that is quick to offer financial support to those in need, dfree® helps free people to give and serve with their excess income, without driving their own finances into the ground. The freedom that comes from not owing anybody anything is unlike anything else. It’s a freedom to focus on the things and people you love.

“Having financial freedom allows you to focus on your kid’s basketball game and not dodge the phone. It allows you to truly focus on the things you love and enjoy serving and loving other people,” shares Stembridge.

Beyond the workbooks and training sessions, dfree® is a movement of individuals restoring financial freedom and helping their neighbors do the same. The curriculum and training program is being implemented in churches and community organizations across the country. To learn more about the movement and how you can get involved, contact us.

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