The Dutch Are Debt-Free - Here's Why
  • Outsiders often notice that the Dutch tend to have a debt-averse culture.
  • The Netherlands has had a complicated experience with debt and debt recovery.
  • In general, attitudes against developing debt and living beyond one’s means, still persist in the Netherlands.

Tales of expats’ and other newcomers’ first weeks in the Netherlands almost always include one embarrassing antidote. It usually starts with a non-Dutch speaking newcomer going to the supermarket or another shop where cash either isn’t accepted or they’re unwittingly in a line where cash can’t be used. Cashless and surprised, the newcomer offers to purchase their items using their credit card only to be turned down.

It seems bizarre and shocking that a country that so economically viable, modern and fiscally secure as the Netherlands is also the same kind of place where supermarkets, drug stores, and other common shops don’t accept credit cards (some places don’t even take VISA debit cards). Some may feel like it’s just a wonky, outdated practice but actually, it has a lot to do with how to Dutch do…or don’t do debt.

Dutch culture has grown to be debt and risk-averse when it comes to financial decisions. While it may seem odd, there’s a lot of knowledge behind the way Dutch people think about debt, credit, and finances. After a long and well-documented history of Dutch stock market innovation and a strong welfare state and economy, maybe the Dutch have a point.

In the Netherlands not having debt and not defaulting or bills and loans are a big deal, so is the quality of life, including a robust welfare state, higher taxes (more than 50 percent) for high earners and an aversion to being weighed down by debt. Although credit card usage rose 10 percent in 2016, it still remains far below many other Western countries, a difference typically attributed to culture.

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the Dutch, in fact for a while they fought to bring the government deficit and government debts down, in compliance to the European Standard. However, in 2017, the Dutch government brought their debt down by 18 billion Euros, which is the largest reduction in the span of just one year. In addition, they achieved a surplus of 8 billion Euros, the highest rate of surplus since 2000.

All of this being said, Dutch debt culture is anything but straightforward, however, what becomes immediately apparent is that Dutch thriftiness and debt aversion are two themes that persist. Studies even show that the Dutch spend significantly less than their European counterparts when it comes to holiday gifts and celebrations. The study also found that more Dutchies are getting smart when it comes to applying discount codes on their purchases and rooting out the best deals.

The Netherlands, one of the richest nations in Europe, have seen their share of debt and financial crises, however, one will notice quickly that there is a strong emphasis on living within one’s means, paying bills on time and finding the best deals and discounts. Dutch frugality is also a recurring theme in cultural accounts of the Netherlands, whether or not that is true, is up to the reader…and the Dutch but important lessons can and should be drawn from this. Maybe there is a reason for the old saying to "go Dutch."