There comes a part in everyone’s life when something happens that kickstart our financial sobriety.
Whether your credit card gets declined on a date, or you read a book realizing that your 401k alone isn’t going to ensure a happy retirement, or like me, you run into someone’s back totaling your car and can’t buy another one because you don’t have any cash for a deposit.
Whatever it is, it jolts you out of the everyday ho-hum and forces you zero in on your finances. You now realize that you must have been drunk for the last few years because you have no idea when racked up this credit card, still owed that much on the old card, spent that much on eating out, or blown that much on last year’s vacation.
Yeap, either that or someone took your card for a joy ride, because obviously if you were awake and in your right mind this never would have happened.
At this stage, you are starting to sober up from being financially inebriated – intoxicated and under the influence of money i.e. totally clueless to how money is being spent and the long-term implications.
Like waking up naked on the lawn outside your house, you’re embarrassed.
And it’s okay to feel ashamed, dumb, gullible, naive, and angry. Right about now, you need some tough love to kick you in the pants and get sober and honest about your life – seeing everything we want to do and can’t – buying a house, traveling, having a baby, or taking a new job – all because we are in purgatory with our money.
And after you go through the seven stages of grief and survived the proverbial ‘rubbing your nose in it’ you’re ready to get off the debt gravy train and start making steps to financial consciousness. Ready for the mindset of money abundance. You become awake, active and fully engaged in your financials, meaning you are fully cognizant of why money matters to you and what you want to do with it. And all that debt shaming, emotional instability, and that debt constrained mindset become counterproductive to your progress.
You’ve already been around the whipping yard, and you already know you screwed up, in fact, now that we know better we can’t understand why we didn’t do better back then. But being financially conscious means being aware of your money now. Not where it was before. So you need to find the peace to forgive yourself of the past financial fogginess, so that you can become define and plan for your goals of financial security, freedom or whatever else you fancy.
Sure, debt is nothing to rejoice about, but it isn’t something to be forever ashamed of either. You owe some money. That’s all. You are working hard to get through it, and that’s a great thing! You can become financially conscious, responsible and empowered while in debt. You just need to change your mindset.
So let’s get started with changing your money mindset so you can be happy today, better yet right now!
Understand that you are not special
I don’t mean to be rude, but you are not special.
You are not some anomaly of nature where everyone functions on cash and you are the only one in the universe in debt.
Countries, companies, superstars, your boss and the like all build their successes and fortunes using debt, and every average Joe uses debt in some form or another over their lifetime to get where they are now.
As David Graeber wrote in Debt: The First 5,000 Years, ‘there is no known society that didn’t function with some form of debt.’
So know that unless you are born with generational wealth, at some point everyone uses debt and it comes as a part of the territory when becoming successful.
In fact, parents are even more likely and should even expect to carry some debt – thank you student loans, mortgage, and delivery bills.
Americans don’t get the government assistance afforded to our Scandinavian or Canadian sisters, so even when a baby is planned, medical bills for, delivery, being out of work for 2- 3 months on mat leave, preparing for little one, daycare and the like… all contribute to a shift in everyday norm which usually causes some debt.
It doesn’t mean that everything is copacetic and you can relax now or forget about limiting or paying down debt.
Instead, it means you shouldn’t beat yourself up just because you needed it at a point in your life. It is just a part of the journey, a phase, that we all work through on our path to achieve an abundant life. You’ll be stronger and smarter for the experience.
You’ve already recognized the need for a change, and are actively working to lower the debt for you and your family. That is enough.
Try to face it with some levity and humor. For the first time in your life, saying ‘everyone does it’ actually counts as a legitimate excuse. How often does that ever happen?
So, welcome to the debt club – at least temporarily – most of us have been members before.
Forget about your debt (Kinda)
It’s true, debt robs our future dollars for a present gain but becoming super aggressive in your repayment to rectify the situation is equally a bad idea.
Knee-jerk reactions to debt – like spending all your savings to pay it down – leaves us so vulnerable that the slightest budget readjustment has us falling right back where we started.
That is a hopelessly depressing way to live.
So instead of constantly meditating on your debt and how long you will be on this journey, decide to set it smart and forget it.
Dig out every single dirty hidden piece of debt and lay it out on the table. Determine what your goals are – when you want to get out of debt, and other activities you would like to do – and then make a reasonable, sustainable plan to pay off your debt that can be automated.
You literally can’t go wrong. Putting your debt repayment on autopilot allows you to stop thinking about your debt while it is getting paid off and essentially, let it ride and forget about your debt! And because it’s sustainable and manageable, you know you can weather a few bumps along the way.
Extra: if you want bonus anxiety relief then open a separate bank account that is solely dedicated to doing automatically scheduled payments to your creditors. Direct deposit the payments amount from your paycheck to that account and schedule bill payments. That way your disposable income a.k.a your spending money is completely separate, and you will never have to remember a due date because the check is automatically sent.
This frees up your mind to dream of new possibilities instead of continually depressing yourself about the past.
Focus on how you can, instead of why you can’t
Being in debt is usually the time we start saying ‘I’d love to do x, but I can’t afford it’. And new possibilities are the farthest thing from your mind.
But when you are backed into a corner and you’ve got nothing to lose, then you might surprise yourself how creative and driven you can be to achieve the hustle.
Now is the time to blue sky what you want money to do for you. Allow you to work from anywhere so you can travel, retire at 45, buy rental properties for long-term passive wealth so you can tell your boss to kick rocks. Whatever it is, work out and plan for your goals and dreams while you are still in debt. Why now? 1. Because it’s fun 2. It’s a great motivator to keep on the path and 3. because there really is nothing that you want to do, that can only be done when you are debt free.
Don’t be tempted to limit yourself to your circumstances. You are so much more than your current situation and if you focus on how you can achieve what you want instead of why you can’t get it, then you elevate your thinking to a more powerful way of life.
So start thinking about what you want your financial situation to be, then think about what excited you – what you want and to spend your time, energy and money. Maybe you want to be financially secure, or own rental properties, be an entrepreneur or travel. Whatever get’s you anxious to jump out the bed and start your day. And then find ways to achieve or enjoy the things you like within the parameters of your debt repayment plan.
Want to go on vacation? Then make plans to raise the money. Sell some stuff or work some extra hours; the possibilities are endless. My post ‘how to plan a vacation while in debt’ gives some tips on how to do it. It doesn’t matter what you want, the point is, if it’s something you really want, then find a way, and do the necessary to get it.
Adjust your debt conversation
Debt is just a part of the past, it shouldn’t stifle your present
Somewhere along the way, society aligned money difficulties with moral turpitude, so if you are bad with money, then you are likely a bad person altogether. But rise above the nonsense. While people might try to make us feel that way, debt doesn’t define who you are, it is simply something you owe.
Our self-worth isn’t deeply intertwined with our money. And our current or past financial situation is no indication of our future standing. Thinking otherwise is not only is a recipe for becoming incredibly unhappy. Debt doesn’t have to control your life.
If you messed up or overspent and got yourself in bad shape that doesn’t mean you should suffer mercilessly until it’s paid off.
Likewise, If something bad happened that put you in your current situation, it doesn’t mean you are a failure or couldn’t recover.
Show yourself some love. Forgive yourself like you would if a friend messed up and be thankful that you are alive now and able to make a change. Whatever it is you are ready to move forward with your plan now with fearlessness and resilience.
Define, not delay, gratification is the name of the game
So that you don’t end up getting further in debt, YOU must define the life you want, and your happiness.
Not the TV, your family or the neighbors. YOU. And once you figure out what it is that you want, then put a number to it and prepare to go after it.
Ask yourself, ‘what really rocks my socks?’
If you don’t want to miss spending time with your family for Christmas but you don’t care about premium cable channels, then why not downgrade your cable? Take the savings and put towards your travel plans for your Christmas vacation with family.
If you can’t live without your premium channels because it’s how you spend your date night then make room for it. Un-mercilessly cut your fluff de-prioritized bills and use the savings to cover the cost of your premium channels. Your goals and budget might not sound the same or might sound frivolous to others, but all that matters is for you to be in control of your money and let it work for you.
Don’t torture yourself trying to cut costs and save in areas that you know will severely impact your quality of life and mental health.
If your debt repayment plan will continue for years and all you feel is deprivation and loneliness, then like a dieter who has been denied food for weeks, you will end up on a binge. One that could set you back for a long time. The plan is to increase happiness through changing our mindset, not making ourselves further miserable.
Making plans for short pleasures for staying on the debt plan is key to being successful. The plan is to increase happiness through changing our mindset, not making ourselves further miserable.
There is no gain from denying what you really want because you are worried how it might ‘sound’ to other people.
Your debt served its purpose, so get grateful
Your debt served a purpose. Whether it was to get you through school or afford you your first bed, you got that debt for a reason. So, when you get depressed about how far your current situation is from your ideal, or how bad things feel, take out a notepad, or your phone and write down 10 things that you are grateful for today.
Yes, you might not be happy about having student loans. No one is. But in the absence of the loan, you might not have been able to finish school and get your degree. You might not have your current job which is able to provide for your family.
Some debt like mortgages, car notes, and student loans are able to increase your net worth! And is a stepping stone to creating wealth. So it is a blessing and opportunity to be thankful for, not a curse.
If you have a mortgage, then you can be grateful for a safe place to sleep for you and your family that will one day be yours. Even if you can’t find a thing positive to acknowledge your debt, be grateful that you are able to make the payments, so things could be worse.
Having an attitude of gratitude takes the focus off what we are lacking, and instead, focuses on the abundance of blessings we already possess.
Research, like Michael McCollough’s of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis shows that people who exercise gratitude regularly report less stress, more enthusiasm and a higher quality of life than those who don’t. So taking the time to adopt a more positive outlook on your current situation.
Don’t compare your progress
Those awe-inspiring stories of how a young millennial is able to pay down $99,000 of debt in a year with a $27,000 salary by eating Ramen noodles for a year, selling all their worldly possessions, and downsizing to a 200 sq-ft room is a great tale.
It gets you pumped up and is just the kick in the pants we need to shake us out of our comfort zone and get us excited about actually being able to get out of debt. And who doesn’t love an underdog story? Average Joe takes on Goliath size debt and beats it without a sweat! It shows us that it’s actually possible and that there is a life beyond debt!
But while it is pretty badass that they could complete this incredible feat, don’t jump too far ahead of yourself. You probably can’t pay down debt like every Suzie Q story you hear about.
Unless we are in a dire ‘it’s this or be destitute’ type situation not many of us are willing or even able to completely disrupt our lives and kids by doing the necessary to slay our own debt demon with the same jaw-dropping chutzpah.
Nobody can realistically expect to slash expenses to that degree when married with young children. YOU can’t live on Ramen noodles every night for a year, YOU can’t pull your kids out of daycare to lower your bills, and YOU can’t sell your car and bike to work (especially if you live in a city with no bus).
Don’t get caught up in how fast other people are getting out of debt, and don’t think that you are doing something wrong or not really committed because you can’t do everything they did.
Dramatic situations require dramatic resolutions and only you can tell where you are and what you can do. You have to follow your own journey on a plan that is manageable and sustainable to get you to the finish line.
Remember why you are doing all this
Why do you want more money or to get out of debt? What goal or dream are you trying to accomplish? Are you trying to create wealth for your family? Trying to get financially secure? Write it down and put it in an open area that you will see if every day – your dresser or mirror – and read it to yourself every morning.
Affirmations are not just for manifesting goals, they also serve to make you aware of your thoughts and reduce negativity from polluting your efforts. Speaking it into existence every day also engages your subconscious to get creative about ways to achieve your goals.
When you are in the trenches, carrying on for months in, with still months or years to go it’s easy to get disheartened by your progress and you might want to give up. But spending every day remembering why you are on this journey and what you will achieve by accomplishing it will help you stay the course when motivation and resolve are running low.
So get to it!
Imagine how it would feel to be so at peace with your current situation that you forget that you are even in debt.
Approaching every day feeling confident and excited about the future even though you know there will be challenges?
You can find self-compassion and passion right now in your current situation by changing your money mindset.
You don’t have wait until you are debt free, or making a million dollars a year to start enjoying your life again.
You have the tools to live a more powerful like in relation to your debt.
You can try one at a time, or all of them at once. But you can do this.
You can start being happier today.
Make the choice to do it. Don’t wait. Do it right now.