11 Tiny-But-Toxic Lies You’re Probably Telling Yourself, That Are Keeping You In Debt
For the month of January, we’re exploring how to live with intention — how the small choices we make every day impact our lives and happiness in the long run. Click here to read more on this topic!
Americans have more debt than ever before. With mortgages, student loans, car loans, and credit card debt, the average American household has over $100,000 of debt.
Debt has become so “normal” in our society that many people don’t view it as a problem. Many of us feel that debt is necessary, or even good, in certain situations, when really, no debt is good debt. Here are eleven lies you might be telling yourself that are keeping you in debt.
1. “Debt is ‘normal.’ Everyone has it.”
Do you want to live like the Joneses? Mr. and Mrs. Jones have a mix of student loans, car loans, credit card debt, and, of course, a $250,000 mortgage. The Joneses have a life that looks good on the outside, but it’s miserable on the inside. They’re barely scraping by, and they continue to take on more debt. They’re drowning in payments.
They earn solid incomes, and they could easily get by just fine if they didn’t have debt. But because of their debt, they spend their lives spinning like a hamster on a wheel, never getting ahead. This is what “normal” looks like in America. Do you want to be normal?
2. “I don’t need an emergency fund. I have credit cards for emergencies.”
Yes, you do need an emergency fund. Unlike credit cards, your emergency fund is not a loan. It doesn’t charge you interest or ridiculous fees. Your emergency fund won’t put you in debt. Credit cards are sneaky — between interest and hidden fees, you can end up paying much more than you originally charged on the card.
3. “I got a new job or a promotion and I have to dress the part.”
Lifestyle inflation is a problem for many people who get a new job, big raise, or fancy promotion. Our first instinct is often to upgrade our lifestyles. Unfortunately, many of us can’t actually afford to do so and end up taking on more debt. We buy new cars, bigger homes, or designer clothes — sometimes to impress people who couldn’t care less what we buy. Even though your income went up, you don’t need to increase your expenses. How about using that extra income to pay off debt or build savings instead?
4. “It costs money to get out of debt — money that I don’t have.”
There is a common misconception that debt consolidation or formal debt relief is the only way out of debt, and that’s simply not true. While these options are available (and yes, they do often come with a price to pay the person or persons helping you), they are not your only options out of debt. Being more intentional with how you spend (and don’t spend), even in the smallest ways, can help alleviate your financial burdens by a lot. This may include keeping an impulse journal and tracker on hand, using a spreadsheet to track costs and expenses, etc. Once you start taking these no-cost steps towards better tracking your funds, you may find that you do, in fact, “have money,” you just failed to use it efficiently until now. You may even use that money towards getting help to eliminate your debt. Either way, at the end of the day, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.
5. “If I’m too frugal, I won’t have any fun or joy in my life.”
There is a common misconception that frugal people don’t have any fun. This couldn’t be further from the truth — some of the most fun people are quite frugal. There are many fun things that can be done for free or a low cost, such as free yoga classes, hiking, swimming, playing board games, watching movies, and going to free festivals.
6. “My situation isn’t that bad.”
I recently talked to a couple who had to charge their dog’s emergency vet visit on a credit card. I suggested that they put more money in savings so that they would be better prepared next time and wouldn’t have to charge it. The wife’s response was “It’s not that bad.” The couple had recently paid off $75,000 of credit card debt, so they felt taking on $200 of credit card debt was nothing compared to the massive amount they had faced in the past. This couple charges every emergency to a credit card, and they will never be debt-free. Stop living in denial and face the truth: if you have any debt, you have a problem.
7. “My situation is hopeless.”
While some live in denial about how bad their financial situations are, others are well aware of just how bad it is. These people go to the opposite extreme and feel that their situation is hopeless, so why bother trying to fix it? It is never hopeless. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Wallowing in feelings of sadness and helplessness won’t improve anything.
Reach out to others, ask for advice (from those who actually know what they’re talking about), and do what you can to increase your income and drastically cut your expenses. You are not alone in your battle to get out of debt. There are many others who have been there — in situations as seemingly hopeless as yours — but they were able to get out of debt, and you can, too.
8. “I’m a victim.”
Do you feel like a victim? Do you blame predatory lending practices, high interest rates, or an ex-spouse? Stop blaming other people for your own poor choices. Yes, life is unfair sometimes. Maybe you really did get screwed. But the victim mentality doesn’t serve you.
There’s no point in blaming others, avoiding paying off your debt, and hoping it will magically disappear. The first step to getting out of debt is to take responsibility for your mistakes. Once you achieve this first step, you can begin to formulate a plan to get out of debt.
9. “I don’t make enough money.”
Make more. Do whatever you can to increase your income — find a better job, ask for a raise, get a side job, start your own business, or rent out a room of your house. There are numerous possibilities out there if you’re willing to look for them.
10. “I deserve to treat myself sometimes.”
You don’t “deserve” to spend money you don’t really have. You deserve to get out of debt and attain financial freedom.
11. “I know so-and-so got out of debt, but I can’t do what they did.”
You don’t have to do what they did. Everyone has their own unique situation. Maybe you don’t have the option of living with your parents or getting rid of your car. Maybe you have more debt than so-and-so had, and maybe you make less money than they do. It might take you longer to pay off your debt, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it.
You just need to get creative. Find every way you can think of to scrimp and save. Stop going to restaurants, bars, and shopping malls. Move to a cheaper apartment. Get a bunch of roommates. Stop paying for services you don’t need or use.
If you’re truly doing everything you can to save money, and you still can’t pay off your debt, you have an income problem. You need to make more money. Ask for a raise, find a higher-paying job, or get a second job on the side.
One Last Thought
You can get out of debt if you’re willing to put in the work. Paying off debt is difficult, but the formula is simple: earn more, spend less. If you’ve got the saving part down already, you need to focus on increasing your income. Once you manage that, you can get started on the road to debt freedom. It’s not easy, but it is absolutely worth it.
(This post was originally posted May 2017 and has since been updated)
Jen is an HR/Finance professional and frugal lifestyle blogger. Jen and her husband are paying off $117,000 of student loan debt in just three years. She writes about healthy eating on a budget, affordable wedding tips, destroying debt, and living frugally on her blog Frugal Millennial.
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