How do you overcome debt guilt and move on with your life?
Having debt can be like having an irritating dark cloud that constantly takes away the sunshine from your day. You feel loneliness every time your friends go to a restaurant without you. And if you end up tagging along and spending money, you feel the shame for adding on to your debt balance.
"I can't believe I let this happen," is a disheartening thought that can be difficult to silence. But it's time to get over that feeling and move on!
Here's a little backstory to my own debt guilt.
I worked multiple jobs throughout college and was also fortunate enough to receive scholarships and grants. But I still needed student loans. A lot of them.
I should be very clear in saying that I chose to take out student loans instead of slowly paying for one class at a time. With my multiple jobs and time constraints, I estimated it would take almost 12 years to pay cash for the courses as I could afford them (This was assuming my income increased with the cost of tuition. Ha!). I weighed the cost of education versus the cost of time and in the end, education won.
Three months after I graduated, we found out we were pregnant. Hooray! But my extreme sickness combined with our desire to have one parent stay at home convinced us to move from two incomes to one. My husband was supportive and thrilled about the decision. I was ashamed of it.
I constantly told myself, "What kind of independent woman quits working and passes on all of her debt to her husband's shoulders?" Eventually, I overcame these ridiculous self-imposed feelings with the support of my very loving spouse. But I shouldn't have beaten myself up and here's why.
Sometimes we choose to take on debt (mortgage, student loans, etc.) and later question whether or not it was a mistake. For the record, I would still make the same decisions and take the same path but that's a story for another day. If you have a lot of shame or depression about your finances, that's not okay. Yes, you have debt and should try to avoid it at any cost. Save and pay off as much as you can. But you still deserve to live in happiness and you can do it in 6 easy steps.
1. Accept the Problem
First and foremost, you need to accept that your debt is a problem and that it is yours to handle. Don't blame anyone else for your debt, even if it really isn't your fault. Could you have cancelled the credit card if someone else was abusing it? Could you have avoided Target at all costs if you found their home decor section too tempting? Yes and yes.
So repeat after me.
I made a mistake because I am human. But I won't let it define me. I have a goal to pay off my debt and Iwill succeed!
Many times we find ourselves caught in the web of debt because of our resistance to believe we can actually climb out of it. You can climb out of debt but you have to first accept that it's a reality.
Pointing the finger at someone else (even if it's an old girlfriend who took advantage of you and your credit cards) does not help. Also, being in denial or not knowing your exact amounts of debt doesn't help either. Take responsibility.
2. End the Pity Party ASAP
No one appreciates a one-sided conversation. And even more so, no one can stand a pity-me friend.
Yeah, you screwed up. You're in debt. We all understand and trust me you're not alone. But the pity party has to stop now. The only party you should be attending is the one where you celebrate each payment that brings you closer to the balance of $0.
3. Control Your Emotions so You Can Control Your Finances
Ahh guilt. It's the weapon of choice with controlling parents and manipulative friends. It's a brutal and suffocating measure and it loves making you feel bad about your debt. Don't let it! Acceptance is one thing. But never-ending guilt could stunt your enthusiasm to pay off the balances.
Let's think about the term "retail therapy" for a second. Some people (myself included) enjoy a good shopping session to relieve stress or to simply improve their mood. The concept is not foreign. Men and women have been doing it for years in the form of clothing, electronics, partying, and so on.
But notice how being depressed about something could cause you to momentarily lose sight of the bigger picture. When I'm in a bad mood I may think, "Today has been a horrible day and I deserve to buy new clothes to make it better." No, I don't actually deserve them. But in that moment I become weak and usually overspend.
Eat healthy. Sleep more. Exercise and enjoy the fresh air. Keep your body and your mind in good spirits so your finances can stay happier too.
4. Make a Game Plan
Do you think the New England Patriots won last year's Superbowl without a game plan? No way! Any football team will use strategy, have self-awareness, will learn from their mistakes, and maintain an encouraging mindset to win a game.
Treat your finances the same way. Write down every penny you have in debt and put it up where you can see it every day. Place it on your front door so you can look at it whenever you leave the house. Type the amount in the Notes app on your phone and make that your Lock Screen.
Create a realistic timeline and be firm with yourself. If you could pay off your debt in a year but think it will be hard, write that due date anyway. Now is not the time to give yourself slack!
5. Embrace Education & Constantly Evaluate
Knowledge is power when it comes to debt payoff methods. Get to the library, search on Google, or use whatever methods suit you and learn everything you can. Keep in mind that there is no one size fits all financial plan. We are unique individuals with very unique bills. Continue to search for a payoff method that suits your goals and amount of debt until you find the one that was meant for you.
6. Pamper Yourself with a Pep Talk and a Glass of Wine
When I first started tackling my student debt I became a payment ninja. I closely monitored interest amounts and constantly hustled to earn extra cash to put towards them. Then we had our precious, wonderful, darling baby boy James who also happened to cost a lot in diapers.
For a while, any additional income went towards baby gear and my loan payments went back to their normal schedule. I was disheartened to see the elimination process slow down. But I had a glass of wine, kissed James' baby soft head, and was thankful for everything I still had.
Life gets busy and sometimes the fight against debt slows down. This is okay! The important thing is that you continue to make progress.
Please don't walk away from this post thinking that debt isn't a serious situation. You should never look at your balances and say, "No big deal," because that won't help you move on to a happier life. If you follow these steps you can start to come to terms with your debt and will eventually gain a more upbeat outlook on paying them off.
Do you suffer from debt guilt? How do you overcome it?