There are countless articles out there that speak to the process of getting out of debt, but hardly a one that speaks to staying out of debt. Just because you got out of debt once, doesn’t mean you’ll stay there.
In fact, since 2009, consumer debt has risen steadily. Consumers did tighten their belts, but it didn’t last. Credit card debt is back on the rise and topped 882.6 billion dollars at the end of 2014, leaving one to realize that consumers learned very little from the economic collapse.
Getting out of debt is easy. It’s staying out of debt that’s hard.
How To Stay Out of Debt
There’s plenty of ways to accomplish the task of getting out of debt. I’ve written several articles about it myself. Here are few:
But, staying out of debt requires us to radically change not only our actions but our beliefs too; and that’s where it gets a bit tricky.
You’ve probably got great intentions: save money for a down payment, save for the grand kid’s college fund, pay off your existing credit card debt. But, despite your best intentions, as soon as the voice in your head tempts you with what you think you need, your best intentions are doomed.
If you’re a shopaholic, like I was, you get a high when you make a purchase. You’re filled with instant gratification, fun, or a reward for your hard work. You are taken over by the desires in your head, and the need to fill your desires immediately. Not buying what you think you need leaves you feeling frustrated or anxious. Maybe you even feel sad if you don’t make the purchase.
People who spend in this way use money to fill unmet needs; it might be love, comfort or self-esteem. No matter what emotional need it is, if you want to stay out of debt, eventually you’ll have to realize it can’t be and will never be met by shopping and spending money.
One of the ways to see how you use money is to track your spending and corresponding feelings associated with each purchase. Of course, sometimes grabbing a coffee is nothing more than wanting a hot beverage, but what you find over time is how you’re using money to fulfill unmet needs.
More often than not, people who start to track their spending end up abandoning the process at some point. When you track your spending all the hidden and underlying issues get brought to the forefront. You’re faced with the cold hard numbers and the realization your spending is out of control.
If you don’t track, you don’t have to see it or wrestle with the emotional crap that comes along with it. You can stay in denial. You can continue to meet your needs in unhealthy ways and end up broke in the process.
I did this.
It took me a long time to wrestle with how I was using money to meet my need for love. It wasn’t easy to see this, but eventually I was able to wrestle those demons in my head and adopted new habits and ways to meet my need for love and belonging.
Something I realized was how I tended to attract people into my life who were never satisfied. This would often trigger me to feel like who I was or what I did was “not good enough.”
Here’s how I tackled it:
First order of business was to rid myself, where I could, of people who triggered this in me. This took time. Some people I removed from my life, and others, like my mother, I established boundaries and techniques to combat the negativity. (I’ll write more about that another day.)
Second order of business was to commit to tracking my spending and the corresponding emotions I was trying to fill in that moment. I did this in a journal because I wanted the space to write freely my feelings.
Third, I converted to cash and starting paying for cash for things like, food, gas, clothes, and prescriptions. I needed to get reconnected to money, and converting to cash was the only way to ensure that happened.
Fourth, I kept an appreciation journal. Each day I would write down 5 ways I appreciated. Sometimes it was a struggle to find 5, but it got easier and easier.
Finally, anytime I would spend money, I would ask, “What need I am trying to fulfill?” By asking this question, it made me stop and analyze what I was doing. What was my real motivation for making a purchase?
Now, at first, I let denial set in and tried to trick myself into believing the purchases were legitimate. But I quickly came to realize the error of my ways and started truthfully answering the question.
Which brings me to my final point – telling the truth.
Telling the truth is different from being honest.
When we speak honestly we are candid, frank, and sincere about our experiences. Sometimes being honest is scary because we’re sharing thoughts and feelings that might be considered silly, weak or, embarrassing.
Telling the truth goes one step further. The truth is just about the accurate facts of the situation. The truth is measurable and objective without any embellishments at all.
No emotions, no judgments, just the plain and simple truth.
Now I want to be clear. I am not saying you shouldn’t be honest in your assessment of the situation. Honesty is a very necessary step; it clears the way for the truth to be revealed.
What I am saying is just revealing the honesty of your predicament isn’t enough. But here’s the thing – it’s easier said than done.
Our first reaction is to reveal the honesty; to spew out all the emotions, the feelings, and thoughts, the rationalizations and justifications. They come pouring out when we are honest; it’s human nature. The situation is emotionally charged and that’s why we behave this way.
But peel back the honesty and what’s left is the truth of our behavior. The truth is our responsibility in the mess we have created, and that’s a little harder to disclose.
My personal story includes 50K in credit card debt and almost losing my home. I had many honest moments discussing what had occurred in that financial disaster. But when I got truthful, I realized no one else made me buy those clothes, shoes and who knows what else. It was me, it was all me, and that was the truth.
So, get truthful about your situation. A word of caution – do it with a big dose of compassion.
Use the five steps I’ve outlined to get real with your money situation and stay out of debt forever.
Remember, telling the truth will give you the breathing room to take action; the type of action that will liberate you from debt forever.