Your debt Doesn't Define You, Only You Can Do that.
At some point in our lives, we all have probably had some type of debt. And if you haven’t? Lucky you. If you were to listen to any of the popular finance “gurus”, like Suze Orman, or Dave Ramsey, "debt is evil", and having it makes you a corrupt, foul, dishonorable person. Ok, they don’t come outright and attack your character, but their tones can be a tad bit judgmental. Regardless, millions of people have sought out and “bought” into their advice and methods, making these so-called ‘gurus” millionaires in the process. I find it a tad bit ironic that the same person who preaches to you about how awful debt is, will still charge you for their “services.” Yes, I get it, they have to make a living too, but how does spending money to learn how to get out of debt, help you stay out of it? I digress. But these two particular finance “experts” aren’t the only ones who have attached a certain “shame” to debt. Many of us feel bad about the debt we have. And a strong stigma has been attached to having debt. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling conducted a poll where the asked participants to finish the following sentence: “I’d be most embarrassed to admit my…” 37% of the respondents said they were most embarrassed by their credit card debt, another 30% admitted they wouldn’t want to admit their credit score, while only 12% were ashamed of their weight. Does debt cause more shame than weight? Wow.
If you’re like me, then shame, ridicule, or mockery of any kind would be the fuel you need to prove your “haters.” Wrong. You’re looking down on me because I have debt? That’s ok, I’m going to work extremely hard to eradicate it, and then throw it in your face! Now, I know that’s probably not the most healthy way to deal with shame or mockery, but it works for me now, I’ll work out that issue later, that’s my therapist's problem, not mine.
Now, I completely understand wanting to keep your credit score to yourself. That number is private and should remain as so. And I’m sure if you’re a private person like me, you don’t go around shouting about your debt either. If you do, hey, to each its own. You’ve seen all of those articles, and clickbaity headlines: “The Average American Can’t Afford a $400 Emergency!” Or “The Average American is just a Car Repair Away from Ruin” And there are a plethora of stories out there about how most Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Yet, debt is not normalized in this country. Quite the opposite, it’s like that deep, dark, family secret that everyone knows, but never talks about. When in all actuality, having debt is almost as certain as death, and taxes.
Does Having Debt Make You a Bad Person?
No. No. And NO. Life happens, situations happen. Things change. There is no perfect person and no perfect answer for any situation. For instance, in my early twenties, I filed bankruptcy. I had no financial education or literacy at all, and in college, I accepted any credit card that was offered to me. The only thing I knew I was required to do was to ensure my bills were paid on time. And for a while, I was managing everything, I paid my bills on time, my credit cards weren’t maxed out, I was doing good. However, around 2008, I lost my job. Luckily I was only unemployed for a little over a month. Unluckily for me, I took about a 20% payout. And those bills, I was able to pay on time? Became behind. And I took some pretty bad advice and decided to file bankruptcy. Now almost a decade later, my credit is back on track, and I feel like I’m a better person having gone through it. Not only have I substantially increased my level of financial literacy, but I’ve also gotten a better handle on my money now.
Data from Experian collected during the first quarter of 2019, points to the fact that consumers in the U.S. owe $807 billion in credit card debt. That's a 6% increase from 2018 and an increase of 29% over the last five years. Ask yourself, are all those people horrible too?
Being in debt, shamed by it, humiliated by it, can lead to mental health issues. Depressions, isolation, anxiety, and stress. I’ve lived through and experienced all of them. Even after having filed bankruptcy, I still get a little anxious over the debt I’m carrying now. And despite feeling embarrassed, ashamed, or experiencing mental anguish, you can't wish the problem away. It'll still be there. So there you are, drinking yourself to debt, smoking away your stressors, or eating your elaborate obligations, and the debt is still there. There’s no shame in it. Don’t let the fear of judgment keep you from acknowledging you need help, and reaching out for it. You’re not the only person who has debt, and you certainly won’t be the last.
So What to Do About it?
First things first. Why do you feel so ashamed of having debt? No, ask yourself that question. Why do you feel so ashamed? And start to unpack. Once you understand why you feel the way you do about money, it’ll put you on the path to making better choices, with your money. You’ll be able to recognize the behaviors that caused you to get into debt, and hopefully avoid them the next time around.
Your Behaviors and Decisions, Don’t Always Define Your Character, There’s a difference.
We all make bad decisions. I’ve filed for bankruptcy. Been divorced. Gotten fired from jobs. Does that make me a bad person? I’d like to think not. Making a bad decision isn’t a character flaw. Overspending, not managing your money, and going into debt aren’t things that make you a bad person, they’re behaviors. Behaviors you can change.
When you file. Bankruptcy, you're required to take a course on consumer debt, before you can move forward. It’s called a debtor’s education course. The course provides you with all types of financial management tools, tips for creating a budget, and how you can start to repair your credit after bankruptcy. Again, it’s a requirement. One could surmise from this, that the implication here, is that you will rebound from this, and when you do, we want to give you some tools to ensure you succeed. It’s never too late to learn anything. One of my mottoes is, I’ll stop learning when I’m dead. A study published in 2011, in the Journal of Economics, found a direct correlation between poor spending habits and financial illiteracy. Take the time to educate yourself. Wanting to educate yourself about something so you can rise above and conquer it is not embarrassing at all. It’s an exceptional thing to do, and something to be admired.
Yeah, this should be pretty obvious, but it needs to be said anyway. Get rid of everything that tempts you to spend. For me? It was unsubscribing from marketing emails and a social media hiatus. Whatever your trigger is, you should probably try to stay away from it for a while.
Have A Plan
Lastly, have a plan. When you do your research and start educating yourself and increasing your financial literacy, you’ll find there are many different ways out there to pay off your debt. First things first tho, look at all your debt. Gather up all the bills, past due notices, everything you have to get an accurate picture of what you owe, and who you owe it to. Before you tackle your debt, you need to be well-versed in it. I’m not here to tell you which method you should employ to pay down your debt. That's up to you, and whatever you feel works best for you. I’m a fan of the snowball method and have primarily used this method when I attack my debt. This is when you pay off your smallest debt first, and once that is paid in full, you throw all of your money at the next smallest amount, paying the minimum on everything else until your debt is paid in full. It just does something to my mental, to see a zero balance. No matter how small the debt originally was.
Realizing that your debt is totally out of control and you’ve been overspending, can cause even the most secure person some level of guilt, and anxiety. Being guilty, means you feel something. It's you acknowledging that these are behaviors that should stop. Be guilty, have some shame, but then let those feelings pass. Don’t let them define you, or hinder you from doing what you have to do to get back on track. You’ve recognized that you have a problem with debt, and you want to get rid of it. That’s about 70% of the battle. You just have to put in the work. You’re a human being who has made mistakes, there’s no shame in that.
Thanks for listening.