Are you tired of being in debt? Have you paid off large chunks of debt in the past only to rack up the debt again (plus more)? Have you lived on the false hope that tomorrow will be better, the next paycheck will be easier, the next year you’ll spend less?
You imagine that one day, you’ll get out of debt, and then…..
THEN… you will be in control of your money. You will be rid of your debt. You will be able to spend your paychecks on the things you want rather than the things decided for you (…by you… several months ago).
One day, you will stop spending money from the future!
One day, you will get off this roller coaster ride for good!
You just… don’t exactly know how to get there.
You are afraid.
You’re afraid it will be hard.
You’re afraid it will take difficult choices that you’re not sure you’re strong enough to make.
You’re not sure that you really have what it takes to pay off your debt and get out of this vicious cycle.
You don’t know that you want to make those difficult choices. You don’t know that you want to deprive yourself and your family of their comforts.
You don’t know that you can keep your eyes on the prize when the going gets tough.
You are afraid that your friends and family will think you’re weird or cheap or even selfish (yes, selfish) if you drastically change your spending habits.
You are afraid that you and your husband will not agree about spending cuts. You are afraid…
The Hard Truth:
Do it afraid.
You will fail… many, many, many times.
But you’ll be trying. Bit by bit, you’ll be making progress. Anything is better than how it is right now!
You may take one step forward and two steps back at times. At least you’ll be gaining a little bit of ground!
It will take longer than you want it to.
I know what you’re feeling. I’ve been there. Heck, I’m still living it! We are not out of debt yet!
The struggle is real, and I feel it with you.
What to Do:
Decide to do something about it.
Write out your frustrations, your worries, and your fears.
Talk to your husband about them and hear his side.
I want your life to change. But I know that it won’t until you are ready to change.
If you and your husband are really ready… Ready to make a decision to get out of debt, then read on.
Top 10 Habits That are Keeping You in Debt:
I don’t know your full story. Debt creeps up on us for many different reasons and in many different situations. There may be some legitimate reasons you’re in debt that are not at all your fault.
But for the large majority of us who find ourselves in debt time and again, there are ten common habits that keep us there.
The decision you have to make is to change your habits on purpose so that you can get out of the cycle for good!
Think I’m just some self-righteous smarty-pants sitting on a pedestal telling you what you’re doing wrong? Think again! Every one of these is a former habit of mine. And even some of them are habits I still have or am struggling to get rid of!
Let’s dive in…
1.Not Communicating with Your Spouse
Whoever is the one physically sitting down and paying the bills is in control, and the other person is just spending blindly. This will only work so long as the spending matches the income. Once the scale begins to tip, tempers and resentment arise.
My husband and I didn’t discuss the finances each month. We didn’t talk about what expenses were coming up. We didn’t ask each other “Do we have enough money for this?” before making a purchase. He would be surprised by my $100 clothing expense. I would be surprised by his $100 lawn mower repair bill. It wasn’t that any of these items were necessarily wrong, just that there was no talking.
My husband’s idea of financial communication was to tell me I needed to “spend less.” There was no open conversation of mutual respect. There was no sitting down and looking at where we were and where we wanted to be. He just thought I should be able to say ‘no’ to spending more often. But I wasn’t able to adjust my spending because I didn’t have specific guidelines.
New Habit →
It doesn’t have to take up a whole evening. But there needs to be some open communication. You both need to know when and how much each one of your bills is. I suggest putting it all into a Google Sheet and plugging in a formula that will tell you how much you have left to play with each month. This is part of setting up that simple budget. Then, once a month or whenever works for you, spend 10 minutes looking at the calendar together and bring up any expenses you expect and how much you expect them to be.
2. Having No Financial Plan
You’ve heard it before. You need to have goals if you ever expect to reach them. This goes with career goals, weight loss goals, and yes, even financial goals.
You can try to ‘spend less,’ but if you don’t know what you’re aiming for, then you’re still never going to reach it. How much less? And why do I need to spend less? What exactly am I aiming for?
We never sat down and set up a plan for what we wanted our finances to look like. Sure, we knew how much our bills were, and that we made enough income to cover them and more. Actually, a lot more. But though we had a great cushion of extra money each month, it all got spent and more!
New Habit →
Sit down and actually write out your financial goals. At the top should be ‘be debt free.’ Then you may have other things, like when you want to retire, how much income you’d like to have during retirement, or whether you’d like to pay for your kids’ college. This is more of an ongoing conversation, but that is what the habit is for. Start talking about your ‘end game’ with your spouse. Do you want to retire in 15 years, but have zero retirement savings? The next step would be to create a plan of action.
Knowing your financial goals helps you to be able to keep your eyes on the prize because you finally know what ‘the prize’ is! You may be able to say ‘no’ to that $4 Starbucks coffee every day because you know it’s going to help you get out of debt, instead of just feeling deprived in order to stay on a budget.
3. Having No Budget
This may sound like a no-brainer, but I think you need to hear it anyway. You must have a budget if you expect to stay on it! If having a budget is step one to good money management, then why didn’t I have one for so many years???
For most of us overspenders, we can live in denial for a long time about how much we spend. Any attempt to compare what we spend with our actual income provides a shock that we are not willing to face.
We prefer to live our lives in denial, spending money as we wish and hoping for the best. When we run out of money, we whip out the credit card.
New habit →
Set up a simple budget that will show you whether or not your expenses line up with your income. Start with the ones you can’t change – bills and debt payments. Then see how much you have left to work with. That remaining amount is your true budget. This is the part that takes all the work to keep in order.
4. Confusing ‘Needs’ with ‘Wants’
Hectic evening? We ‘need’ to eat out. Baseball season? We ‘need’ to buy a bat, glove, helmet, cleats, pants, and socks. Family vacation coming up? We all ‘need’ a new summer wardrobe.
I had no boundaries with regard to spending. I had the attitude that everything I felt I ought to buy was a need. I would just pay for it all without question. Even at the grocery store, I made sure to buy every single item that any family member had written on the list. Maybe we would need light bulbs eventually, but were they a necessity this week? Those thoughts never entered my mind. If I had the desire for it, it was a ‘need’ in my mind.
New Habit →
It helps to think about how a purchase will affect you down the road. A year from now, where will this item be? Is it something that will be used for a long time? Will it last through more than one kid? Will it be outgrown, torn up, or thrown away? If it is possible, find a cheaper way to purchase the items that you want. Can you find it on eBay or at a second-hand store? Could you borrow it from someone? Could you make do with something you already have?
5. Spending All Your Money Within the First Few Days of the Cycle
I guess it’s the nagging feeling you carry around that tells you “This money is going to go FAST! You’d better spend it on what you need before it’s all gone!” It’s not logical, but it’s there.
So as soon as the paycheck hits the account, you fill up both cars with gas, stock your pantry, and pay for everything you think you’ll need to pay for this cycle.
And then by Day 3, you have $15 left… to last you another 12 days! How ridiculous is that?! This is another toughy for me – I still do it! I have some illusion that if I buy everything I need at the beginning of the cycle, then I won’t need anything and it’ll just be smooth sailing until the next paycheck.
The reality is that I forget things on my grocery list. I forget to buy dog food or laundry detergent. I don’t realize until Day 5 that the kids have no shampoo. I remember on Day 8 that there’s a potluck meal at work. By Day 10, we’re completely out of milk and eggs.
If I’m honest with myself, I can acknowledge this reality. So I should know better than to spend the money too quickly each cycle.
New Habit →
Pad in at least $15 a pay cycle for something ‘unexpected,’ like a field trip fee or an emergency meal out. And don’t spend it! Then plan to leave another small amount ($25-50) for a mid-cycle grocery trip for all those things you may have forgotten. See how long at the beginning of the cycle you can wait until you go to the store. If you must go to the store early on, just get those 5 items you have to have. Wait on the rest.
6. Spending Money You Don’t Have
You know you don’t have the money. You are just choosing to ignore that fact. Because you want it, or ‘it’s a good deal.’ (Black Friday ‘deals,’ a trip to the theme park, a purebred puppy…)
Or you feel obligated to buy it. (Fundraisers, pitching in for a gift for a coworker, a zillion Christmas presents, a family reunion trip…)
We have purchased TV’s on Black Friday simply because “it’s the best time to get a deal.” We have purchased a camper, took vacations, and finished our basement – all on money that we didn’t have. I may be the queen of this one.
New Habit →
When confronted with a potential purchase like this, think about how you’ll feel after you make the purchase. If you really want to buy it, plan it into the budget. This means you’ll have to give up something else. Is it worth it to eat Ramen for lunch every day for six months so that you can take a vacation? Or would you enjoy life more without the vacation – if it means that you can enjoy your favorite take-out on a daily basis? That’s a decision you’ll have to make. But you can’t have it all.
7. Spending More Because You Make More
It seems to be a human instinct that when the income goes up, so do our expenses. We might make the decision to buy a slightly nicer vehicle, new furniture or TV, upgrade our satellite TV or cell phone data packages, eat out more often, buy higher-quality groceries, take more expensive vacations, etc.
We think things like “I have a little extra cushion now. I’ve deprived myself for a long time. It’s time I let myself live a little.”
When my husband or I got a raise, I loosened my spending in general. I knew we had ‘more’ money, so I spent ‘more’ money. When at the grocery store, I might spring for a snack item or a name-brand item that would have normally been off-limits. Add up hundreds of those type of decisions over a year, and it led to hundreds or thousands of dollars of overspending. (And you can guess that in the end, my ‘extra bit’ of spending far surpassed the ‘extra bit’ of income I had to work with.)
New Habit →
A better idea is to make a plan for how you will spend your raise. I like the idea of auto-depositing the surplus somewhere – a savings account, a retirement fund, a college fund, etc. We have done this before to max out my husband’s 401(k) and to start another retirement fund for me. We also auto-deposit money into savings for larger purchases. If you never see it, then you won’t know what you’re missing.
8. Starting Each Pay Cycle with the Same Attitude
Now I can relax my spending. Now I will stay on budget. This time will be different. This time I’ll be able to afford the things I need.
I gotta be honest, this is probably the hardest habit to break. A year and a half after making the decision to get out of debt, and I still find myself thinking this way. I struggle through a pay cycle, cinching the belt tighter and tighter as the next paycheck approaches.
Then, as soon as a new deposit drops into my account, my entire thinking changes. “Let’s eat out! I just got paid – we deserve a break from all the sacrifice we’ve been making!” “There are 32 items on my grocery list that have been there for at least 3 pay cycles. I’m tired of seeing them on there, and tired of living without them. I’m just going to go buy them. I’ll tighten somewhere else later.”
Then three days into the pay cycle, and I’m out of money… again…
New Habit →
Do it backwards. Start each pay cycle with a ‘cinched belt’ mindset. Then, as the end of the cycle approaches, if you have some extra money, you can relax a bit or splurge in one way or another. It is so much more satisfying doing it this way!
9. Ignoring Credit Card Debt
We racked up a lot of debt each year. Our only plan was “We’ll pay it off when we get our income tax return. We never changed our habits, so this became a normal cycle that we followed for years.
We told ourselves lies like “This is just temporary debt,” “We’ll pay it off when we get our income tax return,” “Next year, we won’t rack up so much debt,” “Next year will be different.”
But in the end, we never actually changed our habits. We were just stuck in a perpetual cycle of debt. Even though we would pay off the debt from time to time, we just kept racking up more and more each year until it became impossible to pay it all off. It was spiraling out of control. Full disclosure: when we made our decision to get out of debt, we had about $43,000 worth of debt (not even including vehicle, house, and land loans).
New Habit →
Make your DECISION today to get out of credit card debt. If you need to, cut up your credit cards. At the least, leave them at home or in the car when you go shopping. Remove them from your online shopping accounts and replace them with a debit card instead. Read Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover. See if it doesn’t change your life.
10. Having a HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit)
I’m sure that having access to a Home Equity Line of Credit can be a good thing. But to someone who already struggles with overspending and credit card debt, it just adds an easy way to rack up more debt.
When I talk about our total debt amounts, I am including the HELOC in those figures. It is still money that we must pay back and that is charging us interest. In some ways, a HELOC is easier to spend because you can transfer the money straight to your bank account. And then it becomes like ‘real money,’ like cash, and you can even pay credit card bills with it. This is so dangerous.
New Habit →
Treat your HELOC just like your credit card. Don’t add any more to the debt, and make a plan to get rid of it. Then forget it’s there! Instead, build up a savings account for emergencies.
I know from experience that you can hear all of the great financial advice and read all of the blog posts you want. But until you are ready to take that step toward climbing out of debt, it will just go in one ear and out the other.
It takes being so fed up with the debt cycle that you are willing to change your habits and move toward a better life.
I hope you are the one who is ready today to make the decision to get out of debt!
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Are you ready to make the decision to get out of debt? Leave a comment below to share your commitment!