There is so much shame attached to money problems, and debt in particular.
“I should have known better…”
“How could I have let it get this far?”
“I’m so irresponsible…”
“I can’t be trusted.”
Whenever I speak with a potential client who is struggling to pay off debt (and it doesn’t matter how big the debt is), I can usually tell pretty quickly whether or not they will be successful. And it doesn’t have anything to do with their job, their bank account, their willpower, or their circumstances. In fact, from where I sit, the most important indicators of whether or not a debt will get paid off is how a person perceives their debt and how they perceive their role in it all.
It’s almost a universal constant: the more shame someone feels over their debt, the harder it will be to pay it off. That seems backward, right? If a person feels more shame about it, shouldn’t they be more motivated to pay it off? Maybe on paper, but that’s almost never what I see in practice.Language plays a huge role in understanding how close someone is to successful debt payoff. It has nothing to do with how much you talk about your debt with other people, and EVERYTHING to do with how you talk about it with yourself. Click To Tweet
How you talk about debt matters
Language plays a huge role in understanding how close someone is to successful debt payoff. It has nothing to do with how much you talk about your debt with other people, and EVERYTHING to do with how you talk about it with yourself.
I’ve helped tons of people with debt payoff because I never judge, make them feel bad, or feel wrong or deficient or SHAMED for having debt. Because — and this is the important part — debt is neutral. Doesn’t matter if it’s so-called “good” debt (like a mortgage or student loan) or “bad” debt (like credit card balances); it has nothing to do with your character as a person.
People need to do this for themselves. If you think someone will judge you for having debt, don’t discuss it with them. Especially if you’re still struggling to forgive yourself! Debt is simply a symptom of a challenge that you were having, and your desire to achieve debt payoff says everything about what you learned from that experience.
This is why I don’t discuss my weight challenges with very many people (corona was not kind to me!). Do I want someone to judge my actions if they see me eating a cookie? No…because they likely don’t understand that I budgeted those calories in so I could enjoy that cookie, guilt-free. You have to find what works for you with weight loss, debt, etc., and ignore people who only see one part of the picture.
Look at debt as a symptom of something greater. Say you racked up a huge credit card bill; what was that a symptom of? A job loss? A medical problem? A bad breakup? A period of depression? COVID Apocalypse? There’s always something bigger going on.
Check your attitude
While I never want someone to feel shame over their debt, I have noticed that attitude signals that will point to whether or not someone is ready to start seriously managing debt payoff or not. The signs I most often see are:
Continuing use of credit cards even when things are back to normal. If you’re crystal clear on how much you spend every month AND how much you have to pay on your credit card above and beyond monthly expenses, then you might be able to continue to use your credit card while paying down a balance. Most people I see who refuse to stop using their credit cards DON’T have this clarity.
Ongoing reasons for incurring debt. If there is always a reason why you have to charge something else on your credit card—and always a GOOD reason—then you’re not ready to start a serious debt payoff plan. (And, if you’re going through something major or you’re still in survival mode, then maybe this isn’t the time to focus on a debt payoff plan…)
Not believing they have resources to get out of debt. If you don’t actually believe you make enough money to pay off your debt and see no other alternatives other than to continue to carry the debt, then you’re not ready to start a serious debt payoff plan. Personally, I’ve rarely ever seen someone (who is in normal life, not in survival mode) who couldn’t adjust their spending plan and find at least a few dollars a month to put towards repayment. But you have to believe it, not me.
Maybe most importantly, you have to make the choice that it’s all up to you. If you’re still busy blaming someone or something else for the debt, what you’re actually doing is looking for reasons not to pay it off yourself. But once you truly make the choice to pay off debt, I believe anyone can achieve it.
Next week I’ll talk about more tactics to pay off debt, but if any of this resonates with you, please sign up for my blog and free library of resources to keep your mind on your money and your money on your mind.