Debt is insidious, precisely because it’s everywhere. The debt lifestyle is all around us. In a way debt is like air — we don’t even think about air anymore. We take using it for granted as a normal part of life, until we have difficulty breathing. But unlike air, debt isn’t something we actually need. In fact, debt can be bad for us. And having debt-related difficulties can be a huge wake-up call that results in an improved lifestyle.
How wrapped up are you with debt?
Recognizing the extent that debt is intertwined with your life (and the effect that it really has on you) is the first step to unmasking the debt lifestyle. Start with something obvious, like how you feel when you get the mail.
I remember hating to get those credit card bills. It’d seem like I’d just paid one when another one would appear. Sometimes a bunch would come at once. Opening them was worse, because there were the fights afterward — the accusations, the blame, the frustration at not having enough money to pay off the cards (or even to stay out of the red in the checking account). All of those things take an emotional toll on a person.
Identify your debt triggers
Identifying the day-to-day habits that trigger you to use debt is also critical. Make a mental note of every. single. time. you pull out a credit card or hear an advertisement for credit that tempts you. Focus on identifying WHEN you are using credit, HOW you get sucked in, and WHAT credit really is: debt.
Those ads for 90 days same as cash? Debt. Home equity loans to pay off credit cards or add a pool? Debt. Overdraft lines? Potential debt. Car payments? Debt. Swiping your VISA credit card at McDonald’s? Debt. Sticking a plane ticket on your American Express because you’ll have the money to pay for it before the bill is due? Debt. Accepting an invitation to an event when you don’t have the money saved up, right now to pay for the tickets? Debt.
Understand what debt really is
Debt means an obligation. A mortgage on your future. The inability to really enjoy the here-and-now. Worry, stress, and frustration. Guilt.
For an even bigger wake up call, break that down into specifics. Debt could mean being unable to quit a job you hate unless you can find a better one. Spending 2 hours a day in your car so that you can commute to the job that pays for things you already bought but may not even remember. Missing out on time with your family, etc.
Finally, turn all those thoughts of debt into “I don’t want that.” Focus on what you DO want instead: to be debt free.