The formula for getting out of debt isn’t rocket science, right? Cut your discretionary spending, throw your newfound cash toward your debts, and slowly whittle your balances down. Eventually, you’ll pay it all off.
In a lot of ways, paying off debt is like losing weight. Put fewer calories in, move a little more, keep it up consistently, and – voila – you should theoretically shed some pounds.
Unfortunately, we live in the real world, where nothing is that easy. No matter what you should be doing, life has a way of thwarting your plans. Emergencies happen, cars need repairs, and kids need braces. And just like that, your savings goals go out the window.
It’s also far too easy to overspend or to have that last piece of double chocolate cake. You only live once, right?
Mindsets That Can Help You Out of Debt
But you know what? Some people absolutely do it. They muddle through the hard work of getting out of debt, often going without for months or even years at a time. They sell stuff they own, pick up a side hustle, and make unbelievable sacrifices to get their families on solid financial footing.
They say no to the “cake” in their lives – the new car payments, the fancy birthday parties, and the fun nights out with friends. And, in the end, they look back and say it’s worth it.
It’s not that they’re smarter or better than people who just can’t seem to get out of debt; very often, it’s a change in mindset that eases people into a frame of mind where anything is possible.
But, what mindset switches work? And, how can you initiate one of your own? Here’s what some debt bloggers had to say about the mindsets that helped them beat their bloated balances once and for all.
Mindset #1: Stop seeing debt as a solution to your problems.
Debt blogger Jackie Beck told me she and her partner paid off $147,000 in stages over 10 years. This amount included not only a mortgage, but a home improvement loan, her husband’s car loan, her student loan, and a bunch of credit card debt.
They could have easily schlepped by and kept up with the minimum monthly payments, but something happened that made her view debt differently, she says.
For starters, Beck lived through a four-year period of unemployment. Her student loan hung over her head the entire time, and she realized she never wanted to be in that position again.
“From that point on, I started focusing on freedom,” she says. “We haven’t been disappointed either. Being completely debt-free is life-changing.”
The mindset change that made it possible was gradual, she says. But her focus on freedom was born when they stopped looking at debt as a solution and starting looking it as a problem and “a huge burden holding us back.”
Where Beck once saw debt as a way to get what she wanted but couldn’t afford, she now sees it as a drag. Not only did this mindset change help her dig out of debt, but it’s helping her avoid debt in the future. And that’s always a good thing.
- Related: ‘Freedom’ Money
Mindset #2: Realize other people depend on you.
Frugality blogger Kylie Travers hasn’t had it easy. Although she was always “good with money,” she’s had so much to overcome.
After leaving an abusive marriage, being robbed of all her possessions down to her underwear, and having her daughters diagnosed with severe learning disorders, Travers found herself homeless with two young kids. It took her a year to get back on her feet, she says, then another year to clear the remaining $20,000 in debt she racked up from legal and medical fees.
Many in her position would have given up, but Travers says her focus on gratitude and building a better future helped her dig her way out. “Having two young kids dependent on me, requiring ongoing treatment when I was completely broke, was a severe reality check,” she says.
Travers says it was hard, but not rocket science. She worked up some clearly defined goals, created a graph to color in as she paid off debt, and used any extra money she had to pay off debt.
Looking for ways to make extra money such as blogging, freelance writing, public speaking, publishing books, buying things to resell on eBay, and doing any odd jobs was an essential part of her journey, she says, since she “couldn’t work a regular job at the time.”
In the end, realizing that her daughters depended on her and her alone got her through the darkest times – and out of debt.
Mindset #3: Try to live on one salary and save the rest.
Military blogger Ryan Guina of Cash Money Life paid off around $35,000 in debt with his wife. This amount included a car loan, some credit card debt, and a home equity line they took out to finish their basement.
Guina admits he was the one who brought consumer debt into their marriage. However, the pair quickly realized they would be better off if they went back to how they lived before marriage. They each supported themselves on one income before they got married, so why couldn’t they do it now?
Guina says the change was easy once they committed to living off one income as a couple. They also continued living off one income after they paid off their debt.
“This allowed us to build up a sizeable cash cushion and still invest for retirement,” says Guina. “Our savings and commitment to living off one salary gave my wife the power to choose to be a stay at home mom, which was her preference.”
Mindset #4: You’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.
While a change of mindset can help you see money in a new way, so can having a fit of crisis and panic. That’s what happened to money blogger Maria Nevada of The Money Principle. When her husband informed her they had $160,000 in consumer debt, Nevada says she spilled her wine and went into crisis mode. She couldn’t sleep, think, function, or look at her husband, she says. They had been living in denial for years, and she wasn’t sure she was ready to face it.
Once she snapped out of it, Nevada says the first thing she did was learn to accept the amount of debt they had and see it as a problem that needed to be solved. From there, she says, she decided she had had enough. There was no way she wanted to wake up at age 50 with consumer debt, she says. It was over.
Complete commitment and being sick and tired of being sick and tired is what pushed her over the edge, says Nevada. And, after paying off all their debts in February of 2013, Nevada says they have close to $450,000 invested now.
Mindset #5: You want your joy back.
Blogger Stephanie Spillmann of Healthy, Savvy, and Wise says she’s in a different place than some other success stories on this list. She hasn’t paid off debt yet, but she is in the midst of trying. Currently, she’s focusing on paying off $8,000 in consumer debt over 18 months after consolidating her debts with a 0% APR balance transfer card.
Why the change? Spillmann says she’s tired of living with the daily weight and energy drain debt causes. “It’s a total joy-stealer,” she says.
Spillmann and her husband also want to relocate from Colorado to somewhere warmer by the coast, which will require cash and a sizeable emergency fund.
“In order to accomplish that goal in the next year and a half, we’re committing to being completely out of debt — except for mortgage, which we’ll start paying biweekly soon — and being completely financially stable before making the move,” she says. “It’s a great motivator when the ocean is at the end of the tunnel!”
Mindset #6: Don’t let debt hold you back.
Bogger Colin Ashby of Rebel With a Plan says his debt epiphany took place after he graduated from college at age 20. He wanted to leave his home state of Texas, but the payments on his $21,000 in student loans were standing in his way like “a chain keeping him from going someplace else.”
To buy his freedom, Ashby stayed in Texas for a year after he graduated, working a job he hated so he could pay off his debt with fervor. Fortunately, he had made a mindset change at that point: If he wanted to have more options in life and travel like he wanted, he had to pay off his debts.
The stars aligned for Ashby when he got an opportunity to pay off his debts and travel at the same time. Halfway into his debt payoff journey, he moved to Thailand to work as an English teacher and tutor. After 18 months, he says, he paid off his debts and celebrated with a trip to Australia.
Mindset #7: Debt doesn’t have to be ‘normal.’
Toni Husbands of Debt Free Divas grew up believing that debt was normal and necessary. She and her husband had good credit scores, she says, but they didn’t realize that only meant they were good at borrowing money. Financing bi- ticket items like furniture and cars was how you bought things, she always thought. As long as they could keep up with the payments, they could “afford it.”
Eventually, Husbands says, she had a reality check when she quit her job to start a family business in 2005. They watched their income drop by 30% overnight. Thrust into a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle they weren’t accustomed to, Husbands and her spouse decided they wanted more out of life and that debt was the cause of their financial woes.
From there, they paid off $107,000 in seven years and never looked back. And if debt is indeed normal, Husbands is fine with being weird.
Mindset #8: Every dollar is valuable.
Debt blogger Zina Kumok of Debt Free After Three felt overwhelmed by her $28,000 in student loans at first, but she changed her mindset when she found out that even small overpayments toward her debts could make a big difference.
“One day, after going through my budget, I decided I could allocate an extra $10 a month toward my loans,” she says. From there, Kumok called her loan provider to see how big of a difference that would make.
“She told me an extra $10 a month would remove one year from the total repayment term,” says Kumok, meaning she would pay off her student loans in nine years instead of 10.
“I was ecstatic – if that’s what $10 could do, what about $25 or $50?” she wondered.
From then on, Kumok started being really careful about how she spent her dollars. She tracked her spending carefully and always bought used items, found coupons, and looked for new ways to save.
“Once I knew that every dollar was valuable, it really changed my thinking,” she says. “Eating out became a luxury and spending money at the bars was a rare occurrence.”
With her new attitude, Kumok paid off her debt in three years.
- Related: Debt Payoff Calculator
Mindset #9: If others can do it, so can you.
Monica Louie and her husband paid off $120,000 in debt in two years on a single, middle-class income. They were 32 years old when they started, she says, and were trying to stay in control of their finances. She had just become a stay-at-home mom and was pregnant with her second child. Everything was perfect in life – except for their mounting debts.
“That’s when I came across success stories of others who had paid off all their debt including their mortgage,” says Louie. “Some were young families in a similar situation, so we knew that if they could do it, then so could we.”
At that moment, Louie and her spouse decided to pay off all their debts – including their mortgage – by age 40. They’ve already paid off $120,000 and are on track to pay off their last debt – their mortgage- just in time for their 40th birthdays.
But, how did they do it? “We never stopped to think if it was a realistic goal for our situation or not,” she says. “We just focused on making big progress quickly to keep up our momentum and what being debt-free would mean for our family.”
- Related: 11 Ways to Get Out of Debt Faster
Mindset #10: Change from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can.’
For years, Alaya Linton of Hope and Cents believed it was impossible to pay off her debt. She assumed she was destined to continue making payments for the rest of her life, she says.
“But then I started to question whether that had to be the case, and began to believe it was possible to get rid of the debt. It was that shift in my mindset from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can’ that allowed me to take practical steps to pay off the debt.”
From there, Linton started to think long and hard about how to get out of debt. Even if she wanted to make it happen, she needed a plan. Somewhere along the way, Linton says, one of her card issuers cancelled her credit card.
“With no other way to spend more money than I had coming in, I was forced to live within my means,” she says. “I started using a budget, slashed expenses, brought in more income, and went from overspending $2,000 every month to paying off the $74,000 in just over two years.”
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- In What Order Should I Pay Off My Debts?
- Should You Use a Personal Loan to Pay Off Credit Card Debt?
What convinced you it was time to get out of debt? How did your mindset change as you started the process?