Posts Tagged staying in debt

Four Reasons Why We Stayed In Debt

Our debt story began when I was 19 years old and I got my first student loan and credit card. Fast forward 18 years, a marriage and two kids later, we had to come to terms with the four main reasons why we stayed in debt for all of that time.

 At 37 years of age, I found myself staring at close to $59,000 worth of debt (a long way from that initial $500 student Visa card I had signed up for). Confronting the reasons why we had stayed in debt so long and changing our mindset about debt, finally gave us the motivation we needed to get it paid off.

We thought we had plenty of time:

My goal was always to be debt free by the time I retired. I understood at a young age that heading into your retirement years with debt wasn’t a wise financial decision. The problem was that in my 20’s and early 30’s, I still thought I had plenty of time to get my debt paid off.

I wasn’t in any rush, because I didn’t feel any sense of urgency. Not until I hit my mid-30’s. Once I hit that age, I realized that if we kept going the way we were, spending without a plan, and not putting a thing towards savings, my husband and I were going to be in deep financial trouble.

The other kicker came when I looked at what was being spent on debt-repayment. At the time our debt repayments totaled just over $1000 each month. Looking at the total amount paid, rather than just the individual minimum payments, forced me to see how much money we were throwing away and paying the bank each month, when if we had been smarter with our spending, could have been paying ourselves in the form of retirement investing.

We used our line of credit and credit cards as income:

Because we weren’t on a budget and had no idea where the money was going each month, we found ourselves relying debt to help us get through the month. If the bank balance was getting low, and I still needed to get some food or clothes for the kids, out would come the credit card.

After years of doing this, it really became a vicious cycle of using debt to either pay for the things that we needed, as well as the stuff we wanted. We also got into the trap where I would find that I was paying debt with debt (using Visa to pay MasterCard) if the money was tight at the end of the month and the bills were due.

In order to break out of this vicious cycle, we got on a monthly budget so that we could control our spending, account for our spending, and break the ties with the credit cards and the line of credit once and for all.

“At least we’re not as bad as…”

All of our friends had debt, so I found myself getting into the trap of thinking that debt was normal. Everyone seemed to have debt, so I wrote off the fact that we had debt as “No big deal; We’re just like everyone else”.

I also found myself playing the comparison game. One of my favorite shows on TV at the time was “‘Till Debt do us Part” hosted by Gail Vaz Oxlade. On this show, she would feature families who had gotten themselves into debt and were looking to get out of it.

Instead of being inspired to get out of debt ourselves, I found that I would compare our financial situation to the families featured on the show, and thought, “Well at least we have less debt than them”, as a way to justify and feel better about where we were financially.

Keeping up with the Jones’s:

american dreamThe last reason we stayed in debt as long as we did was our desire to keep up with the Jones’s. I would look at the lifestyles of those making a similar income to my husband and I and felt that we should be able to afford the same types of things.

Where we went wrong was that we didn’t plan or save for major purchases or vacations, we just went ahead and charged them. The down payment for the mini-van, new furniture, and our family vacation to Disney World were all courtesy of MasterCard.

What we have since learned is that we can have all of the things that the Jones’s have, we just need to plan ahead and save up for them first by budgeting and setting aside money into our sinking funds.

Your Turn!

  • What are some money mistakes that you’ve made that kept you in debt?
  • What mindsets did you have to change to pay off any debt you had?