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The Most Dangerous Roadblock to Your Debt Freedom

Submitted by on July 22, 2013 – 12:18 pm 41 Comments

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Happy Monday, friends!  I’ve written a guest post that’s being featured over at Frugal Rules today, called “Secrets to Helping You Get Out of Debt Quicker.”  Head on over and check it out by clicking on the link.  Now, onto today’s post!

I’ve written lots of posts about how spend tracking, budgeting, and generally having a plan are crucial to getting your debt paid off.  But as I’ve perused the web the last six months, searching for continued wisdom on how to get out of debt, there’s one roadblock that keeps popping up over and over that is keeping people in debt.  Is that what’s keeping you in debt?

The roadblock is: Refusal to face the truth. Denial.    There – I’ve said it.  I’m going to try and be as compassionate as I can here, while still being honest.  If this post is for you, you’ll know it in your heart.  Is denial keeping you in debt?

Truth about money and spending comes in many forms:

1.  I don’t have that much debt.  Or, I’m not really that overweight.  Or, I don’t drink too much.  Or whatever your vice is.  Average Joe talked about this in his post, Freedom: Bad food, Bad Choices.  We are free to do as we please, for the most part, on this earth.  But the truth is that there are consequences to our actions.  Not controlling your weight, or choosing to eat only processed/junk foods, can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and a myriad of other issues.  You can say that those health issues aren’t caused by the extra weight you’re carrying around, or by the bad food choices you’re making, but the truth is still the truth, no matter how much you deny it.

The same goes for your money situation.  No matter how “normal” it is, or how much less debt you have than the guy next to you, the fact of the matter is that your debt is keeping you in bondage to your credit card company, loan shark, or mortgage bank.  Your house is not truly yours if you have a mortgage on it, and your time is not truly yours if you are forced to work a job you hate because you are handcuffed to your different loan companies.

2.  I am managing my debt just fine / my debt situation is not my fault.  That may be true, but one wrong move, and your house of cards could tumble down at any moment.  Is it really fair of you to keep your debt load and your minimum payment schedule, especially when you’ve got a family?  Is it fair to the kids when you lose your house because you lost a job?  It’s not your fault?  Really?  Let me ask you a question: If you had spent the last 15 years managing your money wisely, budgeting, saving and avoiding debt, and tracking your spending,  how much cash on hand and how much debt would you have right now?  Go back and add up the last 15 years of your tax returns.  How much money has come into your hands in that time period, and what would your money situation look like today if you’d saved 10% of that money and used extra cash to pay off your mortgage instead of going out to eat, to the movies or on spendy clothes for the last 15 years?  Oh, you haven’t spent that much?  I challenge you to go back and track your spending for the last year and add up what you spent on entertainment, clothing, groceries and the like.  Seriously: be honest with yourself – how much more did you spend than you thought you were spending?

3.  It really doesn’t matter what my debt situation is.  It does if you have to find a new home because you lost yours.  It does if a job loss means you can’t feed your kids or pay the electric bill.  And it does every time you have to say “no” to something because of money, have a fight with your spouse because of money, or turn down a great opportunity because you can’t afford it.  Yes, your debt really does matter if it’s keeping you from living a peaceful life.

4.  I deserve to spend money.  This is a lie that media and advertising have used to dupe the unassuming public into believing so that they can make money.  Don’t you deserve peace and financial security more?  Don’t your spouse and your children deserve those things?  And honestly, is that trip to the fancy restaurant, or that new pair of jeans, or that new gadget really, truly making you happy?  I seriously doubt it.  You deserve SO much more than “stuff”.  You deserve a life where you can make decisions based on what’s best for you and/or your family, not based on whether or not you’ll be able to pay the bills each month.

5.  I don’t spend that much / I only spend on necessities.  Spend-tracking was our wake-up call to face the facts regarding this particular path of denial.  We went back and wrote down every dime we’d spent in the previous year on groceries, gas and entertainment.  And I would challenge you to do the same.  We thought we were being frugal, but the numbers can’t lie.  Writing down what you spend will show you where those financial leaks are.

Regarding necessities, I plead with you to get back to basics.  Kids’ activities are not necessities.  Smartphones are not necessities.   Nor are takeout meals, restaurant meals or other forms of entertainment.  Or name brand/new clothing.  Is it difficult to give up these things?  Yes.  Telling our kids “no” to things they want to do or have has been one of the most difficult parts of our decision to control our spending so that we can get out of debt.

But we know that, in the end, it will be worth it.  When we get to debt free, we are putting our family in a place where:

a.  our kids won’t have to worry about the burden of supporting us financially

b.  we can do things like take vacations, go out to eat, or buy things for the kids in a way where it won’t even touch us financially

c. we’re putting ourselves in a position where we can make big family decisions not based on our debt situation, but based on what’s best for our family

I plead with you, friends, to kick denial to the curb, and to wake up and face the truth about your money and your spending.  The road to get to debt free will indeed be difficult, but the life of freedom you’ll experience when you’re done will, from what everyone tells me, be worth every minute of sacrifice it takes to get there.

Are you strong enough to make the journey?  Which pain will you choose?  The short-term pain of making the necessary sacrifices to get out of debt, or the long-term pain of being in bondage to debt for the rest of your life?

41 Comments »

  • Oh, denial is a terrible, yet real issue. I remember it and that is the reason why it took me so long to get started down the path to debt freedom. My wife had to kick my butt into gear and I can only thank her for that. Once you face the truth, the path gets much better, but that is the first step.

    Thanks for including my article Laurie, I really appreciate it. I hope you had a great weekend.

    • Laurie says:

      So glad your wife was there to help you face the facts – if it weren’t for her, there might not be a Debt Roundup! Thanks for the encouragement as usual, Grayson. We truly appreciate it. 🙂

  • “Your house is not truly yours if you have a mortgage on it, and your time is not truly yours if you are forced to work a job you hate because you are handcuffed to your different loan companies.”

    Ahh! This is how I’ve been feeling lately. I’m realizing more and more that it’s true; no matter what, I’m working for someone else’s benefit. I can’t wait to kick these student loans so I can start chopping away at my mortgage.

    It is so easy to think, “It’s a 30 year mortgage. Everyone pays it off in 30 years, so maybe I’ll throw in an extra payment each year.” Still, you’re committing your life to working to pay off the mortgage. The same thing goes for student loans, and even 5 year car loans. I don’t know what I want to do in 5 years, but it certainly won’t involve having debt!

    This post is a fantastic and harsh wake up call for many people out there. I love that you’re challenging people to look back and really come face-to-face with the reasons they’re struggling financially.

    • Laurie says:

      Us too, Alexandra! You are definitely not alone. I just think that if people would really take the time to understand how much their debt is restraining them, they’d be eager to get rid of it a lot quicker and thus be able to live a much more enjoyable life.

  • I totally agree with you, Laurie. It’s normally the first step in a lot of recovery programs to admit you have a problem. Denial stops people from being able to admit. I know a lot of friends who are in denial and don’t think that they have a problem. I just hope that they get some reality pushed through to them sooner rather than later.

    • Laurie says:

      Me too, Jake. You guys are one of the great examples out there of people who have pushed through the denial and achieved freedom from debt. May we all learn from those who’ve conquered debt before us!

  • Great post! Definitely spot on…describing some I know to a T. I have co-workers who are in denial (Accepting that they have a debt problem is the first step in resolving it!). They complain about living paycheck to paycheck and claim they live frugally yet have premium cable package, eat out, go out for movies and name brand clothes/accessories. I have also heard the “I deserve it” entitlement feeling because they work hard for their money. And last but not least, I hear the “it’s not my fault.” They rather blame the banks for the interest on the student loans and credit cards.

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, I think it’s pretty common, Andrew. It explains the economic mess here in America, doesn’t it. If only they could visualize just a taste of the debt free life!

  • Great points Laurie, denial is no way to run financial life. I did this for a long time believing things will get better when in fact all I was doing was hoping things would change for the better. Instead we need to take a more proactive step towards living better financial lives, I did and it’s been a big turn around for me.

    • Laurie says:

      Love what you said, Chris, about hoping things would get better vs. taking the steps necessary to make it get better. That is crucial, isn’t it??

  • “a. our kids won’t have to worry about the burden of supporting us financially”

    That is the one that worries me. My mom and my aunt had to help my grandmother for decades after my grandfather died in his 50s and my grandmother was left with nothing.

    I don’t want to live a millionaire lifestyle in retirement. I just want to be able to take care of myself.

    • Laurie says:

      Us too, Jane! We watched as my aunts, uncles and parents regularly gave money to our grandparents to “help them out” and it really scared me. But it scared me into action, which is good, right?

  • Denial, Denial, Denial. My very first post ever on my blog was about how long it took me to get my head out of the sand and face reality…Great post Laurie 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, it’s a tough one, denial. But I really believe that if we overcome denial, we have a much better chance of overcoming the debt.

  • Pauline says:

    It is hard and even a bit shameful to admit you have a problem because it means you lacked control at a time, and behave poorly. Avoidance and denial is so much easier, but it will get you nowhere. Well said Laurie.

    • Laurie says:

      Pauline, you’re so right – it is easier, and I think that’s a very important point! But long term, it gets you absolutely nowhere.

  • Alexa says:

    Denial, is strong. I know there have been several times, especially when I was younger that I would just ignore my financial situation. I would over spend and not even want to acknowledge it.

    • Laurie says:

      Oh, I know what you’re talking about Alexa – we were there too. Just couldn’t face the numbers. But as difficult as it was to do, it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. 🙂

  • LifeorDebt says:

    We’re still in a state of hazy denial over here. I realize it.

    It’s great/hard to be in the personal finance blog world and be in denial. I have a love/hate relationship with all of you right now. 🙂 All the reminders to cut out the crap make me want to turn my computer off– but it’s good stuff. We need to read it!

    • Laurie says:

      Oh, dear friend, I totally get that. Especially when I’m seriously stress and just want to take the kids and head out to the nearest restaurant. Then I realize we’re out of spending money for the month, and I see all of your little Gravatars commenting on a potentially overblown budget. Everyone is kind enough when we do blow our budget, but having to face the music on the blog does make for a bit of a love/hate relationship sometimes. 🙂 You can kick this debt – I know you can!

  • Lots of people tell themselves what they want to hear in order to feel better. The problem is they are not solving the problem only putting a bandage on it until they are forced to. If we all just became proactive rather than reactive about personal finance we would have a clearer picture about where we stand now, where we want to go and how we are going to get there.

  • Realizing that debt wasn’t “normal” was huge for me. Taking control of my loans and not just being satisfied with paying them down over the next 10 years, was almost an epiphany for me (sad but true). Like you said, you have to recognize the problem and admit it’s a problem before you can start working on it.

    • Laurie says:

      KK, we were that way too, and I think that’s SO common, b/c debt is normal to most people! That’s why, for us, being around so many who don’t have debt has been instrumental. It breeds a new normal into our thinking.

  • This is very timely, as I had a bit of a mild rant toward an employee today. She is a really good employee, but tends to get off on tangents and talks a bit too much. She is very concerned about the health insurance penalty that kicks in next year. My office staff is small, so we don’t have a group plan. Instead, I give my full time employees a stipend each month that is supposed to be used toward getting an individual health plan. It has worked out well to do it this way for me and the employees and saves all of us about $200 a month per person. However, she doesn’t buy health insurance with her stipend and always complains how she can’t afford it. She also just bought a brand new car a couple of months ago, bought both her daughters iPad minis for Christmas, and the kicker is that she smokes!

    I could not put up with it anymore tonight and just told her to quit smoking and she could afford any type of insurance. I doubt she’ll be telling me about things she can’t afford anymore. I was in denial for years, and recognize my own kind. You have to accept that whatever debt you have is your choice. Maybe you’ve had some bad luck, but your are certainly right that if you’d saved along the way, bad luck doesn’t matter nearly as much.

    • Laurie says:

      How frustrating!!! Yes, we hear that all over too: “I can’t afford” it, and then see unnecessary spending up the wazoo. It’s frustrating, b/c you know they could be having a better life if they’d just face the facts and change their behavior.

  • AverageJoe says:

    The most difficult people for me (as an advisor) were the “the debt isn’t my fault” crowd….because the only way to get them into “this has to change” mode was to confront the fact that it WAS their fault, no matter the circumstances. This often led to some of the only confrontations I ever had in my meetings (usually I preferred to be collaborative). I remember one person telling me that they had hospital bills that had led to their credit card debt. I finally had to say, “So, they take the Sears card at the hospital? When did that start?” That was a painful thing to say, but they got the point.

    • AverageJoe says:

      By the way, thanks for mentioning my piece! Almost forgot my manners!

    • Laurie says:

      Wow, I bet that was profound for them. I think it’s great that you’re willing to be honest with your clients. You’re taking the risk of possibly losing them because you know that honesty will give them the best chance of good results in the end game. Joe, that’s integrity that seems to be rare these days.

  • Good words, Laurie! Denial is so strong in our culture, and I think it’s even stronger among 20 and 30-somethings because honestly it can be draining to deal with debt and money. I think it’s a big reason why the alcohol industry is doing well with my demographic…but on a more positive note, I think that eventually most people “get it” and realize their long-term goals are going to take some hard work and overcome their denial.

  • Denial can be your best friend and your worst enemy sometimes. I think we all practice it on one form or the other. Best to be honest when you are paying down debt, though. You will beat that demon that much faster.

  • CF says:

    I got a text today from my parents asking for money. After reading this blog, I am again reminded of how much in denial they are. They’ve had so many chances to turn their financial situation around (and they still do have chances!) but they’d rather spend, borrow and spend some more.

    • Laurie says:

      Oh dear. See, that is what really scares me about not continuing on our getting out of debt journey. I don’t ever want to have to make that phone call to our kids. Hopefully your parents will wake up soon and change their situation.

  • We made some short term pain decisions when it came to reducing our expenses when we first got married so we could smash our debt. 6 years later and I couldn’t be happier with our decision.

    • Laurie says:

      Yours is the kind of story I love to hear and share, Glen. It proves that all of the so-called “pain” that comes with budgeting and cutting out expenses has a terrific payout.

  • Thomas | Your Daily Finance says:

    The biggest problems we have are the ones we create and blocking ourselves. Self evaluation I have said is always the hardest for people. So easy to look at others and point fingers but we never like to admit we have problems. From the we don’t have money to do this but you did buy that. I don’t know sometimes. I think some people like being in debt or rather just think its the way of life.

    • Laurie says:

      SO true, Thomas. I think for most that it’s just too much work to face up to their mistakes. It’s painful to confront yourself about your shortcomings. I remember when we went back and re-traced last year’s spending, I thought I was going to be sick when I saw how much money we had wasted. It was a very tough journey, and lots of guilt and being PO’d at ourselves followed, but it was definitely worth the trip, because we are now on our way to a much better place.

  • E.M. says:

    Denial is a huge reason why people don’t take action in any situation. I think my parents went through this as well, because they were too ashamed to realize their actions brought them to a place where most of their paychecks were going toward monthly payments. They didn’t think it was a huge deal, and as they were trying to hide the extent of it to me, they started to believe it. They also don’t think of it in terms of restraining them, they just see it as a necessary bill to pay. I am slowly teaching them they need to get rid of it asap!

    • Laurie says:

      That great that you’re educating your parents on the ways of handling money responsibly – and very cool that they are willing to listen too. Great stuff!

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