How not to become debt-free, in five easy steps

Sorry for not blogging
Long time, no blog. Eight months, to be precise. It’s amazing how it can be so hard to find the time to do the things that you really want to do. To be fair, I’ve had a lot on my plate: turns out job-hunting, studying and wedding planning keeps you pretty busy.

In the midst of all this, something important happened: I finally paid off my credit card debt. All thousands and thousands of pounds of it: gone. (For those of you who are new to this blog, or have forgotten given that I haven’t posted in a million years, this was basically my Number One Life Problem, i.e. my Kryptonite/Kilgrave/Night King/insert other enemy beginning with K here).

So: YAY. Let me take a moment to celebrate in gif form:

YAY

Now. Back to business.

When I was halfway towards this goal, I wrote a blog post about five of the things that had been working for me. And now that I’m proudly debt-free, I wanted to write about five things that DIDN’T work. Because, as I’ve said before, there is a lot of unhelpful crap out there… and in my journey to becoming debt-free, I think I tried ALL of it.

#1: Focus on your goals (to the exclusion of everything else)

We are taught that if we want to achieve anything in life, we must turn our aspirations and hopes into specific, measurable goals.

The only problem is: setting goals doesn’t necessarily get you results. I know this because I have made approximately seven billion of them over the years. In fact, I have an entire Google Drive of Shame, filled with dozens of spreadsheets containing lists of monthly and yearly goals, few of which I’ve ever met.

Setting goals is fun. It feels like progress. It’s a fresh start: the first step towards becoming a better Future You, someone who won’t fuck it up this time, like Past You did. The only problem is that if we focus on WHAT we want to achieve, we forget two other important factors: why and how.

‘Why’ is important because changing your behaviour is hard. It’s much less fun than goal-setting. Getting yourself out of debt doesn’t need to be a miserable process (more on this later), but it does, sometimes, mean you have to say ‘no’ to things you’d rather say ‘yes’ to. It involves changing your routines and habits so that you don’t fall into the same traps that got you spending more money than you actually have. You need to be crystal clear on why you want to get out of debt to get you through those moments. So that saying ‘no’ to things feels like a positive thing to do, and not like an act of miserable and pointless self-deprivation.

In addition to being clear, your reasons for getting out of debt must feel important and inspiring. Yes, getting to cut up your credit cards feels triumphant, at least temporarily, but you need to think bigger than that to avoid pushing it off to an ever-distant future. What does it actually mean to get out of debt? For me, it’s two things: 1) Not having to make monthly repayments makes you that little bit more free. You don’t, for example, have to stick in a job you hate because of them. 2) Not paying off debt means I can finally put money towards some of the big stuff: getting married, and saving for a deposit on a flat that’s not mouldy and ridden with mice. (See: admitting that kind of stuff means I’m unlikely to ever make it as an ~aspirational~ lifestyle influencer. Alas).

 

giphy (1)

 

‘How’ is just as important to think about. In retrospect, one of my biggest mistakes when I was trying to get out of debt was failing to work out how I could make significant monthly payments whilst still having enough left over to, you know, live my life. The conventional wisdom for when you are in debt is to cut down your spending, which I did. And as a result, I let myself lose touch with a lot of people because I thought I couldn’t afford to socialise with them. I didn’t go on holiday abroad for five years. I endured proper bouts of FOMO when my friends post pictures of festivals and restaurant meals. But despite all this pain, I made no progress. In fact, I ended up in such a miserable state I sometimes ended up cracking out my card and racking up even more debt.

It was like this, but not cute
It was like this, but not cute

The reason for this is now clear to me: trying to tackle my debts by exclusively focusing on cutting back made me feel like I was being constantly deprived of fun things. This was made worse when I could see that everyone around me was enjoying what I couldn’t have. Which then led to two further Tangents of Shame: 1) How come I didn’t have my financial shit together when everyone else I know seems to? and 2) How dare I feel so miserable when I was, in the grand scheme of things, really fortunate?

So, trust me as someone who has been there: if the experience of becoming debt-free starts to make you unhappy, your #goals will go in the fuck-it bucket before you can even *think* the words ‘you only live once’ You need to work out a way to live within your budget that will allow you to enjoy your life AND meet your goals. It’s harder than just setting the goals, I know, but it’s the only way to actually achieve them in the long run without losing your mind.

 


 

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