I drafted this article after spending two weeks of discussions with an old friend who finally acknowledged her debt was beginning to influence her behavior. By creating a budget and drawing up a plan to aggressively pay down her debt within 15 to 18 months, she now claims she can finally set down the guilt ridden bag of bricks that is her credit card debt.
She says her debt related anxiety was not generated by not knowing how to get out of debt, but that she could not mentally accept that basic idea she had a debt avoidance issue. So if you find yourself in a similar situation, here are a few behaviors that she experienced that you might be experiencing as well.
You know you have a debt avoidance problem when…
- You’re afraid to check the mail. If you’re afraid to open your mail because you know your credit card bill might be sitting there waiting on you, then you know you’ve swiped the plastic once too often. Letting things pile up only delays the inevitable, and usually makes it much worse the longer you ignore the problem.
- You can’t sleep because of anxiety. If your anxiety is so severe that you lie awake at night obsessing about it, then how much of an early warning sign are you waiting for? Sleep is vital, and if you’re idea of solving your debt avoidance problems involves popping a sleeping pill or a nightcap, you’re using modern chemistry in ways it wasn’t intended.
- You’re lying/keeping secrets from your significant other. One of the first signs of any addiction is secrecy related to the addicting substance (alcohol, narcotics, or spending) from those around you. When you know that you’re doing something wrong or you’re embarrassed about who might find out, then it’s time to accept you’ve moved into addiction territory, and seek assistance.
- You’re constantly afraid your credit card will be declined. There are few things more embarrassing than a waiter/waitress returning to ask for another method of payment, but if you know credit card may be near the limit and you’re willing to push it anyway, you probably need to adjust your spending habits.
- You’re postponing the big events in your life. If you and your significant other want kids or maybe want to buy a home, but you keep pushing back those important life changing events because you know you’re going to have to settle up sooner rather than later, it’s probably in your best interests to get it done as soon as possible.
- You refuse to review your finances because it’s too depressing. If you not reviewing your finances every month because you’re afraid that you’re going to find out that you’re broke or cash flow negative, then it’s time to cowboy up and get it done. Procrastinating and wishful thinking aren’t going to make your problem any better.
- You make ridiculous self-justifications to make yourself feel better. You can tell yourself that all that debt was an investment to make yourself feel good or you got a great deal on it or you just had to live a little — it’s borderline denial and you’re lying to yourself! Even an 8th grade math student can walk you through the math where a 10% discount off the regular sales price is not a good when you carry a monthly balance at 20% interest.
- You’ve changed your phone number. If debt collectors are calling every hour, and you think changing your phone number is going to stop the phone calls, it simply won’t work. Eventually, they will find your new number and restart the entire process.
- You’ve recently become a pseudo expert on bankruptcy. While considering all the ways to get out of debt, you have read so many articles on bankruptcy and the aftershocks it will have to your future credit report that you could pass for a bankruptcy attorney. Knowledge is great to have, and bankruptcy works in some situations, but only as a last resort.
- You’re hitting up family members for loans. When the bank won’t let you borrow another buck because your debt to income is too high or your credit score sucks, then it’s time to change your spending behaviors and re-examine where things went wrong. Not to mention, asking family for money changes the relationship forever.
If you have experienced one or a combination of these problems, the first thing you must do is realize you have a problem.
If you can’t (or won’t) solve this problem by yourself, I would suggest you speak to a close family member who will not chastise or guilt trip you about racking up tens of thousands of dollars in debt. If that isn’t an option, find a friend that you trust and ask if they might give you some moral support and maybe help you face your issues.
By asking someone for help, you’re not only getting moral support, but you’re also making yourself accountable. If done properly, these are highly motivational forces for positive change.
If you can’t ask friends or family for help, just drop me an email and I’ll see if I can steer you on the right path. In the case of my old friend, all that was required was making a simple budget, and showing her that is possible to repay her credit card debt with time and discipline.