If your debt is anything like mine, it will take a long time to pay off. You have also probably realized that becoming debt free is just as much a mental journey as it is a financial one.
Cultivating the tenacity necessary to succeed, and remaining encouraged, requires more than just abstractly “staying positive”. I personally have had to eliminate mindsets and affirmatively reject certain conversations in order to stay on track and happy doing it.
Going with the flow
When putting together my first budget, the first thing I did was to itemize my monthly expenses. I pulled 6 months of credit card statements and could not understand why my balances at the end of each month was over $1000. This was surprising because I was actually using cash for my fixed expenses — so what in God’s name was inflating my credit card balance? But then it occured to me: If I wanted a certain wine– I bought it. If I wanted to go to brunch– I went. If I wanted to buy 30 different types of moisturizes– I didn’t think twice. When I broke it down I didn’t even have anything to show for the purchases; just too many pretty-smelling lotions, random colorful bits-n-bobs, and unimpressive meals. By the end of 2015 I had spent over $8000 on my credit card alone on random crap (not including travel or monthly bills), and it occurred to me that my “auto-pilot-mindset” had to change.
I think we all have different definitions for going with the flow. For me that meant not paying attention to credit card use for my wants.
Talking about my job/career
Often when your job comes up in conversation, it always leads to the bottom line: your income (or lack thereof). Family tends to comment on whether you should be making more, and friends on whether it is representative of the amount of hard work you invested in your education. While personally reflecting on your job is a healthy exercise, when you have debt, it is most likely anxiety-inducing (especially if you hate your job).
Personally, I think most twenty-somethings are just fumbling around in the dark and trying to figure out if their current job is their “career.” When I had to talk about my job to others it put me in the awkward position of admitting that while I had a healthy income, I was unhappy and would gladly choose a position that made less if it meant I would feel more fulfilled in life. Of course this would be met with strange judgments and off-handed comments that I did not appreciate my circumstances.
At the end of the day, limiting conversations about the trajectory of your career gives you the space to abide by your budget to get out of debt, disregard others’ judgments, and avoid unplanned reflections on your debt to income ratio.
Fighting the need to compare my debt to others or complaining about it
I think one thing that binds millennials together is our struggle with debt, especially non-consumer, student debt. It is both a social faux pas and mutual touch point of commiseration. The danger: it brings the debt to the forefront of our minds and often times triggers negative emotional reactions when we are no longer in the room with others who can relate. I also find that by mentioning your debt in front of your friends and family you run the risk of making someone else think about their debt (which they probably don’t want to do) or attracting looks of sympathy (which makes you realize you are probably in a worse off situation than your fellow millennial).
Life is too short to dwell on negativity. So when I finally developed a budget that worked for me, I put it on auto pilot and put my energy and thoughts toward trying to enjoy other aspects of my life.
Justifying my debt payoff plan
There are SO MANY WAYS to tackle your debt. I’m attacking my aggressively. Maybe you can’t. Or maybe you are opting for a responsible plan that fits your lifestyle choices. If someone else is questioning what you are doing with your money, in reality they are questioning the validity of your choices. Revisiting the decision can lead to second guessing your choices, which is unnecessary if you have already made the deliberate choice to begin with.
Most people won’t understand your debt pay-off strategy or grasp the wisdom that is so obvious to you. Whatever the case, money-decisions are very personal choices, and no one has any business asking what you are doing with your money and why. And so, if you say you can’t go to the brunch, or travel on the next trip, or someone notices you make 6-figures but never splurge, you owe them no explanation (whatsoever), nor do they deserve one. By allowing yourself to be secure in your decision, you save yourself the emotional exercise of having to revisit and question your plan when it is already set into motion.
Beating myself up when I bust my budget
I fight the desire to let my budget be my gospel. Doing this leads to unnecessary guilt if unaccounted for expenses come up. Mentally flogging myself for the unexpected turns of life will make the debt-freedom journey ride feel more like a nauseating rollercoaster, than an exercise in discipline. In reality, there is no straight path to pay off debt (unless you have unlimited funds). A budget may be linear, but life is not, and budgets may need to be reworked from time to time. By accepting this reality, you avoid the guilt when life just happens. Therefore, the times I may go over budget I ask myself: Was this a want or a need? If it was a need, I accept it and move on. If it was a want, I re-evaluate what prompted the overspend, and find cheaper ways to deal with the trigger.