As a Money Coach for nearly a decade, and as someone who once had $100,000 in credit card debt, I know that becoming debt-free isn't just about using solid money-management techniques and effective debt-elimination strategies. It's also about having the right mindset to get out of debt.
Here are four insights to help you create the proper mindset to get out of debt.
1. It's Not About the Money
Most of us erroneously think that the biggest drawback of being in debt is the amount of money we have to pay to banks and creditors. We bemoan all the cash that goes down the drain in the form of interest. Or we rail about high fees, late payments and other charges tied to having debt.But the real price tag of debt isn't the financial cost associated with owing others. It's the toll that debt takes on every area of your life.
Debt wreaks havoc on you emotionally, causing physical and mental stress. Debt taxes relationships, leading couples to argue more, or divorce. Debt limits your personal and career options, keeping you in a dead-end job or unable to move because you owe too much money on your credit cards or your mortgage.
So stop thinking that becoming debt free is simply a way to improve your wallet. Think instead about how becoming debt free will improve your entire life, including your health, your relationships and your overall emotional well-being.
2. You Have More Power/Leverage Than You Think
Debt can often feel like bondage -- and for good reason. When you're deep in debt, and trapped by excessive bills, you're essentially a slave to your creditors. But despite the fact that you may owe thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars to banks or other financial institutions, you have more leverage than you may think.
For instance, if you are facing high-interest-rate credit cards, you have the power to call up your credit card company and negotiate. Unfortunately, too few consumers do this. They think: "I'm just one small customer" or "The bank is going to say 'No' anyway."
But banks send out billions of credit card offers annually. And if you've been paying your bills on time, the bank doesn't want to lose your business. So simply calling up the issuer or your Visa or MasterCard and asking: "Is this the best rate you can offer?" could get you better terms.
Even bankruptcy – which I only recommend as a last resort - is a form of leverage with your creditors. Banks know that if you file for bankruptcy protection, they may get nothing. So in such cases, they may be more flexible and willing to negotiate.
My point is: Once you shift your mindset to being proactive about your debt, instead of passive or reactive about it, you'll be better equipped to chip away at those bills and come up with debt-elimination strategies that best suit your individual circumstances.
3. It's NOT Someone Else's Fault
We'd all like to blame someone else for our debt woes and our financial problems. The "irresponsible" ex-spouse who ran up the bills. The "stingy" boss who wouldn't give us a raise. Or maybe even the "greedy" bankers who gave us credit and loans in the first place!
But to get out of debt, you have to accept responsibility for your predicament. You have to think about the choices YOU made, the things YOU did - or did not do - that led to your current state of financial affairs.
It's only by seeing your own level of personal responsibility that you become empowered. You have to start to think: "If I got myself into this mess, I have the power to get myself out of it." At the very least you need to ask yourself: "How did I contribute to my debt?" And more importantly: "What can I do to help turn things around?"
Even if you got into debt through seemingly no fault of your own (perhaps because you were downsized, went through a divorce, or had big medical bills in the family), you should review what happened and think about how you could have financially protected yourself and safeguarded your household against such unforeseen events.
Could you have had a bigger savings nest egg? Could you have had more insurance? Instead of blaming others, focus on what you could have done to help avoid the situation or examine what's within your power to do now to fix the problem.
4. Paying Off High Interest Rate Debt First Isn't Always the Best Strategy
Here's a bit of financial advice that you've likely heard over and over: Pay off your high interest rate credit card debt first. Unfortunately, it's also bad advice that doesn't fit everyone's circumstances.
Some people shouldn't worry about high-rate debt because, frankly, the interest rates on their debts aren't really that high at all. They should focus on paying off cards with the highest dollar balances. Other should go after cards with the lowest dollar balances. How do you know which is best? Think about what bothers you most -- and then attack your area of pain.
If you're stressed out because your cards are all maxed out, then you need to pay off cards with the highest dollar balances first. If you're finding it hard to keep it with so many credit cards, because you've got a wallet full of plastic, then you should pay off the cards with the lowest dollar balances first. As you pay off cards, then use the money you had been paying to double up on the next card.
The main reason you shouldn't always pay off your high interest rate debt first is because that strategy can takes many months - if not years - before you see your balances start to budge. For most people, that's way too long and depressing.
Who wants to fight against debt month after month only to see that the $170 they paid on a Visa card only covered $17 worth of the principal balance and the other $153 went toward interest? Little wonder that people don't stay motivated or stick to a payoff plan when the only advice they get is: pay off high rate debt first.
So instead, pick a proper debt payoff strategy that lets you get an immediate emotional boost from seeing that your plan is working. That will keep you motivated and on track to becoming debt-free.
Getting out of debt takes persistence and some savvy financial moves. But it also requires the right mindset – especially if you want to be debt-free as quickly as possible.
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