If you fall in debt, would it be forever…

When people fall in love they assume that it is forever. Despite evidence to the contrary I am still to meet anyone who falls in love just for ‘the season’. Strangely, when people first realise how much consumer debt they are in, they have the feeling that it is forever as well. Only difference is that this is not the light headed feeling of love but the suffocating dread of getting a life sentence. At least this is how I felt when I first realised how serious the situation really was.

If the peeps at Positive Money are to be believed and debt is really a mathematical certainty, you have either been, are or will be in debt. There are two approaches to debt: it is either ignored till it is too late or people decide to do something about it; like pay it off.  In any case, it feels forever. It doesn’t have to be and here is how we can ensure that debt is temporary, it is a glitch in our movement towards wealth, prosperity and abundance.


First things first! Some realisations hit you straight in the solar plexus; the pain shoots through your body and your mind is paralysed. Sleep is hiding in the corners of the room and anything else, including the joy of life and loved ones, disappears in the periphery of your awareness. This is a bad place to be for many reasons; one of these is that while feeling like that you can’t deal with the situation.

When I felt this way what helped was deep breathing and self suggestion. I exhaled and relaxed; ran and plotted; and courted sleep by repeating to myself that ‘we will be all right’. It takes days and even weeks but it works – one night you go to bed and fall asleep to wake up rested and ready to move on.

From ‘emotion’ to ‘action’

You have probably noticed that I have been using quite emotive language. This is because usually the initial reaction to debt is emotional; it is crushing because it feels as it is forever, it feels as if your life is over and it cannot be re-built. If your debt is not to be forever, you have to move away from emotion and let your reason kick in. Stop worrying, start acting.

Work out exactly how much your debt is and who are you in debt to. Include all credit cards, loans  and other borrowing.  Make a list – include the debt and the minimum monthly payment. Work out your income and expenditure and make a plan.

You will notice that knowing and acting deal with the fear and hopelessness.

From ‘problem’ to ‘solution’

You know what your problem is – you have debt. Most problems can’t be solved at their own level. Dig deeper and figure out why do you have debt? Do you have spending issues or you have earning ones? Make a plan about which issues you will approach first.

When I first realised that we have debt I thought it is because we don’t earn enough. Another look convinced me that we have never had earning problems but had a spending problem the size of the Alps. This is what we tackled first.

From ‘forever’ to ‘now’

It seems to you that your debt will be forever because you focus too much on what it means for your future. Everything that you can do to ensure that it is not forever is in the present.

Refocus your attention from the future to now.

From ‘someday’ to ‘specific date’

Faced with a large debt most people think of the time when it will be gone as ‘someday’. This lack of specificity makes it all seem so far away that it is not even worth imagining. Irrespective of how large your debt is set a definite end date for it and be ambitious. Setting a date focuses the mind and makes you see possibilities where there were none before.

Early acceleration…

On a more practical note, you are going to pay your debt much faster if you overpay as much as you can early on. This is not only a booster for you and your motivation – it is very satisfying to see the number go down – but also changes the structure of the payment. In the early stages you will pay more interest than principal; halfway is the tipping point where you will be paying more principal than interest. The smart thing is to get there fast.

Whether you ignore it or pay it off, debt is never forever. How long it would be around for depends on your determination, ingenuity and hard work.

13 thoughts on “If you fall in debt, would it be forever…”

  1. I would argue that using investment debt properly can actually help improve your overall financial situation. Debt is nothing to panic about, it is merely a too to help your material situation, simply use it intelligently and there is no need to worry.

    1. @My University Money: This is the case with investment debt. When one has consumer debt, though, it feel somewhat different. Partly because consumer debt accumulates because of ignorance, irresponsibility or lack of other options. Consumer debt makes one panic: the point is that regaining one’s wits is the way to turn the situation around and (eventually) start building wealth.

    1. @The Jenny Pincher: I wonder as well; but then I didn’t even look into it for so long. Whatever, it is debt increases uncertainty in life – this is why I think it should be dealt with.

  2. Debt doesn’t have to be forever, but I think that there is such a thing as good debt too. If you use it wisely, you can leverage other peoples money to make more of your own. You are definitely right about emotions though, they play a very big part in all of our financial decisions (whether we like it or not).

    1. @Shaun@Money Cactus: Agree about ‘good’debt – I see debt incurred for education as ‘good’ (and I do realise that lately this has been a bit of a contentious view point). This is only true when the education one pays for is the kind that gives social and cultural capital on top of competencies and knowledge. Paying for basic skills is no good.

  3. Debt is nothing more than a tool that can be used properly or abused. Most (myself included) have used debt improperly at one time or another. It is time to change that.

    1. @Cashflowmantra: Yep! But this realisation dawns once the emotion has been swapped for reason. This is why it is so important. At emotional level consumer debt is like in a Dickens novel – dark, restrictive and humiliating.

    1. @KC: Agree – the need for shelter comes high and is difficult to meet otherwise. I want this one gone as well but doubt it is the right time – as I said it is time for people to re-focus their worry. We still worry about our debt, it is probably time to be concerned about our savings.

  4. I am certain that part of the reason I ended up in debt in the first place a few years ago was because of emotion. You are so right- it really does have a play in all of this. I also had to put my emotions aside when it came to dealing the problem. I could have just sat and sulked in my misery but instead I ignored my sorrows and decided to be proactive and do something about it. For me, removing emotion from personal finance is key to actually doing well at personal finance.

    Like Shaun said, debt doesn’t have to be forever. We just need to be strong and take the steps needed to rectify it.

    1. @Miss T: Yep, this is what I did (and still do). Emotion has to be kept out of money matters – hard, though, given that money matters are not usually about money but about life choices. Which brings me to something that may need another look – controlling emotion rather than leaving it out of it.

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