Today, I’d like us to discuss the myths about debt. Why do we need to do that, you may ask?

We need to discuss the myths about debt and paying it off because myths can entertain; they can bring us the counsel of humanity’s collective wisdom, and legends can also induce fear and prevent action.

Here is a wide-spread myth about debt, more specifically about paying off debt, that can stop you from even trying to tackle your money problems.

“Paying off debt means sacrifice, suffering, and deprivation.”

Look carefully, and you would see and hear this message everywhere.

Personal finance pros are telling you to live on a strict budget.

Bloggers are bragging about the sacrifices they made to pay off their debt and how they came out victorious on the other side.

Even some are saying, like ‘it is time to tighten our belts’, scream of deprivation.

Heck, even I was a victim of this myth about debt for some time. Could you guess the first thing I did after learning how much debt we have?

I collapsed in an armchair as if someone hit me on the head, and a black wave of misery washed over me. There was a single thought trotting around my head:

“That is it! My life is over, and all I see ahead is decades long slog of deprivation and sacrifice.”

Several months into paying off our debt, I realised that it doesn’t have to be so. We didn’t sacrifice, we certainly didn’t suffer, and no one in the family was deprived.

You don’t have to suffer sacrifice and deprivation while paying off your debt either. If this is the fear that puts breaks on your commitment and motivation, deal with it, and deal with it now.

Before I tell you how to bust this myth about debt – that paying off debt, sacrifice, suffering, and deprivation go hand in hand – let us talk about how sacrifice became crucial in our civilizations.

Yes, sacrifice has such importance that any achievement appears to be seen through it. For instance, when we paid off all our debt, all £100,000 of it, in three years some people wrote to me that it “doesn’t count” because we didn’t suffer.

Can you believe that?

Sacrifice and our culture

How did sacrifice become such a force in our culture?

Through religion is the simple answer.

Throughout the history of religion, vengeful deities demanding sacrifice, sometimes the ultimate sacrifice, abound.

Don’t believe me?

Here is how this went:

  • Agamemnon, the worrier king from Greek mythology who led the Greek forces during the Trojan war, sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to appease the goddess Artemis. Ironically, Artemis was angry with him because many young men were to lose their lives in the Trojan war.
  • A vengeful God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and although the edict was changed later, and a ram was sacrificed instead of the child, the glory of sacrifice persists.
  • God sacrificed his son, Jesus, for the good of humanity.

Sacrifice mostly came to be considered as a heroic act benefitting the group. We get war heroes who sacrifice their lives for the good of their comrades in warms.

Even now, during the Covid pandemic, we hear about the heroism and sacrifice of medics.

You know what?

Most sacrifice is not glorious, nor necessary and avoidable. Let’s talk about the medics first. If the UK government got their act together during the first Covid wave and provided sufficient protective equipment, nurses and doctors would have been doing their jobs rather than taking a risk.

How have we become so brainwashed to glorify sacrifice?

Have you asked yourself why Christians worship the cross?

Because it symbolises God’s sacrifice.

If we were not conditioned to glorify sacrifice, the cross would be a source of guilt and discontent, not worship. (Some heresies questioned the worship of the cross, and…they were pronounced to be heresies by the Church.)

Sacrifice and paying off debt: bust the myth

Sacrifice is not a virtue. You don’t have to fall into the trap of believing that sacrifice and paying off debt always go hand in hand – you can pay off your debt with no sacrifice. You only must learn to be smart about it.

The other side of that is an underlying belief that paying off debt without suffering is somehow less deserving of appreciation than a story of painful sacrifice.

Dealing with your relationship with the myth about sacrifice is your task.

My contribution is to share with you six easy to implement actions to bring your spending under control and release some money to start paying off your debt.

#1. Prioritise, don’t sacrifice

We live in abundance. Even poor people in wealthy societies are much richer than people were only a generation or two ago.

One of the consequences of abundance is that we learn to want everything.

That is a problem.

Because we can have anything, but we cannot have everything.

It only means that we must learn to prioritise. What is more important for you – to read books or to go to a restaurant?

Do you get more out of travelling or getting drunk every night?

You must choose. You must learn to prioritise rather than sacrifice.

This exercise will help you work out your priorities. Once you know what you value most, allow yourself to have it, and question everything else.

#2. Optimise your spending, don’t slash it

Financial experts will advise you to slash your spending to pay off your debt.

I’m no financial expert; I’m a financial maverick. And we mavericks would urge you to optimise your spending, not slash you.

That means you must:

  • Eliminate all waste in your spending (you will be surprised how much you waste on different services and products).
  • Learn how to do things differently and get the best value for the lowest cost.
  • Limit your consumption by focusing on priorities. We all over consume terribly, and it is like over-eating – leaves you feeling bloated and uncomfortable.

Here are some practical, frugal living tips for inspiration.

#3. Put your money where your mouth is

This one doesn’t need much explaining and writing.

Once you have worked your priorities, make sure that you put your money behind them.

#4. Stop wasting

You won’t even believe how much you waste. Pay attention over the next week, and you’ll see.

For example, you will notice that you waste food. You probably don’t realise that in the developed world the food waste is more than 100 kg per person per year.

And the food is not the only waste you allow in your life.

Just watch yourself and stop wasting; you will be surprised how much you can save and how much of your debt this will wipe out.

#5. Learn to do things cheaper

Yes. Everything you do can be done cheaper.

Here, mastery is to learn to balance and distinguish between through saving and one that only appears to be a good deal.

For example, I have always thought that buying furniture you put together is a false saving for me – it takes me loads of time and much stress to put it together. You may be handy with this kind of thing and make it worth it.

#6. Learn to want less

Most of our spending, and what most gets us in debt, is that we want too much. We want new gadgets, remodelled kitchens, bigger houses, new cars…you name it.

You won’t believe how much you will save by training yourself to want less.

For that, you will need a change of ideology – very likely, you have been raised to be a consumer, so you want everything in sight and consume.

Explore minimalism. If this is not the ideology that rocks your boat, explore essentialism.

You may also consider shifting your focus from consumption to production. Focus your attention on contributing to your family, to your friendship group, and society. Start modestly and build from there.

Myths about debt: final words

Are you still worried that cutting your spending and paying off your debt would mean sacrifice and deprivation?

Hopefully not. You can still have the things that are important to you.

You only must work out what these things are and allow yourself to have them. Question everything else and don’t allow waste in your life – this is bad for your bank account and the environment.

Finally, you must learn to want less.

Now you know what you must do to avoid sacrifice and deprivation; what are you waiting for?

Go practice and commit. Commit to paying off your debt and building sustainable wealth.