How to stay out of debt is one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves. This is because debt is a killer of dreams and a cause of limitless stress and anxiety, and a driving force behind the demise of relationships. Too harsh? I don’t think so.
Today, 77% of Americans report feeling anxious about their finances. While there are a lot of reasons for this, I assert debt and the behaviors that lead to it are the culprits.
Have people always been stressed out about money? Sure. But not to this level. How much credit card debt did people have in the early 1900s? Zero. Credit cards didn’t become a thing until the 1950s. Therefore, credit card debt wasn’t a thing. My goal here is to help you better understand the role credit and credit cards play in your life, and how to gain control over them. In so doing, I’ll teach you how to stay out of debt.
Life is way too short, and way too long to be burdened by credit card debt. I’m comfortable asserting this; if you can stay out of debt, you’ve got a shot at becoming financially successful. If you can’t, you’ve got no shot.
For over 20 years as a financial advisor, I’ve been helping people improve their relationship with credit and credit cards. I’m honored to be named to Investopedia’s list of the top 100 financial advisors many years running.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- The problem of credit
- Diagnosing yourself
- Putting your blinders on
Let’s get started.
The problem of credit
Do you know you should spend less than you make? If not, you ought to. If yes, do you?
Most of us don’t. In fact, at the time of writing this, almost two-thirds of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck. That means they’re broke. At best, they’re spending every dollar they earn and, more often than not, more.
A behavior gap occurs when we intellectually know something, but do something completely different. The mother of all behavior gaps occurs when we spend everything (or more) than we earn. We intellectually understand we should spend less than we earn, but we don’t do it.
Debt is a killer of options, dreams, and financial independence. Credit is the murder weapon.
Before credit, when you ran out of money, you stopped consuming. Today, we can blow right through that stop sign. The solution is obviously difficult to find and will be unique to you. The first step in discovering it is to look inside yourself.
When we’re physically unhealthy, it’s prudent to try and understand why. An elimination diet is a useful tool in this process. It involves systematically removing foods from your diet, then adding them back in one at a time and observing the results. You’re trying to determine which foods are causing you to feel poorly.
Odds are, there are things in your life you used to do but don’t any longer. Maybe you used to drink more, stay up late, play video games, or smoke cigarettes. Maybe you’d do all of those at the same time. Regardless, you can recognize non-beneficial behaviors and cutting them out.
With what’s keeping you in debt, there are many potential factors, and taking an elimination diet approach could make sense. The idea is to identify things that are directly or indirectly causing you to overspend. Here are some things I’d like you consider:
- Social media
- Credit cards
- Shopping (Online and offline)
- Comparing yourself to others (see social media)
- Certain people in your life
- Certain hobbies
- Eating out
Now, it’s highly possible these are all things you really enjoy doing. And one of the essential keys to financial success is making sacrifices. Think about it like this; once you’ve identified and overcome what’s keeping you in debt, you can add it back in later. From my experience, once you’ve overcome a problem, it’s not wise to do it again, but you can make that determination for yourself.
Your ability to be brutally honest with yourself is essential to identify the influences that are causing you to overspend. Once you identify them, you need to stop doing them. Let’s talk about how to do it.
Putting your blinders on
Why do people put blinders on horses? Wikipedia explains:
Many racehorse trainers believe that blinkers (blinders) keep horses focused on what is in front, encouraging them to pay attention to the race rather than to distractions such as crowds. Additionally, driving horses commonly wear blinkers to keep them from being distracted or spooked, especially on crowded city streets.
How does that apply to you and I? I think almost directly.
Each of us must run our own races and keep our eyes on the prize. When we put blinders on, it helps us to focus only on what’s important, and not be distracted. An essential component of this is having a compelling vision for our futures. Without that, we’ve got nothing to run towards.
Goals = What you want. Values= Who you are. Habits = How you do things
Your goals help you to create that compelling vision for your future. If you’d like to gain clarity on yours, you can access our Goals course for free. When we set goals, we tap into one of our human superpowers. We visualize the future we want, and make plans for getting there.
Our values are the lenses through which we view the world. They help us prioritize and inform our decision making. To crystallize your values, you can access our Values course for free as well.
Your habits are the products of the tactics you use to execute your plans and vision for the future. Here are some of the essential tactics you need to employ in order to stay out of debt:
- You must explore your existing beliefs about money. It’s possible you have negative beliefs which will limit your ultimate financial potential. You can learn more about this process in this post.
- You must know your financial facts. These include cash flow, budgeting, and credit.
Once you know what your race is, meaning your goals and objectives, work to put blinders on and focus only on those things that serve you. Endeavor to minimize or eliminate distractions. When you get off track, get back on your path as quickly as possible.
Getting out and staying out of debt, is one key to financial success. You intellectually know most everything you need to make it happen. Now it’s time to come face-to-face with the emotional pulls keeping you trapped. The good news is, you can do it. You can absolutely become debt free and get on the path to financial success. Get started.
If you’re ready to take control of your financial life, check out our DIY Financial Plan course.
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