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How to Fight Discouragement About Debt


Rob in Madrid contacted me about the possibility of submitting a guest blog on here. You may remember his name from a post a little while ago where he wanted to pose the question, why do we struggle being forced into frugality. Like I mentioned in that article, he has offered some great insight within the comments on here and I was excited about his offer of a guest blog. He did not disappoint. I hope you enjoy his article as much as I did.

I had asked Tricia if I could bog about I our plans for a CC free holiday but my wife made a comment to me today that brought up an issues that we’ve been fighting and everyone faces. Fighting discouragement, particularly if you’ve been like us and have cycled in and out of debt many times before.

She asked what loan(s) or Credit Cards that we want to pay off this fall and it was problematic for two reasons, one we don’t agree on what approach to take (ie what loan CC to pay off first) and secondly much more importantly it made us focus back on how far we have to go and it gets discouraging when you start to add the numbers up. For us it means we have to crawl out of a deep hole (over 40,000€ this time). It also reminded us that we’ve been there before, several times. Then you start to wonder what the hell you did wrong, how stupid could you have been. Next thing you know your in a real funk. When you look at the numbers and focus on the payments it seems hopeless. Short of winning the lottery it seems we’ll never crawl out. It’s a feeling I’m sure many of you have felt. Worse yet is knowing that my wife makes an above average wage yet it never seems to help.

So here’s how I fight the feeling.

First off I divided my money into two piles. One is day to day living expenses and the other is debt. To the debt pile I’ve applied the Debt Snowball principal (google for more info), I’m aware of how much we owe and what the payments are but I’m letting it run on autopilot. I don’t want to think about it. This means I can forget it about and concentrate on the second pile. Day to Day living expenses..

Day to Day expenses is something that I have 100% control over. I’ve been tracking our spending off and on for many years so I had a good idea of what we spend per week and month. Problem was up till recent the only concept I had of frugal living was negative so even though I “budgeted” it didn’t make much difference. Discovering the PF blogosphere opened up a whole new world for us. I realized there was a whole lot more than living in debt and struggling to makes ends meet. I realized that we could not only live better on less but we could save money and get out of debt at the same time. Man that’s better than winning the lottery.

So that’s what I did.

I made being frugal a game. (hat tip to Trent over at thesimpledollar.com) Living frugal doesn’t mean being tight and cheap. Making into a game plays into the competitive side of me.

For example based on previous experience I knew that our weekly spending was around 300€ or so a week. So applying frugal living ideas I kept w/d 300 a week but changed how I managed it. Instead of just spending and complaining about how fast it went I divide it into 3 piles.

Shopping tithe (70 and 30)
Gas and misc (40 and 60)
Savings (100)

So every week it becomes a challenge to see how little I can spend. Can I beat my personal best, can I go this week without any misc spending? Do I really want a Starbucks when I can get a canteen coffee for 40 cents? Brown bagging it means not eating out. Leave 5 mins earlier for class (I’m an English teacher so I bounce around the city all day) and I can drive a bit slower and get that few extra miles out of my tank of gas.

You get the idea, instead of feeling “oh god it’s soo tight” it’s “I can do it this week”. It changes the whole dynamics of how you view and spend money.

Next week – The challenge, can we do a CC free vacation?

– Rob in Madrid

Thanks again Rob for guest posting!


  • Reply AJ - IAmFacingMillions.com |

    That is so true, Rob…

    I found that once I got started in paying down debt, I couldn’t wait to make the next payment … and the next … and the next …

    Eventually, I was taking out of my spending allotment just to be able to make extra payments on debt. Because I wanted to. It was exciting to see the numbers going down. It still is 🙂

    Of course I’m about to buy a house and I know that’s a good thing but it will be so discouraging to see a new BIG debt on my list 🙁

  • Reply Louise |

    I initally felt frustrated with the idea of being frugal again but it has now changed to a feeling of competing with myself to make those numbers come down! what changed it for me was deciding to blog every day. it has really given me a focus and the support from readers really helps. I now look forward to the bills and the end of the month so i can tally everything and see my progress. There is definetely the feel of trying to win a very difficult personal challenge for me. Without the pf community and blogging I probably would be discouraged. Good post!

  • Reply Emma |

    When my debt level was higher than it is now, I preferred to focus on how much I’d paid, rather than how much I had left to pay… and also tracked it on a graph so it was nice and visual.

  • Reply kimi |

    I do this as a game, too. How much food can we buy with $50? How long can we make a tank of gas last? It’s a good distraction from feeling like you have no money.

  • Reply Nate |

    I agree with what you said about frugal living. Giving yourself the challenege to see how little you can spend in a week has gotten somewhat addicting for me. I also do just what you do about brown bagging it, skipping the coffee (Can you say Latte Factor? Google it!) and the driving slower. Debt can be a nasty thing but once you have a grasp on it and you are dilligenet enough you can get out of it!

  • Reply Steve Herman |

    Interesting blog, my wife and I had several credit cards and an auto loan about 5 years ago but we were able to pay it off in less than a year. Alot of people we know are still struggling with debt. The key is to have a plan and stick with it!
    Steve Herman

  • Reply Lenny Tumbarello |

    My wife and I dug out of a $67,000 debt about twenty years ago in just over 41 months.

    The tough parts were committing to it. Even after we started – keeping the commitment and changing the mind-set was tough.

    Once we started to see some progress – it became almost an obsession.

    We didn’t know what were we going to do at first or how we’d do it but we committed to it.

    ONE- We got around a few people without debt – and found out that ninety-percent of the people that are debt-free, had debt at one time. They can help you and be a coach for you. Yes we changed our friends. Those old friends are still working stiffs.

    TWO- We went back to using cash as a means of exchange again. No checkbook and no cards on our bodies as we walked planet earth. THIS WAS MAJOR !

    THREE- We started paying ourselves FIRST. Even when we had nothing but bills. We paid ourselves. Only one percent to start, but we paid ourselves one percent of our take home pay into the savings every single month.

    Lenny Tumbarello

  • Reply MVP |

    Keep it up, it’s so worth it to be out of debt. And if you and your wife are working as a team, it’s even better because there are times when one of you will be really down about the finances, and the other can bring you back up, and vice versa. You can lean on and encourage each other when you’re tempted to overspend on non-necessities. Plus, it’s great to explore together what’s really a necessity and what’s just a want. Can’t wait to weigh in on the cc-free vacation posting – bring it on!

  • Reply Tony |

    I agree that once you start to pay off your debt and you are watching the pennies it really does get exciting to see your debt go down and more so it gives you hope and something to work towards.
    The longer debt is swept under the carpet and not acknowledged the more you can let debt grow.
    A simple excel spreadsheet and a debt plan can really make the world of difference.

So, what do you think ?