Here Are Eleven Things I Stopped Doing to Pay Off Debt…
When I decided to tackle my debt, I put together a plan of action of all the things I needed to do. But then I quickly realised that I needed to address my bad habits, in addition to building better ones. So then I figured out what not to do in order to get rid of debt.
For me, getting into debt involved a forming a series of awful habits of overspending, making rash purchasing decisions, impulse buying and being easily persuaded when it came to using credit. And that’s true for many of us.
Over the year it took me to become debt free, I figured out what was getting me into debt and stopped doing it. This helped me to get out of debt, but building these lasting habits means I’ll likely never get back into debt again because I know where I was previously going wrong.
So I’ve shared these below along with how I suggest others in the same boat can kick these habits, too. Here are my eleven things I stopped doing to pay off debt.
#1: Online and window shopping
During my debt free journey, I made a point of getting out of the habit of scrolling through sales websites and window shopping. I did this because more often than not, these retailers dictated what I bought rather than me deciding for myself.
Think about it: how many times do we regret buying something after the initial thrill of a purchase? Like another top you don’t need, or some cushions that you weren’t planning to buy? Or some make-up product that promises to fix a problem that we didn’t even know existed five minutes ago?
It wasn’t a quick exercise to quit my passive shopping habit; in fact, it took me ages to stop. Over time, I learned to put fixes in place when I was tempted. Instead of browsing websites on my phone, I posted to my debt Instagram page. When I was tempted to call into a shop on my lunch break, I went for a walk instead.
It came down to identifying the trigger for my habit, which was usually boredom and wanting to feel the buzz of a purchase. Once I knew that, it was easier to find something else to do, and start breaking the habit. If you identify, figure out what triggers your need to shop and start fixing it at the root. Working on breaking the habit could save you thousands over the next couple of years (plus interest). So it’s well worth it!
#2: Following sales and marketing-heavy social media accounts
These accounts aren’t inherently bad. The people behind them create content their audiences will enjoy and sponsored posts subsidise that work. I get it. But as a follower, it’s tough not to think that you can buy their lifestyle if you buy what they are marketing.
But over the past year, we’ve become a lot more savvy about this type of marketing. Does the influencer actually use the product? Would they buy it with their own money? Does the product actually work? Is this the secret to their success/beauty/lifestyle/whatever, or are they just being paid to say it is?
During my debt free journey, I started unfollowing and unfollowing, and unfollowing some more. I still follow a few accounts that are sales and marketing-heavy, because I enjoy the rest of their content. But now I follow about 5% of the type of accounts that I’d previously followed when I was in debt.
What’s interesting is since social media accounts now need to declare when something is an advertisement, gifted or sponsored, I have been amazed by just how many posts on my feed were actually ads. One account I unfollowed does not post any non-gifted or sponsored ads at all. So when I thought I was following someone’s life, I might as well have been leafing through the Argos catalogue. That’s crazy to me. One of the most powerful things I stopped doing to pay off debt was removing influences that urged me to spend. And that starts with removing that sales speel from my Instagram feed.
If this is relevant to you, I’d suggest catching the documentary Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened on Netflix. Prepare to be shocked!
#3: Comparing my life to other people’s
Whoever said comparison is the thief of joy had obviously been knee-deep in someone else’s social media feed at the time. #BeenThere #DoneThat #MyLifeSucks
We all know what it feels like when we feel inadequate to someone else. So what do we do? We try to keep up. To make our lives look amazing, we book that holiday we can’t really afford. Or we boomerang that brunch that wasn’t in the budget.
I genuinely believe that many of us are in debt because we see what other people have and believe that we need to have it, too. The problem is that we don’t know how other people can afford it. Are they in debt up to their eyeballs, too? Or maybe they have an inheritance we don’t know about? Or maybe their job pays well, but they are switched on seven days per week in return for that salary.
The point is that if you’re comparing yourself to others, it’s a complete waste of time. They are them, you are you and what someone else has/makes/looks like/lives on is irrelevant.
Once we stop comparing, our lives become less measured by others’. We stop feeling the need to impress, or buy whatever it is that they have, and what we think they have.
When it comes to the things I’ve stopped doing to pay off debt, getting rid of self-comparison was a game-changer. Not just in financial terms, but for well being and quality of life, too. It’s a life skill that pays dividends.
#4: Matching my lifestyle to my income
When you get a pay rise and you bump up your lifestyle to match = lifestyle upgrade. For example, when you get promoted, you upgrade your car, or buy a bigger house, or spend more than before. The problem is that even though your income grows, your financial security doesn’t. In fact, you get into more debt when you take on more liabilities when your income grows.
I fell into this trap before paying off my debt. When we bought our home, we renovated straight away, justifying it by telling ourselves we were earning decent money and should have a nice house to match. We also bought a new car. But even though we looked young and affluent, the affluence was actually debt.
In reality, our debt was nearly the equivalent of a year’s salary, and we were spending everything we earned every month. We wasted a lot of money on takeaways, going out, clothing and mini-breaks, which meant that we couldn’t actually afford our car or to renovate our home.
Once I stopped seeing my monthly income as some sort of spending challenge, things started to change. And getting out of debt became easier.
Instead of thinking your lifestyle should reflect your earning bracket, ask yourself: what lifestyle do I want and what can I live with?
For me, that meant not upgrading our car and instead, paying it off as part of our debt free journey. I’ll drive that car until it’s done regardless of how much money I make in the future. The same applies to our home; irrespective of our future earnings, the only renovations will be necessities. Our lifestyle is fine as it is, I can live with it, and that’s enough for me.
There are other advantages to this attitude beyond the financial. To live sustainably, we need to start using the things we own until they are unusable, rather than upgrading as soon as we can. And there is nothing that makes you more unhappy that constantly grasping for the ‘next thing’. To live a happier life, we need to appreciate what we have.
To avoid debt, we need to break the habit of upgrading our lifestyle with our earnings. When you next get a pay rise, bank it, use it to lower your debts, or give yourself financial breathing room. Not spending it is a great way to spend it.
Of all of the things I stopped doing to pay off debt, learning to live below my means was the most life-changing. It’s a habit that will serve you long after you kick your debt.
#5: Following trends
From make-up to clothes to home decor, it’s crazy how keeping up with seasonal trends has evolved into a money pit.
Take clothing for example: now one Winter coat won’t cut it. We need a Spring trench, a ton of blazers and jackets. Oh, and maybe a few Winter options to go with different outfits. Or so magazines would like us to believe.
When we first moved into our home, I fell for this hook, line and sinker. I bought into the idea that I’d like to change our home accessories in line with the seasons (being influenced by one too many homeware catalogues and good ol’ social media), and spent a small fortune on cosy throws and candles for the cooler months, and gardening decor and drinks dispensers for the warmer months.
Soon, our small storage area became bunged with homeware tat that we only used for a fraction of the year. The items felt old and dusty after a few months, and we didn’t use them past the initial season we bought them for. Looking back, we wasted a lot of money on a lot of things that created a lot of waste.
The problem is that marketing tells us that we ‘need’ to keep up with trends, which means we keep spending. Many retailers rely on our constant consumption to make a profit. But does that make it our duty to get into debt by cramming our homes, wardrobes and lives full of stuff we barely use? I don’t think so.
Ask yourself the next time you buy something because it’s on trend: am I buying this because I want it, or because I was told to buy it? Will I use it beyond this season? Is it worth the money and can I afford it?
#6: Looking for sales and bargains
Before and at the beginning of my debt free journey, I bought a lot of sale items, which I justified as ‘bargains’. Would I have bought them at full price? Nope.
So rather than being savvy, I was actually just impulse buying. And that’s the issue with sales and reductions: they create urgency. Instead of thinking rationally about a purchase, we shop impulsively, worrying that it’s now or never to grab this great bargain. One of the most effective things I stopped doing to pay off debt was buying into the idea that sales meant savings. But you only save if you were prepared to buy at full price.
I know a lot of people who do well with sale shopping, bargain hunting and yellow stickers, and salute them for it. But it’s not for everyone, myself included. And the reason for this is that I know what I need, and buying something I don’t need costs money. When I shop, I usually have a list or at least an idea of what I’m there to purchase, and I don’t let myself get swayed by something that doesn’t fit the brief exactly.
That’s not to say I automatically go for the most expensive product. If I’m in the market for a new TV and there’s a great deal somewhere, I’m obviously going to opt for that one. But mulling around the shops and scrolling online for deals I don’t need just isn’t on my to-do list anymore.
#7: Seeing credit as ‘my money’
I used to be really proud of the fact that I had a £6,000 limit on a credit card at 20; it somehow made me feel quite fancy.
Now I look back on that daft fool I once was, and think, why did I think that? It wasn’t my money.
But because the bank deemed me credit worthy to the tune of £6,000 and perhaps felt that I had an income that could be leveraged into a lifetime of minimum payments, I felt flattered. I had £6,000 to spend as long as that card was in my purse.
By the time my debt free journey rolled around, I probably had around £20,000 in credit available to me, which felt like a safety net. But once I stopped seeing it as ‘my money’, I realised I had no safety net, and I became super motivated to create an actual safety net.
We need to stop mentally relying on credit, because as long as we do, we will.
#8: Listening to people who say debt is normal/inevitable/unavoidable
If I had a penny for every time someone tried to talk me out of paying off my debt, I’d be rich. Well, not exactly, but I’d have a few quid in my back pocket.
When people tell you debt is fine, guess what? It’s because they’re in debt, and trying not to panic about it. So if you’re paying off debt, that implies there’s something to panic about.
The truth is, debt is normal. It’s normal that many people can’t pay their bills, and regularly wake in the night worrying about it. It is common for people to go overboard at Christmas at the expense of their heating bill. It’s expected that people can afford the minimum payment rather than the car itself. It is the done thing to spend your entire adult life working to put a roof over your family’s head.
So with this in mind, listen to your gut instinct telling you to be ‘weird’ and pay off that debt. Remember: if it feels wrong, it probably is.
#9: Adding to my debt
This one goes without saying!
Once I decided to get out of debt, going backwards was not an option. It sounds quite obvious but if you’ve previously been in the habit of using credit, you need to address and fix the habit before moving on. No going back now!
The best advice I can give to stop adding to your debt is to get an emergency fund. You can dictate how much money you save, depending on your circumstances. But not only do they help to take care of an emergency, but an emergency fund has psychological benefits, too. Having savings in places means you know you will never go backwards into debt again.
#10: Not sticking to my budget
Once I started my debt free journey, I knew it was crunch time with sticking to my budget. This sounds obvious, but when it came to sticking to my budget previously, I was the queen of excuses:
- But it’s on sale!
- I need this!
- I’ll pay it off when I get paid!
Sound familiar? I think many of us do this; we are full of good intentions when it comes to budgeting, but when it comes to putting it into practice, it’s much harder.
I am forever comparing a debt free journey to a fitness journey, because many people are familiar with the latter. So with this in mind, let’s see budgeting as dieting. We start full of gusto, planning healthy meals and getting the shopping in full of leafy greens and pulses. But we put starting off until Monday, and then when Monday rolls around, well…
Deprivation is so much harder in practice than in planning. So when it comes to budgeting, it’s much easier to pledge not to buy new clothes until Christmas, or have 15 no spend days this month, than to actually follow through.
When it finally found a budget that I could live with, it was built with an awareness of what I needed to spend and where I was going wrong previously. I didn’t simply aim to spend nothing but rather, I aimed to cut down a little while understanding my triggers. And I took one area per month to focus on trying to reduce it without sacrificing quality of life.
Once I did that, it didn’t feel like budgeting. Just like eating enough of the foods you enjoy without starving yourself doesn’t feel like dieting. So if you can’t stick to your budget, it’s likely not you, it’s your budget. Make the changes, be realistic, accept your limitations and keep going until you find the right balance.
Of all of the things I stopped doing to pay off debt, getting my budget in order was the practical step that saved the day. Once I started, my financial situation got better instantly.
#11: Consolidating debt
Being open about paying off debt with those around me taught me one thing; consolidating debt is everyone’s jam. I mean it. Here in the UK, we are obsessed with moving our debt from 0% interest card to 0% interest card, and getting a loan to cut the monthly repayments, believing this is effective debt management.
And it can be. As long as you use the breathing space to tackle your debts and overpay them. But I don’t believe the majority of people do this. I believe this because when I used to consolidate my debt, I kept adding to it.
The problem with consolidating debt is that it lures us into the belief that we are doing something about our debts, while not actually doing anything about our debts. And as a result, it takes away the urgency for us to repay them, meaning we either a) do nothing, or b) keep adding to our debts.
So should you consolidate debt? Don’t do it if you believe it will fix your debt problems!
I hope you enjoyed reading about the things I stopped doing to pay off debt. Getting out of these habits helped me so much when it came to addressing the spending habits that led me into debt in the first place.
Have you stopped doing anything to pay off debt? Share it with me in the comments below 🙂