12 Weird Truths About Getting Out of Debt That Most People Will Never Tell You

By Jackie Beck   Updated 05/10/2021 at 7:35 am

Chances are you’ve never even thought about these 12 truths about getting out of debt. But if you want to get out of debt and become debt free for good, you’ve got to understand them! They make all the difference.

1. You don’t have to put your life on hold.

If you’ve currently got enough money (in theory at least!) to pay all of your bills and still eat, you can get out of debt without putting your life on hold to live like a monk. In fact, I’d argue that you shouldn’t put your life on hold.

For example, while we were paying off over $147,000 in debt, we lived a normal life with all of its ups and downs. We took trips to some great places, ate out, bought gifts, went to the movies, and did some home improvements. We dealt with a lot of not-so-fun stuff too, like layoffs, medical issues, and car problems.

To make those things possible — both the fun and the not-so-fun stuff — while still gradually paying down debt, we worked to increase our income while cutting back in areas that didn’t matter much to us. Critically, we also lived by the other Truths I describe here.

Could we have gotten out of debt faster by going extremely frugal instead? Maybe, if we could have stood the deprivation without giving in and slipping back into our old credit-filled ways.

We opted for slow but steady while still having fun though, and that made living life without the use of debt into a permanent change. That’s important, because…

2. Debt freedom is a way of life, not a fad diet.

That means there’s no magic pill, and no get-out-of-debt free card. There’s no massive restriction followed by bingeing. There’s no “one easy payment”, no frantically moving debt around, no rolling one debt into another. You can’t borrow your way out of debt.

Instead, getting out of debt is about changing your behavior for good. It means only spending money you already have. Paying down what you already owe. Preparing for your future, both short & long term. Tackling the past. Living the life you want to live.

If your spouse is actively sabotaging, it might mean marriage counseling to resolve the deeper problem, or separate finances or sometimes even divorce if you can’t.

If your spouse just isn’t as enthusiastic about getting out of debt as you are, it might mean being patient, going at a slower pace, or really getting them excited about the dream. Shared dreams are amazing, as is supporting each other along the way.

3. Debt is not a solution. It’s a problem.

I know, you are probably so used to having to borrow money when an emergency happens that it seems like debt solves your problem. It’s marketed that way for sure. But what borrowing really does is exchange the immediate problem at hand for another, longer-term one: debt. It may not even occur to you that there’s another way, but there is.

I was that way for sure. One day I sort of panicked when I couldn’t immediately find a source to borrow money that I thought I needed. “What if,” I thought “I really can’t borrow any more money?” It scared me until I took things to their logical conclusion.

Ok, so what if I DID max out all my credit cards and couldn’t get another loan? I’d have piles of debt, with little or nothing to show for all my hard work, and tons of payments to make. In short, I’d be desperate, but…I’d find another way to solve the immediate problem facing me. So why not just find another way NOW and save myself a world of hurt and a pile of debt…

That mindset shift was huge.

4. Debt is a choice, and you can choose differently.

That’s right, you didn’t “have to” borrow money for those emergencies. Bear with me for a minute, even though you probably didn’t like reading that. You might be thinking some variation of “But you have no idea what my life was like; there was no choice! I had to borrow money because ________.”

I used to feel that way too.

But the truth is you don’t literally “have to” do anything in this life except die (hopefully of old age after a full and enjoyable life.)

Ben Franklin was wrong when he said that “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes” because you don’t even have to pay your taxes, as long as you’re willing to accept the hefty and highly negative long-term consequences which I do not recommend.

This means that debt is a CHOICE. Sometimes it’s a terrible or desperate choice — but it’s still a choice. Sometimes it’s a thoughtless choice. Many times it’s a choice you rationalize to yourself as something you “have” to do, for lots of reasons — many of which are completely fixable and avoidable.

So I repeat: you don’t have to do much of anything at all in life. That includes borrowing money.

Yes, some things absolutely do happen in our lives that are completely beyond our control. And they can suck immensely. But one thing isn’t beyond our control: how we choose to react to those events. I choose, you choose, we all choose.

And that’s GOOD NEWS!

Because it means you have the ability to make different choices going forward.

I love it when I realize that things are my fault and my choice. I’m not even kidding; I get excited, because it means I have the power to make changes in the future. To react differently, plan ahead, and prepare for the unknown as best I can. To prepare for the likely, and the inevitable, and the fun. You can do that too.

5. It’s what you do with your money that matters most.

There are all kinds of people who get out of debt. People with kids, and without. People who are married, and people who are not. Folks who are young, and folks who are old. People who have college degrees, and people who don’t. When it comes to getting out of debt, it’s what you do with your money that matters most.

If you want to become debt free, the #1 thing you’ve got to do is QUIT borrowing money.

That means only spending money you already have. Not money you’ll get on payday, or tomorrow, or as soon as the company reimburses you. Only spend money you already have in your hot little hands right now. (Or in your bank account.)

It’s hard at first, because most of us aren’t used to doing that. (Especially if we’re living on a low income.) But it’s absolutely doable, and gets easier with practice. And once you start paying stuff off, it becomes even easier because your money isn’t flying out the door to service debt. You have MORE money available, which makes things easier still. It’s the exact opposite of a vicious circle.

6. You don’t have to get out of debt a certain way.

I will tell you about how to get out of debt from my perspective, the way that typically works best for people, and I’ll describe how to avoid common pitfalls along the way. As I do so, I promise not to call names, make fun of you, or mix in other messages at the same time. I will also be honest, passionate, and fairly blunt, if that wasn’t apparent already.

I believe that YOU get to choose what’s right for your life, because you’re the one who lives it. That includes how to get out of debt. On a related note, I hope that everyone gets out of debt, but I recognize that there are people who don’t want to, and that there are people who think debt it is the greatest tool in the world. That’s ok, because they’re not here.

If you’re struggling with finding the best way to get out of debt, my advice is this: Don’t waste your time reading arguments all over the internet about whether you should use the debt snowball or the debt avalanche. Just pick the one that resonates with you and get going. Most of the people who berate others for not paying off debt in the “right” order or way have never even been in debt themselves — let alone gotten OUT. Don’t listen to people who purport to know what’s best for you when they’ve never been in a remotely similar situation. You know your life best.

The best way to get out of debt is the one that you will stick with.

7. You DO have to make changes to pay off debt.

While you don’t need to eat strictly rice & beans for years to pay off debt or use one specific method, you absolutely will need to change the way you interact with money. (And often the way you feel about it too.)

In addition to only spending money you already have, those changes include saving up money for emergencies, planning for regular and irregular expenses (including fun things), saying no or getting creative until you’ve got the money for stuff you want, and asking for help. They include tracking your spending to see if you’re getting enough value, taking responsibility for your actions and inactions, and making different choices than the ones that got you into debt. They include being honest with yourself and anyone else you share finances with.

If you’re not sure where to start, track your spending for at least a day to see if you’re getting enough value from the things you buy. Just write it down as you spend and see how you feel. You’ll probably be amazed that you begin making changes immediately, cutting out the things that don’t really matter to you and getting more of the things that do instead.

Be patient (but persistent!) with yourself along the way.

Chances are you didn’t get into debt overnight, and so you’re not going to get out of debt overnight either. Don’t be discouraged when it takes time to change or when you screw up. Just own it, see what you can do differently next time, adjust, and keep going. It does not mean you are a failure! It means you are human.

That’s the way it works. Getting out of debt is slow going at first. You’ve got to get the hang of it, you’ve got to get determined, and you’ve got to stick with it and get back on the wagon when you fall off.

Imagine what your debt-free future will be like. See it, feel it, and dream it daily. Want it so badly you can taste it. Make it happen, step by step. And every time you do make progress, mentally celebrate the heck out of that progress. (Or jump up and down and do a little dance — whatever floats your boat.)

Because paying off debt is not just about owing less money; it’s about re-defining your relationship with money and changing your life for good.

8. When you’re paying off debt, obsession is a good thing.

You don’t have to be lucky, rich, or some kind of financial whiz to get completely out of debt, house and everything. What you have to be is committed. Obsession makes the process go faster. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll finish. Decide on the pace that’s right for you and then get going.

Cut back, brainstorm ways to make more money (which could include getting a better job and/or working on the side, among other things), and remember to have fun along the way. Track your progress and talk about what life will be like once you’re debt free. Keep your focus on where you want to be.

9. In debt or out, no one’s life is perfect. You are not the exception.

Things will go wrong, both when you’re getting out of debt and afterward. When something happens that you weren’t prepared for, don’t chalk it up to being an unusual month or an exception. Assume it or something similar could happen again, and build it into your budget. If it doesn’t happen, you’re ahead!

Make building up an emergency fund a huge priority, along with sticking to your long-term goal even when life throws in monkey wrenches. You may have to adjust, but you can still get there. That emergency fund is critical, because you need a cushion when the inevitable unexpected comes around. And then you’ll need to rebuild it.

Having an emergency fund to use is progress, because you’re in better shape than you would have been without it. So celebrate and keep obsessing.

10. People who get out of debt take action, and they don’t give up.

It makes me so sad when I hear people longingly say “I wish I could do that” because chances are THEY CAN. Maybe not the same way as me, or at the same speed (heck maybe they could even go faster!), or under the same circumstances, or using the same exact methods (except for the only spending money they already have part…) but they can certainly do more than just wish or feel bad about themselves.

If you want to get out of debt, you almost certainly can, by hook or by crook.

There are a few types of debts that can’t be bankrupted, but even if you have some of those types, you STILL might be able to pay them off. So don’t lose hope. (And the majority of people I hear from and talk with are NOT dealing with those types of debts at all.)

It’s heartbreaking to get emails where someone’s soul is being crushed under the weight of $5,000 in debt, or $19,000, or $100,000 when the circumstances they describe don’t sound impossible at all to me. I know it’s hard, and that you absolutely may be dealing with some rough stuff.

But I believe you can get through it.

I’ve been clinically depressed, I’ve been divorced, I’ve had no transportation in a city with very little public transit, I’ve been unemployed for 4 years and down to ten bucks in my account, and I’ve also been lucky — like many people. Keep going. Find a way.

Ask for help from your friends, relatives, coworkers, and acquaintances. I don’t mean ask people to pay your debts for you. I mean ask for help with transportation, child care, manual labor, tips, recipes, and ideas. Ask to borrow tools. Ask handy people to show you how to do things to save money. Google stuff. Just because you don’t know how to do something now or have never done it before doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

It’s scary to try new things, and to ask for help. Do it anyway. Your life is worth it. YOU are worth it. You will thank yourself later. Remember too that it feels good to genuinely help others, so by accepting help in a sense you are also giving a gift. You may also be able to help in return in non-monetary ways.

11. It IS nice to be out of debt.

And I never, ever want to be in debt again.

It pisses me off when I hear people say “It must be nice” when talking about some of the things I do — like quitting my job to work for myself, or traveling around the world on a regular basis — as if it were something that just magically happened that they could never do and so all they have left is sarcasm.

Why does it piss me off? Because people CAN do the things that matter most.

If you’re the kind of person who says “it must be nice” out of jealousy, think about the message you’re really sending yourself instead. You’re taking the path of fake helplessness instead of being true to yourself. If it matters, change your life instead — a tiny bit at a time.

Because you don’t have to be jealous. You can take action.

If you don’t want to do what it may take, own that and enjoy the life you do have. Don’t blame your spouse, your circumstances, or anything else. Your choices are a huge part of the problem, and they can be a huge part of the solution. Either way, some choices are very hard, but you do get to choose.

And yes, it’s not always that simple. There are people who deal with some scary, painful, and expensive health issues in a broken system that just makes it harder. It’s all too easy to become one of them. And there are people who’ve been dealt a bad hand in other ways, by growing up in generational poverty, starting out behind, and/or being thwarted at every turn by a lack of access to the advantages others take for granted or don’t even notice.

Sometimes those people are the strongest ones and pull themselves out, seemingly by pure force of will. And sometimes we all need help. But the “it must be nice” folks? They haven’t been those people.

12. If life without the burden of debt is weird, weird is AWESOME!

I’m used to making choices that people sometimes think are weird, irrational, or scary.

The day I resigned at my job was the day after my husband got laid off from his. My coworkers looked at me askance when I excitedly told them about the decision. I drive a car so old that it sometimes takes months to find simple parts for when it breaks down. I’ve asked total strangers for help with some odd things.

Want more examples? I like public speaking. I like good pizza more than probably anyone should. And I volunteered to be interviewed in a national magazine about my experience with living with and recovering from social anxiety, a mental health disorder I used to have. I’ve made many many mistakes, and will likely make many more. Those just aren’t any of them.

I’m putting myself out there now because I want everyone to know the joy that debt freedom brings. I want you to unburden yourself. To feel what it’s really like to have your money stay yours. To prepare as best you can for the unknowable future, and to have it be as great as possible.

I want you to live your dreams. To pay less for every. single. thing you buy because you use money you already have instead of debt. To help others.

And I want you to be able to take advantage of unexpected and amazing opportunities.

So take these 12 Truths and make them yours! (And if you’d like to read this again later, or think someone else could benefit from it, please save it to Pinterest.)

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Chances are you've never even thought about these 12 truths about getting out of debt.

34 thoughts on “12 Weird Truths About Getting Out of Debt That Most People Will Never Tell You

  1. Out of curiosity… How much money do you think you would have accumulated had you put money in a low index fund vs. paying off debt? Being out of debt is the BEST feeling in the world but do you think you would have made more or less money investing that same amount?

    1. Nice to hear from you Jai :) — we invested as well while paying off debt, so it doesn’t need to be an either-or proposition. To answer your question though, it would be way too time-consuming for me to figure out because of the variety of interest rates we had + other variables. (You may want to look at this post though if you want to see a related scenario: https://www.jackiebeck.com/why-you-should-worry-about-student-loan-interest/ ) That said, no one can see the future, but I KNOW that I no longer have all of that debt weighing me down, and I no longer have all that risk hanging out there.

    2. If your going to go back in time and see the difference between investing and getting out of debt then go back a little further and see the difference between not going into debt and investing. That’s when you’ll see what debt has really cost you.

  2. Thank you so much for this! My husband and I have just started our debt journey and these “12 truths” are so helpful. I have bookmarked them so I can go back and read them again when I am feeling frustrated.

  3. This was a really great article! It is true that you can’t approach debt like a fad diet, it needs to be a lifestyle! And everyone has different lifestyles so it’s okay to approach paying off your debt differently than your friends or family! It just is important to keep at it and make a change to the way you used to live when you were getting yourself in debt! Thanks for sharing this with us!

  4. I belive you just wrote the most honest piece ive read about getting out of debt.
    I now do not feel guilty about the tea i bought today .i certainly dont do it every day or week.
    We are on a strict budget and we don’t go out to eat .
    We will get out of debt but it will take time .we have had to cut through our emergency fund twice ..for mold basement and new tires but we bounded back.
    Thank you

  5. I love #7. So many people look to get out of debt, but want to keeping spending $5 for coffee every day and $50 on drinks on the weekends. No you don’t have to give it up, but cutting back and bring you a long way!

  6. Wow Jackie! I absolutely loved this article. Being a person on a debt-free journey, it is awesome to both both have my feelings confirmed as well as gain some new insight.

    You hit the fact that debt is a choice on the head. That, as well as debt has been marketed to us since we were young. It seems like that is our go-to answer. It is like a knee jerk reaction to our problems.

    Lined reading it!

  7. I am in my mid 50’s and am considering early retirement. It is very rewarding to be debt free. There were a couple rules I lived by. I would not charge something that would be gone before I got the bill. Such as meals, drinks, vacations, If I could not pay cash I waited until I could. I still refuse to to pay interest on anything that depreciates. Which is almost everything except a house. Why pay more (interest) for something that is going to be worth less? I am very fortunate that I have been able to pay off my home, have zero debt, and have enough in investments and savings that I will be able to retire about 10 years early. Keep up the work, it does pay off in the long run.

  8. What if I have $60k+ student loans, $14k credit cards spent on medical bills, etc., from the last few years of waiting on disability? What do I do? I will never be able to do the job that my degree holds or most likely any job for that matter. My ss Will be around $1250/month. I don’t even know how I will live on that. I have never been able to get a mortgage to the student loans. Thank you.

    1. Hm, feel free to email me if you like, but here are a few questions/suggestions. What have you been living on while waiting? And how much are you allowed to earn above disability? While it can definitely be very tough to work while disabled, sometimes it is possible, and there are flexible ways to earn. (For example, blogging, although that’s not a quick way to do so.) I suggest brainstorming ways to bring in more and also ways to cut expenses, such as maybe getting a roommate or two to reduce your basic costs for housing & day-to-day living.

    2. I don’t know your educational background, but I am a stay at home mom and teach online. It’s an amazing job and good pay for never leaving the house. You just need a bachelors degree.

  9. I have a question,I have about$10,000 in debt I can make my payments but it is tight .Is it better to get a loan for $5,000 and pay some off or do the debt snowball or does it just balance out the same . I am on social security

  10. Hi jackie
    Just a check in i only have the house to pay off now and it is under 25 thousand remeber where i was a few years ago?

  11. # 10 is so Important! I just spent the last 4 years becoming debt free, and reached that status April 26, 2019. It was a long road and I am now saving. What is important about #10 is
    You have to come to terms with you’re previous debt decisions and be vigilant with your pay off plan. I did, i got a second job, i held myself to “no spend” months ( no extras or wants, only necessity and needs ). Like I said it took me 4 years to pay off over $65, 000 of credit card debt and today I feel great! The burden has been lifted and i have been proactive in changing the way I think about money, investing, and saving. Every single dollar is budgeted and that includes savings, emergency, and investing. The stress is gone and the freedom is mine. Own what you did to get into debt and own the changes you are making to be debt free. Thanks for great article.

  12. I stopped at #4. My husband dropped dead at 39, the next month it snowed two feet of snow in the south and our entire heating system died and we had no heat. My choice was to freeze–along with my young children–or borrow $20K for a new system. Sometimes life has other plans for you, and you shouldn’t feel shame to borrow money. I don’t have a lot of debt other than that, but I’m still struggling with that years later and thought this pin might be helpful.

    1. I’m sorry for your loss, and I wish you had kept reading (maybe you only read the headline of #4?) because nowhere did I say that you should feel shame regarding borrowing. #4 is actually about feeling empowered, not ashamed.

      Often, there’s more than one choice out there even when very bad things happen, and if you decide to take on debt there’s no shame in that. It’s just what you decided was best for you at the time. And sometimes we all get to a place where we’re just so overwhelmed that even a small thing — let along a big thing — is the last straw.

      But if you want to get out out of debt going forward, consider this. Recognizing that every action you take or don’t take in life — including debt — IS a choice can make a huge difference, because it can change how you see the world. When you change how you see the world, you may find more options.

      For me personally actively CHOOSING debt after weighing all my options and deciding that was best for me would be a much better situation than feeling like I had no choice. Because feeling like there is no choice is a terribly helpless feeling. But choosing — and actively looking for as many choices as possible in whatever situation — is empowering. I hope that makes sense.

      I don’t say what I’m about to say next to judge you IN THE LEAST, but rather to point out other possible options since other people finding this later via search may be in a similar desperate situation of feeling like they will literally freeze to death if they don’t borrow for a heating system.

      So here are a few other options I can think of in addition to getting a heating system installed. Staying with family or friends during the freeze, staying at hotel, spending the night in a shelter, contacting the Red Cross or community referral for info on possible assistance, installing a less expensive heating system, getting the current one repaired, getting a second opinion to see if it really needed replacement at all or if someone was taking advantage of you in your terrible situation, buying a space heater (although those can be dangerous so I probably wouldn’t do that), asking for help in a buy nothing group or at church, bundling up yourself and your pipes a lot if temperatures were just hovering around freezing, etc.

      It’s easy for me to think of those things now, when I’m not you and not in the stress of the moment. We all do the best we can, and again, there’s no shame in borrowing. For anything, really.

    2. Also if that’s pretty much your only debt you might actually be in great shape, because it means you don’t first have to break a habit of constantly borrowing :)

  13. Hey Jackie,

    Totally agree with you that “Debt is a problem”. Hope people understand this.

  14. What interesting reading!!
    There was a time in my life when the thermostat in my Montana apartment was set at 55 degrees during the winter and I did Jumping Jacks to keep warm. Another when our daughters were toddlers and the wolves had their noses in the door trying to get in and devour the four of us on minimal pay.
    I’ve always tried to save, whether it was 5 cents, $5, $50, or $500. We paid off two vehicle loans early and the last 3 vehicles we bought we paid cash for. We’ve been completely debt free for about 15 years now. It is a choice to live simply and be debt free. We still take vacations and do fun things, but do not try to keep up with the Joneses.
    My husband and I have never made more than $55,000 combined, and that in the last 10 years. Yet after diligent saving (and investing in the past 5 years) we have almost $500,000 in the bank. The emergency fund is in place, plus one year’s worth of living expenses. The Health Savings Account is growing. The retirement funds are invested. Yes, it has taken 35 years. This is what diligence does. It is not always fun, especially when family criticizes you for how you choose to live. Less stressful, YES!! We may not always like the checks we write out, such as $3200 for a car repair bill, but living debt free and having money in the bank allows you to make thoughtful choices instead of panicked ones.
    My husband was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes 3 weeks ago. He is 58 years old, 6′ and 144 pounds at the moment–an atypical diabetic. Who knows what the future holds for us, but the least of our worries right now will be how to pay all the bills, thus making a stressful situation more manageable.
    No matter now you arrive at being debt free (or how long it takes you), it is worth it.

  15. being in debt is scary. am praying I can stay focus and believe I can get through this situation. it’s not a good feeling at all. I ask you to keep me in prayer

  16. Thank you for sharing your advice! We’re working on paying off our latest home remodel, a cabinet refinishing project, and your tips will be so helpful!

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