How Discovering Your Debt Triggers Can Set You Free From Debt

By Jackie Beck   Updated 07/17/2020 at 4:08 pm

How to identify debt triggers so you can stop debt in its tracksDebt is insidious, precisely because it’s everywhere. The debt lifestyle is all around us, but you don’t have to participate.

Identify your debt triggers so you can stop debt before it happens. It’ll set you free from debt!

Let’s start with this.

How much of your lifestyle is tied to debt?

Recognizing the extent that debt is intertwined with your life (and seeing the effect debt really has on you) is the first step.

Consider something obvious, like how you feel when you get your bills.

I remember hating to get those credit card bills. It’d seem like I’d just paid one when another one would appear. Then there were the fights afterward — the accusations, the blame, the frustration at not having enough money to pay off the cards. (Or even just to quit overdrawing the checking account).

It was emotionally draining. But that’s not where the problem started. That debt didn’t just magically appear. It was all triggered by something. If I wanted to get out of debt, I needed to find out what that was.

Where debt often starts

Chances are you often use debt without thinking or considering other options. If you’re like most people, you’ve probably been doing so for a long time too. Looking to debt as a solution or method of payment has become a habit.

But those “use debt in situation x” habits don’t just happen out of the blue. They’re triggered by something.

Something kicks them off. That’s why identifying the day-to-day habits that trigger you to use debt is critical.

(Note that a trigger isn’t a cause of debt. A trigger is just something that often happens right before you use credit.)

Before we get into debt triggers…

Let’s talk for a minute about WHAT debt (aka credit) really is. Debt means an obligation on your future. The inability to really enjoy the here-and-now. Worry, stress, and frustration. Guilt.

What if you thought about that true meaning every time you pulled out the plastic or considered signing for a loan? I bet you’d start to make different decisions.

For an even bigger wake up call, break the meaning of debt down into specifics that relate directly to your life.

For example, debt could mean being unable to quit a job you hate unless you can find a better one. Spending 2 hours a day in your car so that you can commute to the job that pays for things you already bought but may not even remember. Missing out on time with your family, etc.

You probably don’t want that.

So the next time you think of using debt, remember that.

Then focus on what you DO want instead: to get out of debt for good.

Finding your debt triggers

Identifying the day-to-day habits that trigger you to use debt is critical. Here’s how to find them.

Make a mental note of every. single. time. you pull out a credit card, hear an advertisement for credit that tempts you, or use debt to take care of an emergency.

Focus on identifying WHEN you are using credit, HOW you get sucked in, and WHY you weren’t yet able to pay for things with money you already had.

Start looking for those debt triggers now

You don’t have to wait until you’re about to use credit/debt in the future though. Look back over the last 10 or so times that you took on debt.

Remember that these are all examples of debt:

  • 90 days same as cash
  • Home equity loans to pay off credit cards or improve the house
  • Overdraft lines
  • Car payments
  • Swiping your credit card at a restaurant or store
  • Sticking a plane ticket on your credit card because you’ll have the money to pay for it before the bill is due
  • Buying a ticket to an event when you don’t have the money saved up, right now to pay for the ticket
  • etc.

What were you doing at the time? And what did you go into debt for? Why?

Dig into your spending patterns to discover debt triggers

For example, a look at your most recent credit card statement might show a bunch of charges for food. You might see a pattern there. Maybe you’re used to going out to eat every Friday night, and you do that without thinking, assuming that you’ll pay off that credit card debt as soon as it comes due.

Or maybe you notice that your charges are larger. They could be for things like car repairs, appliances, or electronics. What happened before you decided to charge those items. Had your car or water heater broken down? Were you attracted by a “same as cash” deal that you saw while wandering through Home Depot or Best Buy?

Go a little deeper

Once you see the obvious triggers, see if you can dig a little deeper. In the case of eating out, do you eat out because you’re harried and don’t have time to cook? Because it’s entertainment? Or are you just doing it out because that’s what you “always” do on a Friday night?

For car repairs, are they things that don’t typically happen, like a bumper falling off? Or they for more typical things, like brakes or tires? (The same idea goes for appliances.)

If you find yourself buying electronics or other luxury items, ask yourself what you were doing in the store in the first place. Were you bored and just itching to get out? Deliberately trying to make sure you’ve got the latest and greatest? Rewarding yourself?

Take some time to write down your answers, because they’ll help you change your life.

Why identifying your debt triggers helps

Finding out what triggers most of your debt gives you a starting point.

Not for blame or excuses, like “I had to borrow money because my car engine died. I work 20 miles away and there is no public transportation.” But for pointing out the areas that would be most helpful for you to take action on, like “I need a car repair fund, because I work 20 miles away and there is no public transportation.”

In other words, once you’ve examined things a little deeper, you’ll have a better idea of where to start making changes.

For example, you might need to create a budget each month, earn more, or spend less. (Or some combination of the above.) Or it might be something as simple as creating a car repair fund, or not driving past your favorite restaurant when you’re tired.

Once you know those things, you can take action. You can stop debt in its tracks, and get out of debt for good.

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4 thoughts on “How Discovering Your Debt Triggers Can Set You Free From Debt

  1. I fit into the category: “In the case of eating out, do you eat out because you’re harried and don’t have time to cook?” Any suggestions?

    1. What kinds of places are you eating out? I used to think that I didn’t have time to cook, but I realized that it actually takes longer to drive somewhere, order, eat, and drive back than it does to make many things. So you may actually save time by cooking. You can check out this post for other ways to save on food:

      As far as being harried goes, planning a few meals ahead of time can really help with that, especially if you make enough each time to have leftovers. (And then eat those in the next day or two.) I would start by just trying to eat one more meal at home than you are right now. Kind of ease into it, and then increase from there.

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