Debt can be a scary subject.
I know this from first hand experience.
Shortly after leaving university I found myself not only harboring some serious student loans but also more than my fair share of credit card debt. Debt, incidentally, that I was struggling to keep up payments on with my meager graduate salary. Debt that seemed to be growing every month.
Over time, as the sums in question grew (and with them the minimum payments) I started to find myself getting more and more stressed with the situation, relying on “restructuring” my finances to stay afloat. In other words I was borrowing from one source to pay for another – while simultaneously sinking further and further into a quagmire of debt and unpaid bills.
The thing was that I hated this situation. I dreaded bills coming through the door (to the point that I basically stopped opening them). I feared my phone ringing incase it was another creditor chasing the payment I assured them I would make.
When you get in over your head like this, it’s all too easy for fear to take over. To let fear paralyze you and prevent you from taking action.
I’d ignore bills. I’d ignore phone calls. I’d break into a sweat whenever I needed to try and “negotiate” with one of my creditors.
And it wasn’t because I was immature and refused to deal with the situation. I knew I had a serious problem. I knew that the only way to resolve it was to face it head on. And I knew that the longer I ignored it, the worse the problem would get.
And yet that fear. That fear held me back. Kept me captive. Prevented me from taking action. I’m not exaggerating when I say it could take me hours of shaking and sweating before I dared open my latest credit card bill because I was so petrified of finding out just how much I owed.
Worse, I was scared stiff to find out how much money (that I didn’t have) the bank expected me to pay that month.
And yet, as I type these words to you right now, I’m debt free. I got there. I beat those emotions. It wasn’t easy, but I won.
So today I’d like to talk about “fear” – the emotion that, for me at least, was the greatest obstacle to getting my finances under control.
How To Get Over Your Debt Fears
So how did I get over that terrible, gut-wrenching lifestyle of avoidance and fear? What realizations, strategies and tips helped me to break through that seemingly impervious wall and finally get my debt under control? Well, I’m glad you asked…
1) You Need A Plan
There’s a reason why so many people talk about their “debt payoff journey” – because it really can be a long and tiring journey. And for any journey you’re going to need some kind of map or plan. You need to know your starting point and your finish point or you won’t know which roads to take between the two points.
Getting your fear under control is necessary to figure out your starting point. You need to develop the resolve to open those bills, speak to your creditors, figure out how much you owe and the interest rates and then put together a plan of attack.
It might be uncomfortable. Like me, it may take you a long time to build up the courage but sooner or later you need to understand your enemy if you’re going to win the war against debt.
2) It’s Natural To Be Embarrassed
One of my biggest fears about my debt was having to ring creditors to try and negotiate some kind of settlement to get them off my back. I can write emails or letters without issues, but as an introvert the thought of calling someone up to discuss how badly I’ve managed my money is hell on earth.
The fact is though that while it’s natural for you to feel embarrassed making these calls, appreciate that the people you’re ringing deal with situations like yours (and a lot worse!) every day.
They don’t know you. They’re not going to tell your friends or family. When you put that phone down you’ll probably never interact with that individual ever again in your life. So quit worrying about it!
Generally I found that being polite, apologetic, willing to negotiate yet also tough enough to say “no” to their first offer was the best strategy. You can imagine how many people they have yelling at them or crying on the phone each day so dealing with a “reasonable” person must be a breath of fresh air.
Simply explain your problem, tell them you’re as keen as they are to get the debt settled as soon as possible and ask what they can do to help you meet your obligations to them. You’d be surprised by how reasonable some of these people can be. And if they’re not? Do what I did and simply put the phone down and redial in order to reach someone totally different at their office.
3) There’s Only One Solution
It’s important to realize that just being scared of your debt won’t make it go away. It won’t reduce the interest you’re paying or the minimum payments each month. Inaction won’t benefit you one little bit.
It sounds obvious – and I feel silly for saying it – but one of the biggest tips that helped me control my fear of debt was simply accepting that unless I actually took action my debt situation would just continue to spiral out of control.
In other words the only way to beat your fear is to face it head on. Whether that takes hours, days or weeks you HAVE to just go “screw it!” and get started. Because every step you take will reduce your debt and – with it – your fear.
4) Feel The Release
Once upon a time I’d agreed on a debt repayment plan with a creditor after I got behind on my payments. Unfortunately I’d allowed myself to be bullied into bigger payments than I would have liked and eventually I missed a payment. Missing a standard payment is bad enough but when you’ve finally got your creditors to agree to a new repayment plan and you default on that too? Mighty uncomfortable.
Accepting that I’d have to ring them and get the issue resolved I headed down to the beach with my cell phone and all the necessary paperwork. Rather than sitting at home stewing about it I wanted some fresh air to try and conquer my fear.
And there I sat, shaking, for well over an hour trying to build up the courage to dial the number. I even rang it once or twice and then put the phone down before anyone answered.
Eventually, frozen to the bone by the cold winter wind and literally so scared I felt weak as a kitten I swallowed my pride, ignored my fear and rang the number.
A matter of moments later, after a conversation that was nowhere near as bad as I expected, it was all over. Suddenly I felt unstoppable! The issue was solved! What had I been worrying about? It seemed like the sea had turned bluer and the sun was shining just a little brighter. I noticed the birds wondering along the shoreline. Life was OK. I was back in control. What an incredible feeling of release!
So when the fear of debt is controlling you try to visualize this feeling. Just imagine would it would feel like if someone could just click their fingers and make that fear vanish. That’s what it feels like when you get your debt under control.
Debt – and especially the fear of your debt – can risk taking over your life. It can fill your head with thoughts and ideas about what might happen. It can present all sorts of “worst case scenarios”. It can rob you of sleep.
And yet this is one situation where the grass really is greener. Being debt free rocks. And the only way to get there is by taking action. Scrub that – massive action.
So if you’re currently in debt and are being held back by your fear, just make a promise to yourself that you’ll take action today no matter how scary or uncomfortable it may feel. Just sit down with your bills and take as long as you need. Maybe it’ll only take you a few minutes to build up the courage. Maybe it’ll take you hours. But promise yourself that you won’t do anything until you’ve taken some kind of positive action.
As Nike would say – “just do it”. Because the feeling on the other side of that chasm you’re staring at right now is amazing.
Have you ever felt scared because of your finances? How did you overcome that feeling? Please leave your experiences in the comments section below…