Changing Your Debt Mentality: Overcoming Your “Truths”

3D Shackled DebtI want to welcome Laurie from The Frugal Farmer as my first staff writer.  I know she will be able to provide inspiration to those of you still struggling with debt.  Take it away Laurie!

Hey, personal finance friends!  I’m so excited to be here, writing my first post as staff writer for Debt Roundup.  I’m honored to be working for a blogger with such a high level of integrity and truth in his posts.  It was that integrity, truth and concern for others that prompted Grayson to write his post entitled “If You Don’t Change Your Mentality, You Will Never Be Debt Free”.  In Grayson’s usual “tell it like it is” style, he pointed out that it really does take a mind-flip to get you out of that spending mode and into the savings mode.   I can attest to this first-hand, as my husband and I tried for years to get out of debt and save money.  But we failed every single time.  Why?  Because we hadn’t changed our mentality.  So I want to expand a bit on Grayson’s post and talk about what mentalities might be holding you back from achieving your financial dreams, and how you can overcome those mentalities and flip the switch over to financial freedom.

Being Stressed About Money is Comfortable

I know this sounds silly, but it is a true fact that people often fear change, even if it’s good change.  Studies have shown that women (and men) in abusive relationships often stay because even if they don’t like their situation, they’re familiar with it, and there’s a level of comfort with that.  To leave their abuser and start a new life is often much more frightening than the life you’ve lived for ten or twenty years because at least with your abuser you know what to expect.  It doesn’t make sense to the “outside world”, but from a psychological standpoint, it makes perfect sense, as humans are generally creatures of habit.

We might be afraid to work toward debt freedom because we’re not comfortable living within a budget, or because we’ve never not had a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle.   Struggling for money, in our own minds, is just the way it is, and the way it always has been, and contemplating something different can be scary.

How to Flip the Switch:

Take baby steps.  Commit to budgeting and living within your means for one month.  Then, for another month.  Those slow changes will get you used to change gradually, and you’ll gradually see how good financial peace really is.

I Don’t Know How to Be Rich

Sometimes we have trouble changing our mentality about money and debt because we are afraid of how we might change, or how our life might change, if we become wealthy.  If we’ve always struggled for money, and if everyone we know has always struggled for money, being wealthy can be scary and different.  Maybe your loved ones have always had a negative view of wealth, and so it scares you, or maybe you’re just afraid of becoming a jerk if you’re rich.  Maybe you’ve gotten used to constantly living in fear about your money situation and talking about that with friends and family in similar boats, and there’s a comfort level there for you that you’re afraid will go away if you’re the only  financially stable one in the bunch.  Whatever the reason, know that being “rich” or financially stable in and of itself is never a bad thing.  It’s how you handle the wealth that causes the problems.

How to Flip the Switch:

If you’ve got fears about being rich, conquer them before you start on the road to become financially stable.  If you’ve got pride issues, conquer them now.  If you’ve got emotionally spending issues, figure out why and deal with the root of the problem.  Are you afraid of what family members and friends might say if you become wealthy?  Make a decision now to start keeping your financial information to yourself, and sharing what you’ve learned only when asked.

Becoming Financially Stable Will Take Too Long

Yes, it might.  Rick and I can speak first hand to this fear.  We started 2013 with a 65% DTI ratio.  Talk about feeling hopeless.  When we sat down and ran our debt, DTI ratio and net worth numbers, I’ll tell ya, throwing in the towel and filing for bankruptcy sounded like a quick and painless option.  Instead, we chose to take the long road toward working ourselves out of debt, and I’m so glad we did, but there are still days when the journey seems like it will take too long, and we are tempted to give up.

How to Flip the Switch:

This is where the battle of the mind really kicks in.  You’ve made the decision to journey on your road to debt free, and you’re reading to start digging out of debt, but you’ve got a kid-sized shovel and a hole to bury up that’s the size of an Olympic-sized swimming pool.  It’s daunting, nonetheless, but here are some tips for winning that battle of the mind.

–          Track your progress.  Make charts, keep spreadsheets, whatever works best for you to monitor your progress.  Being able to see where you were at and where you are at now helps you to have a better handle on your journey.

–          Celebrate every victory.  Set milestones of victory for celebration that will motivate you.  A milestone for you might be that you made it through your first week or month on a budget.  Or maybe it’s that you paid off your first $100 or $1000 on your credit card.  Maybe it’s simply that you got caught up on your bills.  Whatever the victory, give yourself the proverbial pat on the back for it, and celebrate in a fun and frugal way, then cheer yourself on to the next milestone.

–          Get support.  As I’ve said so many times, the mental battle is often the toughest part to paying off debt and building wealth.  Find a couple of support avenues that can lift you up when you’re feeling overwhelmed.  You might call a trusted friend or confidante, or you might peruse the many, many personal finance blogs out there so you can read and be encouraged by stories like yours.  Just do something that will lift your mood and help you to see that you can conquer this feat of paying off debt.

Changing your mentality might very well be the toughest part of the road to financial freedom, but if you can learn techniques that will help you to get past the battle of the mind, your road to victory will be much smoother.

What mentalities did you, or do you, have to change in order to pave your road to financial freedom?

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Laurie is a wife, mother to 4, and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom, and to a simpler, more peaceful life.


  1. February 5, 2014 at 7:37 am — Reply

    Congrats on becoming a writer for Grayon, i’m sure this arrangement will work out well for the both of you 🙂

    Also when it comes to mentally overcoming debt, I think the first thing to do is to believe that you can do it, then you need to put plans in place to actually get it done. I think the most essential step is tracking your finances/expenses so that you can see exactly where your money is going, from there you can work out your plan of attack.

    • February 5, 2014 at 10:29 am — Reply

      Thanks, Glen, and great tips! If you don’t know where you’re money is going, you can’t plug up those financial leaks. This has likely been one of the most important steps to our financial success.

  2. February 5, 2014 at 7:40 am — Reply

    Nice gig you’ve got here Laurie 🙂

    I think I was late to the game with the mentality changes. I had started the process on paper, but I wasn’t “ready”. And I know that sounds like a cop-out, but it took me awhile to realize how things needed to change before I could start putting large chunks of money on my debt.

    • February 5, 2014 at 10:31 am — Reply

      Alicia, I think you’re right on with that statement. You really do need to get sick and tired of being sick and tired if you’re going to make changes that will stick. We had tried to get out of debt several times, but fear always overtook our desire to be free of the stress that debt creates. When we finally got to the point where the stress was too much to deal with, and it trumped the fear of change, we stuck to the plan.

  3. February 5, 2014 at 8:04 am — Reply

    This is great advice Laurie. Tracking progress, celebrating successes and getting support are three great ways to achieve your goals. When I speak to friends about their finances they often say things like “It would be too much work to change” or “I don’t want to deprive myself too much now, I may not even live to retirement!” Those are usually signs that people want to end the conversation. Those are pretty powerful mental road-blocks for people to get around.

    • February 5, 2014 at 8:06 am — Reply

      Oops – almost forgot…Congrats on the new role Laurie!

      • February 5, 2014 at 10:32 am — Reply

        :-), thanks, Jack! I totally agree about the roadblocks. Those folks obviously aren’t ready to make and stick with a plan for change, and that part is crucial for a successful debt-payoff plan.

  4. February 5, 2014 at 8:30 am — Reply

    Great advice, Laurie! Sometimes it takes a change of mentality more so than an actual physical change to start paying down debt and becoming financially secure. I think there are some people who live paycheck-to-paycheck who continue the trend, even if they could stop it, simply because it’s become a habit.

    • February 5, 2014 at 10:33 am — Reply

      I totally agree, DC. We get used to living a certain way, and even if it’s bad, it’s still comfortable. It often takes people awhile to learn that change can be good!

  5. February 5, 2014 at 8:42 am — Reply

    Love this Laurie! The mental part of money is so key. I hear people say things all the time that demonstrate a self-defeating view about money and it really is hard to switch that around. It won’t happen overnight, but you can definitely start taking small steps in a positive direction.

    • February 5, 2014 at 10:34 am — Reply

      So true, Matt!! I know that, even after a year in, we still have to work almost as hard on our minds as we do on our money. It’s a slow process, but it is slowly getting easier. Things like spending less are habit now.

  6. February 5, 2014 at 10:07 am — Reply

    Congrats on your new gig, Laurie! You’re so right that changing your attitude is a huge step on the journey to becoming debt free. In fact, it is THE step. It’s really the one you HAVE to take in order to get anywhere with debt payoff. Otherwise you’ll likely continue to be content with treading water or worse, getting deeper in debt. I honestly think motivation is the biggest factor that determines whether you will be successful at getting out of debt or not. If you want it badly enough, you can do ANYTHING.

    • February 5, 2014 at 10:35 am — Reply

      Thank you so much, Dee. I really appreciate the encouragement! I totally agree with you about it being THE step. Even if you don’t budget and spend-track, if you can master changing your mindset, I’m convinced that good money habits will follow automatically.

  7. February 5, 2014 at 12:06 pm — Reply

    Another great article Laurie! Congrats on getting a new gig here at Debt Roundup. I’m sure the two of you would benefit from this.

  8. February 5, 2014 at 2:24 pm — Reply

    Welcome to Debt Round Up Laurie!! And I love that you and Grayson have both talked about changing your mentality. Personal finance is truly a mental game and when we can change our frame of mind, we are truly closer to achieving our goals. For me the long road to financial stability seemed like such a burden, but when you realize it is a long road and celebrate those small successes along the way, it doesn’t feel so bad.

    • February 5, 2014 at 3:50 pm — Reply

      Thanks, Shannon!! I know what you mean about the long road – we’re in that place right now, but better to travel it slowly than not at all. 🙂

  9. February 5, 2014 at 3:22 pm — Reply

    I want to say thank you Laurie for being a writer for me. Your story is inspirational and I am excited to have you share it here. You started off with a bang!

    • February 5, 2014 at 3:51 pm — Reply

      Thanks, Grayson, and thank you for choosing me as a staff writer. I’m excited to see what our two perspectives together bring for the site. 🙂

  10. February 5, 2014 at 5:14 pm — Reply

    We agree with the need to track your progress and reward yourself. We found that seeing continuous improvement with our finances is motivation enough to continue. It’s exciting to see less debt one one from the next and a higher net worth. That sounds, you need to reward yourself so you don’t tire out. The rewards help you stay strong.

    • February 5, 2014 at 5:42 pm — Reply

      I agree, John. We’ve been focusing on smaller, cheaper rewards so my pessimistic husband doesn’t freak out about money being spent. It works, though. 🙂

  11. February 5, 2014 at 7:00 pm — Reply

    For me I was in denial about my situation with income. I just spent the same as a freelancer as I did when I was working full time. I’m sure there was a healthy dose of ignorance thrown in there. I think I just wanted to be like everyone else and spend like everyone else. I had to switch my mentality when I almost hit rock bottom and I realized I need to live my life in a financially secure way, not everyone else’s life.

    • February 5, 2014 at 8:06 pm — Reply

      Tonya, that is exactly what we did when Rick got laid off and then started a new job at 80% of his former salary. We just happily trolled along spending what we had always spent, putting the rest on the credit cards, thinking we deserved it, you know? In a sense we just didn’t feel we had to lower our standard of living, that is, until we woke up to the massive credit card debt we created.

  12. February 5, 2014 at 8:03 pm — Reply

    Congrats on your new gig here on debt roundup. Great advice.

    • February 5, 2014 at 8:07 pm — Reply

      Thanks, Raquel. Yeah, I’m excited for the new opportunity, and I really appreciate your support. 🙂

  13. February 5, 2014 at 9:30 pm — Reply

    Awesome that you are here Laurie! You will provide some great content for the Debt Roundup space.

    • February 5, 2014 at 11:08 pm — Reply

      Thank you, Brian. 🙂 I’m really excited to be here – such a great atmosphere with Grayson and his reading audience alike.

  14. February 5, 2014 at 11:43 pm — Reply

    Even though being debt is awful, it can be comfortable to be in debt. Sounds strange, but it’s true. When I was in student loan debt I knew how much my monthly payment would be and I just “rolled” with it for a year. Once I realized how much interest I was paying and how many years it would take to pay the balance I got angry and started paying down the debt as fast as I could.

    • February 6, 2014 at 8:25 am — Reply

      Funny how we do just roll with it, isn’t it, KK? Yeah, the interest numbers really shook us too. We’re paying a lot of money in interest right now that could be used for fun stuff or stuff we need.

  15. February 6, 2014 at 8:49 am — Reply

    I don’t think it’s as much of being comfortable with being stressed out about money as it is that it takes SO much energy to deal with debt and the stress that you simply have nothing left in the tank to make changes. I know that was my case – until our hand was forced and the stress of NOT doing anything was greater than the stress of what we had been doing. Great to see you over here at DebtRoundup, Laurie!

    • February 6, 2014 at 10:16 am — Reply

      Great point, Travis. That’s similar to what happened to us too. We came to the realization that the house of cards was precariously close to tumbling big time.

  16. February 6, 2014 at 1:15 pm — Reply

    Congrats on your gig, Laurie. That’s awesome! For so long, I thought I’d always “be poor”. As someone in the nonprofit sector, with interests in the arts, I just thought that was my fate. I also thought “everyone” had student loans. Not so! I have looked deep inside of me to see what things are holding me back. It’s not a comfortable place, but getting to the other side is magical.

    • February 6, 2014 at 5:18 pm — Reply

      Thanks, Melanie. 🙂 I can totally identify with your comment – I thought that way for years! Now that I’ve learned that’s not the case, I’m very interested to see what the future brings for us since we’ve taken control of our finances.

  17. Marvin
    February 10, 2014 at 9:49 pm — Reply

    Great to see you on here Laurie!!!! Very good points, my wife struggled with this when we first got together. She was drowning in student loan debt and auto debt. But it took her 90 days to see the progress she had made by making extra payments to her principle and cutting back on some luxuries. After that she was hooked!

    • February 21, 2014 at 9:46 am — Reply

      Thanks, Marvin – great to be here. 🙂 I think it’s terrific that your wife woke up so quickly and fixed her situation. So many times people just live in denial for years and years like we did. You’ve married a smart woman, my friend. You two are lucky to have each other. 🙂

  18. Kratika Saxena
    April 7, 2014 at 3:43 am — Reply

    It takes a dynamic shift in thinking by switching from a spending mindset to a savings. it would encourage habit of savings, because when we are out of debt we don’t spend the money.

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