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If You Don’t Change Your Mentality, You Will Never Be Debt Free

Debt and MentalityI think it is time for a bit of honesty here.  I have been writing on Debt Roundup since 2012.  While I have not been around for a long time, I have seen my fair share.  I have the luxury of getting comments and questions from many different people.  Some people are stuck under massive amounts of debt, while others are thriving and growing their wealth.  I like the diversity and I think it adds to this community.  One thing that I have done on DR is be completely honest with you.  I stirred the pot when I wrote about love and money, as well as when I put up my latest purchase with a loan.  It pissed off some and encouraged others.  I am OK with that because I was honest with you.  Now, I am going to be even more honest.

Don’t Expect Much If You Don’t Change

I want to talk about getting out of debt in this post.  It is a journey that many are currently going through or have been through before (myself included).  Debt is a very simple concept when we break it down.  You spend more than you make.  You output more than you input.  No matter how you slice it, debt is easy to understand.  If it is such an easy concept, then why are so many of us in debt?  What is causing us to spend like hungry hyenas?  I think it all comes down to one simple thing.  Your mentality!

Each person handles their finances in a different way.  That is understandable. We are all different and we do different things.  For that reason, we all get into debt for different reasons.  Some of us spend like crazy on our credit cards, others borrow in order to fund their future earnings, and some get into trouble with health issues.  No matter the reason, the approach you take with regards to your finances all comes down to your mentality.

Getting Out of Debt

I have talked with so many people that desperately want to get out of debt.  I completely understand why.  When I realized that it would take around 40 years to pay off my debt, it lite a fire under my ass.  There was no way I was going to be paying on my consumer debt for over 40 years.  No thanks, not for me!

I consider getting out of debt a two fold process. You not only have to pay off your current debts, but you also have to figure out why you got into debt. You have to look at your mentality and change it.  There is no other answer.

Change Your Mentality = SUCCESS!

Don’t Change Your Mentality = FAILURE!

I have seen many people work so damn hard to get out of debt, only to slip back in because they didn’t change their mentality.  They didn’t address the root cause of their debt addiction.  For me, I was a spender. I didn’t pay attention to how much I was spending.  As long as I could cover my minimum payments, then I thought I was OK.  I never knew what I was doing.  I didn’t focus on saving any money because I was too busy enjoying my life and spending like there was no tomorrow.  I was trying to keep up with the Kardashians Joneses.  I wanted the image that spending money brought.  I wanted people to talk about all of the things that I had.  I thought I was cool.  Damn, was I wrong!

Flipping from Spender to Saver

I was an all out spender before I started my debt repayment journey.  I admit it and I have told everyone that before. I had a spending problem, but I also had a saving problem. I didn’t save any of my money. I bought cool gadgets, a Jetski, and all of this other crap.  I also funded my business on credit cards.  I made mistakes, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t right the wrongs.

When I started paying off my debt, I wanted to learn how to save.  Many will argue about saving while paying off debt, but it wasn’t an argument for me.  The only one that I had was how much should I save.  That is why I came up with my debt/saving allocation method which I still advocate to many to this day.  The reason why I wanted to do both was because I needed to learn how to save.  I needed to understand that feeling that you get when you see your bank account growing.  I needed to get the warm and fuzzy feeling when I saved money and take that feeling away when I spent money. I needed to flip my mentality from a spender to a saver.

It took 4 long years to pay off my debt. I could have paid it off sooner, but I was focusing on saving and paying down my debt.   I don’t care what you say about my method. It worked for me!  I chose something that worked with my situation and how I wanted to reach my end goal.  It might not be the way you paid down debt or are currently doing so, but it still worked.  I am here today with a large amount in savings and my net worth on the rise.  I am where I am supposed to be.  The only way I got to this point was because I changed my mentality.

So, if you are in debt and working hard to pay it off, then make sure you understand what your goal is.  Why did you get into debt in the first place?  What are you going to do when you get out?  Have you changed your mentality about how you handle your money?

Your mentality is extremely important in your debt repayment process, but also in how you live your life afterwards.  Make sure you understand it and change it!

What do you think about this concept?  Were you able to change your mentality when it came to your finances?

Photo via StockMonkeys.com

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About Grayson Bell

I am an average Joe, who built up over $50,000 worth of credit card debt and had to learn how to break it back down. It took 4 years of learning budgets, secrets, and many other personal finance tricks in order to cut the debt to $0. Now, I push to teach others not only how to get out of debt, but how to use credit wisely and how to start growing their wealth. You can view my other site, Sprout Wealth for ways to grow your money. I am also a freelance personal finance writer who provides staff writing and ghost writing services.

49 comments

  1. Thanks for this important reminder! I’ve been able to change other bad habits by changing my mentality and need to remember to apply it to my debt reduction plan. I too was disgusted when I realized how long it would take to pay off debt if I only made the minimum payments. Debt reduction is a new concept to me so I appreciate all the advice I’m reading.

  2. Your argument for saving while paying off debt is probably the best one I’ve heard so far. It makes sense to start developing a savings habit asap so that when you are out of debt you don’t simply spend the money. Definitely sounds like a good plan to me.
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..4 Tips for Becoming a Full Time BloggerMy Profile

  3. Great words Grayson! It takes a dynamic shift in thinking but also methodology in living day to day. People that want to get out of debt but don’t make drastic changes in their daily life don’t really want it that much.
    Brian @ Luke1428 recently posted..Why I Value the Advantages of a Debit CardMy Profile

  4. I completely agree about the mentality change. Unless you change, non of your bad habits will change. Switching from a spending mindset to a saving one is like losing 50 pounds, but if you are willing to put in the work and effort, you will look awesome afterward.
    Shannon @ Financially Blonde recently posted..Financial Fitness Series – Emergency LandingMy Profile

  5. Good point, Grayson. Much like dieting, if you don’t make a “lifestyle change,” your finances probably won’t change for good. You have to completely change your habits and the way you think about money.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Reward yourself for good spending habitsMy Profile

  6. I think mentality is one of the more important aspects of paying off debt. Like you said, many people fall back to their old ways after becoming debt free because they didn’t address what got them there in the first place. There’s a lot of introspection that goes along with the journey and you can’t really afford to be in denial about it.
    E.M. recently posted..5 Big Ticket Purchases I Don’t RegretMy Profile

  7. I couldn’t agree more. In order to stay out of credit card debt there were some habits and things I had to change. It wasn’t easy – heck it’s never easy to change a habit – but so worth it!

  8. I think you have to know the “why” of why you spent money you didn’t have for sure. Otherwise it’s a very slippery slope of going back into debt. I even struggle with the mentality part still and I don’t have debt. But sometimes I still spend a little mindlessly. Fortunately I get it in check very quickly, but it goes to show you that old habits die hard.
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted..Last Picked In KickballMy Profile

  9. Very good. And timely. Because I don’t know if you’ve been looking, but it’s been 5 years since the last recession bottom in 2009. Why is that significant? Economic cycles have always run 7-10 years, bottom to bottom (chart available if anyone wants to check). The downturn usually happens 2 years before the bottom.

    That means the downturn usually happens 5-8 years after the previous bottom. The previous bottom was 2009. When is 5 years from then?

    In a recession, you can cut most of your expenses, but you can’t cut you payments. Now is the time to seriously get serious about getting rid of them…

  10. We got out of debt a few times and then ran it back up again because we didn’t figure out why it happened in the first place. It would be like if eating something that made you sick, taking medicine to get better, then eating the same thing all over again. If you don’t know what causes your problem, it’s hard to avoid. It isn’t fun to find out all the bad things about yourself or realize what you’ve been doing might be the totally wrong thing, but you have to if you ever want to get out of debt once and for all.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Fevered ObservationsMy Profile

  11. It is far from easy, but working hard to earn extra money is really worth it when my husband and I are able to pay off our debt faster. It’s about the mentality, like you say. :)
    Tara @ Streets Ahead Living recently posted..Yay for Snow DaysMy Profile

    • Earning more money is a great way to change your mentality, but that doesn’t address any spending problems that got you into debt. That is a mentality change for making money, you also have to address the other part of the equation.

  12. Completely agree. “Addressing the root cause of your debt addiction” is key regarding debt and so many other aspects of life. I did change my mentality when I got out of debt many years ago but not enough. I was able to become more of a saver but I still had things to work on. I feel that I’m really getting it now.
    Raquel@Practical Cents recently posted..Cell Phones and Sump PumpsMy Profile

  13. Thanks so much for this, Grayson. We too have changed our mentality. We had to. We had to get to the point where we couldn’t stand the sight of the debt anymore. Now we are there. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t days where the debt makes us feel as if we’re drowning, but we take comfort in the fact that we’re never going back there again, and that we are committed to staying the course, because of the fact that we’ve figured out what got us into debt in the first place and changed those mindsets to ones that are more beneficial to our family than having “stuff” is.
    Laurie @thefrugalfafmer recently posted..Can You “Bootstrap” Your Way Out of Poverty?My Profile

  14. Great minds! We actually talked about this on the podcast this week….having a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset. You can believe that you’re going to be the same tomorrow or you can believe that you create yourself every day.

    Powerful thought!
    AverageJoe recently posted..How the Repo Guy Nearly Took My CarMy Profile

  15. I agree with you on that one Grayson. I also think that in order to get out of debt a person should change his mentality first. It all goes down to how you think and how will you respond to the challenges that life throws at you, right?
    moneysavingdude recently posted..15 Inspiring Quotes From Steve Jobs That Will Surely Change Your LifeMy Profile

  16. I know this one first hand…we had to make BIG changes to get out of debt. if we hadn’t done so…we would never be in the position we are now – just weeks away from 109K of credit card debt being gone!
    Travis @debtchronicles recently posted..When Frugal Travel Hacks backfireMy Profile

  17. Some people roll their eyes when you mention attitude adjustments being key to success. I think it’s those people who continue to struggle.
    Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life recently posted..Money Talks: Raise Your VoiceMy Profile

  18. It is so difficult for people because so many things that we “purchase” are purchased via a financing option. It is fascinating to look at the history of credit since the credit card was created in the 50′. We went from a nation of save before you buy, to buy it now-pay later. It has taken more than a year for me to be consistent in the way that I approach paying for stuff. I now make sure that I have cash first. Because I am still digging out of the hole of debt. Thanks Grayson for a great post!
    Michelle recently posted..No More YOLO-Taking The Next 8 Months To Focus On My FinancesMy Profile

  19. Paying off debt really is 90% mentality and 10% numbers. Or something like that. I’ve addressed the problem of why I got into debt in the first place and while I will never be a frugalist, minimalist extraordinaire, I know I will never purchase anything I can’t afford ever again.

    P.S. “I was trying to keep up with the Kardashians Joneses. ” – my favorite line in the post! ;)

  20. Great post. All of my debt was student loan debt. Although I don’t regret the degrees I do wish I’d financed them differently and hadn’t gotten myself in so much debt. I’ve always hated and avoided debt, but my mentality about student loan debt has definitely changed. At the time I didn’t think that student loans were “that bad” now I’m actively warning others to avoid student loan debt.
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted..Do I Need a Car in NYC? No, But I Have OneMy Profile

    • I think you still had a mentality change there and that is good. Student loans are really predatory if you think about it. Most people think they are good, but there are too many cases where they are just not good.

  21. Great post Grayson. You can’t solve your debt problems with the same thinking that created it. As has been said, getting off a life of debt is like going on a diet. You need to smash the old habits and replace them with new, healthier choices. Great reminder!
    Jack @ SeeJackSave recently posted..You Need HOW Much to Retire?My Profile

  22. Love this post, Grayson! We are on the same wavelength. I have something somewhat similar scheduled for Monday. You hit the nail on the head though. I find when people decide to get out of debt, they immediately and understandably start working on paying it off. Sometimes they are successful; sometimes they are not. And they biggest obstacle to their success isn’t the amount of their debt, it’s a lack of commitment to changing bad habits and behaviors. It’s a long road and many people bail at the first speed bump. And then some make it across the finish line to all go back to old habits because they thought they were “cured” but they still had the same beliefs and habits that got them into trouble in the first place. Thank you for sharing your story!
    Shannon @ The Heavy Purse recently posted..Bad Spending Habits and How to Fix Them {Infographic}My Profile

    • You are right on there Shannon. You have to fight debt on two fronts. The actual money and your mindset. It is truly a tough road, but when you get to the end, then you can grow other parts of your life and focus on other things besides debt.

  23. Great article, Grayson! I got into debt because I wanted to go to school. It’s hard because I thought going to school would get me further in life and it would be easy to pay back my loans, but not so. When I graduated with my M.A. I was paralyzed in my thinking. I literally felt overwhelmed with my debt. Now I’ve changed my mentality, focused on the reality of the situation and am making it work. I still have 3-4 years to go as well. I have a very small savings and I think I might slow down the process to kick that back up. I am also trying really hard to make more money!
    Dear Debt recently posted..Dear Debt Letter from Mel at Broke Girl RichMy Profile

  24. I couldn’t agree more, Grayson. Saving and investing is so important even when you have debt. You need an emergency savings to prevent yourself from digging a deeper financial hole if an unexpected expense arises. Time in the market, dollar cost averaging and compounding interest are the keys to making your money grow. If you would’ve spent four years focusing only on debt, you would’ve missed those benefits. Congrats!
    John Schneider recently posted..See How Much Your Super Bowl Party Will Cost YouMy Profile

  25. This article says one must change his/her mentality, but doesn’t say HOW or WHAT precisely to change.
    Also as an aside, why are all these comments in January, 2014. Didn’t anyone read this article after January except me??

    • Hey Rachel. Thank you for taking the time to comment. Yes, this article is just about telling people they need to change. I can’t tell you how to do it. I don’t know what your mentality is about money. There are over 600 articles on the site which may help you change mentality, but I can’t put them all in one place. One in particular is about the scarcity mindset. You can read about it at http://www.debtroundup.com/scarcity-mindset-keeping-you-poor/.

      With regards to the comments, most readers don’t actually take the time to comment on a post. While they read it (this post is actually quite popular), they don’t comment. This post came out in January and people commented then, but tend not to do it again.

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