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Pay Off Your Debt (& Obstacles You Must Overcome)

To pay off your debt you must:

  • Be single-mindedly committed;

  • Crave debt freedom with the hunger of a thirsty man in a desert;

  • Take pride in paying off your debt; and

  • Have a great plan.

Do you want to pay off your debt this year?

I know that the economy is tanking, the interest rates are slowly rising and the inflation is running riot.

You can use these as an excuse or you can pull your grown-up pants on and decide to pay off your debt.

I am someone who paid off all our consumer debt in three years when the last financial crisis was raging (started in January 2010 and had paid it all off by February 2013). By January 2018 we have built new investments at three times the value of our debt.

You pay off your debt because:

  • You are single-mindedly committed;
  • You crave debt freedom with the hunger of a thirsty man in a desert;
  • You take pride in paying off your debt; and
  • You plan and strategise.

This brings me to the four obstacles you must overcome to pay off your debt.

Obstacle 1: You meander instead of committing

Do you remember a movie called The Karate Kid? The old one where Mr. Miyagi said

“Either you karate do “yes” or karate do “no.” You karate do “guess so,” (get squished) just like grape.”

This works well when you aim to pay off your debt.

I used to read, and still do, debt-focused forums and many people there keep meandering instead of firmly committing to paying off their debt.

You know that you are meandering when you hear yourself say things like:

  • I’ll look at my bank statement/credit card statement tomorrow (and you don’t).
  • I really shouldn’t be buying this but hey…I really deserve it.
  • I’m trying to pay off my debt.

Anyway, you get it, I hope.

Paying off debt requires firm commitment and unwavering focus.

When people ask me how I paid off £100,000 in three years, I tell them that it is simple: one morning I woke up and I knew that I had had enough and that I wouldn’t stop until the debt was gone. There was no ‘try’, no ‘tomorrow’, no hesitation – I was doing it for real.

Oh, and I didn’t care what people thought about my complete focus – other people’s judgment, including some very close to me, was their business; my business was to pay off my debt.

Honestly, I can’t tell you how to get there. Still, two things may help:

  • Visualise regularly your life without the debt. Pay attention to the detail: what would you do, how would you feel, taste, and smell debt freedom? Sounds a bit ‘new age’ but it works (and apart from my MSc, PhD, and driving license I also have a diploma in Neuro-Linguistic Programming).
  • Make habits out of the actions you need to take to pay off your debt. Leo Babauta has a site called Zen Habits devoted to this process; if you want to take a shortcut here are the habits to create habits.

Obstacle 2: You wish rather than develop ‘debt freedom lust’

Yes, all too often we are very wishy-washy when it comes to paying off our debt.

Here is the thing:

Paying off your debt needs some strong feeling behind it!

It is not enough to say:

  • I wish I could pay this debt off. (Did you notice how conditional this is? Give me a break, man, you can do better than that.)
  • Yeah…I may pay off my debt (Or you may decide to buy yourself a drone or something.)
  • Wouldn’t it be nice to have no debt?

No! You need to develop ‘debt freedom lust’.

This feeling is craving.

And cravings are specific. So, grab a pen and paper and write down what is the one thing you will do once all your debt is paid off that you simply can’t wait to get. Do it now!

(For me, it was freedom, choice, and opportunity.)

How determined are you to chase your dream and how much are you prepared to sacrifice today?

If you answer ‘very’ and ‘a lot’ to these questions you are developing the ‘debt freedom lust’.

Obstacle 3: You are so ashamed of your debt that you hide it even from yourself

Debt in our societies is still seen as something shameful. I remember the feeling of embarrassment and guilt when we could no longer deny the large amount of debt we had.

Joining a debt forum helped me but not much. There was always someone, looking in from the sidelines and preaching profound moral failure to all of us debt sinners.

Until one day I’d had enough of the moral supremacy of debt hypocrites. Yes, getting in debt may be irresponsible, it may even be a personal finance sin. But even the Catholic church grants absolution (not to mention that at one point it was raking wealth by selling indulgences).

Shame is not a productive emotion.

Shame is something we hide and hide from. If you are serious about paying off your debt, you ought to move beyond shame and start seeing pride.

After all, it matters little what mess you get yourself in. What matters is what you do next.

Obstacle 4: You stick with dreaming not planning

Dreaming is important. Visualisation is another word for ‘daydreaming’.

Our dreams shape our future when backed by planning, strategy, and action.

Keep dreaming, but don’t stop there. Make your dreams your goals, and your goals your life.

There are many practical steps if you want to pay off your debt. These include:

  • Knowing your debt (how much, creditors, interest etc.)
  • Knowing your money situation (cash flow, sources of income, main spending etc.)
  • Reducing your spending.
  • Increasing your income.
  • Improving your money management.

Stop dreaming and start planning.


A personal finance expert would tell you that to pay off your debt, you must:

  • Earn more than you spend;
  • Be careful with your money;
  • Practice delayed gratification;
  • Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses.

All these may be important (I’ve never been convinced about the Joneses but…).

The expert mantra would never get you out of debt.

To get debt-free you need commitment, debt freedom lust, pride, and a workable plan.

What stops you from paying off your debt?

4 thoughts on “Pay Off Your Debt (& Obstacles You Must Overcome)”

    • @Rebecca: Yep. And the emotional stuff is the stuff we don’t hear about because all things money ought to be ‘rational’. Problem is that we structure our lives according to our beliefs which brings us back to the ’emotional’. Glad you liked it :).

  1. The only thing right now in the way of me paying off my debt is not having a lump sum. I am working extremely hard at paying it off (all student loans here in the US) and I keep track of the balance monthly. It’s been extremely motivating to see the amount of debt go down $2,000 or more every month, and let’s me see there is an end in sight!

    • @JoeHx: You don’t need a lump sum to pay off your debt. All you need is persistence and the discipline to earn more, spend less and put the difference on the debt. Going the ‘long way’ also has the advantage of allowing you to develop money habits that will help you build wealth (after you’ve paid off all your debt).


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