Don't let the debt get you down | YNAB

Don't let the debt get you down

Hi - jessiebird here again. The other day I came across an old debt payoff chart I had made. It listed all of our debts at the time, with balances, minimum payments, interest rates and a grand total. The five debts — including a credit card on which we owed over $10,000 —  came to a demoralizing $45,162.39.

The chart was dated Aug. 22, 2012.

That’s an important date. It’s not when we started with YNAB; that was July 2011. It was, instead, the first time I had been brave enough to write all of our debts down in one place — and that’s after we had already paid several off.

If you’re a natural-born number-cruncher who doesn’t feel like hiding under your desk every time you think about your staggering debt load, you might wonder how I could have waited so long. Well, when we first came to YNAB, I thought we’d never get out of debt. Seeing the total on paper would have confirmed what I already felt, that I was a complete financial failure. So I waited until we had paid down enough that I started to believe that maybe, just possibly, we could actually get a handle on the debt.

On the off chance there are few of you reading this who are where I was then, feeling hopeless under the weight of your own soul-crushing debt, I offer the following advice:

  1. Crawl out from under your desk; you can’t accomplish anything from there (and there might be spiders). As scary as it is, gather up all of your debts so you know what you’re dealing with. Compare the balances and interest rates to figure out the snowball payoff strategy that works for you.
  2. Focus on your whole budget, not just the debt. Do budget for the debts and pay them off as aggressively as possible, but don’t forget the importance of emergency savings, fully funded categories, a buffer, and even a little fun now and then. This is a budget, not a prison sentence.
  3. Stop letting your past mistakes define you. Yes, you’re in debt. Do the only thing you can do: Deal with it in your budget. And then stop feeling so bad about it. Seriously. It’s exhausting.

Obviously, I was a little late implementing step 1 myself. But I’m doing well with steps 2 and 3. Since I wrote up that debt chart 20 months ago, we’ve paid off around $27,000 (including all of the credit card debt). In total, I estimate we’ve paid off well over $40,000 in less than three years.

And here’s something I never thought I’d be able to say: We’ve only got $18,000 left to go.

(Granted, it would be even more exciting if I could say we were debt free. But at least I’m not hiding under my desk anymore.)