Most compulsive debtors will answer “yes” to at least eight of the following 15 questions. Your answers might surprise you.
By the way, this survey comes from Debtors Anonymous, a 12-step organization that helps people with compulsive borrowing and spending problems. Jesse featured DA in podcast episode 057 – “When debt is an addiction.”
1. Are your debts making your home life unhappy?
Yes. Kate and I have had our share of arguments over debt. One fight that stands out in my memory was when I was taking out another round of student loans near the end of school – loans I would definitely not need. Kate finished her degree with no debt, and could not understand why I would be borrowing money for no other reason than to borrow it. Smart woman, that wife of mine.
2. Does the pressure of your debts distract you from your daily work?
Absolutely. As a small business owner, I found myself constantly weighing business decisions in terms of how much and how fast they’d increase my income, which would allow me to accelerate the paydown of my debt.
That’s the point of owning a business, right? Right, but the smart business owner takes the long view and says “How do we make this thing work forever?” not, “How can I pay myself an extra $5,000 next month to hurry up and zero a credit card balance?”
3. Are your debts affecting your reputation?
I never had friends and family tell me directly that my borrowing (and generally terrible financial management) damaged their view of me, but how could it not? Who do you trust and admire – the high-earning big spender/borrower, or the thoughtful, patient budgeter?
4. Do your debts cause you to think less of yourself?
Yes. The longer I borrowed, and the bigger my outstanding balances, the less I respected myself. At its worst, I considered myself an outright loser for having accrued massive debt in spite of earning an income far above the average.
5. Have you ever given false information in order to obtain credit?
No, thank goodness.
6. Have you ever made unrealistic promises to your creditors?
7. Does the pressure of your debts make you careless of the welfare of your family?
Careless? I don’t believe so. But the pressure of my debts absolutely affected the quality of my peformance as a husband, father, and friend. I don’t think my debts made me careless, but they certainly made me care less (as in, give less attention to) everything in my life that actually matters.
8. Do you ever fear that your employer, family or friends will learn the extent of your total indebtedness?
Yes. There were times during my peak borrowing years that I’d meet someone new, and literally as I’d shake their hand in introduction, or as we’d discuss our professions, I’d find myself thinking about my debts and hoping they’d never know what a financial mess I was.
Now that I live on a budget, and the worst of my debts are paid, I find myself more confident in my interactions with people, more at ease. I actually find myself wondering if they have a budget, and how much happier and less stressed they’d be if they thoughtfully managed their money.
9. When faced with a difficult financial situation, does the prospect of borrowing give you an inordinate feeling of relief?
There was a time I’d have answered yes. During times of financial turmoil – like while starting a business and paying for two adoptions – the idea of being able to borrow the money actually eliminated my stress (very temporarily). Boy, was I confused.
These days, the thought of borrowing one red cent makes me physically ill (thank goodness).
10. Does the pressure of your debts cause you to have difficulty sleeping?
My debt would be the last thing I thought about as I fell asleep, and the first thing I thought about as I woke up. It consumed me.
11. Has the pressure of your debts ever caused you to consider getting drunk?
No, but yes.
I’ve never had a drink, but alcohol isn’t the only thing we humans use to medicate ourselves, is it? I escaped my stress with bad food – in the form of eating out way too often and snacking on gas station junk food (how embarrassing is that?).
Whenever I see an overweight person, I automatically assume they’re seriously in debt. Probably just a case of projection – but probably not far from true.
12. Have you ever borrowed money without giving adequate consideration to the rate of interest you are required to pay?
Let’s see, that would be just about every time I’ve ever borrowed money. So – yes.
13. Do you usually expect a negative response when you are subject to a credit investigation?
Until three months ago – no. My credit was basically flawless. Today – yes. My credit is trashed. Ironically I find my newly-terrible credit rating a huge relief. Although I live on – and love – a budget, I’m pretty happy to know I couldn’t borrow money today if I tried.
14. Have you ever developed a strict regimen for paying off your debts, only to break it under pressure?
It definitely sounds like something I would do, being a lover of grand schemes who often doesn’t follow through.
When I finally became truly disgusted with my debt (and myself), I created a ridiculously aggressive debt repayment plan and did follow through on it. It is the greatest financial accomplishment of my life (which is a sad commentary, but hopefully the foundation for better things to come).
15. Do you justify your debts by telling yourself that you are superior to the “other” people, and when you get your “break” you’ll be out of debt overnight?
This hits disturbingly close to home. While borrowing all this money, I did consider myself superior to others. I saw myself as a savvy borrower who was simply funding my ability to grow a large income. Total crap, obviously.
I’m just grateful I eventually had my debt-hating epiphany, and that it came at a time when my income let me pay off around $75,000 in debt in 18 months.
Wow – I answer a definitive yes on 11 of the 15 questions. It would appear that I do have some level of addiction to borrowing. Makes me all the more enthusiastic about my new life as a budgeter.
How many “yeses” do you come up with taking the debtors’ survey? Which questions elicit a stressed or emotional response?
Your Next Step
Budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. So what do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress?