A Life Without Debt: I’ll Never Be Debt Free

Many times I hear people say, “It’s great that you’re debt free, but I’ll never be able to do that. I’ll always have a some kind of debt,” and then they elaborate on why they can never be without a car payment, mortgage, credit card balance, etc. “It’s just the way things, are,” they’ll finally sigh. I might try, if I’m feeling nice, to be encouraging and tell them that they don’t have to live that way. I might try to explain all the ways they can achieve a debt free life, especially if I detect that the person might be willing to make a sincere effort. But many times I’ll just nod, agree, and say, “Well, I guess you’ll always have debt then.” It seems callous, I’m sure. I’ve learned, though, that many people who say they’ll never be debt free will never get there, no matter what I say. Why? Mostly it’s because when someone says, “I’ll never be debt free,” their mental attitude is dooming them to failure before they even try.

Sometimes people think they can never become debt free because it’s not how they were brought up. Their parents always had debt and so they associate that with “normal.” They don’t see another possibility because they never had that possibility modeled for them. Therefore, because they haven’t seen it, they assume it’s impossible. Other people can’t believe they can shed the debt because the debt load is so high. These people simply cannot see how they can ever get rid of that much debt so they assume it’s impossible. A few have the “can’t” attitude but confuse it with “won’t.” These people can see how a debt free life is possible, but they are not willing to do the work and make the sacrifices necessary to get there. They say they “can’t” become debt free, but really the problem is that they “won’t.”

Whatever the cause, when someone really buys into the “I can’t be debt free” mentality they become their biggest obstacle. At that point it’s not about the money, it’s all about the attitude. Success or failure at almost anything in life is mostly mental. How many Olympic sprinters hit their daily practice sessions saying, “I can’t run that fast?” How many successful businessmen say, “I’ll never be able to close that deal?” How many students who get A’s go into a test saying, “I’m going to fail?” How many people who set out to run a marathon, climb a mountain, or hike the Appalachian Trail start the journey by saying, “I’ll never be able to do this?” The answer to all of these is: None. People who succeed at things approach them with a positive attitude, not with “I can’t.”

It’s not that successful people are oblivious to the obstacles they face; they’re not naive Pollyanna’s. And things don’t always go smoothly for them. Yet they keep on going because they believe they can do whatever they’ve set out to do. They simply accept the obstacles and sacrifices as something that must be overcome to get to the goal. The sprinter knows he has to pass on the chocolate cake in order to run the fast race, but winning the race is worth it. The student knows he has to give up time with friends so he can study, but he does it because good grades are important to him.

It’s no different for people who want to live debt free. They know how much they have to pay off. They know that they can’t have everything they want. They know that they have to watch their spending. They know there will be months where it seems like they’re getting nowhere. They know they will have to learn new things and that it may be hard at times. They know all of that and accept it, but no matter what happens they still believe they can reach the goal. They don’t say, ” I can’t.” They say, “I can. I just have to figure out how to overcome this obstacle.”

So when you say, “I can’t be debt free,” you’re probably right. As long as you don’t truly believe you can achieve the goal, for whatever reason, you’ll never get there. And it won’t be because you don’t have the money, or because you don’t know how, or because everyone has to have a mortgage or car payment. It will be because you don’t believe that you can do it. But once you change your thinking and believe that you can become debt free, you’ll find that you do have the money (or can get it), that you can learn what you need to know, and that not everyone has to have debt. A positive attitude opens you to trying radical things and to finding solutions you didn’t know existed. As long as you stick with, “I can’t” you’ll never find that resourcefulness within yourself and you’ll remain in debt.

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16 Responses to A Life Without Debt: I’ll Never Be Debt Free

  1. Broken Arrow says:

    This is very true, and it’s something I’ve witnessed first hand as well.

    It’s hard to imagine the finish line when it’s so far away, and that’s what being debt-free represents for many.

    However, even if that does somehow turn out to be true, the benefit of closing the gap towards being debt-free is progressive. Perhaps the car will be paid off earlier. Perhaps you will get better perks earlier as well.

    Just because something is isn’t easy doesn’t mean one should just give it up…. Because in this case, giving up does have real life consequences.

    Anyways, thank you for sharing.

  2. Monkey Mama says:

    No doubt about it – the biggest obstacle to being debt-free is your mindset.

    I was raised in a debt-free household, and so have never really considered debt as an option. This means we put off purchases, save cash before we buy things, consider all our options, and think outside the box, A LOT.

    Of course, being debt-free is always written off to being impossible, to big incomes, and being spoiled by parents. Ironically, none of which is true. If I had a dollar for every time someone with twice my income told me they didn’t have the income for my lifestyle (i.e. being debt-free, having a spouse who stays home, having a nice home, etc.). The same people are of course appalled at our older cars, that we never eat out, and that we don’t do a lot of things that “cost money.” In their mind we are just “cheap” and “miserly” since clearly we have the money to enjoy more. It never ceases to amaze me how few people ever realy *get* the connection. That there are sacrifices to be made for what we do have.

  3. Sandy L says:

    I think the bulk of the “can’t get out of debt” people fall these categories

    1. “The bank said I could afford it. Why would they give me this line of credit if I couldn’t afford it?” These are people who are bad at math or just don’t take personal responsibility for their budget.

    2. “I couldn’t be seen driving that”. These are the keeping up with the Jones’s folks.

    3. “I couldn’t possibly cut my spending in 1/2”. These are people who don’t have the perspective of living modestly. They have always lived a middle or upper class lifestyle. This group often miscategorizes wants as needs. They add up their McMortgage, 2 car payments, cable bill, cell phone, lawn service, cleaning lady, hair salon, daycare,kid’s sports or other lessons, vacations, etc and don’t know how someone can live on less than $5000 a month.

  4. fern says:

    Are you speaking strictly in terms of paying off existing debt or incurring debt in the first place?

    If you’re including a reference to the latter, I think it’s unrealistic not to incur debt in order to 1. finance a house, 2. finance a new car, or 3. pay for a college education.

  5. Anyone can steer towards debt free. First STOP BUYING stupid things.

    John DeFlumeri Jr

  6. I absolutely LOVE being in debt. It helps provide me a life beyond what cash only can provide, and helps motivate me to work hard and take care of my finances.

    Debt is fantastic if not abused.

  7. ABSOLUTELY enjoying being TOTALLY debt-free!

    A stubborn can do attitude on my part went all the way past my Hubster’s objections as to why we couldn’t possibly to finished, mortgage and all!!!

    The air smells fine over here!

  8. Anne says:

    @fern, while I agree that for most people, purchasing a house without going into debt is difficult, the other two you mentioned are not all that difficult, if you plan ahead and lay good plans.

    I got out of 4 years of private college with only $4,000 in student loans. Yes, my parents were very helpful but I also applied for every scholarship under the sun and worked hard. We are currently paying cash for my husband’s education. That means public university and part-time, but it is possible.

    Many people here would contend that a brand-new car is never a necessity, but if it is, the way to pay cash for it is to keep paying yourself your car payment when the car is paid off until you have enough money to purchase a new car in cash.

  9. fern says:

    Anne, I guess it depends on when you went to college. I, too, graduated from college with relatively little debt, but that was over 20 years ago. But my annual tuition was in the $12 to $15,000 range. These days, tuition easily exceeds $100,000 and even with scholarships, p/t work and grants, if you’re lucky, it can be tough for middle-class families to tackle.

    I’ve paid cash for my last 2 cars, but again, I think I’m the anomaly here.

  10. Larry White says:

    My wife and I have gone thru losing our jobs–well over 100K and within 8 months of each. We developed a accounting business instead of going back into Corporate, paid some stupid tax and learned to be debt free and enjoy it. I offer no apologies to anyone as to our lifestyle. Any major purchases are planned for and paid for in cash even if it is a trip to Isarel, as in January.
    I do debt counseling with families and and one of the hardest concepts I had to understand was that there were many people who chose to live by the “Yes, But” symptom to excuse their lifestyle and debt and could/would not change. But others that would be debt free by changing there lives and understand the sacrifices that must be made to be able to do more later.
    It has always amazed me how people consider you rich as a excuse when you are just being good stewards of your financial assets.

  11. Gail says:

    I live in hope that within 6-7 years we will be debt free, that is when our mortgage should be paid off plus the mortgage on a rental home we have and by that point if we keep plugging away at them the credit cards will also be long paid off. I have hope and am willing to work towards this goal, even though I no longer have the ability to earn high wages and do overtime to get extra to pay things off faster. I think it is sad that so many people have no hope and so continue on the way they are. They have no hope and can not believe that any other life style is available to them. Saddest of all are those so weighed down with debt but refuse to give up their lifestyles saying they can’t.

    People have lived for thousands of years without cable TV, why in the last 20-30 years do people find themselves so attached to it and the money drain each month? I personally can’t understand it. Not with all the books in the library!

    Or even this silly thing. Giving up things like paper napkins and using cloth ones. Minimal cost for cloth and they can get tossed in with the regular laundry so no extra cost for the maintenance. Same with using rags instead of paper towels. Those little things add up over time and no one will go back the 50 years to pre trhow everything away time. I’ve even found that using hankies keeps my nose from getting so irritated like paper tissues used to do to it!

  12. Becky says:

    Great post, very informational. My husband and I have made a pact to get out of debt and have been reading Anthony Manganiello’s book, “The Debt-Free Millionaire.” The things listed on your post really does coincide with what he teaches in his book. Another affirmation to me!


  13. crazyliblady says:

    I just got an email from another listserv that pointed to this website. The video talks about 4 steps of changing your mindset from one of “I can’t” to “I can but I don’t know how” to “I can.” It is very simple and I plan on doing it myself.


  14. Monkey Mama says:

    @Fern – it’s all about choice. I chose to buy an extremely old clunker (first car) and to go to a very affordable college. Because avoiding debt has always been important to me.

    If avoiding debt is a choice – you will make it work. (Don’t get me wrong – I took a loan for my first car – but it was only $1k, while my average friend borrowed $20k!!!) The only difference between me and my friends was our debt mindset.

  15. anon a. mouse says:

    I have a friend who tells me that her and her husband can’t live on a budget b/c they don’t make enough money/have too many bills!!! (How does one respond to that?)

    She also told me a few months ago that I should trade my paid-for car in for a new one “before it breaks down.” I told her I’d consider it (no way, was just being polite.)

    My favorite is when she buys her husband 5 expensive gifts for Christmas, or when he buys her a big rock a month after taking her to Mexico on vacation.

    They live on one income, have two children, “own” a house, and make less than us (and we’re living on a tight income, too.)

    They are having terrible fights right now, and while he’s a jerk, I know it has to be in part b/c of all the debt they’re in (she doesn’t “do” finances, so he’s left to deal with everything on his own.)

  16. bill kid says:

    My house is paid for,no car payment,no credit cards and have a good job.Ive learned you will never be free because dont forget about state,county,city taxes,income tax,utilities,home and car insurances,life insurances cable,phone,internet,food,clothing and essentials,gas for vehicles,maintenance of everything and the list goes on.

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