Many people want to be out of debt. They talk about it and they may even take steps toward the goal. They may make up their minds that they will never have debt (again) and that may become their mantra. They may have the best can-do attitude out there. Yet they may still fail. Why? Because their life is not debt-proofed.
Think about this: When you have a baby you go through the house covering electric sockets, moving items to higher shelves, and locking down toxic chemicals. You baby proof the house so that the kid cannot find his way into trouble. When you go on a diet, you diet proof the house by removing all the bad foods from the pantry and tossing all those temping take out menus. You give yourself a chance to succeed by removing the bad elements from easy reach. It’s no different when you want to live a debt free life. You have to engineer your life in such a way that you prevent trouble and give yourself the best chance to succeed.
What does this mean? You have to identify the areas that are likely to trip up your efforts to become/remain debt free and then either remove them from your life or distance yourself far enough away from them that they become less of a problem. For example, maybe you have a problem with credit cards. You know that if you have one, you’re going to rack it up and not be able to pay it off. The solution is to cancel your cards and stay on a cash-only basis. Remove the temptation from your wallet. Here are some more examples:
The Spendy Friends or Family: If your friends/family members are big spenders it can be hard to remain debt free in the face of pressure to fit in through spending. It may be hard to do, but you need to distance yourself from these people and find new people to hang out with. You don’t have to cut them out of your life entirely, but you do need to create some distance. You can try being honest and saying, “I just can’t spend that much. What else can we do?” but sometimes even that won’t work. You may just have to limit your interactions to a level that your wallet can handle.
Watching too much TV: Many people get an urge to buy when they watch TV. Not surprising when you factor in the ads, the product placements, and the fabulous lives lived by the characters. And, of course, the shopping channels are a whole ‘nother level of spending hell. If you know TV makes you spend, cancel the cable or just chuck the TV altogether.
Recreational shopping: Some people can go to the mall and be perfectly content to window shop. Other people have to spend. If you can’t visit stores without spending, then you need to limit the time you spend in the stores. Make lists and stick to them. Only head to the store when you really need something. Find other fun hobbies to take up your free time.
Your neighbors/neighborhood: Where you live tends to dictate how you spend. Live in a pricey, upscale neighborhood full of luxury cars, pools, and professionally decorated homes, and you’ll probably try to keep up. If your neighborhood is endangering your finances, move to a nice neighborhood populated with moderately priced houses, decent but not extravagant cars, and people who live below their means. You’ll fit in without spending a fortune.
Health/Safety: Sad to say, a lot of debt is made up of medical bills. You can’t prevent every illness or injury that may come your way, but you can do a lot of things to give yourself a decent chance at remaining healthy. Stop smoking and don’t drink to excess. Lose weight and exercise. Eat healthy foods. Get regular checkups and vaccinations. Take care of your teeth. Don’t take unnecessary risks like climbing on an icy roof. Drive safely and buckle up. If you can stay healthy you can avoid a lot of debt.
Eating out to excess: If you always eat out, you may need to learn to cook, or at least keep some easy to prepare meals on hand. Maybe the “cook ahead” method will work for you where you do all your cooking on one day of the week, freeze the results and just reheat throughout the week. If you eat out because you never have time to cook, rethink your schedule so you can fit it in. There’s nothing wrong with eating out sometimes, but it can be a budget killer if you do it most days of the week. Figure out ways to engineer your life so eating out isn’t necessary.
Everyone is different and will have a different set of debt triggers and problems. Identify what’s troublesome for you and work to engineer your life in such a way that the temptation and danger is removed, or at least reduced. You can have the best intentions to be debt free but if your environment is working against you, you’re going to have a more difficult time reaching your goals.