Debt Is Not A Death Sentence
This blog post is part of the World Suicide Prevention Day blog tour. If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit www.Suicide.org.
Behind every “joke” is some amount of truth. It saddens me to hear other millennials “joke” about dying to escape their student loans since most other debts can be forgiven by bankruptcy. I admit, I have joked about it, although I would have never acted on it. We as a generation are facing a huge burden of debt and it is natural to have these thoughts. Please, if you are thinking of acting on these thoughts, reach out to someone. Anyone, be it a friend, family member, suicide hotline or even me. Please just talk to someone.
Recently I alluded to the work I do in my day job. I spent three years in the mental health field and now I work with low income patients to obtain Medicaid benefits. Having worked in the community with low-income individuals and families, I have seen people struggle. I have also seen people succeed with a limited fixed income. The most common income I encountered was in the low $700 range per month. And those were the lucky ones, many didn’t have any income at all.
The feeling of being in debt is similar on many levels to feeling suicidal. You may feel alone, worthless, stressed, helpless and like things will never change. That does not have to be true. There is a light at the end of the tunnel both for debt and suicidal thoughts. There are so many programs out there available to help financially and mentally. If you have access to this blog post, you have access to information about these resources.
Stages of Debt
We have all been there. Adding to our debt when we know we shouldn’t. Even personal finance bloggers that may have their stuff together now and be debt free, may not have always been that way. After all, if they had never gotten into debt in the first place, there wouldn’t be any inspirational getting out of debt stories.
The first step you need to take in order to free yourself from the stress of debt is to stop adding to your total balance. This may mean different things to different people. For some, maybe just cut up that credit card, for others, this may require an increase in income or seeking out assistance. Advocate for yourself with available programs in your community. There are income based housing options, food assistance, food pantries, shelters, Medicaid, as well as other assistance with things such as utilities and furniture. You just have to look and apply for the programs that you are eligible for. Your goal is to get your monthly budget in the green.
I’m not perfect and I have never and will never claim to be. I have yet to share my getting out of debt story, but I assure you, it’s coming. It’s no crazy feat because I noticed the trend and did everything I could to stop adding to my debt before it got out of control. Prevention is key to ending the debt cycle. My senior year of college I lived off of credit cards and student loans and I was frantically searching for any job I could find. This is not a good place to be and just remembering how it felt is enough to keep me motivated to pay off every debt that I can and to help other people do the same.
Living Paycheck to Paycheck
You may not be adding to your debt, but you certainly are not paying it off either. You are getting by but barely. In this stage of debt repayment you are barely, if at all, making a dent in your balances because most of your monthly payment is going to interest. As long as you pay more than your monthly interest amount, eventually the debt will be paid off. It may seem like it will take forever and ultimately you will end up paying so much extra interest in the long run.
After you are no longer adding to your debt, you may find that you are struggling to pay it down and save money on interest. Review your income and see how you can increase it. There is always some way to increase your income. Ask for a raise, get a (second) job, apply for a higher paying job, start a side hustle. Evaluate every dollar you spend. Starting with major expenses and work your way down your budget (I’m assuming you have one, if not set up a budget immediately) until you have cut back or eliminated every expense possible. Apply the extra money to your highest interest debt first.
Following my college graduation I worked really hard to pay off my credit card debt in two months. Then I got content and comfortable on my income. Although it was lower than most recent college graduates, I moved out of my parents’ house into an apartment (that luckily was pretty cheap) and bought a brand new car (not so cheap). The new car payment in addition to now paying my own car insurance on top of all of my other new bills kept me living almost paycheck to paycheck. I had convinced myself that I “deserved” the nicer things in life because I finished college when only one person in my family had done so before me. Don’t get caught up like I did. You deserve to be out of debt.
Start the Debt Snowball
The “debt snowball” is when you pay off your smallest debt in full first and take the amount of that monthly payment plus any extra money dedicated to paying down debt to the next largest debt until all of your debts are gone. If you are a fan of the avalanche method, this could be a good substitute. It’s mostly about preference, but some cases may save thousands over the course of a few years compared to the other method. It will be up to you to decide which is best for you.
The trick here is to stay motivated. My favorite way to stay motivated is to read personal finance blogs. So much so that I decided to start my own and provide another voice to cheer people on and show that it is possible, even on a smaller income. The best way to stay on track through paying off debt is to automate everything that you can. Automate bi-weekly payments and then any time you get a bonus, tax return, holiday money, or a raise, take that money straight to your debt. Do not allow yourself to divert the money or decrease the size of your snowball when the point is to increase it. Use this calculator to find your debt free date and put reminders where you need them to help you see that there is an end in sight.
This is by far where I have struggled the most. In fact, this is the stage where I am presently. Between my husband and I, we have one mortgage, two car payments, and
three two student loans. If there are no major changes to our finances, we will be debt free in about 10 years. (Debt free means mortgage, too.) However, we are anticipating some significant changes in the next decade including but not limited to: both of us going back to get our Master’s degrees, replacing at least one if not both cars, and possibly adding to our family.
Staying out of Debt
Getting out of debt is not enough. You must also stay out. Once you have paid off your debt, don’t slip back into old habits. There is a light at the end of the debt tunnel, even if you can’t see it now. Stick with it and have a plan to keep you on track but know that there may be setbacks along the way. It is possible to get out although at times it may not be easy.
Programs for Low-Income Individuals/ Families
If you are struggling simply to make ends meet and provide the basic necessities for your family, there are programs available to help you get back on your feet. I am based in the USA so the programs I am listing are all available here, please check with your local lawmakers to see what is available in your country if you do not live in the U.S.
- Section 8– Housing assistance, usually operated out of a local office by county or major metropolitan area. Income based requirements and usually has a waiting list. See the website for further details.
- Medicaid– Medical benefits, apply through your county office and rules vary by state. People are very often denied benefits incorrectly, review your states eligibility requirements and don’t accept an incorrect denial.
- Food Stamps– Money loaded onto a debit card each month, application is similar for Medicaid. Check your state’s rules for further information.
- Other- Depending on where you live you can find assistance for gas and electric bills, water bills, just about anything. Start with contacting or googling local church programs. Protip: Call at the beginning of the month and fiscal year (usually July 1) as they get a set dollar amount to give away monthly/ annually.
It may be difficult to get the help that you need, but don’t give up. Remember: This is temporary. Debt is temporary. Suicide is permanent. Don’t allow yourself to use a permanent solution for a temporary problem.
Debt is temporary.
While on the road to financial recovery, you must take care of yourself as well. Physically, emotionally, and mentally. Seek help. Check here to find support in your area. You deserve it.
Please share this post with someone that may be struggling with debt or considering harming themselves. If you are considering ending your life please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.