If you find yourself in debt, and you’ve already set up a budget, it may be time to look beyond the obvious solutions. As you work toward debt-free living, many factors may contribute to your continued financial woes, such as your downtime activities or the people you spend time with. Additionally, those little habits you don’t think about, such as playing the lottery or making impulse purchases, can also add up.
When Brandon Marcott, a Certified Financial Planner™ and founder of Edify Financial Planning, graduated from college in 2007, he faced a debt load of $80,000, a terrible economy, and a housing crisis.
“It’s very easy to get into debt but a much different thing to get out of it,” Marcott says.
With the support of friends and family, Marcott has been able to pay down a significant amount of his debt and discover his passion for helping others as a financial planner. Here are the top six reasons Marcott believes people stay in debt when they could be living debt free:
1. They haven’t identified any savings goals.
At the most basic level, many people haven’t discovered a good enough reason not to spend more than they make, Marcott says. Plus, high credit limits and a wide array of loan options make it very easy to spend without feeling the consequences—until you discover that you have a mountain of credit card debt and a terrible credit score.
“For some people, it takes a big life change like getting married or having kids before they find out there is something more important than their own comforts,” Marcott explains.
If you haven’t identified any savings goals, such as a down payment on a house or an emergency fund, it can be a lot harder to reign in your impulse spending.
“You have no real reason to save,” Marcott says. If you have some hazy savings goals but nothing concrete, the time may be right to solidify a financial game plan.
“Every time you avoid that morning coffee, you need to know what you are sacrificing for,” he says.
2. They ignore their debt.
For many people, the amount of debt, combined with an overwhelming sense of no way out is another contributor.
“That’s a lie we tell ourselves a lot: There’s nothing I can do about it,” Marcott says.
It’s easy to get into the cycle of ignoring your debt, especially if it’s made up of student loans, which may provide you with an initial grace period. It’s also easy to use up your income without allocating one dime toward your loans, much less covering the minimum payment.
Ignoring debt is one of the most harmful things you can do for your credit score and borrowing history. Your payment data makes up 35 percent of your credit score, and every missed or late payment takes a toll.
3. They spend time with the wrong crowd.
You may not realize how much your friends’ spending habits impact your own, but it is far more difficult to resist an expensive activity when everyone else is doing it.
“I saw a lot of my friends rush to buy homes—that’s just what you were expected to do—and then they were caught in the middle of this horrible housing crisis,” notes Marcott.
Spending money because you are expected to live a certain lifestyle or you want to keep up with your peers is “simply a dumb reason,” Marcott says.
Instead, you should identify the things that are most important to you over the long term, such as owning a home, starting a family, or building your retirement savings. Then, you should see if your spending really reflects those goals. If you spend a larger percentage on eating out than on planning for the future, you may need to step back and establish some concrete goals.
4. They don’t tell their friends about debt issues.
Perhaps you have a great community, but you just haven’t let on about your debt troubles because you don’t want to look irresponsible.
“No one is honest about [his or her] financial situation because we all want to look good in front of others,” Marcott says.
He uses the example of visiting a friend’s house for dinner: his house is clean, the food tastes great, and, therefore, you think he has it all together. But when he comes to your house, you clean and buy steaks—even if your house is normally a chaotic mess.
Unlike cleaning your house, a mess in your financial life is a little harder to straighten up. Rather than overspend in front of your friends, you need to be honest and explain that finding ways to save money is a priority for you.
“I have found when I have opened up about finances to my close friends, there was a lot of empathy and support,” Marcott says. And if you are a millennial, many of your peers are probably struggling with the same issues, he adds.
5. They take breaks from managing money.
Often, people make a valiant effort to manage their money well for a month or two, and then they lose track and it all falls apart. According to Marcott, this is where having a financial planner or someone to hold you accountable can be helpful. He or she can help you figure out how to budget and stay motivated to meet your financial goals.
Marcott says that his objective is not to guilt trip his clients into budgeting. Instead, having another person to review your expenses can help you realize how much you are spending outside your priorities.
“It helps [my clients] take responsibility for their actions and make financial decisions with intention,” he says.
6. They use financial apps incorrectly.
There are a lot of great apps available to help you manage your budget, but if they don’t help you change your behavior, they are just an illusion.
“On many apps, it’s easy to see your transactions automatically load without really taking ownership for them,” Marcott says.
Marcott recommends that people start out by recording their expenses by hand or on a spreadsheet.
“You’ll be encouraged by some things and mad at yourself for others,” he says, but you will get into the habit of tracking where your money goes each month. A finance app can be a great tool as long as you use it to guide your actual decisions and match your priorities to your spending.
Getting out of debt takes hard work and determination, which is why it’s so important to know your goals at the beginning so that you can keep the pace along the journey.
Camille Puschautz is a researcher, writer, and web producer at Think Glink Media, with a background in print and digital media. She is a graduate of the University of Dallas and Northwestern University, where she received a master’s degree in journalism.
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