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Paying Off Debt Is Easy

why it's hard to pay off debtPaying off debt is easy. In fact, it’s one of the easiest things on the planet, at least conceptually. Just like with losing weight, saving for retirement, or making sure your mortgage doesn’t leave you house poor, paying off debt is a matter of numbers. Anyone with elementary math skills should have the ability to stay debt free. If paying off what we owe is so easy, why on earth are so many people drowning in debt?

The Easy Part of Paying Off Debt

If you know how much you owe and how much you make, plus all your monthly expenses, all you have to do is plug your numbers plus any applicable interest rate into a debt payoff calculator. That will tell you how long it will take to pay off debt. You can even play around with different payments until you find the term you want. Easy as pie!

The Parts of Getting Out of Debt That Aren’t So Easy

It’s Hard To Admit You’re Wrong

I think Jim and I both wanted to be out of debt long before we made any effort to get there. You see, before we had any hope of being out of debt, we had to take a long hard look at our lives and realize we were doing it wrong. Everything society and many of our friends and family told us was wrong. Even though we have 16 years of college education between us, we were not smart enough to know we had it wrong. Until you realize you are wrong and make a decision not to be in debt, you’ll never make any progress.

It’s Hard to Change Your Lifestyle

If you are in debt, it’s probably because you spend more than you make or have made bad financial decisions in the past. We get used to instant gratification, eating out, and having new things every month. Accepting that you need to cook, use your stuff until it wears out,  and that you need to have money in your account before you actually buy something takes a bit of getting used to.

It’s Hard to Find More Money

As we said above, when you’re used to conveniences, it’s hard to decide what to cut out of your montly spending. Should you cut cable? new shoes? the gym? coffee? your kid’s karate lessons? going on the annual summer trip with your in-laws? Do you cut some or all? If you decide to earn more money, it’s hard to find motivation to use what little free time you have for more work.

It’s Hard to Say No

If you’re used to going out with friends or buying nice presents for you family members’ birthdays, it’s really hard to say no when a spending opportunity pops up. It’s hard to say no to your kid when they want to do or have what every other kid seems to have. Sadly, there probably will be people in your life who don’t share your desire to change, and they will try and pull you back into the lifestyle of debt. If they really understood, then that might mean they are wrong too. As we said before, that’s hard.

It’s Hard To Overcome Setbacks

Inevitably, once you start paying off debt, you’ll have unexpected things that will set you back. One trip to the ER, one car repair, or one leaky roof can suck up your debt payoff money like an Oklahoma tornado. It’s easy to let that be your cue to start spending again. You’ll feel like saying “What’s the point?” or “I just can’t get ahead.” You can, but it’s really hard to start again after a wipe out month or months.

It’s Hard Not To Blame Others

Since it’s hard to admit we’re wrong, we often blame all kinds people or things for why we are in debt. Whether it’s your job, your boss, you health insurance or lack thereof, the stock market ,the banks, credit card companies, your family, blah, blah, blah. Does it really matter what choices led you to this point, even if they were beyond your control? Sorry John, but we have to be like Elsa from Frozen and let it go. If you truly want to be out of debt, you have to stop blaming and take responsibility for yourself. Dwelling on what could have been will kill your chances of what could be in the future.

There Is An Easy Part

After you get the ball rolling on your debts, seeing the lower balance every month becomes your reward. While there are always obstacles and devils on your shoulder, the longer you stick to your plan, the more it becomes habit. Somewhere along the line, you’ll learn an appreciation for money that you probably never had before. If you appreciate your money, you won’t spend it on stupid things that don’t add value to your life.

In a way, I’m very thankful for our debt because it made us become who we are today, people who don’t need to live paycheck to paycheck, keep up with the Joneses, or work until we drop dead.

What other reasons make it hard to pay off debt? Why don’t more people do basic math before buying something they can’t afford?



About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. You’re right – making that lifestyle adjustment is the place where a lot of people struggle. Most of us probably have the money to pay off our debts within a reasonable amount of time. But we’d rather use the money for whatever other whim we have.

  2. Thanks for keeping it real! It can get annoying to read over and over again “spend less or earn more and voila! Debt free!” It’s never that easy (especially if you have A LOT of debt), because life happens! And life happening is certainly a demotivator, but so is having everyone say how “simple” debt repayment is.

    • Paying off our credit card debt was one of the hardest things we ever did, even though figuring out how to do it was simple. Knowing what to do and actually doing it are two very different things.

  3. The biggest part for me was changing that mindset of having whatever I wanted, when I wanted it. I had believed that for so long that it became a mindset I would live by. That was the difficult part for me. Once I changed that, saw what I really wanted and made some changes the rest was all downhill from there. As to the simple math, that is evident in so many other areas as well but sadly way too many miss it.

    • Instant gratification is so easy to have this day and age. It’s kind of like we’re all two years old and we have to have it now or we’ll have a meltdown.

  4. If you’re not spending frivolously, it’s hard to admit that you are still spending beyond your means. The little stuff adds up, even though you think it’s minor. That in itself makes it difficult to admit you have a debt and/or spending problem. The mechanics of paying off debt is easy, the emotional part is hard. Good summary of all the trigger points. I can definitely relate.

    • I’ve been there done that. We thought that because we weren’t buying jewels or crazy expensive stuff and because most of our purchases were things on sale that we were doing good. It doesn’t matter how inexpensive something is. If you don’t have money to pay for it, you’ll be in debt.

  5. I think that people are afraid of failure, so they don’t take the actionable steps needed to improve their situation. That’s what I’ve seen with people in my own life. It’s easier to just stick with the status quo.

  6. I completely agree that the longer you stick with it, the easier it gets. We just don’t fret about expenditures the way we used to, even with the emergency or unexpected stuff, because we know we’re tracking every dime and working hard to spend responsibly. Great post, Kim!

    • I don’t usually fret over expenses either because I know whatever we spend money on these days is something that we need or something that will add to our overall happiness.

  7. There are so many people that would rather die than admit that they can’t afford to “keep up with the Joneses” next door. I guess pride is the biggest factor.

    • Pride is a killer. I’m not sure why. I used to care what people though, now I really don’t. I’ve found if you live with less stuff, it really lets you put your money to work on things that are important.

  8. I think another reason it may be hard is you feel like you deserves something because of all your hard work. It’s a tough pill to swallow when you might be working your butt off, but can’t have everything you want. The good part is is that as you go along, you start to really want less, but at first this can be a real challenge. For me it was about saying no to eating out with friends. I was depressed about that and felt deprives socially. Now it’s a lot easier to say no.

    • I still feel like I deserve certain things, especially at the end of a long week. I really feel like I deserve a maid or having our work clothes dry cleaned instead of ironing them. All I have to do is think about getting to the point where I don’t have to work and that usually puts it back into perspective. Once that day comes, I’m never ironing another shirt.

  9. “Why don’t more people do basic math before buying something they can’t afford?” The math doesn’t matter to them, only the item. I fell victim to this mindset years ago thinking that the numbers would eventually just work themselves out during the next pay cycle. It didn’t matter what it cost, only that I wanted it. That mindset took a whole lot of soul-searching and hard lessons to break.

    • I think the ability to finance just about anything really is a killer as well. That whole monthly payment cycle that never ends was what got us in trouble.

  10. It is so true that people don’t want to admit they were wrong. Personally I think that is why the same politicians get re-elected year after year. Voters can’t admit they were wrong. And personally, I find losing weight much harder than saving money. I love the taste of pizza more than I like buying a new gadget. I think it all rests with the priorities people set for themselves.

    • That’s a good point with politics. I’ve hard more than one person say that you shouldn’t change horses mid stream when they don’t like who got elected but don’t really want to admit that another party might do better or that they just made a wrong choice.

  11. For me, it was hard to change my lifestyle, which was also my issue with losing weight. It’s hard to take those first steps, but if you do them enough and make them a routine, then it really does become easy. I have kept most of my weight and my debt off the last few years by making my lifestyle choices more habits than one-off events.

    • Anything you do that isn’t a lifestyle change probably won’t last. We paid off our credit cards two or three times in the past only to run them up to even higher balances the next time. Until we finally got it and changed the way we view money, it just didn’t stick.

  12. Excellent post, Kim. As you said and holds true for so many things – the answer is simple, it’s doing it that is hard. With debt so much is habit and mindset and those don’t change overnight. I’ve worked with so many people to get out of debt only to watch them slowly slide back into debt. And almost every time it is because they didn’t truly change their mindset and habits. It is hard to own mistakes and realize our actions put us debt. It so much easier blaming everyone else but no one forced us to live beyond our means. Made it simple. Yes. But we still went into debt on our own. We have to own our mistakes AND forgive ourselves for making them. Two things people often overlook and both need to be done.

  13. The lifestyle change is the hardest part of getting out of debt. Seeing what everybody else has makes me want it too and I wonder what it is that I’m doing wrong that I can’t have it. I currently live in Las Vegas. Everything here is all about flash and glitz. I see all these people everyday spending $500 a night on a hotel room and I wonder where I went wrong. How do they afford it? Are they putting it all on credit? I still want to spend that kind of money. Happily for me, I have learned not to.

    • I think Vegas might be the hardest place in the world to live if you are trying to spend less. Although, I guess most of Las Vegas does not live on the Strip. I used to say that too. “How can so and so afford XYZ when I must work much harder than them and I can’t afford it?” Now, I just assume everyone is in debt. There is pretty much nothing I want that I’d go back into debt for.

  14. “It’s hard to say no.” I think this is the hardest part of all. The ability to change long-formed habits is brutally difficult…even though you’re totally right: if you want to lose weight/get out of debt/make changes just start living differently. It really isn’t “hard”, though it’s awful 😉

  15. I find that if you just buy only the things you actually need, not want, there is plenty left over to pay off bills, or save. All it takes is discipline to determine which is which.

  16. “It’s Hard to Change your lifestyle” is the one that hits the nail on the head. Just like losing weight, it’s hard to change you go about your daily life. After all, it is your life style that you lead day in and day out that put the finances where you are right now……if you want the result to be different, your actions HAVE to be different too!

  17. The analogy between getting out of debt and losing weight is a really accurate one. I’m trying to do both and it feels like I’m fighting and up hill battle! And, you’re totally right…it’s the lifestyle change that’s hard, and getting people like your spouse and kids on board is even harder. I can get an idea in my head and be totally convinced that’s what I should do, but then convincing the Big Guy can be really tough too!

  18. It’s hard to change a habit. I always think this when I hear about people trying to lose weight. It’s simple math. But the habit of implementing the lifestyle consistently is what’s tricky.

  19. For me it was hard to admit that I wasn’t using money in the right way especially given that I had a very good knowledge of financial principles. Once I got over the feelings of failure and disappointment in myself I was able to get into the game of paying off debt. I made it into a challenge to see how fast I could get it done and that helped to keep me motivated.

  20. Paying off debt is really just about being disciplined and not buying new toys until it’s paid off. It’s not rocket science, but the discipline part gets people sometimes.

  21. I agree that it is easy to pay off debt, providing the income is there. However, motivation I believe is very important. One of the problems today with the millennial generation is their heavy debt load. College costs are sky high and consequently high student loans. I recently read an article where two young physicians who are married just completed residency with $425,000 in combined student loans. Even for a physician, that debt will keep you awake at night.

    • It certainly limits your choices if you have that much debt. You’re likely going to take whatever pays the most instead of being able to practice how you want.

    • That much debt certainly limits your choices. You have to take whatever pays the best regardless if it’s how you want to practice or not. Nobody in optometry school has dreams of working for Costco, but if you are in debt and it’s $90k with no strings attached, that’s hard to turn down.

  22. I think it is very difficult to get out of debt when the money just isn’t there. I just read an article about these couples who got out of debt very quickly. A few of them had inheritances. To me, that does not count. Not all of us are fortunate enough to have relatives that are leaving behind large amounts of money when they pass on. I would rather much read about the couple who lived in their van for four years vs. the other. My own opinion.

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