Your Credit Cards Are Paid Off, Now How Do You Stay Out of Debt?


One of the fun parts of having a blog is being able to see the search terms that people use to find whatever it is they are looking for. Some of them are quite comical. My two recent favorites have been Wow, I paid off my cat and Do snakes smell like burnt rubber. Why on earth those landed here, I’ll never know, but I do know that by and large my biggest search term is related to paying off credit card debt. My most popular post is my story of paying off over $30,000 in credit card debt. Obviously, there are lots of folks out there who are struggling to pay off their credit cards. I think there are tons of resources to help you with that plan, but how do you stay out of debt once you have paid it off?


I have another secret confession. The amount of debt we paid off over the past two years is not cumulative. There were two other times in years past when we paid off our credit cards. Once, we paid off $8,000, and another time, it was $12,000. Early on, we knew credit card debt was not a great habit, but after we paid off our balances on those occasions, we ran them up again. Why can’t people stay out of credit card debt?

I’ve Got All Kinds of Money!

I think when we reach a major goal like paying off credit card debt, it is usually through some struggle and sacrifice. You’ve cut out all unnecessary spending to focus on a goal. After the payment is gone, you suddenly find yourself with more money in your pocket. Advertisers and society try to rope you into spending it. People may tell you to reward yourself, or you only live once.  Almost every business offers financing. How many people do you know who struggle with finances and then go out and buy a new car?

How Do I Stay Out of Debt?

Spending is like any other vice. Maybe there isn’t a surgeon general’s warning at the cash register, but if you think worrying over paying bills doesn’t affect your health, then I’ve got some beach front property in Colorado I want to sell you. If you aren’t ready to change your thinking and habits, you’ll never get out of debt. It’s just like losing weight or quitting smoking, you have to have good reasons and be ready to change. If you do it because someone told you to or because you think it’s temporary, you’ll never succeed.

Make Sure You’re on the Same Page as Your Partner- If you’re in a relationship, you don’t have to agree on everything, but you need to have the same basic goals about money. Glen at Monster Piggy Bank mentioned a couple who each spend money as fast as they can so the other one can’t get to it. It reminds me of the circus act where the guy has multiple plates spinning, and it gets harder and harder to keep them all in motion. This lifestyle might work when the money is rolling in, but if it stops, all the spinning plates come tumbling down. If you and  your significant other are never going to be on the same page, it might be best to cut your losses.

Surround Yourself with Like Minded People- Sadly, your friends and family might not understand or support your quest to be debt free. They might even be jealous if they have debt problems themselves. It’s much easier to knock someone off their pedestal than climb up to join them. Trying to quit drinking while hanging out at the bar makes it that much harder to stay sober. Likewise, if you continue to hang out with your friends who continue to spend money, you will be tempted to pull out the credit card.  If you can’t find people who share your ideas, look online. I’ve been thankful to find a great community of financially savvy people who are striving for similar goals.

Follow the Golden Financial Rules-  Really, they work for any income and any amount of debt. Some people might need longer than others, but if you follow a few simple rules, it is possible to stay debt free.

  • Set up a budget by tracking your spending,
  • Spend less than you earn.
  • Evaluate every purchase as a want versus a need, and don’t buy wants unless they add value to your life. If you lack will power, stay away from the stores or don’t look online.
  • Start saving for emergencies so you won’t have to use credit if something goes wrong.

While these rules are simple, they do involve some major life changes for lifelong spenders. If you are used to having a new car every three years, you might have to learn to love an older vehicle. If you pay too much in rent, you might have to move. You might have to tell your children that they don’t need the latest gadget. You might not be popular. What you will be is debt free, and that gives you all the choices that making credit card payments never will.

Tell the truth, have you ever paid off your credit cards only to find yourself back in debt? What is the biggest reason people can’t stay out of debt?

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  1. Wow, I had no idea that this was a problem- that people are tempted to go back into credit card debt after they have paid it off. That gives me a lot more insight into some of the people I know that have problems with debt. I wonder what the psychological reason is for this?

    1. I think for many, it’s just the norm and all we know. My parents were never like that, but my husband’s were. We never talked about money, and I had to learn the hard way. I think once you’re in a ton of debt, you kind of feel like, “What’s one more payment?” but it all catches up to you eventually.

  2. Oh yes, we are like you: charged them up and paid them off more than once, but never to the amt that we are in now, sad to say. I like to hope we’ve learned our lesson this time, and we are finally sick and tired of being in debt. Great post, Kim.

    1. I think you’re done. You sound lots like me when we decided to finally change our lifestyle. It’s like hitting your rock bottom with any vice. I’m never going back.

  3. Getting fully or partially out of debt and then getting right back in with new debt is a trap that many people fall victim to. It doesn’t have to be that way. Each and every month you pay down debt you should set a goal that you will never cross that amount again, then work to doing what you need to do to stick with that goal.

    1. If you’re mind is not there, it’s very hard. My mantra used to be let’s pay it off so we can buy something else. Now it’s getting to financial independence. Amazing how much more rewarding that goal is.

  4. Kim, This is a great post that highlights something we rarely discuss, personal spending habit’s. I’ve been in situations where I have paid off a credit card only to find a hefty balance on it a year later. I’ve had to sit down and think back, hard, on how I managed to do that. The culprit was typically a cavalier attitude towards spending.

    1. Credit cards make it so easy if you don’t keep up with how much your are spending. Instant gratification, whatever you want. It’s all good till the bill comes.

  5. I have not been in credit card debt, and I am not fooling myself by saying history = future. As you mentioned, it can be easy to accomplish big personal finance goals like paying off credit card debt just to find yourself in the same situation a ways down the road. I think the biggest reason it’s hard to stay out of it is because if you pay down your debt you do feel a freedom, and because it’s a financial freedom you feel free to spend a bit more.

    1. Life is not enjoyable if you sit around hoarding your money and can’t enjoy the things you have, but there is a balance that has to be there. It took me years to discover that. I don’t think you’ll ever go there. Too dang smart.

  6. “If you aren’t ready to change your thinking and habits, you’ll never get out of debt.” You hit the nail of the head there Kim. It’s so true, yet so many fail to see it. My wife and I did have a little bit of credit card debt when we first got married, but paid it off in a few months and vowed to never go back. In terms of why people can’t stay out of debt…I think there are various reasons, but I think it tends to go back to being undisciplined and having the wrong view on money.

  7. In order to stay out of credit card debt, I pay off my cards once a week or so to make sure that my spending is lining up with my actual budget. I also don’t buy anything unless I actually have the money to pay for it….crazy, I know.

    1. Crazy smart. I never got the multiple payments, but I do now. If you wait until the end of the month, and haven’t tracked anything, the bill might be more than you have. By paying it off right away, it’s like you spent cash.

  8. I think for me, a big part of not carrying credit card debt can be attributed to the fact that I don’t actually know my credit limits. I don’t look at it was something where I can spend up to $X on this card and up to $Y on this one.

    1. Our limits are huge. While we carried lots of debt, we never missed payments, so we great credit scores and lots of credit available. I guess we could cash out and head to Mexico if we wanted. Just kidding!

    1. Lucky we were able to pay them off. If we’d gotten sick or lost a job, we could have lost everything.

  9. I think the main reason is when you see you have a high limit on your card and a $0 balance. Using 5% of that limit feels like it won’t hurt, then it builds up slowly. I would reduce the limit on the card to whatever I spend monthly, to make sure there is no space for charging more.

    1. It’s really funny how the credit card companies raise your limit when you get close. We always got letters raising them. I never thought to lower them.

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