For anyone who has ever struggled with credit card debt, I’m sure you realize what a drain on your budget having to make monthly payments plus interest can cause. Since the average American household carries over $7000 in credit card debt, having those monthly payments is something many of us are familiar with. We all know that carrying too much credit card debt can wreak havoc on our credit scores, our ability to get good rates on home or auto loans, and could wipe us out if we are living paycheck to paycheck. My question today is about quality of life and if people can truly be happy when they have credit card debt.
What Is Happiness?
I think before we can answer that question, we have to define what makes us happy. Is it having new clothes? Is it standing in line to get the latest iPhone? Is it spending time with our family or going on a vacation?
Think about the last few times you felt really happy. What were you doing that made you feel that way?
Do Things Really Make You Happy?
If your answer included something monetary like clothes or a new car, I would encourage you to look deeper. Decide if these things really make you happy or if you are filling a void left by some other circumstance that you are not willing to change or are unable to control at the moment.
Can You Be Really Happy When You Have Credit Card Debt?
I think you can have periods of happiness or even outright joy while having credit card debt. I gave birth to my daughter while owing Visa several thousand dollars, and that was still a joyous occasion.
However, after the party is over and you’re lying in bed at night, unable to sleep, what thoughts go through your mind? For me, it was how can I work so hard and still owe all this money? What happens if I get sick and can’t work? How am I ever going to save for my daughter’s college eduction if all my money is going to the credit cards? Will my husband leave me if we have to stop spending money?
Rational or not, those were some of the thoughts that kept me up at night. As Catherine at Plunged in Debt said so eloquently last week,
“Being in debt totally redefines my outlook and purpose in life. I have a career, one that I enjoy, but when I go to work, my current mentality is to make money to pay off debt and provide for family. When I become debt free I will work for enjoyment and to buy things I want and need. Not hand over my paycheque to someone else.”
Other than spelling paycheck differently, this is exactly what I’m talking about. Are you having similar wars with yourself when you should be getting your beauty rest?
Changing Your Philosophy
Speaking for myself, I used to think that going shopping or trading my car every couple of years made me happy. In reality, I was using those things to make up for the fact that I was working too much and letting day care raise my child. We kept racking up debt, then I would have to work even harder to make the payments.
It’s a hard truth when you find out that something you’ve worked you whole career to establish is what is dragging you down. I hate to be wrong, and I try not to have regrets, but until I was able to admit that my work situation had to change, there was no way I was going to be happy, no matter how much stuff I had. There was also no way to be really happy with all that credit card debt hanging over our heads.
How Do You Find Happy?
Here is the hard part and why most people never really get out of debt. You have to change everything about your life that got you into debt. If that means you have to part ways with friends and family, that might be what it takes. Luckily, Jim was on the same page and had many of the same fears that I did. We decided to make a plan to be free from credit card debt.
It involved drastically cutting our spending and staying away from stores. We cut way back on groceries and eating out. Jim started cutting his own hair, and I actually went to Great Clips for $7.99 haircuts. We became big time library users, and we sold a ton of stuff. While cutting your spending is a key to getting out of debt, we also realized that we needed more income if we were going to pay the credit cards off before reaching social security age.
As hard as it was, I added another day of work as a contractor for the Indian Health Service. It was my original plan to pay off the debt, sell my practice, and get another full time job. When the debt started to melt away, I realized that I could actually work smarter, not harder and cut my hours to part time. If we had never had the debt demon to slay, I’m not sure I would have ever seen the possibility of not working 40+ hours a week in an office.
Happiness at Last
I don’t think you can really know how it feels to pay off a mountain of debt unless you’ve done it. I don’t recommend going hog wild with the credit cards just to see what it’s like, but if you are struggling with debt, realize that it is worth it when you make it to the end of the journey.
You don’t have to worry about having more month at the end of your money. You don’t sweat the things that pop up like car repairs or emergency room visits because you can actually build a large emergency fund without credit card debt. Joy does not fade away when the day is over and it’s time to fall asleep.
I’m not saying that our life is all roses and unicorns, but whatever struggles we have now are a million times easier because we don’t have the weight of credit card debt on our backs anymore. I don’t think happiness is truly possible when clouded with debt.
Can you be happy carrying credit card debt? What worries do you have in the middle of the night?