Can You Be Happy If You Have Credit Card Debt?


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?

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  1. Great question Kim! I think you can have moments of happiness, but not peace when dealing with considerable credit card debt. I know that I had times when I’d be happy while in debt, but that was far and few between – with the overarching feeling of being unhappy with the circumstance and wanting to get it killed.

    1. It’s amazing how you can transfer the happy feelings you associated with buying stuff to paying off the debt. That’s what will truly make you enjoy all the other happy things in your life even more.

  2. We don’t have much credit card debit – I think $2500, most of our debt is student loans and my vehicle. Nonetheless, same concept. I imagine that the happiness we’ll feel being debt FREE will completely outweigh any moment of happiness that buying something on a credit card could ever offer.

    1. If it meant my family’s health or something crazy like that, I’d go back into debt, but I don’t ever see another reason to not pay off the cards every month. Plus I get to rack up all the points now.

  3. I think that you first have to become “happy” with the process of getting out of credit card debt. That’s the only way it will be sustainable, in the long run. Kind of like dieting, the roller coaster ride is not a happy one to be on. Once you find out how to be satisfied with a healthy diet you’ll be MUCH better off. Good post!

    1. I think you have to replace the thrill of buying stuff with the thrill of saving and paying off debt. It is a life change, but one that can be mastered with the right attitude and motivation.

  4. I think it will obviously help your happiness level if you are out of debt, but at the same time it really depends what your definition of happiness is (as you said). I think you can absolutely be happy and be in credit card debt, though if you worry a lot (like me!) you will sleep easier and be more relaxed day in and day out if you get out of credit card debt.

    1. I think it catches up to even the most care free people. It’s like smoking two packs a day. You can only do it for so long until you start to have some problems.

  5. Great looking photo over on the right hand side!

    I never really thought of debt in this way before – an obstacle that people can challenge themselves to overcome and work towards a solution. This is a really good outlook to have in general. Throughout life there are always any number of things (like debt) that can get you down if you let it. Finding happiness in the little things and in your accomplishments despite any negativity from other things going on is one of the most powerful controls you can have over your life and thoughts.

    1. I spent two hours at the hairdresser to get that look! I usually look lots more sloppy!

      Taking control of my debt is one of the most empowering things I’ve ever done.

    1. That’s a great way to describe. You can enjoy day to day things that make you happy, but don’t have that peace in your mind and heart.

  6. I never had CC debt other than 0% balances to invest which were ok to sleep at night, although I took on a fair share of debt so there was always a “what if” in my head wondering if I lost my job and everything went wrong what would happen. My main fear at night is the dream where I bite my tongue falling face flat on the ground and a piece of it falls out. Subconcious telling me to stop talking?

    1. I don’t know about that one, but I’ve had lots of dreams about losing my teeth, which I’ve been told is about money worries.

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