Has your debt made you feel like a prisoner? Do bills and budgets seem like bars and barbs that prevent you from enjoying life? Do your options and freedom feel limited because of past poor choices?
While it can be overwhelming and discouraging, debt doesn’t have to be a life sentence. With hard work, dedication, and sacrifice, you can be free again.
Have you planned and dreamed about what your life will be like when you are out of debt? I know I have! While it’s fun to look ahead to achieving our goal (that can really motivate us), probably the more important question is “What will you do to stay out of debt?”
What is Recidivism?
Recidivism is a relapse into a previous bad behavior after having received a negative consequence for the behavior or having been treated or trained to stop it.
The idea of recidivism is most often used to describe criminal behavior. I learned the term in college when I wrote a research paper about the effect that literacy instruction in prisons had on the recidivism rate. I had hopes that if prisoners learned to read during their time in jail, they would be less likely to return to jail. [Don’t ask me the details. My paper is on a ZIP disk somewhere. That makes me old!]
Why DEBT Recidivism?
Well, it fits doesn’t it? Debt is a negative behavior. I bet we’ve all had some negative consequences as a result of our debt. Some of us have even been “trained” or “treated” to stop debt behaviors. I’m going to say that “debt recidivism” is going back into debt again after successfully getting out of debt.
While you’re in the trenches working hard and making sacrifices to get out of debt, your first reaction may be “No way am I ever getting myself into this again!” Will just the memory of our struggles in the trenches be enough to stave off debt in the future?
Maybe, but I’d rather have some other prevention methods in place.
Preventing Debt Recidivism
Hopefully the long road to debt freedom is helping you establish new financial habits. Here are a few methods to help prevent relapsing into debt.
Stick with Budgeting
Your budget will change when you’re debt-free (no more payments!), but that doesn’t mean all your other budgeting skills and habits should go out the window too. Learning to effectively budget and live within your means will keep your financial situation healthy so you don’t lapse back into old habits.
Keep it Frugal
With more disposable income than you’ve had in a long time, there will be strong temptations to spend it freely. Sure, you may be able to budget for a few more luxuries than you did when you were making real sacrifices to pay off your debt, but make each change thoughtfully and with caution. Like a newly freed prisoner, you’ll have to be careful not to slip back into bad habits.
Set a New Goal
Having a big goal for paying off debt has really motivated us to give our all to getting out of debt. Once the debt is gone, all of that motivation, energy and money(!) need somewhere else to go. Having a new financial goal in place right away (well, after a modest, paid-for celebration), should prevent you from falling back into irresponsible spending habits.
Go Easy on the Celebrating
Once you are released from debt prison, there will be serious cause for rejoicing. There’s no doubt that you’ll want to celebrate in one way or another. Decide how you’re going to celebrate, then draw the line. If you find yourself justifying purchases and spending with something like, “Well, since we’re out of debt now…,” you will quickly get yourself back into a very bad habit.
How About You?
- What are you doing to prevent relapsing into debt habits?
- What financial weaknesses to you personally need to guard against?
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Kate @ The Beautiful Useful Project says
I’m in the debt-pay-down stage now, and my biggest challenge is Target. Really. I love everything there, and I can easily spend $200 every time I set foot in the building. I’ve been trying not to go to Target as much, and when I do go, I have a set amount of cash with me to spend.
I know what you mean Kate! I am able to control myself (it helps that the only Target is an hour away), but I totally get the love of Target!!
We’re still in the acquiring debt stage as my husband still has two years of vet school to finish. I’m slowly (but surely!) paying off my grad school debt. Once he’s finished, we’ll aggressively attack both debts. We talk a lot about living pretty much how we do now for the next many years after vet school. It’ll be hard, but I like a challenge. I’m mostly worried about needing more debt for things like business loans, malpractice insurance, etc. before he really starts building up a good client base.
Lisa, that’s awesome that you’re paying off your debt while your husband is in school! If you do end up needing more loans to start his business, paying down as much as possible now will put you in the best possible position then.
I think you’re definitely got the right idea– don’t up your standard of living when you get out of school and have a “grown-up” job. Just the other day, one of my husband’s clients saw his Camry and said “That’s not a lawyer’s car.” There are some expectations that come with the title, but not giving into them is key.
Oh that’s funny! My husband drives a Buick Regal (our girls named it “Beauty” since it’s 14 years old)…we are looking at a Camry for “his next lawyer car” 🙂 It’s hard when you are driving the clunker in the lot of expensive cars. Yay for us! 🙂
That’s awesome Sarah!!
I’ve often wondered if paying my debt now (since technically I don’t owe anything right now due to low income) is worth it. Especially with two boys. But, any extra money and the money I’ve budgeted for loans goes toward it. My husband isn’t quite on board with paying loans with loans, but I feel like I have to do something. I figure paying anything now, no matter how small is better than nothing. We cloth diaper, buy in bulk, make homemade cleaning products, have free date nights, no cell phone, etc. so I can pay off my loan. I really appreciate your blog. It helps me to feel not so alone. Thank you!
Good for you Lisa! I think it will be worth it to be debt-free sooner. Making sacrifices and living frugally will also keep you making good financial choices which will continue to have a positive impact on your family. Keep up the good work!!
[email protected] says
This is actually something I worry a lot about, since I’ve been in a boom and bust debt cycle pretty much my whole adult life — I used to freelance, and I was constantly unemployed for a month or two followed by paying off my credit cards on the next job, etc. As a result, I don’t have built-up habits of not sliding into debt (though I do have built-up habits of not getting in much deeper than a few thousand dollars.)
I think building up an e-fund is a good thing, but more important is keeping the pedal to the metal on budgeting. Divert your former debt payments elsewhere in a sensible manner (with at least half going to savings). At least that’s what I want/plan to do.
I agree Cecilia! I think having a budget really will help prevent getting off track. Sometimes people think that budgeting is only for when you’ve got money problems, but really, it’s budgeting that will prevent money problems!
My family doesn’t use credit cards and once my husband finishes grad school, there will be no more student loans for us! And while we’re paying them off, we’re also focusing on saving for our son’s education. It’s 18 years away, but we don’t want him to have to take out loans for his degree.
Good for you Jennifer! That will be exciting! It’s never to early to start saving for college!
Myles Money says
Staying out of debt is very much like keeping the weight off after you’ve been on a diet: it’s about changing your habits and making sure you don’t return to your “old ways” which is the thing which got you into debt / made you overweight in the first place.
Perhaps one way to do that would be to re-examine the whole idea of debt as a “bad” thing: I don’t necessarily think that getting into debt is a bad idea, so long as it’s good debt. Good debt (an investment property, for example) makes you money, while bad debt (consumer debt) leeches your finances month on month because you had to have the latest iPhone.
I guess it’s nice that debt doesn’t usually have a “quick fix” since the long road to getting out of debt gives us time to create those good, sustaining financial habits!
This is a great post on a topic I haven’t really thought about before. I guess I just assumed that since our debt came from student loans we wouldn’t find ourself in this situation ever again. However, right after my husband got a good paying job after law school, instead of focusing on debt repayment we celebrated way too much. Which would eventually set me up for trouble in the long run, and it’s always good to be self aware.
I agree with the first commenter that an emergency fund goes a log way to prevent future debt, and want to add that having proper insurance, like you’ve written about many times (health, renters, life, car, etc), can go a long way to prevent the most common emergency debt issues.
We’re in the same boat. All of our debt is student loans. We’ve never had issues with consumer debt or other loans, so I’m not super worried for us to go back into debt again. However, when we finish up our loans in the next couple years, we will have been living pretty slim for a while and it could be really tempting to loosen up. On the other hand, this living in the basement thing will remind us that we want to save for a house pronto! 🙂
Guilty as charged! We sold one of our cars, and then 6 months later took out another auto loan! It’s kind of like losing weight – sometimes keeping it off is harder than losing it in the first place! I’ll have to remember this for when we’re out of debt!
You’re right Gretchen! It can be like losing weight!
I think a lot of people would argue that having an emergency fund will go a long way to mitigate getting back in debt. Many people go in debt through overspending, but many other go in by not being able to handle emergencies like a serious illness, job loss, etc.
I’d make that goal #1 after getting out of debt, depending on what levels you set your emergency fund during debt repayment. If you lose all of the habits you developed while paying down debt, you will relapse, but saving will mitigate some of that risk and keep you living on less than your income!
That’s a great one Brooke! I totally agree!