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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