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Find an exit if you find yourself stuck in a debt jam.

by:
Alan McQuarrie

I once read in a social work text that if you are stuck in a losing game, the best way out is to change the rules. It appears that most people just keep doing the same things to get out of difficult situations. When stuck, and nothing works, they just keep doing more of what does not work. That was brought home to me vividly recently when we travelled to stay with relatives over Christmas. We sped miles down an interstate making great time. We were within a few short miles of our destination when the traffic suddenly came to a near stop. For an hour and a half, we waited. Four lanes across in a ribbon of vehicles that stretched as far as the eye could see. We measured our progress forward by counting the blades of grass that we passed in a slow motion crawl. Soon, we came upon an exit ramp leading to a side road. Like most of the drivers, I was uneasy about leaving the highway since I didn’t know where the side road led. I preferred the certainty of being stuck to the risk of getting lost. At the urging of my wife and son, we pulled off the interstate and ventured down the road. Within minutes, we were speeding towards our destination. Later we heard that the traffic jam stretched on for another ninety minute wait. Looking back, I am amazed that more drivers did not use the exit. There was an easy solution to a difficult problem, yet most people did not take advantage of it. A similar situation exists for families that are deeply in debt. Most of us do not see the exits and remain stuck. We are strangely comforted by the fact that we are in the company of thousands, even millions of other families who are also stuck. Our efforts to solve our problem are limited to inching forward, changing lanes, and hoping that things will pick up just around the next corner. As we enter a new year, it’s time to try something new. You might be surprised by the fact that you can take charge and experience some dramatic relief, sooner than you might think. Any of the following strategies might serve as an exit for you if you find yourself stuck in a debt jam. 1. Cut up your credit cards. Many people see their access to credit as a validation of their worth. For some it is a rite of passage into adulthood. For others, it represents independence. For those of us in debt, credit is a burden that keeps us down. How would you feel if you had a best friend at your side, constantly offering you money that you have to pay back. At what point, would that friend be hurting you by handing you a loan. It’s time to recognize that credit card companies are part of a system that is causing you harm. It may be time to say good bye. As you destroy your cards, celebrate your freedom.
2. Set up a budget. Many people avoid the reality of their debt by ignoring their bills and overestimating their income. A budget does not need to be complicated. You don’t need jars or spreadsheets or lengthy arguments with your spouse. You can do the calculations on the back of an envelope if you wish. The goal is to get a clear sense of what you earn, a clear sense of what you owe.
3. Act now. On our vacation, the exit crept towards us and offered a very brief opportunity to get off the jammed highway. I resisted. My greatest enemy was my own fear of the unknown. I was stuck being stuck. People who have lived with debt for many years, become numb to the risks and weakened in their resolve to change. The longer you have been in debt, the greater the psychological barriers. In other words, you become your own worst enemy, believing that relief is not possible, and that you cannot change. It’s time to dig down inside of yourself and gather that energy you need to get off the debt highway. Anyone can get out of debt.
4. Chart a new route. Once off the highway, I’m sure we could have gone half a mile and re-entered the clogged turnpike. I might even have prided myself in getting ahead of a few cars in the process. However, once you change your behaviour, you have a very brief window to make that change stick. When we drove down to the side road, we were elated. Relief! But then, we had to watch for road signs and plan a new route. This is where you make the change stick. As we looked for small towns ahead to find our way and mark our progress, you will need to identify milestones in your journey to get out of debt. Set targets...less than $50,000? Now less than $45,000...etc. Congratulate yourself as you reach each new milestone on the way out of debt. It’s time to change your game. Doing more of the same just doesn’t work. Print this blog and tape it to your fridge. Put a copy of this blog in your bills payable pile to refer to later. Try one or more of these strategies and you can beat your debt this year.

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