Mike and I have devoted much time and energy toward becoming debt free over the past few years. We anticipate making our last payment this year, so I’m reflecting some on the process: what we’ve learned, how it’s changed us, and how good our God is. Stories are a powerful way to learn. I hope that sharing our story will offer hope and practical hand holds for those climbing a similar mountain.
Here’s the 5th post in the series!
Comparison and shame
As I was realizing the reality of our financial situation but before we had done anything about it, I went to a new friend’s house. The neighborhood reminded me of the one I grew up in. I felt something like anxiety in my friend’s house, with its shiny appliances and high ceilings.
The feelings surprised me. I’ve never been a comparison driven person, hyper aware of what everyone else has and wanting it for myself. Even in that moment, it wasn’t jealousy or bitterness I was feeling, but something more like shame. I felt behind, like a new bar had been set for what people my age were supposed to have, and I didn’t measure up.
Whether you feel shame, jealousy, or self righteousness in these situations, I’m sure you’ve experienced negative feelings in this vein. Whatever the visceral response, whatever it is that drives us to keep up with the Joneses, it’s powerful.
The emotional battle
Getting out of debt might look like a math problem, but the emotional battle is the harder one. If you can change the way you feel about money and possessions, you can change your behavior.
For me that meant overcoming the belief that I “deserved” certain things on a certain timeline and putting on blinders to other people’s financial decisions.
Emotionally and psychologically, there are two postures necessary to stick to a financial plan, whether you’re getting out of debt or saving for a house or investing for retirement. They go hand in hand:
- Be content
- Avoid comparison
The profound influence of those around us
Associations are powerful, and the company we keep influences our decisions, even without us realizing it.
When everyone around us seems to be buying houses and going on vacation, it feels like we should too; that we deserve to, even.
Once we solidified our plan, opting out of the self-induced pressure was much easier, and genuine joy and excitement for our friends came more naturally.
Their choices don’t threaten yours
We also learned to feel secure in our decisions. When you’re doing something countercultural, your instinct might be to defend yourself or to become a crusader for your new plan.
While I feel strongly about debt, I’ve tried not to shove my beliefs on others. When there’s an opening to say what I think, I will, but only in terms of my experience and why we’ve made the choices we have.
A friend spending more than I would or taking out a loan I wouldn’t doesn’t threaten my decisions. When you don’t feel threatened, you’re in a much better position to love people where they are without judging them.
The greatest lesson
If someone were to ask me the greatest lesson I learned in our path to debt free, it wouldn’t be how to live on a budget or spend less.
The greatest lesson I’ve learned is how to be content, how to untangle happiness from what I have. It sounds obvious, and feels like something I should have already known, but it’s something that has to be not just known but experienced.
Can you relate to feeling jealous, inadequate or uncomfortable when comparing your financial choices or possessions with other people’s?
This post is a part of a series about our path to debt freedom. Other posts in this series:
- Our path to debt free 2014: a new series
- First baby steps
- Sustainable sacrifices along the way
- 5 things we didn’t sacrifice