Debt doesn’t just affect your wallet; it also affects your emotions. These GIFs describe the hidden side of debt – from the anxiety and hopelessness to the confidence and freedom that comes with finally paying off debt.
Being in debt isn’t simple. Ohhh, but wouldn’t it be nice if it was as straightforward as:
 get bill
 pay bill
 don’t think about debt until the next bill comes
How about a more realistic scenario that most of us know far too well:
 get tons of bills in the mail, all at different times, with different amounts due, different interest rates, terms, due dates, etc.
 struggle to see if you can move enough money around to actually pay the bill, or wondering if it’s okay to be a little bit late because you don’t get paid until next week.
 experience a roller coaster of emotions: fear, anger, panic, jealousy, anxiety…the list goes on and on
Being in debt affects your entire life; not just the day that you get the bill. It’s the type of baggage that you have to carry with you everywhere you go.
It’s also the type of baggage that feels like only you have to carry. Emotions that only you feel. Struggles that only you have to overcome.
But that’s not true! Most Americans are in some form of debt. We’re all going through many of the same emotions and struggles.
And we should talk about it more. Share more. So nobody feels alone.
Today I am going to share some of the typical stages that many people that are in debt experience. However, every single person is different – there is no blueprint for your response to a particular situation…especially one as complicated as being in debt.
1. Ignorance is Bliss
Maybe you spent money without even realizing how much you were spending (me me me!). enter student loan debt
Maybe you got into an accident and got stuck with medical bills. enter medical debt
Or maybe you just put too many things in your cart and didn’t know you couldn’t afford it enter credit card debt
We can be ignorant to the fact that we are in debt. Or we can know we are in debt, and just be ignorant to the amount of debt and details of debt (interest rate, terms, etc.).
We’ve all been there. Sometimes we spend a few months in this stage, and sometimes we spend years in this stage. and it’s okay to admit it.
2. Ignore, Ignore, Ignore
The stack of (unopened) bills keeps getting bigger and bigger.
You avoid signing into your online accounts.
You decline call after call from bill collectors.
You hope that if you ignore it, it’ll go away.
You finally got the courage to open those bills. Those scary bills. And then you see the numbers.
You see the astronomical bill that is more than your monthly rent.
It’s shocking to see how much you must pay each month.
It’s shocking to see the total amount of debt you owe.
It’s shocking-horrifying to see how much of your payment goes to interest; money that just disappears into thin air.
The shock and disbelief doesn’t wear off. Not for a while.
Reality hits. The shock has settled down but now you face reality. And reality is scary.
You experience so much fear. Fear about being in debt forever. Fear about bankruptcy. Fear about all aspects of your future – Will anyone marry you because you have so much debt? Will your spouse forgive you for this debt? Will you be able to purchase a home? Will you lose your home? Will you be able to afford kids?
You are fearful about your debt and what it means for you now and in the future.
With the shock and fear comes anxiety. The stress builds and your mental health crumbles.
Debt is ruthless.
Debt triggers loneliness. You feel alone in the debt attack. Alone in figuring out how to pay it. Alone in the treacherous path of debt.
You feel like no one else will understand. No one else has to worry about how much their meal costs at a restaurant. No one else has to worry about contributing to a co-workers baby shower. But those dollars add up big time for you.
It sometimes feels like no one else can relate (spoiler alert: it get’s better; you soon realize that there are people walking down the same path as you)
Shame is the unspoken response to the overwhelming burden of debt.
Shame over the type of debt.
Shame over the amount of debt.
Shame over the inability to pay it off.
It’s the humiliating feeling that intensifies when you think that people judge you for what’s in your bank account.
Related content: Things Not To Say To Someone In Debt
This is the scariest stage of your debt journey. It feels like the longest stage, and for some it may feel like the last stage of a unsolvable debt problem.
And it exacerbates all your other feelings of loneliness and anxiety. (hey, isn’t debt fun?…NOT!)
9. Hope and Discovery
You may have spent the last few months or years down in the dumps because of your debt. But then something happens. Whether it’s a chat with a friend, a podcast you stumbled on, or a random google search, you learn that there may just be a way out of this debt.
If you are reading this blog and have experienced many of the emotions above, THIS, yes THIS, is your “Hope & Discovery” moment. You are going to get out of debt. You are going to live your dream life.
Living a debt-free life….hey, it could happen.
You’ve found hope. You’ve realized there is a way out of debt; your debt is not a life sentence. That’s exciting, and motivating, and freeing. You buckle down and start doing everything you can to get out of debt
Excitement isn’t going to last forever and isn’t going to carry you through your entire debt-free journey (especially if you have a ton of debt that could take years to pay off).
The impatience may result in a temporary relapse (did you get into more debt, did you stop paying extra payments), but at some point this stage will pass and you will down your debt-freedom journey.
Related content: 19 Ways to Stay Motivated While Paying Off Debt
I have thought long and hard about what paying that last debt payment felt like. What a debt-free life feels like. It’s a complex mix of emotions and I really can’t boil it down…at least not right now.
But one word keeps coming to mind: Relief.
Relief that you actually paid off your debt.
Relief that you no longer have to fork over most of your paycheck to debt.
Relief that your loan companies are no longer in control of your finances.
Holy smokes. You did it.
You accomplished the impossible (or at least what seemed impossible).
For the rest of your life, you carry with you the confidence that you can do anything you set your mind to.
Emotions about debt
Each debt journey is unique. Your emotions and responses to your particular financial situation are unique.
But there is one thing that is applicable to everyone: your debt doesn’t define you and is not a representation of your self-worth.
Those of us that are in debt, or have been in debt, need to stick together and encourage each other. It’s too easy to wallow in self-pity.
So let’s get together as a community and make make each other laugh and feel understood with a gif: Share a gif that represents how you currently feel about your debt. You can also add a word or phrase to help us understand the gif and what you are going through. I’d love to make another post with a culmination of reader gifs, so please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org (you will be kept anonymous in the post of course!).
Deborah M Manning says
You really nailed it
👍 It’s so interesting how we all experience many of the same emotions…
This is a great post wow. So true, every step of the way.
So one of the things I’m really really trying to do is get off the computer and onto paper. For the past long while, I’ve totally been digital (with my calendar, finances, everything) and I realize that especially for finances, there is nothing like paper, writing it down to imprint it in your brain. So, it is a work in progress, but as soon as I saw this gif, I knew it was the one.
Tamalita, thanks for sharing the gif! I totally relate! Even though I love technology, going back to pen and paper helps me dig deeper into the problem I’m trying to solve. It causes my brain to think a little bit more (technology sometimes makes things too easy). When I get overwhelmed (with finances or just every day life), I find physically writing things down on paper always helps.