debt problems

Debt Is Not The Problem

by Tim on May 23, 2011

I revisited Dave Ramesy’s book Total Money Makeover recently, and came across a quote that really caught my attention.  Dave quoted Larry Burkett of Crown Financial Ministries saying “Debt is not the problem, it’s the symptom.”

It really is true!  Debt happens when we give in to buying more than our income can provide – it’s that simple.  Debt consolidation and extension programs mask the symptom; those things don’t solve the true reason why we get in debt the first place!

So What IS The Problem?

The debt calculation is simple: you’ve spent more than you’ve saved.  Knowing why is the start of how you can free yourself from debt.  The reasons we go into debt differ from person to person, but here are three problems I’ve noticed that can lead to debt.

- Lack of Contentment
- Impatience
- Your Surroundings

If we’re honest with ourselves, I think we can look back on a time where we’ve made a financial decision because of one of these three areas.  It’s difficult to fight the impulsive urge to upgrade to the better, faster, shinier item – especially when we’re constantly being reminded about it in our surroundings!

How To Solve The Problem

Instead of focusing too much on these problems, I’d rather look at solutions.  Here are four ways we can solve the problem that leads to debt.

  1. Change our habits –  If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll probably find items that could be cut back or monitored more closely.  That’s why moving to an all cash budget can really make a difference if you’re having trouble overspending money in a budget category.  That’s just one example of how you can change a habit in the way you spend.  You can also try putting it on paper.  If you’re serious about getting your spending under control, put your purchases down on paper.  It’ll force you to visually and physically acknowledge each dollar that is being spent.

  2. Practice Patience – Sometimes, convenience is the excuse we use to justify our spending.  Think about it: eating out, lawn service, cleaning services – all of this is a matter of convenience.  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t enjoy any of these luxuries, but taking extra time to cook or clean may be the extra you need to get out of debt faster.  Like Dave Ramsey says – “If you live like no one else, you’ll life like no one else.”

  3. Encourage self-discipline – I’m a visual person, so if I want to keep up with a goal, I like to use a graph or chart that I can place a checkmark on to track my progress.  It’s encouraging to me and works in areas of money, physical exercise, and at work.  Find a way to keep yourself motivated.  You might implement a similar system like I did, or you might use others to spur yourself to action.  Tell your friends about the changes you’re trying to make with your spending and ask for support.  Whatever it is, you have to exercise self-discipline and focus on correcting the behavior that leads to debt.

  4. Create income opportunities – If you’ve done all that you can to lower your expenses and you still have problems with building debt at the end of the month, you need to address your income.  Working nights and weekends may not be ideal, but it might be necessary for a time.  If you’re creative, you can find ways to use your passion to make money.

I hope these suggestions help you in addressing the issue of debt in your life. If you have been motivated in other ways, share them in the comments!  You never know who might benefit from using a strategy that worked for you!

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Darren May 23, 2011

I’m motivated by the possibility of becoming a millionaire one day through disciplined saving and investing.

Obviously, if this is to become a reality, debt has to be limited to a small portion of my balance sheet.


Tim May 23, 2011

You’re right Darren. For those who have trouble managing debt altogether…I’d recommend trying to keep it off the balance sheet as much as possible!


June Young May 24, 2011

It’s a matter of putting things in perspective. Before you spend, ask yourself, how long will this money go if I save it today? Do I have more important things to use it for? A safe assessment instead of a rush purchase is a better way to do it. It’s healthy for your soul and mind and more importantly for your finances. Debt affects emotionally as well as financially. Do not buy because you feel it, buy because you definitely need it.


Derrik Hubbard, CFP July 1, 2011

Great reminder, Tim!

Derrik Hubbard, CFP


Jackie Walters January 24, 2012

Great article Tim. So true. We changed our habits and delayed gratification is much better.



Monica January 24, 2012

Such a simple philosophy, but one that so many of us fail to follow. When I am tempted to buy something I really don’t need, I visualize all the ways that I could put that money to better use and not add clutter to my home. I’ve been in debt before, and the fear of ever being in debt again is a powerful deterrent to frivolous spending.


American Debt Project January 26, 2012

I can always use a great reminder on patience. It is an excellent virtue, and one I don’t have enough of! It helps to slow down your day too..I don’t find myself going through drive-thru’s for food anymore or ordering delivery because I am feeling too lazy to cook. My habits and attitudes were the problem, now I’m on my way out of debt!


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