3 questions that can redefine your relationship with debt

By Rebecca Lake

Reviewed by Kimberly Rotter

Feb 26, 2024

Read time: 2 min

SOC_2024_02_14_Real Conversations You Should Have About Debt_V2-R1 outlined_1280x720_01.png

Getting real about your money situation is the first step in figuring out how to change it for the better. 

First, give yourself a hug. Really, go ahead. No matter where you are with money and debt, it’s okay. Next, give yourself a break. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. The same is true for your financial dreams. Before they can come true, you have to take the first step.

Now let’s talk about debt. Your feelings about debt, your spending and saving behaviors, your goals and desires for your future. 

We want to help make it easier to define your relationship with debt—so you can change it if you want to. You're your own best friend in life. You’re in a better position to take care of you than anyone else. 

Here are some prompts to use when you're ready to have a serious talk with yourself about your debt. 

SOC_2024_02_14_Real Conversations You Should Have About Debt_V2-R1_1280x720_03.png

How did I get here?

When you're trying to get a grip on your debt, it helps to retrace your steps. That means understanding the reasons the debt exists. 

Sometimes debt happens out of necessity. You needed money to pay for college, so you got a student loan to cover tuition. Or you ended up with medical bills after getting injured because you didn’t have insurance. 

In those situations, debt might have been unavoidable. The same might be true if you're having to lean on credit cards to pay bills because you unexpectedly lost your job

Other times, debt is the result of impulsive spending decisions. And that's okay; no one's perfect. Overspending in the past doesn’t mean you can’t get a handle on your budget in the future.

Understanding how you got into debt can help you figure out a plan to avoid repeating those choices going forward. 

SOC_2024_02_14_Real Conversations You Should Have About Debt_V2-R1_1280x720_04.png

How does it make me feel? 

Debt can trigger plenty of negative feelings. You might feel debt shame, anxiety, confusion about what to do. Ask yourself how your debt makes you feel and write down everything that comes to mind. Feelings can paralyze you, but let the words flow and don't try to edit yourself in the moment. 

Once you've written it all down, go back and read it through. Don’t judge yourself for anything you've written. Simply acknowledge what's on the page. Your feelings are valid, whatever they might be. 

The thing about feelings is that, with a little practice, you can produce the ones you want. Imagine how you’ll feel when you pay off your first debt. Hold onto that vision. It could give you the motivation to keep moving toward that goal and those feelings.

Awareness of your debt, and making deliberate choices that bring a sense of peace and pride, are important because they keep you connected to your debt and your money. That's huge because if you're disconnected from your debt, it's much harder to feel motivated to do anything about it. 

SOC_2024_02_14_Real Conversations You Should Have About Debt_V2-R1_1280x720_05.png

Where do I want to go?

Nobody wants to stay stuck in debt forever. So ask yourself this: What do I want my life to look like and what do I need to do to get there?

Allow yourself to get into the details here. For example:

  • Are you following a budget regularly and saving money each month? If so, how much and where is it going? If not, learn how to make a budget,  and start practicing, and follow simple budgeting tips and tricks.

  • What big (or small) money goals are you working toward? Buying a house? A new car? Something else? List them.

  • How have your money habits changed? Are you more intentional with spending or giving? Do you keep trying new habits, even if you’re not always perfect?

  • What’s your financial stress level? Have you noticed any positive changes in your mental or physical health since getting rid of your debt?

  • How do you feel when you think about the future now? Do you allow yourself to hope?

Once you've got a vision in your head of what a debt-free life might look like, the next step is figuring out how to make it a reality. This is where you may need to add another person to your debt conversation. 

A debt expert could look at your budget and how much you owe to come up with some workable debt solutions that might be right for your situation. At a minimum, having someone else to talk to about your debt can be a great reminder that you're not alone, and that you’re capable of creating a better financial future for yourself. 

Rebecca Lake - Author

Rebecca is a senior contributing writer and debt expert. She's a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a banking expert for Forbes Advisor. In addition to writing for online publications, Rebecca owns a personal finance website dedicated to teaching women how to take control of their money.

kim rotter 2022 2

Kimberly is Achieve’s senior editor. She is a financial counselor accredited by the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education®, and a mortgage expert for The Motley Fool. She owns and manages a 350-writer content agency.

Article Topics

At Achieve, it’s not what we stand for, it’s who.

Achieve Person