Reality Check: Paying off Debt Takes Time!

Every now and then I look at the search terms that navigate people to my blog. Not for any SEO practice but because I’m nosey and like a good laugh. Though some of them are outright hysterical, for the most part they’re pretty boring and what you’d expect for a personal finance blog. In the last few weeks though I have had a few terms of the exact format:

How do I pay off (insert huge amount of money, >100k) in (short period of time, 3,6,12 months).

We’ve all read stories about people who have accomplished the seemingly impossible. Those people who manage to pay off all of their debt, including mortgage in a very short period of time. While I am genuinely happy for anyone who pays their debt off, these stories irk me a little, not for me but for the general public. Stories like these give an unrealistic expectation of how long it should, and will, take to pay their debt off.This in turn often discourages people, the opposite of the story’s intention.

For most people, debt accumulates over time. They often don’t go out and blow a bunch of money in one day and wake up the next freaking out. It takes time to accumulate debt and time to pay it off.

Though I think you should work on paying your debt off as fast as possible you need to get real too. Unless you can sell every single thing you own, including your house, move back with your parents/friends/boss and eat PB and J for the next nine months, there is likely NO way you’ll pay off $136,000 in nine months, (sorry guy who searched my blog this week).

Part of the reason it takes time to pay debt off, is that you need to establish a foundation of understanding first. Rarely does someone decide on Monday they’ll pay debt off and Tuesday execute a flaw-free plan of paying off $2,000 per month. First you need to educate yourself on your debt. Why are you in the situation you’re in? If you skip this step you will fail. You may get the debt miraculously paid off but there is an almost 100% chance you’ll be right back in it since you didn’t figure out how to avoid it in the future.

You will also need to build and emergency fund first before paying debt off. Sounds sort of stupid to put money in the bank when you owe it to them on a loan does it? Not really though, because when the shit hits the fan and your car insurance deductible needs to be paid because some a-hold just slid into you in an icy parking lot, that money needs to come from somewhere or you’ll end up taking on more debt.

Because Mike and I (really) started this journey while I was on maternity leave, it took us a solid year just to establish these two steps. Understand our situation, learn mistakes, learn how to budget for us, save the ER fund. It took time and I don’t regret any of it. It was not time wasted. I learned more in that one year then I did my many previous years of financial knowledge, combined.

Paying off debt can be a long road, while I absolutely think you should do what you can to pay it off ASAP (for my husband and I, we earn more money), expecting it to vanish by shaking your Visa bill (a-la 2013 Christmas ad style) won’t happen. Going into debt repayment with unrealistic expectations is recipe for disaster. Educate yourself. Make a learning opportunity from past mistakes and come up with a kick-ass plan like we did.

Did ever you have an unrealistic expectation of a financial goal? How did it go?

Enjoy Plunged in Debt?


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  1. It really does! What we need to take in mind that debt is not forever! It will be paid in the end. What makes it different is how soon we become debt-free. It really depends on our plans and us.

  2. Exactly! I really like your article. I used to walk around in despair after reading some of the Dave Ramsey stories that someone had paid off an obscene amount of money in 18 months. Ha! I seriously doubt that they paid dollar for dollar on the debt but instead sold and eliminated at least a partial amount. Anyhoo, with just a mortgage left to tackle our debt is not going to be gone in a month, year, or so. It is the slow and steady grind to make it happen and it is making progress for which I am grateful.

  3. I agree, after years of failed budgets we finally found a system that works. That takes time and you have to set goals. We are down to just our mortgage and we have a nice savings system in place so we don’t get caught with out money for things like vacations, gifts and emergencies. We have set a goal to put a little extra on our mortgage each year to have us mortgage free faster but it is going to take time.

  4. It does take time…but it is so worth it. I am impressed by how dedicated you guys are. You can do it!

  5. This has been one of the harder parts of it. Mostly, though, it’s been tough to look at my spending and previous lump sums I have received and not leveraged it for my debt.

    I would add, accepting your debt for what it is as a big step to move forward. Once you can let go of past decisions and realize that you turned it around now, rather than later, it will help maintain the right mindset. We often talk about the failure attached to debt and that’s why we are so ashamed of it. Now it’s turned into: understanding our debt and being excited about the idea of being free from it. Now is the best time.

    We are aiming to pay off debt by the end of the year (this is a lofty goal) that doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room BUT evaluating our spending and knowing that the money we are spending to one debt will be going to the next payment, makes the whole process more exciting.

    It’s tough to break previous spending habits but it’s good to write things down and see how your money just falls away if you’re not paying attention. For me, I am more of an obsessive finance person that has fallen in love with learning about it where my partner is more of a …let’s just have a general idea and we will be okay.

    Anyways, it is important to be realistic, but I also think it is important to set a higher goal to achieve because it then forces you to think about changes and things you can do to get there. You may not meet that higher goal, but it could lead you to beating debt sooner than you would have otherwise.

    I love your posts and appreciate you being so open. I have really enjoyed getting into the world of personal finance and am excited to share my successes like you have 🙂

  6. Haha I like looking at the search terms for my blog as well. Sometimes they make me scratch my head, and sometimes they make me scared!

  7. This is very wise. With money management you have to be prepared for the long haul or you just get constantly depressed; hardly anyone makes the kind of salary that enables you to do any of this stuff quickly. I also like your emphasis on not jumping right in, but taking a little time to learn and prepare so that you understand what’s best to do and what you’re in for.

  8. I have had very unrealistic expectations about my career and business goals, not so much my debt payoff goals (though they go hand-in-hand). I think most millennials simply are not patient, myself included. I have become much more comfortable with the idea that paying off student loans, a mortgage, etc. will take time.

  9. I think lots of it depends on where you are in life as well. I remember a few years ago, there was a viral post about a Harvard graduate who paid of something like $90,000 in student loans in less than a year. It was an amazing story and should be applauded, but he was single and had a high paying job. He took on two roommates and worked nights and weekends as a pedicab driver after his regular work day. You probably can’t do that kind of stuff if you have kids or if you’re 55 years old or if your job doesn’t pay a ton of money. Everyone looks for the quick fix, but sometimes slow and steady is the best and only way to get out of debt.

  10. Once Upon a Time…I thought I would finish school, get a great job, pay off all my OSAP easily and booyeah be awesome. Well…didn’t factor in going back to school, and marrying a sexy yet equally student loan burdened man. So here we are in our 30s, 3 degrees and 2 diplomas we are working off. Finally making real plans to be budgety and get our ish together.

  11. Yes, it absolutely takes time. If you go into debt repayment expecting a quick fix, you will be sorely disappointed. As much as I wish I could make up tomorrow morning to find my debt erased completely, I have found value in analyzing my spending habits and my general philosophy about money. I know the habits I’m building now will benefit me long after my debt gets paid off.

  12. It does take time. Sometimes I hate that it’s going to take so long to get all my debt paid off, but that’s reality. I am trying to do my best to increase my income so it’ll get paid off faster, but there’s only so much you can do to speed up the process.

  13. I always try to remind people that you didn’t get into debt overnight and you won’t get out of debt overnight either. It just doesn’t work that way. I realize that we all want to be debt free tomorrow, but we have to be realistic.

    The time it takes to pay off debt helps you to learn things about yourself and to become a better person. So instead of just trying to find a short cut (which in the long run only increases your odds of falling back in debt), take the time to do the right thing and the reward will be immeasurable.


  1. […] troll, I agree it is much harder and takes longer to pay off debt when you have a family. Just this week, my daughter demolished her snow boots and got a last minute […]

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