First Person: I Was Addicted to the Debt Payoff Process

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I've heard financial experts who talk about the psychological benefits of paying down debt. I felt such a high after my first massive debt payoff after graduating from college that I repeated the debt pay-down process several times. Instead of learning my lesson, I just kept getting back into debt. A recent article by Fox Business outlines the psychological perks of paying off debt. Like most people, I felt a great sense of achievement after eliminating my more than $50,000 worth of credit card debt. I didn't experience real success until I was able to break the cycle of debt and close the loop of paying down debt only to run up new debt.

Harnessing my stress

According to the Fox article, getting into debt beyond means of repayment is ranked as one of the most stressful life events. I am one of those people who thrives on stress. I work harder under the stress of a deadline. I also make more money when I have debt I need to repay. To stop being addicted to running up and paying off debt, I had to fabricate stressful situations. My solution was to come up with financial goals. I approached my goals with a sense of urgency as if I'd die if my goals weren't met.

Defining happiness as security

I used to define happiness as having the people and things in my life that made me feel happy. I wanted a nice house, a luxury car and expensive clothes and jewelry because they made me feel good. After the recession, I started to panic because I wasn't sure if we would fall into foreclosure like some of our friends. I started to value security and financial safety. Having debt didn't make me feel secure. During the recession, I started to pay down my mortgage debt. I refused to become a move-up buyer even though we could have been approved for a more expensive home.

Using cash instead of credit

Whenever possible, I pay with cash instead of credit cards. If I have to use a credit card, I hold onto the receipt. As soon as I'm able to get on my phone or computer, I log onto online banking and pay the credit card bill. Leaving my credit cards at home prevents me from making impulsive purchases. I used to get a high by paying down massive amounts of debt. Now I get a high by staying out of debt on a daily basis. I give my self-esteem a major boost with the small, daily accomplishments related to my personal finances.

Avoiding student loan trap

After paying off my more than $15,000 worth of student loans, I didn't want to repeat the process 20 years later with my children. My sons chose to attend more affordable community colleges. We saved up money as a family so they could pay cash for the classes. My younger son may receive tuition reimbursement when he takes more advanced classes to further his career.

Instead of being addicted to paying off debt, I'm now addicted to my financial goals which include savings for retirement. Since I don't find a lot of pleasure in buying things, I don't have to worry about new debt. I meet my goal of living below my means. It doesn't give me the same high, but it gives me a sense of financial peace that isn't as fleeting.

More from this contributor:

We Stopped Paying the Grandparents Debts

Handling Money Like a Man

My Husband Wouldn't Marry Me until I Got out of Debt
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