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addicted to debt

The following post was written by Matt from RamblingFever Money as part of a blog swap.  

Head over to his site to see my post, Credit is Not Money.

We don’t really think of debt as an addiction.  It’s not as though you have a burning desire to get debt if you don’t have it.  You don’t hear about the car owner who recently made their last payment and started to crave making those monthly payments again.  Or what about that couple who finally paid off their mortgage.  Do you ever hear them talking about wishing they still had that giant monthly house payment?  These types of cravings and wishes don’t exist, but something psychological does happen when a person gets rid of a debt.  Much like any other addiction, they go back for more.  They look at the extra positive cash flow in their budget and think, now I can afford a payment for….

Defining Addiction

Addiction:

  • being abnormally tolerant to and dependent on something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming (especially alcohol or narcotic drugs)
  • an abnormally strong craving

Both of these definitions are what most people think of when they consider addiction.  Most commonly, addiction is associated to physical habit-forming behaviors such as smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol.  Both are known to be very addictive.

There are less common addictive behaviors that seem to have psychological roots.  Some examples include over-eating, sex addiction, gambling, hoarding, shopping, exercise or even over-working.

Consequences of not feeding an addiction will vary.  In any case, the person (or their body) will have a strong desire to fulfill whatever the addiction is.  If they don’t, they will experience symptoms such as withdrawal, depression, agitation or anything else that drives them crazy.  These symptoms will persist either until the addiction is fulfilled or they are able to finally break the addiction.

What About Debt?

What about it?  Debt is not an addiction.  It doesn’t fit the definition at all.  But, think of it this way…

Debt is like having an addiction.  It is something that you need to constantly feed.

In the case of debt, money is what you need to feed it.  If you don’t feed it the money, it will come back to bite you.  Creditors will be calling and knocking on your door wanting you to repay what you owe them.  If you don’t pay for a single month, your credit score is affected.  When your credit score drops, other areas of your life and finances can be affected.

To avoid these consequences, you need to keep making payments on your debt.  Much like an addiction, you need to constantly fulfill the promise that you made in the terms of the debt that you signed for.

Breaking the Vicious Cycle

Most people who are stuck in an addiction are aware that they have a problem.  They know about the negative consequences it has on their lives.  They know they need to get out.  They need to quit whatever it is.  It’s not easy though to break an addiction.  You’ve got to have determination and a strong will.  Support from family and friends is important.  The psychological aspect within your own head is probably the most important.  You’ve got to believe in yourself and have complete confidence that you can break your addictive cycle.

Making the decision to finally dump debt is really no different.  But, people don’t think of it the same way.  Many who are in debt don’t view it as a problem.  They see it as a means to get something they didn’t have the money to pay for.  They don’t understand the negative consequences debt has on their lives.  They know they need to keep making their payments, and don’t even bother to imagine what it would be like to not have those payments.  This is why so many people go out and buy a new car as soon as they are finished making payments on their previous car.  Debt is a vicious cycle.  Just like an addiction, you need to make the conscious decision to break it.

The tips for getting and staying out of debt are the same for breaking any other addiction.  You need determination, strong will and support from family and friends.  You need to gain control of the psychological aspect within your head and have a strong belief and confidence within yourself.  It also doesn’t hurt if you can do a little math and figure out a way to bring in extra income to pay towards the debt.  This part is less important though.  The psychological part is the most important.  Once you decide to do something and you stick to your decision, there will be no stopping you.

So if you have debt or if you are thinking of going into debt, think of it as an addiction.  Getting ready to sign loan papers for a new car is like smoking that first cigarette or taking that first sip of alcohol.  You are about to trap yourself in an addiction that you will badly want to get out of.  If you are already there, remember what it feels like next time you are getting ready to sign for more debt.  Don’t do it!  There is another way.  You’ve got to break the vicious cycle of having debt in your life.  Just imagine what it will be like to not have that addiction in your life anymore.  Imagine what it will be like to not have any payments.

Readers:  Will you think differently about debt as a result of reading this?  Are you trying to break an addictive cycle in your life, debt or otherwise?

Matt rambles on about many topics related to personal finance and money.  Check out his blog RamblingFever Money.