This is an ongoing series where you ask and I answer! If you have a money question, please fill out this form.
Here we go!
Thanks Robin for asking today’s question:
Hi Sarah, I really want to have a better mindset and encouragement when it comes to paying off student loan debt. But I can’t even look at my bank account! I just feel scared, so every time I want to log into my accounts, I just shut off the computer. Can you help?
Wow, thanks for sharing this with me because I get a lot of questions about really being scared of looking at your account for a number of reasons. One thing I really want you to do is to just acknowledge the fact that because you’re asking this question you’re on the way to the right path.
You’re so brave for asking and to start, literally take it one step at a time. I always encourage people to just look at what is literally their next step. Don’t look way too far ahead when you’re thinking about paying off student loan debt (or any other kind of debt for that matter) because you’re just going to get scared. You get into what’s known as the flight or fight mode and you’ll just end up in paralysis. Trust me, I’ve been there too.
Every time you’re stressed about your debt, just tell yourself that you might feel really sucky right now, but at least you’re willing to acknowledge that you’re in debt. Or admit that you’re stressed but you want to do something about it, and it’s ok to not know everything right now.
Are You In Denial?
So you’re probably experiencing something what’s called debt denial. My friend over at the blog Dear Debt really does a good job of talking about this. Debt denial means that you’re in denial of the fact that you’re in debt or how much you owe over paying off student loan debt.
Think about the stages of grief. Denial is one of those steps. So you’re just going through really normal emotions. Being in debt can be scary, I get that. Maybe you’re just ashamed about the fact that you have all this debt and you don’t make enough to pay it. Or you really regretted going to a certain college or changing majors and ended up racking up more debt.
Whatever it is you’re ashamed about over paying off student loan debt, really work on forgiving yourself for it. It sounds really hard but it’s just something you have to do to move forward. Again, start small and build it up every day. One thing I do is I keep a dedicated notebook. Whenever I start feeling upset, angry or really worked up about my money situation, I write it down in detail exactly what it was.
For example I was really angry one time about somebody shortchanging me. It was a couple of dollars but I was so bothered over it. So I wrote it down. What I did was looked at the page with that scenario in it and allowed myself to feel all the emotions related to that situation. I’d even go as far as say “I forgive you” out loud.
A cool and dramatic way you can let go of stressful situations is to literally write down everything you’re ashamed or upset about and just burn the piece of paper. I haven’t tried it because there are very sensitive fire alarms in my apartment. So work on the forgiveness process and really figure out why is it that you’re scared to look at your bank account.
Plan For the Worst Case Scenario When Paying Off Student Loan Debt
When you’re still working through forgiveness, then you’re going to take it one step at a time when looking at your money. Maybe you just open your laptop and log into your bank account. Maybe the next day try to look at the numbers. Keep trying to get less stressed when thinking about paying off student loan debt and do one small action towards it.
And if you’re worried, think about the worst case scenario. What will happen if you don’t have enough money? What will happen if you don’t pay off your debt?
Most of the time, we’re worried because we don’t know what’s going to happen. Worrying is really something that you know may or may not happen. To help you, start planning. What happens if you lose your house? How can you start planning for that now or prevent it from happening?
It can be as simple as thinking about odd jobs you can apply for, or trying to set aside more money for debt. As you plan, you’ll feel better and maybe you’ll realize that looking at your debt/bank account isn’t so scary after all.
If you feel like you have to earn more money there are you know so many wonderful side hustle ideas like being an Uber driver or what I do full time now which is freelance writing. There’s a lot of ideas that you can do. Just do a quick Google search for side hustle ideas and there are tons of blogs and guides that will help you figure out what it is.
Work on Money Self-Care
Money self-care doesn’t mean getting manicures or anything. It just means celebrating things that you’ve done that have been good that are money related. Surely you’ve made some good money decisions! Find anything, no matter how small it is. Then start what I call a jar of awesomeness. Literally, any time you want to give yourself a compliment about a money decision, write it down and drop it on the jar for those times when you feel really scared and alone.
Sometimes I just put in compliments people have given me. It’s all good! This tip is really small but yields big results.
Another thing I like to work on and you could try this too is to think about the ways that you’re grateful for your debt (I started writing down why I was grateful for money in this journal as a daily habit). I want you to shift the mindset into thinking that your debt helped you invest in your career. You obviously went to college. You know how to better your chances of getting a better job, or increase your chances of getting a higher salary. So don’t think of it as that money will never come back. It’s going to come back in the form of salaries and career advancements.
If you’re willing to keep working on being forgiving and compassionate with yourself, I have no doubt you will see your debt shrink and your bank account grow.