When Should You Really Become Debt Free?

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Don’t know how to become debt free, but want to start? Here are 5 simple ways to start the path to debt freedom today and break free from slavery.

When I was in the middle of paying off debt I wondered if I’d ever become debt free. There were days the debt fatigue was so palpable that I wanted to give up. If you’ve ever had a mountain of debt to payoff you know the feeling – your best efforts feel futile. You’re sick and tired of not being able to do anything fun. You’re done seeing half of your paycheck go to some sort of creditor.

You then begin to ask yourself if it’s really that important to become debt free. Everyone else, or so you think, around you must be doing the same thing so does it really matter when or even if you pay off your debt?

In a word – YES! Yes it is important to become debt free and sooner rather than later is better. Here’s why.

Debt is an Emergency


Whether you realize it or not, debt is an emergency. I’m not the first one to say that and I probably won’t be the last. Have you ever faced a true emergency? If so, you know the feeling.

Your heart races. Your mind jumps to what else could happen. You feel vulnerable. Now imagine the emergency is financial in nature, except you have no money to handle the emergency.

You’re unable to do pretty much anything about said emergency because your money belongs to someone else. That’s the exact situation you face when you’re in debt.

No one likes to view debt that way. I guarantee you the financing person at the car dealership or the person who approves another card for you to rack up debt on won’t tell you about this real consequence of living in debt. They won’t tell you because their paycheck is dependent on people like you and I spending money we don’t have to get things we don’t need.

Debt Holds You Back from the Life You Want


How many times have you had a conversation with someone that goes something like this:

“I really want to do ‘X’/ I’d love to go to ‘Y’ for vacation.”

You say something like this:

“Both sound great, why can’t you do either?”

The response is something like this:

“Well, I have too much debt or I have no money after paying the minimums on my credit cards this month.”

If you’re like me then you’ve been in many a conversation like this over the years. I will tell you one thing – I used to be on the wrong end of this. Once I finally woke up and saw the foolishness of my actions I vowed to never be there again.

The crazy thing is I thought I had the kind of life I wanted when I was in debt. I thought it was normal to be in debt. I thought I had things I enjoyed so how could the credit card or student loan debt hurt. That mentality misses the forest for the trees.

We think a life riddled with debt is good or acceptable, when it really only shackles you to someone else. In essence, it’s like going to the movies only to see the previews and walk out because you don’t feel like watching a movie. It’s senseless and keeps us from the kind of life we truly want.

Once you get to the other side of paying off debt, you’ll see life is fuller and freedom is abundant. You’ll wonder why you ever mired yourself in debt in the first place – trust me, you will.

You Need to Grab Debt by the Horns


Paying off debt is not for the weak of heart. You need to attack debt like you’re assaulting an enemy – because it is. It is an enemy to your financial and mental health. We don’t like to think of it as such, and we hold ourselves back when we do.

The Internet is full of amazing stories of people who have paid off significant amounts of debt. I’ve met a fair number of them myself and I can tell you one common theme among each and every one of them – they took no prisoners. They attacked debt with all they had. This is not to say it’s easy, but it can be done when you battle debt on multiple fronts.

When should this grabbing the proverbial bull by the horns take place? It should happen as soon as possible! Don’t put it off for years. Don’t assume you can handle it in retirement. In fact, some of the most scary money statistics have to do with those carrying debt into retirement.

Nearly a quarter of those 75+ take a mortgage into retirement. USA Today reports those between 60-74 have at least $6,000 in credit card debt. CNBC reports those over 50 have a cumulative $204 billion in student loan debt.

You don’t want to be a part of either crowd. You want your life now and later to be one free from debt so you can have the kind of life you want – but it involves taking debt by the horns now.

Don’t know how to become debt free, but want to start? Here are 5 simple ways to start the path to debt freedom today and break free from slavery.

5 Ways to Start Killing Your Debt Now


If you want to start paying off your debt now, but don’t know where to start, there are many ways to get moving in the right direction. Here are some of the best ways to start paying off debt:

  • Cut up your credit cards. This is the easy one. If credit cards tempt you to spend, cut them up. This will help stop the bleeding so you can focus on treating the wound.
  • Track your spending. Another easy one. Tracking my spending was one of the first things I did to pay off debt and it worked wonders. There are many free tools to help with this – such as Personal Capital that can help you monitor and track everything. If that’s too hi tech then writing your spending down works too.
  • Reduce one bill. Overwhelmed but want to start somewhere? Cut one bill to create some momentum. You can cut many bills easily. Maybe you can cancel cable or switch to a cheap cell phone plan. You can get a cell plan for as low as $10 through Republic Wireless. Take the savings and throw it at your debt.
  • Consolidate your debt. Have you cut out needless spending but want to lower your rates? You can get an unsecured loan. There are many options to consider, from LendingClub to LightStream to name a few. This will cut your rates so more of your money will go towards your debt. If your credit score needs help afterwards, you can also work with to help improve your credit score.
  • Make extra money. This is one of the most overlooked ways to pay off debt in my opinion. Bringing in extra income will speed up your debt payoff effort in significant ways. Don’t know what you can do to make extra money? Here’s a list of 51 ways to make extra money nearly anyone can do.

I know there are many other ways to start killing your debt now, though this will provide you a great start to move towards the kind of life you want – one of freedom.


Why do you think so many don’t think it’s important to pay off debt? What changed in you to want to kill your debt once and for all? What’s another way someone can pay off debt?

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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.

Latest posts by John Schmoll (see all)


  • Natalie @ Financegirl says:

    The hard part for me is when you have massive student loan debt – over $100k. It’s a lot harder to get out of and harder to treat as an emergency. It’s certainly the priority, but it’s a bit different than say $10k. So for me, I’ve focused on increasing my income in order to really make more money to have to pay off my debt.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Totally understood Natalie and good point. I’d argue though that you’re actively working on it thus not really who I’m addressing here. 🙂 That said, earning more is really the key ingredient many overlook in my opinion.

    • Ramona says:

      As long as you are keeping it as a priority, it’s great. There are many people (even some of my friends) who don’t seem to bother they have debt and it’s only getting worse. Trying to boost your income is a great idea, there’s only this much you could save.

      • John Schmoll says:

        Completely agreed Ramona. Making it a priority is the key, along with making more of course. Saving, while good, will only take you so far.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    I think debt has become the norm for too many people. They have always paid monthly payments and carried debt, so they simply don’t know any better. A friend of ours just financed a $1,500 couch, for heavens sake. I tend to believe it’s how people shelter themselves from the real cost of their purchases. When they can make monthly payments, they don’t feel the pain on what they’re doing quite as much.

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach says:

    Being debt free just feels very freeing. To not owe anyone, anything…it just feels incredible.

  • Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor says:

    Debt has definitely become the norm. Like it’s just a way of handling money that is completely acceptable. My dad always joked that is the American way–and embraced it. I knew that wasn’t what I wanted. To us, being debt-free epitomizes flexibility. We want to feel free to take opportunities that come along–whether it’s travel, volunteering, pursuing an interest, or funding a cause. We don’t want money we owe to rule our life decisions. Great post!

    • John Schmoll says:

      I heard much of the same from my parents and thankful I’m long past those days. That flexibility is something I never plan on giving up as it does allow you to really take opportunity when you want.

  • Michelle says:

    I think debt is, sadly, becoming “normal” and that’s why so many are okay with having it. It’s sad and I wish people didn’t think this way!

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    I think a lot of people just lack motivation. Once you get motivation to pay off debt you tend to put forward the effort necessary to save more money, make more money, etc. and limit the amount of debt you have.

  • Abigail @ipickuppennies says:

    I’m honestly a little baffled that more people don’t see debt as an emergency. That’s what it feels like to me.

    Then again, when you have health problems, you’re all too aware of how bad things can get financially. So you know just how good a situation you need to be in to stay safe(ish).

    • John Schmoll says:

      I’m with you there Abigail. So many I interact with just don’t see it as an issue then wonder why they don’t have the freedom to do as they choose.

  • amy says:

    For me I was sick and tired of like having a secret status. I’m successful because I can buy stuff(on credit).I felt fake.I have $600.00 to go and I’ll feel real.

  • edward mausolf says:

    I decided to rent a room to a family friend for a few hundred a month. I maximize my deductions and take all of my annual tax return and put it in my home account. My father paid his house off, and though unfortunately he is unwell, i took over his assets. By putting my mother in my home, then maintaining my father’s, this allowed me to reduce my rent as i was living in WA. Though i make less after transitioning home, i reduced my expenses significantly overall. I have found that a great motivational method could be setting up a weekly bill pay to that one debt account. Next thing you know, even 10 extra a week amounts to a lot over time.

    I have learned a lot on this tricky road. I believe you should be aggressive with investments, but smart. Debt can be an opportunity but not when used incorrectly.

    I enjoyed this very much as i contemplate my long term goals.

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