What’s More Difficult – Paying Off Debt or Losing Weight?

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Is paying off debt or losing weight more difficult? I share my personal story on both.

It’s no secret we live in a society that champions overindulgence. You really don’t have to look far to see it; from crazy ads encouraging you to just charge it when doing your Christmas shopping to hot dog eating contests, overindulgence is everywhere.

The fact that nearly 35 percent of U.S adults are obese or that the average U.S. household has just shy of $16,000 in credit card debt bears that point even further. In fact, I think a correlation could be made between paying off debt and losing weight but that’s a different argument for a different day.

This is not meant to judge at all as I have more than made up for my fair share of overindulging. I racked up $50,000 in debt while in college and just lost 100 pounds on Nutrisystem. Both come with their own set of unique challenges, but are also similar in a variety of respects.

Mrs. Frugal Rules and I have been discussing the relationship between the two a lot lately and I thought I’d make you part of the discussion as to which is more difficult – paying off debt or losing weight.

Paying Off Debt


Living in debt, if you’ve ever gone through it, is like having a piano on your chest. It can leave you overwhelmed, feeling like you’re caught in a never-ending cycle. Then, debt fatigue sets in and you just want to throw up your hands and say to hell with it!

Looking back at my own personal debt payoff journey it all hinged on one thing – my attitude. It didn’t matter how much I had, the attitude to attack debt was vital to establishing the motivation (and more importantly) discipline needed to kill my consumer debt once and for all.

Once that attitude was established, there were some setbacks but by and large I was focused on one thing…becoming debt free.

I wanted the freedom that came with being debt free. I wanted the ability to make decisions because I had the freedom to do so and know they were in my best long-term interest as opposed to being enslaved to something.

That required knowing what my triggers were and simply removing them to bring the momentum I lacked.

Admittedly, I’m glossing over the difficult aspect of paying off debt. If you’re in the situation now, you know how it feels. It was likely one of the most difficult and challenging things I’ve done in my life. It required me to completely shift my priorities.

Looking back, that shift was where I began to form the views I hold on finances today.

While I can say now that while it was incredibly difficult, I’m thankful for having gone through it largely because of how it changed me.

Losing Weight


If you’ve ever needed to lose weight you know how it feels. You want to do it, but you’ve likely never seen much success or you’ve lost some only to gain it all back. That can bring on a number of feelings, though dejection was the most common for me.

How losing weight differs from paying off debt, in my opinion, is that wanting the quick fix is one that’s most sought after. Take me for example. I didn’t put on the 100 pounds I’m aiming to lose overnight and thus it’s not going to happen with the snap of a finger.

I’m not going to find a miracle fat-melting drug that will make me wake up half less of myself one morning. Instead, it’s going to require me to put down the candy bar, eat healthy and move my butt. This is very similar to the lifestyle changes I mentioned with regards to paying off debt.

The problem is, there can be one other factor to consider when trying to lose weight – our bodies. We can do some things to change our metabolism but the genes we’re born with are the ones we get. Simply put, I look cross-eyed at a M&M and I gain five pounds.

My lovely wife, on the other hand, was blessed with better genes. 🙂 Then you also have to consider that the older you are, generally speaking, the more difficult it is to lose weight, or so I’m told at least.

Having tackled both challenges of shedding pounds and debt, I think it’s harder to lose weight than it is to pay off debt. I’m sure a lot of that is emotion based, though I don’t know how much that should discount it.

When I was paying off my debt I know a big part of what motivated me and kept me disciplined was seeing that balance go down each time I made a payment, even if in small amounts.

I know the same thing is technically true in trying to lose weight, though you can be doing all the right things and still not lose a pound for weeks and thus feel defeated.

Over To You


Paying off debt and losing weight are things many of us deal with. Just know that if you’re facing either, or both of these challenges, you can overcome them! Speaking as one who has done the former and very close to finishing the second I know that if I can do it, anyone can.

So much of it comes down to knowing yourself and developing a mindset of attacking your debt (or weight). Then, just keep working every day to achieve your goal and refuse to give up.


Ok, it’s your turn. Which do you think is more difficult – losing weight or paying off debt? What did it take for you to see success with both or either? I’m not set in my opinion on it, so try and sway me. 🙂

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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.


  • MyMoneyDesign says:

    I would have to imagine that losing weight is probably more difficult. Money problems can weigh on your conscience, but you don’t have to physically “see” them every time you look in the mirror. If you’re someone who is unhappy with their weight or appearance, then there’s no hiding.

  • Clarisse @ Make Money Your Way says:

    For me, it’s just the same. You need to work hard if you want to lose some weight, as well as paying off debt, you need to be consistent, have a self discipline and need to have a focus.

  • The Money Spot says:

    For me, it’s losing weight. It’s more difficult when its physical because you’re feeling actual body pain! Unlike paying debt, there’s so many easy and fun ways to live frugally.

  • Shannon @ Financially Blonde says:

    I am with you John, as you know, I also underwent a pretty massive weight loss journey and I would say that losing weight is much harder than paying off debt although both journeys are very similar. The problem with the weight loss is that you don’t have quite as much control over the results because your mind may be completely focused; however, your genetics play a part as well. As opposed to a debt payoff journey, when your mind is completely focused, you can get things done right away.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    I think losing weight is way harder. In my 20s, I could lose weight easily simply by watching portions for a few weeks. Now that I’m in my mid-30s, it takes a lot more effort! My metabolism has changed a lot.

    • John Schmoll says:

      I could not agree more on the changing metabolism Holly. It seems like mine came to a crashing halt once I hit 40.

  • Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life says:

    I have experience with weight loss- debt pay off not so much. I struggled with yo yo-ing for several years until I finally unlocked the key to healthy living- haven’t looked back since. The so called key was to stop making excuses for myself and redefining what my definitions of “normal” eating, exercise, and moderation were. Once I got that squared away, it was actually surprisingly easy. It was getting to that point though that was tough.

    • John Schmoll says:

      I feel the same way Stefanie. The getting their was a major challenge. Now that I have it down it’s relatively simple.

  • Jon @ Money Smart Guides says:

    I think it is losing weight, only because with that, there are other powerful emotions involved. For example, you could just not buy the food that is unhealthy and the problem would be solved. But you also have your cravings for the pizza, ice cream, etc. When I was overspending and got myself into debt, I never had a craving for a new pair of jeans. I just chose to buy them. When I decided to start getting out of debt, it was tough, but not at tough as losing weight would be.

  • Kathy says:

    Losing weight is definitely harder. I’ve gone to bed hungry and awakened hungry…sometimes to the point of physical pain. I never had that when paying down debt.

    • John Schmoll says:

      It has been the same for me Kathy. It sucked paying off debt, but never had any physical pain or discomfort associated with it.

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

    So very proud of you, my friend, for sticking to the game. You are doing GREAT! Struggling with both myself, I think they’re both equally difficult. It’s all about the discipline. It’s not easy to discipline yourself in either area, but it’s worth the win when you’re done. 🙂

    • John Schmoll says:

      Thanks Laurie – you’re not doing too bad yourself. 🙂 Discipline is definitely a must – not easy but immensely important to live by.

  • Brian @ Luke1428 says:

    “I look cross-eyed at a M&M and I gain five pounds.” That one almost made me spit out my orange juice…LOL. It’s awesome what you’ve done in both your journey with debt and to lose weight. It’s so easy to put off both of these and say “Well, I’ll get to it later.” That usually ends up being many more pounds or dollars later before we realize there is a problem.

    • John Schmoll says:

      “That one almost made me spit out my orange juice…LOL” – Ha ha, that’s what I aim to do Brian!

  • Tonya Stumphauzer says:

    I think I might be the only one to say paying off debt is harder. At least it was for me. I sort of naturally progressed into a healthier lifestyle which helped me out of my chubby teenage phase. Not sure why or how. But then I take something like trying to reduce my grocery budget and I just struggle with making better decisions around that. I would say the only advantage of paying off debt is you could receive a financial windfall and therefore make bigger payments on your debt. With losing weight, it’s one pound at a time.

    • John Schmoll says:

      I go back and forth on it myself. Of course, as I walk through the final days of killing this weight for good I tend to think the weight loss is more difficult.

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar says:

    I’ll have to go with weight loss. Paying off debt is really just math. Yes, you can have obstacles or emergencies that pop up, but you will see the balance go down if you spend less that you earn and apply the rest to debt. Formula works for everyone.

    You are right that there are so many variable with weight loss. Jim did juicing for 3 days then changed his eating a little and lost 15 pounds. I did the same and lost 2 pounds. I think anyone can succeed if you are dedicated enough, but many people have a harder struggle and it doesn’t seem fair. I can see why so many people give up. Congrats on your weight loss. That is no small feat!

    • John Schmoll says:

      The variable is what kills me with the weight loss. You do all the “right” things and you still move nowhere – it makes me want to scream sometimes.

  • Andrew@LivingRichCheaply says:

    It probably depends on the person, their personality as well as genetics. But for me, losing weight is much harder. I’m pretty disciplined with spending and have always been a saver. As for losing weight, I can be lazy with exercising and too often tempted to eat food that I should stay away from.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Genetics is huge Andrew. Of course, that’s easy for me to say with the metabolism of fudge sauce, lol.

  • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says:

    Congratulations John on losing 92 pounds. That is amazing and I am incredibly proud of you!!! Losing weight and eliminating debt have so much in common. To me, success in both boils down to truly wanting it AND willing to make the changes needed AND understanding your emotional triggers in both. Because sadly, lots of people yo-yo when it comes to weight loss and debt. Weight watchers was a lifesaver for me after the birth of Lauren and Taylor. 🙂

    • John Schmoll says:

      Thanks much Shannon! I’m pretty thankful to have made it thus far and what’s even more important is the lifestyle changes we’ve made as a result. That wanting it aspect is vital to success in my opinion – of course making the changes necessary are major as well.

  • Maureen @ A Debt Free Stress Free Life says:

    Money and food are both used to fulfill unmet needs. They are so intricately tied together that a high percentage of people who are overweight are also in debt. Once you can learn to meet your unmet needs without going on a shopping spree or eating a dozen donuts, the quicker you are to gain control over both issues. It’s complicated and I’ve been both in debt and overweight so I know the struggle personally. It can be done, but I think (well know) you have to be willing to constantly address the urges associated with the quick fix of getting your needs met through food or shopping rather than some other, more healthy alternative.

    • John Schmoll says:

      “It can be done, but I think (well know) you have to be willing to constantly address the urges associated with the quick fix of getting your needs met through food or shopping rather than some other, more healthy alternative.” <----Could not agree more Maureen!

  • Kayla @ Everything Finance says:

    I’m trying to do both things too – pay off debt and lose weight – and I agree that losing weight is much, much harder than paying off debt. They do have a lot of things in common though. 🙂

  • Jason B says:

    Losing weight is probably harder. From what I see people tend to have a hard time doing it for some reason.

  • Mark@BareBudgetGuy says:

    The two have got to be at least moderately correlated because they both require determination and discipline. If you can do one, you can likely do the other. Totally depends on the person I’d say.

  • Michelle says:

    I’ve been trying to get more fit for awhile now, and I have to say that losing weight is a lot harder for me. Even though I am very active lately, I still look and feel nearly the exact same and that really plays with your mind.

    • John Schmoll says:

      It definitely can Michelle. That’s when it becomes so important to press on even if you’re not seeing immediate results.

  • catherine says:

    92 lbs is AMAZING John! losing weight is harder for me. It’s easier to think about the implications of NOT paying debt off. I can always justify being overweight, can’t do the same for debt. (though i am also losing!).

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    Weight has only been an issue for me a couple times in my life. First, I was pretty fat when I was younger because I had serious asthma problems and got put on steroids often. I lost the weight out of pure determination (and maybe a little boredom) one Summer in elementary school. Second, I gained 15-30 pounds within a few weeks of getting to college and held the weight until my Senior year of college where i got serious about losing weight. I was back down to my current weight. Anyway, more info than you probably care to know but I do think losing weight is easier because the effort you need to put in to lose weight oftentimes seems like less effort than it takes to dig yourself out of debt.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Interesting take DC. I take it you have a pretty fast metabolism? 😉 Looking at it in my own personal life I’d likely come down on the weight loss being more difficult. You can do all the “right” things and not lose weight whereas if you’re doing that with debt it’ll become a numbers game you’ll be more likely to see traction with.

  • Adam @ says:

    I’ve never had money problems, but staying in shape (especially as I age) definitely takes careful managing.

  • Kayla says:

    I think about how they are related all the time! There are a lot of useful life lessons to be learned, and once you master one the other seems to fall better into place.

    For me, losing weight is still a lot harder. Paying off debt is 100% mental, while losing weight is 90% mental and there’s still that bout of physical pain you must go through to get to it. I suppose it’s a lot easier to say ‘the hell with it’ when that last 10% comes in with exercise, cravings, or hunger! Either way, both are very difficult. Accepting that there is no quick fix for either was the most difficult for me.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Great point on that 10% Kayla! I think that would also include things like genetics and hitting plateaus. Regardless, both are definitely not quick fixes as you said.

  • Gary @ Super Saving Tips says:

    I think losing weight is more difficult. Each day you can avoid spending on a want, put the money towards paying down your debt, and you’ve made progress. Meanwhile, each day you can avoid eating a cupcake, go exercise for half an hour, and still not necessarily see any progress on your weight. The physical factors make a lot of difference. But I do think they are similar pursuits that require lifestyle changes and discipline. I’ve always been very motivated with my finances, so even when I did accumulate some consumer debt, I paid it off fairly easily. But my weight has been more of a struggle, one I’m currently working on with some success in this past year.

    • John Schmoll says:

      I could not agree more Gary! Debt always came down to a numbers game for me in the end. Weight…you can do all the right things and still not see success at times.


    Hmm. This is tough for me. I’m going to say that I believe paying off debt is more difficult.

    I say this because (for me) I’ve seen a lot more loss in the weight department than in the debt department. Also, because there’s a lot more stuff you can physically do for free – take that walk, ride your bike instead of driving, etc – that mean you spend less money on entertainment, transportation and so on. Those types of things also contribute to the scale going down.

    Example: I have to have groceries, so I plan for that and I can ration what/how much I eat based on what I’ve bought and planned for. However, freelance work is slow one month, so I don’t make my planned extra payment to a debt. Then, also in my case, I have a fluctuating income, so it can be difficult to stay on the debt pay down path most of the time.

    Whew, this post got me thinking!

    • John Schmoll says:

      Glad to get you thinking K. 🙂

      You are correct, there are definitely things you can do for free that are physical. The problem arises though when you do a lot of those things and still don’t see progress. I think debt, can be at least, is a little different in that it’s more of a numbers game. But, I think it would depend on the situation of course.

  • Christina @ Northern Cheapskate says:

    I, too, have struggled with both paying down debt and losing weight… and I would say that they are both equally challenging. What I have found now that I have met my goals is that maintaining a debt-free, healthier lifestyle seems more difficult than actually getting to the goal. I am taking it as a sign that I need to set some new goals.

    • John Schmoll says:

      I would definitely agree Christina – both are challenging and for different reasons. I think you have a point there about maintaining – I believe goals can change over time, and thus might cause many to change them.

  • Michelle says:

    I think that they are both equally difficult!

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