Are We Resigned To Being In Debt?

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being in debt

If you’ve ever been near or around a tornado, or any natural disaster really, you know how destructive they can be. They can tear apart homes, destroy roads and level buildings in the blink of an eye. When left to its own devices, debt can leave a wake of destruction in its path similar to that of a tornado. This is especially true when you’re resigned to being in debt.

I’ve been there myself in the past and have friends and family there currently. Consumer debt is bad enough on its own, but resignation to that debt can sadly lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy if left unchecked. Recent numbers tell us that more people are feeling resigned to debt and the crazy thing is that it doesn’t have to be that way.

More Are Saying They’ll Die In Debt


If you’ve not seen the aforementioned survey, more people are believing they will carry debt to their graves. How many more? Of those polled, 18 percent believe they will die in debt which is up from 9 percent from the previous poll done a little over a year ago. Like our friends I’ve shared about, they plan on spending their golden years and taking their last breath in debt. It’s sad.

To be clear, the survey pointed out that this debt encompassed things like credit cards, mortgages, student loans, car loans and more. That said, the survey went on to show that nearly 10 percent of those polled wouldn’t become debt free until at least 71. So, when they should be enjoying the fruits of their hard work doing those things they’ve always wanted to do, they’ll be dealing with repaying debt.

Higher Income Doesn’t Make You Free From being in Debt


It would be an easy assumption to think that those making less would be dealing with more debt and never paying it off. The survey, however, revealed differently. The survey broke down income levels from those making less than $30,000 to those making over $75,000 per year.

The difference in debt among those groups…only 2 percent! The crazy thing is those making over $75,000, according to the survey, were more likely to take on holiday debt from Christmas shopping last month.

When race was factored in, it revealed results that might surprise some people. According to Business Insider, the median income for African-American families (as of 2012) is $33,321 and $39,005 for Hispanic families. The median income for non-Hispanic white families however was $57,009.

The point? You’d expect that those making less would struggle with paying off debt more. Again, that’s not the case as 15 percent of non-Hispanic whites polled saw themselves dying in debt vs. 9 percent and 8 percent for African-American and Hispanics respectively.

A Change In Mindset Is Needed To Kill Debt


As anyone who has dealt with debt knows a certain mindset is needed to kill it once and for all. In fact, I believe this is the key to success to paying off debt. At the risk of sounding like Dave Ramsey, you have to want it. You have to attack debt with an intensity like none other as it can be financially cancerous when left unchecked.

Mrs. Frugal Rules and I are marketers. Specifically, we write and place ads selling products and services. It’s our job to get consumers to buy what our clients are selling. We know how much our culture promotes living beyond a budget and in perpetual debt and if you don’t realize that reality, you should.

Understand that in every mall, commercial, billboard, print ad and social media campaign, you are being persuaded to spend, regardless of whether or not that spending puts you in a place of perpetual debt. Developing a mindset that debt must be attacked in order to be killed is difficult to start and maintain, but it’s vitally important. However, knowledge isn’t enough to create change; action is required.

That is what concerns me when I read reports like this. It’s the belief that it will never change, that it will be decades, if that, until people become debt free. I know there may be extenuating circumstances in some instances, but the idea of being resigned to dying in debt baffles me. The point that can get missed in the resignation is that by staying in that feeling of resignation nothing will ever change. Just like if you’re not tracking your spending you won’t know how/what to change, so too will resignation drive you to never seeing a given situation changing.

There Is A Sign of Hope


The survey wasn’t all doom and gloom and it’s important to point that out. While it might seem or look unrealistic, 57 percent of those aged 18-29 who currently have debt believe they will be debt free by 30 and just 6 percent believe they’ll carry debt to the grave. Some may write this off as unrealistic for one reason or another but I love the attitude, especially given the amount of student loan debt they’re carrying in general!

I think part of it goes back to seeing parents and society as a whole dealing with debt/poor financial decision making and not wanting it to be a part of their lives. Regardless of what it is, it’s one small thing I think that can be taken out of the gloomy report.

Like cancer, debt (particularly consumer debt) is only going to eat away at your financial health. It no doubt takes time to pay off debt, and can be one of the most difficult things you may ever do, but being resigned to never becoming debt free is rarely, if ever, the solution.


Do you know someone who is resigned to being in debt? Are you in debt yourself, and if so, when is your expected payoff date? Do you think there is anything encouraging to take away from this survey?


*This post is part of the Debt Is Not Forever movement that Jackie is running over at Debt Myth this month. There are a variety of reasons why I paid off my debt though mainly so I could have financial freedom.


Photo courtesy of: Stock Monkeys

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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.

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  • How To Save Money says:

    I think the internet has also contributed a lot on young people’s view about debt! Especially blogs like yours, they are made aware of the thousands of ways on how to have a debt free life. So kudos to all of you!

  • Catherine says:

    For years I assumed everyone had debt. We live in a world that constantly talks about it as if it’s super common. It wasn’t until about 3 years ago I did research of my own and realized it isnt true and there is an ownership on me to deal with it beyond the 10-20 year guideline the bank was giving me. It took over a year to really get started but we’re finally starting to make good progress. Sometimes i fret about not being debt free until 32-33 but then i read stuff like this and gain perspective.

    • John Schmoll says:

      I was the same way Catherine. I assumed that everyone had debt and it was just a normal part of life. It took a similar time frame for me to wake up but so thankful that I did. Keep up the great work on your end!

  • Petrish @ Debt Free Martini says:

    Living with debt has become the norm for many people. I was one of those people who thought that having debt was what grown ups did. It’s amazing to me that when I look back at my mentality, that it was ok to live from paycheck to paycheck. What was I thinking?

  • Jon @ Money Smart Guides says:

    I’m curious if the people that answered this survey are ones that really don’t have a good grasp on finances. Not in the sense that they will always live beyond their means, but more because they just don’t understand compound interest and how long it takes to get out of debt.

    They might think that they will always be in debt just because they are so focused on the short term and can’t even fathom the day when their debt will be paid off. Personally, I hope more for this than for them simply living beyond their means.

    • John Schmoll says:

      That’s an excellent question Jon and one I’d like to know the answer to. I know personally speaking that I couldn’t look beyond the short-term and it wasn’t until I readjusted my mindset that I really started to see some real progress.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    I know plenty of people who have just resigned themselves to being in debt. I just don’t think it matters to some people- they don’t have any hope that it could get better for some reason. I also think they are unwilling to make any sacrifices or go without.

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

    This makes me SO sad, but it is indeed the mindset of lots of people. But like you said, it doesn’t have to be that way. People simply need to educate themselves and get the job done. It may not be easy, but it is simple.

  • Kaathy says:

    I can’t imagine accepting that I’d have debt until the day I died. How depressing. We’ve been totally debt free for several years and I can’t tell you how freeing that is. Accepting lifetime debt is simply giving up and not even trying, which is what I find unforgiveable.

    • John Schmoll says:

      I feel the same way Kathy. I remember getting that first taste of freedom and told myself I’d never be without it again. I understand challenges and difficulties, but that doesn’t recuse “you” from responsibility to try.

  • Rebecca @ The Family Finder says:

    It is sad that it is just part of normal. One that really bothers me is “Everyone has a car payment.” When we bought our very used mini-van for cash I got some interesting remarks from my former co-workers. Interestingly enough they were the same ladies that said they could never afford to stay home with their kids when I turned in my resignation. I wonder if the noticed the connection.?

    • John Schmoll says:

      Sadly, I don’t think many do Rebecca. We’ve received similar remarks for no longer intending on having a car payment…it just doesn’t make sense to have one and the last thing I want is to be obligated each month to pay for it.

  • Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life says:

    I know a lot of people who are resigned to their debt. Even as an outside observer, it’s hard for me to remain hopeful for them when I see the reality of the numbers. They would have to make a major change and give up all the things that caused them to accrue the debt in the first place.

    • John Schmoll says:

      That’s a good point Stefanie. It certainly isn’t impossible for them to make those changes though it does become increasingly difficult the more they run from the necessary changes.

  • Travis @enemyofdebt says:

    A change in mindset, indeed, John. Once you resign yourself to being in debt forever, you change your spending habits to ensure that is the case – you’ve given up. Screw that, I’m fighting to get rid of my debt forever. Nobody is going to own me.

    • John Schmoll says:

      “Nobody is going to own me.” <----that's exactly the mindset I had to get to Travis. Sadly many don't get to that but the freedom from that obligation/enslavement is well worth the needed changes.

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach says:

    I know a couple people who seem that way. I think to them it’s like living with a chronic illness, even though it debilitates them somewhat, they don’t want to make the lifestyle changes to eradicate the disease. They are willing to live with the pain. To each his own, but it sounds pretty awful to me.

    • John Schmoll says:

      That’s a good correlation Tonya, the sad thing is that in 99.9999% of the time the debt condition is one we cause ourselves.

  • Adam says:

    I expect most of my family will still be paying off their houses (at bare minimum) when it’s all said and done.

    • John Schmoll says:

      I think many are going to be in that state Adam. That’s just another reason why my wife and I don’t want to be like everyone else.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    I think this topic can be framed two ways. There are some who literally foresee themselves never living a day without debt. I think that’s a lot different than the “resignation” that many in their 20s/30s feel. I think the resignation that 20s/30s feel is that they’ve been in debt for so long or have so much debt that it’s hard to imagine not being in debt. I don’t feel “resigned” to debt, but with grad school, undergrad student loans and a mortgage it really is hard to imagine what it would feel like to have ZERO DEBT. I think part of it is that I have zero motivation to pay off more than the minimum on my mortgage (rock bottom interest rate) so I realistically could be in debt for at least 28 more years, simply from mortgage debt.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Oh, I definitely think it can be framed in two ways. I know it can be difficult to look at how much debt you have and think you’ll never be out of it. Heck, I had about $45k of it…and that was 15 years ago and felt that way.

      The encouraging thing, to me, was that the lowest percentages for “resignation” were found in those in the 20-30 age group. I know it might feel like it will never happen, but the numbers for the younger age groups gives me a glimmer of hope.

  • Kim says:

    My ex boss is one of the few people I know who really wants to be in debt. His philosophy is to put everything on a payment plan for as long as possible. He just refinanced his house on a 30 year loan, even though he is in his late 60’s. He feels like he will die before ever getting close to paying if off and then he’s off the hook. He also doesn’t like his kids very much and doesn’t hope to leave them anything. Interesting approach. My worry would be not being able to make payments for one reason or another and getting foreclosed on. Not an idea I’d embrace, but he seems to enjoy life….

    • John Schmoll says:

      Wow, that’s so sad Kim. It actually reminds me of my Dad’s last boss…he did virtually the same exact thing. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

  • dojo says:

    When I got myself in debt, I thought it’s OK to borrow money, look, everyone is doing it. After paying it off (and with a lot of pain and sweat), I could never see myself in this situation again.

  • Dwight Anthony says:

    Great post John, I stumbled upon this post from doing some research on debt. Many people are lambasted daily with promises of a better lifestyle and told that excessive consumerism is ok. That it’s ok to live till you die with debt.
    I for one endorse the journey towards financial freedom and work on it daily like quite a few readers on your blog. It’s no secret that if you actively work on something that your chances of success increase. Yes, you can stay out of debt and build your net worth. It takes discipline and putting away frivolous spending to appease today’s appetite for consumer goods, refinancing e.t.c.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Thanks Dwight! I agree, we do hear that message preached to us and many fail to see they’re simply being sold to. I’d much rather have that money as opposed to being enslaved because of debt.

  • Jason B says:

    I know a few people that are in debt that believe that they will never get out of it. I try to get them to change their thought process but it doesn’t work. As for myself, I am in debt.. a lot of it. My date that I want to have it paid off is Oct 17, 2018. That will be my 35th birthday. Do I believe that it will happen? Heck yeah!

  • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says:

    It always saddens me to see someone who feels resigned to their debt. I recognize that it may seem overwhelming and impossible to tackle, but it can be overcome, just not overnight and without some changes. And I think that is what stops many people unfortunately. They don’t want to give up their lifestyle and make sacrifices. Most aren’t in the position yet where they have to make those changes either, so they don’t. It is an adjustment and I won’t pretend that it is super easy but almost everyone who has truly shifted their money mindset is ultimately much happier and fulfilled for doing so. The payoff is there, but as you said, you have to truly want it and be willing to do the work.

    • John Schmoll says:

      I could not agree more Shannon. It’s definitely not easy, especially when you have an overwhelming amount of debt, but it can most definitely be done. You hit the nail on the head with the lifestyle and sacrifices – I was there myself and it wasn’t until I saw that something had to be done about them that I was ready to start tackling it.

  • Erin @ Journey to Saving says:

    It saddens me that people resign themselves to living with debt. It’s definitely a choice you have to make. The decision to carry debt with you to your grave baffles me as well. I suppose so many people think it’s normal, they don’t see the issue with it. I can’t wait to be debt free!

  • Shannon @ Financially Blonde says:

    I just had a conversation with a couple that makes a great income but seemed to have racked up $70,000 in credit card debt. They have no idea how they got there, but I told them they are not unusual. I also told them we needed to kill that debt and fast. We are putting as awesome plan in place, but it’s sad when you see it get to this point. They have had so much stress and relationship issues over this.

    • John Schmoll says:

      I can only imagine that stress level Shannon. That’s why it’s so awesome they have you help them get an actionable plan together to try and kill that debt and get those issues behind them.

  • Ben Luthi says:

    I definitely get a little too comfortable with our debt levels sometimes. Honestly, it’s not bad compared to the “average,” and we have no credit card debt to speak of. But even comparing like that is dangerous. Interest doesn’t care if you’re average or not. It just keeps costing you money.

    • John Schmoll says:

      It definitely can be Ben, though the key is you know it’s costing you money which is part of what drives action. Most, at least I know I didn’t, don’t stop to think about the fact that it is costing them. Take that out by a number of years and they’ll be far away from the shore financially speaking.

  • Mr Ikonz @ Project Ikonz says:

    Debt can feel like quicksand. Without a plan for how to get out, it can feel incredibly overwhelming.

    I’ve managed to get rid of most of my nondeductible debt, simply by not letting it get any bigger (simple, right?!) and paying down more than my month requirement every month.

    There are a few sacrifices along the way, but it’s all worthwhile.

    • John Schmoll says:

      That’s a spot on correlation. It can get overwhelming awfully quickly if you don’t watch it.

      It is simple, though not necessarily easy, but definitely worthwhile in the long run.

  • Broke Millennial says:

    This is incredibly depressing. I can’t imagine feeling resigned to debt in such a way. Instead, I probably have an unrealistic expectation of digging out of it rather quickly thanks to so many great stories in the PF blog community.

    • John Schmoll says:

      It really can be Erin. I don’t know if I was resigned, per se, but I felt as if there was little to no way out – it was a major shift in attitude that was needed. The crazy thing is, in my opinion, is that I think many outside the PF community could do the very same thing. Each situation is going to be unique of course, but it can be done.

  • HappinessSavouredHot says:

    My simple trick is to not spend money I don’t have. No student loans (I lived VERY frugally as a student). No credit. It means less stress, too. It’s worth it.

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