A Story About Paying Off Debt and the Obstacles Along the Way

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October Budget Review: Grumbly Progress

When I was 24 years old, I hiked through the Alps. We started in Germany and wended our way down to Italy via Austria. I had little previous hiking experience, so the first few days consisted of blistery foot pain, utter exhaustion, frequent spills (I'm not the most coordinated person you'll ever meet), and constant hunger. But I didn't really care, because every time I looked up, I caught another glorious view of the mountains. Far off in the distance was our destination, and I knew we were going to get there one day. In those first few hard days, those views sustained me.

Fast forward three weeks: I'd transformed into a seasoned and efficient hiker. I could walk all day long with just a brief rest at lunch. My calloused feet were inured to my stiff boots and the rocky ground. I'd figured out how to pace myself, and I wasn't tripping as much. 

You'd think, then, that the trip became easier with time - but it really didn't. The further we traveled and the stronger I became physically, the more mentally worn down I felt. By the time we arrived at the Italian border, I was sick of eating rehydrated food, sick of going to bed in my stinky sleeping bag, sick of the same four trail ditties that my trail buddies would sing on repeat, and generally sick of walking. The views were nice, sure - but I just wanted to get to my destination and take a shower, thank you very much. 

Had someone come by and offered to drive me the rest of the way, I probably would have said yes.

Despite the fact that so many aspects of the hike became easier with time, there seemed to be an inverse correlation between time on the trail and mental stamina.

I've noticed a similar phenomenon with our debt repayment. At first we were clueless and clunky with our budget. We regularly over-spent. On several occasions, we forgot to account for all of our bills and accrued late fees. We made plenty of mistakes -  but we kept going because we felt thrilled at the thought of creating a better financial situation for ourselves.

Fast forward six months. We don't make those rookie mistakes anymore, and the budget is dialed in. Take October 2017, for example:

Sure, we went a bit over in the "Other" category (I blame my birthday), but we still came in $20 under budget. For the most part, we spent what we planned to spend. We even put $500 into savings... and we paid off the car. This month, we're ramping up our debt allocation to $2200 so that we can put our repayment into overdrive.

We're doing almost as well as we possibly could be doing, and yet the main thing I feel about this debt repayment process right now - and here's where I keep it real (and whiny!) - is that I'm sick of it. I'm sick of being in debt, and I'm sick of digging out of it. I'm sick of seeing thousands of dollars go to our creditors each month instead of into our own savings and investment accounts. 

That's how I would characterize our journey in October of 2017: We're doing it, and we're doing it well, but we're not particularly happy about it. This journey is long, and exhausting, and frustrating. I mean, we're totally getting there... It's just not always fun. But we're moving forward, one grumbly step at a time.

Now that I've got that out of my system...

How did your October go?

P.S. That Alpine backpacking trip? It was one of the most worthwhile experiences of my life. I look back and appreciate all of it - the good and the bad, the inspiring and the painful. And that's how I'm hoping to see this debt repayment journey when I reflect on it in a few years.

Disease Called Debt



  1. You are totally kicking some serious butt on that debt!

    I completely sympathize with just feeling sick and tired of being on this train. I am 17 months in, with almost 2 more years to go on my journey to get out from under it. While I don't want to wish the next couple of years of our lives away, I also can't wait to be at the end of this ride. That said, I wrote this about a year ago, when I was about six months in and feeling a lot like you do. https://wordpress.com/post/debtbegoneblog.wordpress.com/735 I kind of have to believe its true to keep me going, chin up and all.

  2. Thank you so much! Can you repost the link? I wasn't able to access the post.

    I appreciate being able to commiserate. This is not an easy journey by any means!

  3. My ability to do anything in wordpress is really pathetic. I couldn't figure out a way to share the link, so I'm just doing an old fashioned copy and paste. Just for context, the post immediately prior that was me lamenting that I wish the money I needed to pay off the debt would just fall from the sky so my journey could be over. The next day, after thinking about it more, I posted the following, which I have found myself revisiting when I need to remember why I'm going through this painful process:

    More Thoughts (and an attitude adjustment)
    DECEMBER 22, 2016 ~ DCOTLER ~ EDIT
    After my post the other day, I thought about what it would be like to have our outstanding debt just miraculously disappear. At first I thought it would be a great thing, but after a day or two of thinking, I actually don’t think so.

    I’m realizing that in order to really, truly and permanently learn from this, I’ve got to actually do it. I’ve got to feel the weight of that debt, the pain of the monthly payments, the sacrifice of going without while we tackle this. Its got to take long enough that all of the habits I’ve been embracing (budgeting, tracking, paying cash for everything) really become ingrained. Otherwise, I know that we’ll just end up back where we were. If the debt is repaid too quickly, easily or without some element of determined sacrifice, what’s to stop me from accruing new debt in the future? Probably nothing. When this debt is gone, I don’t ever want to find myself in this boat again. I think (hope?) that this journey is going to be my guarantee.

    Its not that my words are particularly wise, just that I have found myself rereading this particular post when I need to feel motivated and get out of my "whyyyy is this taking so looooong?" mood.

  4. Throughout our debt payoff we would hit stagnate periods and would have to get reinvogorated to keep puching ahead. Ways that we motivated ourselves was to find a monthly goal. 3 things we did was either try to pay off a loan (we have 15 total), hit a threshold like 50K, 60K or 70K or color a notch on our debt thermometer. On the thermometer we would color every $3,000. Between those 3 items we tried to achieve 1 of those each month. Based on your current progress you could try to push to get below $70K next month. I just made a debt thermometer this week that is super easy for people to customize. I hope to get that on our site soon as part of my monthly challenge but I need to learn how to use mail chimp first.

    Anyways, I am impressed with your budget and ability to stick to it. Even we don't match up that well. One suggestion might be to find a way to reduce the grocery budget $100-200. That adds up to big savings over the course of the year but obviously I don't know the full story about why it is what it is.

    Good luck!

    1. I would LOVE to reduce our grocery budget. It is a real sticking point in my family. My husband and son just seem to eat a ton of food!

      I'm going to create a debt thermometer... What a great way to track progress!

  5. Totally get what you mean with the "burn out." It's like... You're making progress, but the end is so far... :( Hope you get the motivation back somehow! I find it helpful to break things up into chunks, celebrate the chunks, and go in smaller steps, because the "over all picture" is sometimes way too big for me to grasp and appreciate. Sure, it'll be great when I DO get there, but getting there is such a long process, so I lose motivation unless I manage to chunk it and pat myself on the back for every small milestone I hit. Congrats for coming in under budget!!!

    1. Thanks so much! We will definitely persist... It's just been kind of a low month. We're making a big debt payment tomorrow, and that's reigniting my determination.

  6. That was such a great analogy. It's tough to stay mentally focused over a long period of time, but I know you can do it. Monthly goals are a good idea, and I would suggest finding non-financial rewards, just a special treat, to congratulate yourself when you hit them.

    Our October was kind of rough, mainly due to being in the Medicare "donut hole" with our prescriptions, and I expect November to be alright. But I'm really looking forward to December, when things should be brighter and my new pension kicks in. That will allow us to pay down some more of our remaining debt (a couple of car payments left, some 0% interest dental bills, and the mortgage).

  7. Love this analogy! I've gotten out of debt before and it is so worth it. But this time around, I'm hoping for a car to drive by and offer me a ride pretty hard. I'll keep trudging forward, but I'll be listening for distant motors while I'm at it.