Don’t Blink! How To Beat Debt by Staring It Down

For every link off the chain, things get a little better.

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The pile of debt I hang out with. (paper chains representing thousands of dollars owed)

Back in January, I was inspired by a post at Get Rich Slowly to start collecting paper chains that represent my debt. I document that strong start here. The chains in the picture above represent my home equity, roof, credit card, and medical loans, plus a small family bridge loan that helped me get my credit score up last fall.

Then I went a little overboard.

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This chain represents my mortgage.

Not pictured: The only chain I made that is bigger than this one, representing $230,000+ in my husband’s deferred student loans that I prefer not to think about till we get there. About three years from now.

I found it so satisfying to make these. The process offered me a sense of control and some much-needed patience with the years-long process it’ll take to clear these debs. Now I’m reaping the benefits — not often enough, but still— each time I take a link off one of these chains.

The very smallest loan chains have links that represent $100, but most represent $1,000. These days it takes me about 6 weeks to knock my debt down by $1,000, although we have fallen back this summer because my husband's teaching stipend stops until September, and that’s a full third of our income gone for three months.

I can’t say enough about the positive mental shift it’s caused for me to have these chains present in my workspace at home. You’d expect the opposite to be true — and I confess that I keep the biggest debt chain up high, knowing we won’t tackle it anytime soon, because I don’t want to be overwhelmed. Here are a few steps if you want to try this approach:

The point here is to empower yourself. Don’t make it a punishment or create a shame cycle out of this exercise. Let it inspire you!

Need to start a budget? Check out these different approaches.

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I’m a 50-something bohemian with a mountain of debt and regrets. Can I dig out before it’s all over? I brake for poets.

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