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Pay Off Debt By Rejecting The “It Isn’t Possible” Mentality

One of the interesting things I find when people share their debt free stories with the mainstream media are the comments that result.  Some commenters praise these articles and talk about how they’ve been inspired.

But more often, you notice the negative comments.  These are the people who say that the story being shared isn’t possible or that what they’re reading isn’t helpful because most people can’t do the same thing.

I don’t usually read the comments in these types of articles.  But this past week, I was reading Millennial Money Man’s article that was featured on Business Insider and happened to notice the comments.  In that article, M$M offered tips on how he was able to pay off his $40,000 of student loans in 1.5 years, all while making a teacher’s salary.  He was able to cut down his expenses drastically by living with family, side hustled to increase his income, ignored the haters, and made paying off debt his number 1 priority.

I noticed much of the praise for M$M came from fellow personal finance bloggers.  But there was also the smattering of negative comments that appeared to come from regular Business Insider readers – members of the “general public,” if you will.  Here’s one comment that caught my eye:

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I don’t know why “wife” is in quotation marks. Maybe the commenter thinks that M$M isn’t really married or something?

I find a comment like this interesting, not necessarily because of the negativity in the comment, but because of what this commenter wants.  He wants a story involving someone doing something extraordinary, but doing absolutely nothing extraordinary to achieve that result.

You can see the problem here.  There’s really only one secret to paying off debt quickly.  You have to do something that is extraordinary in some way.  Debt is normal.  Paying it off fast isn’t.  You can’t get there if you don’t do something out of the ordinary.

You Can’t Accept The Status Quo

The thing about comments like these – these “hater” comments – are that they do what a lot of people do.  They assume that there must be some way to achieve extraordinary results without taking extraordinary action.  Somehow, these people think that there must be some secret way to follow the status quo, yet still reach their extraordinary goals.

But they’re wrong.  That commenter will never see a story about a teacher paying off $40,000 in a year-and-a-half doing absolutely nothing because it isn’t possible.  Simple math can tell you that.

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Probably not paying off her student loans any time soon.

This leads me to another question.  Why doesn’t this type of story inspire him in some way?

He’s being told one way to pay off debt is to find a way to cut his living expenses down drastically.  This is how one person was able to do it.  But that’s not something this commenter thinks he can do, so he doesn’t want to hear a story about that.  He dismisses it right away.

Another way for him to pay off his student loans is to increase his income by picking up a side hustle.  It’s not possible for him for some reason, so he doesn’t want to hear about that either. He’ll talk once you share a story about a regular guy doing regular things, yet somehow doing something amazing.

These ideas don’t conform with what he wants to do or what he thinks is possible for him to do.  But, if you want to pay off debt quickly, you can’t follow the status quo!  You have to do things that you don’t think are possible.

We’re All A Product Of Our Choices.

We all choose to live a certain way, or to live in a certain place, or to have certain things in our lives.  If you think an option isn’t possible, I’d say you’re probably wrong.

I’ll admit, not all of us are in a position to do everything that we read on the internet.  That’s why personal finance is personal.  We all have our own unique situations and our own problems that no one else can understand.  If you’re barely getting by, you’re going to need to figure out a way to get out of that situation.  These articles aren’t for you.  The first step to paying off debt is to have a decent income.  If you have six figures of debt and are making $30k a year, you’re not gonna get out of it quickly with that income.  The math just doesn’t work out.

But if you’re a regular middle class person like a lot of people with student loans, I’m willing to wager you could figure out a way to pay off that debt quickly.

Are there ways you could cut down your living expenses if you needed to, even if you couldn’t live with your family like M$M could?  I’d say yes.

  • You could live in a terrible neighborhood, in a run-down part of town, and pay virtually nothing for rent.
  • Or rent a house with a million roommates, instead of living in 1 bedroom apartment.
  • Or you could maybe even rent a room in some retiree’s house.

There are a ton of ways you could cut down your living expenses.  It’s not that it isn’t possible.  It’s that most of us make a choice to live in a certain way.  Anything that doesn’t jive with our choices, we simply assume isn’t a possibility.

You Can Make Extreme Choices To Reach Your Goals

Here’s another comment from that same article that caught my eye:

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Of course the solution is “obvious!”  There isn’t any secret to paying off debt other than putting as much money as you can into it.  Whether that’s cutting expenses, increasing income, or both, that’s really the only thing there is to it.

If paying off debt quickly is something you want to do (or retire early or whatever goal you’re trying to reach), you absolutely could take some extreme action like this commenter sarcastically suggested.  And it is helpful to read these stories because they give you ideas about how you can reach your goals.

These sort of extreme lifestyle choices are things we choose not to do, not because they aren’t possible, but because we don’t think they’re possible.  But they absolutely are!

You can look at the stories of people who are doing exactly these kind of things in order to get ahead.  Take Daniel Norris, a pitcher in the Major Leagues.  ESPN ran an article about him in which it detailed his story of living in a van off $800 per month, even though he had just signed a $2 million contract.  Former NFL player Ryan Broyles lives off $60,000 per year, even though he made millions.  And don’t forget bloggers like the folks over at Millennial Revolution, who chose not to buy a house like a normal person, but instead, kept their money invested.

The point isn’t to do exactly the same things as these folks.  Personal finance is personal, remember.  The point is, if you really want something bad enough, you can do things out of the ordinary.  You can do things that you might not have thought was possible.

So if you want to save 98% of your income by living in your car and eating nothing but rice, you definitely could do that!  And that article would be helpful to anyone thinking of ways to pay off their loans.

Extreme Choices Don’t Have To Be Forever

I truly believe anyone can do anything for a short amount of time, if you really put your mind to it.  Your choices don’t have to last forever!  Make a choice and do it for as long as you need to do it.

I remember my first year in law school.  I was so scared about doing bad in school and ending up without a job that I studied from 8am to 10pm, every single day.  This was from a guy who barely worked in college and rarely opened up a book.  I wasn’t a top student in college.

But when it came to law school, I was terrified.  I knew that I needed to do well if I wanted to get out of there with a job.  And I was using my own money and taking out loans, so it felt even more important.  I couldn’t live like that forever.  But I could do it in 15 week chunks for 2 semesters, if that’s what I needed to do.

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I told myself, I only needed to do this for a few months at a time.

The point is, reject the “it isn’t possible” mentality.  Almost anything is possible.  It’s the choices we make that determine whether something is really possible or not.  You can pay off your debt if you do something to make it happen.  If you reject the choices you have and really believe things aren’t possible, you’ll miss the options you have in front of you.

34 Comments

  1. I like this article because it struggles with one of the greatest mysteries of life.

    Simple is so difficult.

    It reminds me of entropy and the universe’s natural and gradual decline into disorder. The truly successful are the ones that can get back to simple and, once they do, the rest look on and remark, “That’s so simple – that can’t possibly be the answer!”

    Little do they know that simple is so difficult.

  2. Thank you for this article!

    A friend came to my last week because she feels like she is drowning in debt. When I offered solutions (i.e. cutting your expenses drastically or picking up extra income), she didn’t like those answers. When I suggested we have a call like I do with my clients, she never followed the link and signed up.

    It really is easy, but people don’t want to put the hard work in.

    • Exactly right. You gotta put the work in if you want the results. There’s always excuses that can be made for why something can’t be done.

  3. I hate reading any comments on large news sources. 90% of them are awful and from people who want everything handed to them. People fail to realize that you have to give up some of your comfort to really achieve your financial goals. You do not become wealthy pleasing others with your high paying salary if you spend it all.

    • There’s so many people that just think that things can happen without doing anything. That’s probably why you see all of these get rich quick schemes out there. A lot of people just want to be able to do nothing and get everything.

  4. Bravo! Loved the post. If you want to get you have to give, and at least by writing an article on it you let people know it is possible!

    I had to sustain a long distance relationship with my wife when the Air Force sent her to Wyoming. I was still working for a big city police department in California. Faced with an extreme situation we went extreme! We rented out our house, she rented a basement in a co-workers house, and I slept at the station or my in-laws. Our only major expense was flights (we both made Southwest’s A list from the flights back and forth!)

    But we stayed together, kept the house, and paid down a lot of debt. There is no secret, only sacrifice.

    • Great story Jack and thanks for sharing! You are a good example of how people can do things if they really want. Not everyone would rent out a room in a basement in order to do what they need to do. But you made it work because it was something you needed to do. It’s all about the choices we make.

  5. The issue is everyone is looking for that secret or tip that will be a quick fix. Everyone is conditioned to think there is something others know that they don’t. How many times a day do I run into some seminar that promises to show me the secret to being successful. The reality is there is no secret other then hard work and making the choice to only spend on what you value. Until they have a personal bad experience with it, they likely won’t be receptive to that reality. Once they have opened up to that reality then most main stream news sources, but not all, will not be the best source of information. Because at that point its not about the fundamentals, which are simple duh moments. It’s about keeping with it and minor tweaks that you learn from finance blogs and other sources.

    • The interesting thing is, the people sharing their debt free stories are giving their secrets. It takes work to get out of debt. That’s the secret. Your path might not be exactly the same as the person sharing their story, but it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn.

  6. Hey FP,

    What a great article! Those comments are almost hilarious because of how sad they really are. It’s so frustrating how so many people reject that anyone could be doing better than they are doing. To them, anything that doesn’t fit their paradigm is just a lie.

    It reminds me of the Allegory of the Cave, by Plato. It basically talks about some prisoners who have been chained inside a cave and forced to look at a wall all their lives – from birth. All they have ever seen are shadows of objects cast by a fire behind them. To them, that’s reality. When one prisoner is released into the outside world it cannot comprehend this new reality, as it is so different to his own.

    I think most people see extraordinary feats in a similar way – it’s almost impossible for them to see themselves achieving the same level of success. So they act bitterly towards it. I just hope that our blogs can “convert” people into realising that they can do anything with enough work and dedication.

    • Thanks Ricard! I like that Allegory of the Cave that you shared. You’re probably right that people are thinking similarly. These commenters see the world in a certain way and just can’t accept any other way. I love the personal finance blog world because of all the stories we are sharing. It really opens up your eyes to what’s possible, if you’re willing to at least consider what’s being shared.

  7. I think a lot of the hate comes from people that are unwilling to make the adjustments in their own lifestyle and are jealous of what the person has been able to accomplish. It seems like it’s easier to tear down someone than to cheer for someone that has accomplished something. I think as a society if we cheered more and tore down less that we’d be happier as a society.

    • So true MSM. A lot of the people who comment on these mainstream sites are the types who just want to bring people down.

  8. Love this post! I’ve noticed the same thing when reading similar stories. People have this concept stuck in their heads that you have to make a ton of money to get ahead financially. When they see someone work their butt off to get ahead financially on an average or below average salary, they start to get defensive about it and try to bring you down to their level. Just makes me laugh and shake my head.

    It also speaks to a shift in culture over the past couple of decades where people want everything instantly but don’t want to work for it. It’s everywhere from magic diet pills to get rich quick schemes.

    • Thanks! You definitely need to make an appropriate income if you’re trying to pay off debt. But it takes work. No mater, what, you have to work to pay off debt. The choices are in front of you. It’s just whether you want to do them or not.

  9. Awesome read! I love the concept that we have to do something extraordinary to receive extraordinary results — yet, at the same time it is very obvious solution.

    From weight loss to saving money, it really does come down to discipline. We know the processes — we just have to follow them.

    Great read and thanks for sharing.

  10. I forgot who was it that told me this to begin with but I feel like it’s entirely too true in our entitlement society – “common sense is exceedingly uncommon.”

    Thanks for this great read!

  11. Some people only want to find the facts that prove their own points. Sometimes they even manufacture ridiculous excuses like the ones you alluded to. It’s too bad, because the solutions are simple and right in front of them.

    I like your take on this, and great write up!

    • Thanks Mr. Crazy Kicks. I totally understand that some people just can’t do it. If you’re really in poverty, saying to do something else is a bit insulting. BUT, for most people, how they live is their choice. Someone struggling to make it in San Francisco or New York doesn’t have to live in those places. They choose to! If they really wanted to, they could move someone else, lower their cost of living a ton, and crush whatever goals they needed to do. But most people won’t choose that route. They’ll choose to live in the cool place and in a normal way because that’s the only possibility they know.

  12. A great message here, Panther.

    As you very rightly point out, it’s plain nuts to expect extraordinary results from workaday efforts. The problem seems to be dislodging people from the perspective that “normal” is “right” when it comes to many personal finance and career issues. Long-held beliefs, norms, etc. are pretty tough things to uproot…but, man, can it be liberating when you do!

    Great work, and thanks.

    • No problem Financial Libre! Exactly right. We can be normal. But we don’t have to be normal. We can choose to live super weird if we want!

  13. Jay Jay

    Man, this is such a simple concept but so powerful. Of course extraordinary outcomes are the result of abnormal inputs. But I never realized the degree to which people forget that. Thanks for sharing, and for the reminder to stay conscious and check my own expectations.

    • Thanks Jay. Exactly right. It takes something extraordinary in order to do something extraordinary. There’s a lot of ways we can live and we generally choose how we want to live. We have to remember that we have a lot more choice than we think.

  14. Great post, FP. Like you said, personal finance is “personal”. I think a lot of people forget that and are just looking for a “quick fix” like a previous commenter mentioned. Everyone has their own specific financial situation. I’m able to pay off my $300k student loan aggressively because I’m in a financial situation of having a dual physician income. This specific financial plan and picture may not apply to you, but the underlying concepts do. Concepts like cutting your expenses, living well below your means, creating a budget, prioritizing paying off debt, putting in the work and side hustling if you have to. These concepts are pretty much universal when it comes to paying off debt.

    • Exactly right! You have a ton of debt, but you also took on that debt because you expected to make the income necessary to be able to pay those off. You’ll see people criticize your story one day. They’ll say, of course you could pay off your student loans, you made so much money. I’ve always been confused about that. What other way is there to pay off loans besides making money and throwing it at the loans? There’s no secret way to pay off your loans any quicker.

  15. People don’t understand that this is how people first get rich and then these rich people later on buy luxury goods: art, handbags, travel trips to Hawaii, etc.

    When they spend money on luxury items it is because spending money on luxury items is a small percentage of their overall wealth and they are so far ahead in their financial journey.

    Not all wealthy people do spend money on luxury items, yet enough of them do.
    Now on the other hand, this can be great for those of us that sell to the wealthy.

    There’s a nice interdependence that happens there, but that’s another story for another time. 🙂

  16. Don’t let the opinions of the average man sway you. Dream, and he thinks you’re crazy. Succeed, and he thinks you’re lucky. Acquire wealth, and he thinks you’re greedy. Pay no attention. He simply doesn’t understand.

    -Robert G. Allen

    • Love the quote! Especially that part about luck. We have a lot more control in creating our own luck.

  17. You have no idea how often I hear from physicians that “nobody” sends their kids to public schools where they live. “They’re deplorable,” they say.

    In some cases, there’s probably at least some truth amidst the hyperbole, but the assumption that their kids must go to private schools is a false one. For one, you could move. I hear the public schools in Minnesota are top notch.

    Cheers!
    -PoF

    • I heard this growing up all the time too. I grew up in a major city out east and attended a public school system renowned for being one of the worst in the country. My parents were told that they couldn’t possibly send their kids to public school, and my mom actually tried to force me to go to private school at point. I refused to do it because I liked my school, and I can only imagine how broke they’d be if they had sent me to that private school.

      Of course, I am a total screw up, so maybe they should’ve sent me to private school after all…

  18. That’s really amazing to read. To achieve any impossible task, the attitude matters the most. One should possess positive mentality and things will be done automatically. Many thanks for this share.

    • Thanks Santanu. It really helps to look at the options you have around you if you’re looking to do something great.

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