Have you ever wondered why escaping the clutches of debt feels like an uphill battle?
Debt is not inherently bad; it can be a financial tool that can pave the way to prosperity when managed wisely. It can serve as a means to invest in your future through education, homeownership, or entrepreneurship. However, it becomes problematic when it starts straining your finances, hindering your progress, and putting you in a debt trap.
When left unaddressed, escaping this trap can be challenging. Many people struggle daily to break free from the cycle of debt but end up remaining in it longer than necessary. One reason for this is their lack of awareness about what keeps them in debt.
Some people are trying to get out of debt, but their low income prevents them. Others are trying to escape debt, but their bad financial habits are holding them back.
So why do people remain in debt for so long? Here are nine reasons why people are struggling to pay off debt and how to break the cycle.
Poor budgeting involves spending more than you earn. It happens when you cannot effectively manage and allocate your income to cover your expenses and savings.
Imagine your monthly income as a pie; each slice represents a different expense – rent, groceries, utilities, transportation, entertainment, and savings. When poor budgeting occurs, these slices become uneven. Your expenses exceed your income, creating a budget deficit.
When you have a budget deficit and need to cover daily expenses, you will be forced to rely on loans to bridge the financial gap. However, when this happens every month, you will quickly find yourself in a debt cycle.
To avoid debt struggles caused by poor budgeting, you should learn how to create a realistic budget and stick to it. This will ensure your expenses align with your income, help you track and identify unnecessary spending, prioritize savings, and avoid the temptation of borrowing to pay your bills.
Your 30s often bring new opportunities – a stable career, increased income, and more disposable money. But with these milestones comes a silent adversary: lifestyle inflation.
Lifestyle inflation involves increasing your spending as your income increases. For example, it happens when one gets a raise or a promotion at work, then decides to treat themselves by moving to a bigger house in a posh estate or going on expensive vacations instead of saving or investing the extra money. Or you increase your non-essential spending just because you can afford it.
Lifestyle inflation can be harmful because it can lead to overspending and, eventually, debt. When you become accustomed to a certain standard of living, it can be challenging to scale back your expenses if your income decreases, unexpected expenses arise, or you lose your job. This will put you in a position where you will start borrowing to finance your lifestyle.
Upgrading your lifestyle isn't inherently bad. In fact, as you progress in your career and life, it's natural to enjoy the fruits of your labour and indulge in some of the finer things. However, it's crucial to approach these upgrades with caution and awareness.
The key is to strike a balance between upgrading your lifestyle and maintaining financial stability. You can do this by being mindful of your spending choices, setting clear financial goals, making deliberate decisions about where your money goes, and prioritising your future.
Underearning refers to making less money than you ought to be making, depending on your skills, experience, and qualifications. It's not solely about having a low income but more about not reaching your full earning potential. Underearning can manifest in various forms, including stagnant income, underemployment, and lack of financial progress.
Your 30s often bring added responsibilities like starting a family, educating your kids, or caring for aging parents. Underearning can make it challenging to meet these financial demands. This might lead to financial strains that force you to rely on debts to make ends meet.
Underearning can limit your financial progress and lead to debt struggles as your responsibilities increase. To prevent this, continuously upskill to improve your employability, ask for a raise, and seek other career advancement options that align with your career goals and income expectations.
You should also stay informed about industry salary standards. Know your market worth and negotiate for higher pay when appropriate. Finally, consider starting a side business or freelancing to supplement your income.
Read Also: Every Employee's Nightmare: Loss of Income
Life is unpredictable, and financial setbacks can strike when you least expect them. If unprepared, you will resort to borrowing if you need immediate cash to address them.
Financial emergencies may include vehicle damage, job loss, medical treatment, house damage, or family emergencies.
Emergency preparedness requires that you take proactive steps to help you confidently navigate financial storms without resorting to loans. You can do this by building a rainy-day fund that lasts six to twelve months depending on your job security, and investing in vital insurance such as medical and income protection insurance policies.
Emergency preparedness creates a buffer that can help you avoid unnecessary debt. Without it, you may find yourself in a perpetual cycle of financial instability, always vulnerable to unexpected expenses and the burden of debt that often follows.
Instant gratification is the urge to satisfy a craving immediately without considering the long-term effects of your decision or the bigger picture. In this case, it happens when you fall for temptation and indulge in impulse buying.
Typically, you will neglect your budget. While spontaneous purchases might feel good at the moment, they can throw your financial planning off course and push you into debt.
To avoid instant gratification, you first need to learn how to delay purchases. Implement a "cooling-off" period and wait 24-48 hours before making a buying decision. Next, plan your big purchases by saving and buying in cash when ready instead of taking a short route of buying on “buy now, pay later” deals or swiping your credit card. Finally, prioritise long-term goals.
A debt repayment plan is a strategic approach you build to pay off all your outstanding debts. Its main benefit is that it allows you to gradually eliminate your debts and gain better control over your financial situation. It'll also help you reduce interest charges, lower debt stress, and prevent default.
Without a debt repayment plan, you can find yourself in a position where you might miss/delay payment, leading to penalties or, worse, borrowing more to repay existing debts or pay bills. This lack of structure can also hinder progress towards being debt-free and cause you to struggle more with debts.
Do you ever feel pressured by the level of success and affluence of your neighbors, friends, peers, or even strangers on social media? Are you tempted to match or surpass their perceived level of success and affluence? That is you trying to keep up with the Joneses.
To "keep up with the Joneses" means to compare your financial status with others and to start competing with them blindly to gain social approval or simply not feel left behind.
Keeping up with the Joneses can trigger a host of financial problems, including the biggest of them, debt. Trying to match someone else's lifestyle often leads to living beyond your means and buying things you can't afford. This will lead to debt accumulation and reliance on loans to save face after you have depleted your income and savings.
To avoid this habit, you will need to learn to cultivate self-confidence, change your circles and associate with friends and peers who share your money principles, and find contentment in your current circumstances as you work towards where you want to be.
Loan stacking happens when you take out multiple loans from different lenders within a short time frame, often without full awareness of the potential consequences.
Consider the case of Daniel, a 35-year-old teacher at a private high school in Nairobi.
When Daniel's salary delay forced him to take a Ksh50,000 digital loan for rent and bills in April, he thought it would be a one-time solution. However, unforeseen expenses continued to crop up. In May, his car broke down, and he needed another Ksh30,000 loan for repairs. In June, his child's medical emergency required yet another Ksh20,000 loan. Each time, he resorted to different lenders, often attracted by quick approval and accessibility
What began as a temporary fix had spiraled into a cycle of loan stacking; and by the start of August, Daniel was servicing four loans from five different lenders.
As seen from Daniels's story, loan stacking can create a vicious cycle where you borrow more, leading to a snowballing effect of ever-increasing debt.
To prevent this, it is essential that you borrow responsibly. Only take out a loan if you have a clear plan for how you'll use the funds and how you'll repay it. Additionally, you should take precautions to prevent loan dependency, such as building an emergency fund.
Consumerism involves frivolously spending money on items or experiences that may not contribute significantly to one's well-being, financial security, or overall life satisfaction. Consumer mindset is often fueled by social comparisons and the fear of missing out (FOMO), impulse spending, and falling for products and service advertisements unknowingly.
Lenders actively market various consumer loans, including personal loans, digital loans, payday loans, and retail credit, making them easily accessible. Individuals tempted by consumerism may turn to these loans to maintain their spending habits after depleting their income, leading to long-term debt struggles.
To prevent consumerism, you should learn to differentiate wants from needs and prioritise the latter. Additionally, you should embrace minimalism by eliminating the non-essentials and all clutter from your budget to ensure you spend money where it matters most.
To retake control of your financial situation and get out of debt, it is important for you to identify the reasons why you are where you are. As such, the first step you need to take is to walk back and figure out where the debt struggles started and what is currently fueling them. Once you fix the root cause, you can start digging out debt.
Finally, consider talking to an expert if your debt struggles are causing you stress or threatening your financial future.