When asked what Americans might consider the most difficult topics to discuss with others, you might expect to hear something potentially heavy like “politics,” “death” or “religion.” It may surprise you to learn that personal finance actually takes the top spot in this regard, with 44 percent of people in the U.S. viewing it as the most challenging subject to bring up in conversation.
So, discussing money is already considered tough, or even taboo, in the eyes of many Americans. Discussing debt can be even harder — as many people feel they’re alone in their financial struggles, or others will judge them for owing money. The stigma surrounding debt unfortunately causes many people to feel shame, which in turn can fuel denial, depression, anxiety and other negative feelings.
Here are some tips for overcoming the shame of debt — the first step toward addressing it head-on and hopefully alleviating some of the negative mental effects of owing money.
Practice Talking About Money
A small step toward defeating debt stigma is talking about money and debt in your relationships. While it’s completely normal to feel nervous at first, these discussions can bring you closer to your loved ones. They may even empathize with your situation and provide firsthand advice.
Here are a few tips for broaching the subject of money with a partner:
- Take baby steps in bringing up money-related topics.
- Share your money goals, including when and how you hope to pay off debts.
- Cheer each other on and hold each other accountable for those goals.
- Discuss your deeper money values surrounding saving, spending and investing.
- Create a safe space to ask each other questions and share experiences.
The more we normalize talking about money with trusted people in our lives, the more we push back against debt-inspired shame and loneliness.
Seek Out Debt Stories and Advice from Others
Whether or not your loved ones have dealt with debt personally, there’s a treasure trove of experiences available online from all kinds of borrowers. Chances are you can quickly find someone in a similar situation and use their experience to help you feel empowered and make decisions related to debt. Millions of people have gone through debt management programs, debt consolidation, debt relief programs and bankruptcy. Seek out these stories to get insights on debt “straight from the horse’s mouth.”
Revisit Your Budget & Get a Repayment Plan
As intimidating as the idea of facing your financial reality head-on can seem at first, creating an airtight budget is a foundational building block in the debt repayment process. Digging into your monthly spending habits can help you free up extra funds to devote to paying down debt.
Listing out all your debt helps you wrap your head around them. You can also prioritize them for better results. Some borrowers use the debt snowball method to tackle debts from tiniest balance to largest balance. This tends to help build momentum as you go which can encourage you to stay the course until every balance has been addressed. Others try avalanching their debts, or prioritizing the account with the highest interest rate before moving down the line one at a time.
Work on Boosting Your Financial Literacy
One study found financial illiteracy is associated with less self-control when it comes to money and more burdensome debt. This just goes to show learning is a tool we can use to fight back against debt — both its consequences and the strain it puts on our mental health. Boosting financial literacy helps us feel more empowered to change our financial situations for the better rather than stew in shame and secrecy.
A few ways to boost financial literacy include meeting with a credit counselor, taking a class (in person or online), watching YouTube videos, hiring a financial advisor and asking people you know for advice and resources.
Overcoming shame associated with debt is a matter of educating yourself, budgeting effectively, coming up with a repayment plan and getting more comfortable being open about money with loved ones.