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12 Reasons People Stay in Debt

Debt—it’s as normal as waking up in the morning and brushing your teeth, but just because debt seems “normal,” that doesn’t mean you have to live with it forever. We have a little saying around here when it comes to debt: Debt is dumb. It really is. Debt robs your present and steals from your future. Debt keeps you stuck in a cycle that makes it impossible to build wealth. Debt shoves your goals far off into the distant future. But people in debt sometimes can’t see all those things. They’re so caught up with being in debt that they can’t see a way out.

There are all sorts of reasons people choose to live in a cycle of debt instead of taking steps to become debt-free. Don’t fall for any of these!

1. They don’t want to make sacrifices.

Could you give up eating out three nights a week? Or what would your life look like without cable? You’ll never know until you’re willing to give something up in order to build a better future. If you’re up to your eyeballs in debt, something has got to change. You’ll need to give up some things from your lifestyle now in order to live better later. You know that whole “live like no one else so later you can live and give like no one else” thing? Yeah, it’s real. So, ask yourself: What am I willing to temporarily give up so I can stop being in debt?

2. They want to keep up appearances.

This is the dreaded “keeping up with the Joneses” mindset. But little do you know, the Joneses have a leased BMW, an upside-down mortgage, and an unwelcome visitor named Sallie Mae (aka student loans) living in their basement. The Joneses might look like they have it all together on the outside, but they’re the most broke people in your neighborhood. And if you’re not careful, you’ll follow them into bankruptcy by trying to keep up with their every move. If you want to stop being in debt, then don’t let people who are in debt be your role models. 

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If you have trouble constantly falling into the comparison trap, take some good advice from bestselling author and Ramsey Personality Rachel Cruze. In her book Love Your Life, Not Theirs, she shows you how to quit playing the comparison game, how to think before you actually spend money, and how to start saving like you truly mean it. Pretty soon, you’ll be so caught up paying attention to your own life that you’ll find yourself saying, “The Joneses who?”

3. They’re addicted to stuff.

A lot of people in debt love material things. The more they have, the more powerful and confident they feel—and they can never have enough. But it’s all fake. They can’t afford that stuff, and it’s going to weigh them down. At some point, their addiction to debt is going to catch up with them—and it’s not going to be pretty.

Our culture has twisted what it means to actually be able to afford something. Society screams, “If you can ‘afford’ the minimum payment, then go ahead and buy it!” That’s just ridiculous, and it’s a sure ticket that’ll send you straight into piles of debt and years of regret. The reality is, you’ll end up spending more on monthly payments to pay it off than if you would have just bought it outright. Oh, the irony. Instead, don’t buy things you can’t pay for in cash—ever.

4. They’ve lost hope.

When you’re buried under thousands of dollars of debt, it’s easy to feel like there’s no way out. No light at the end of the tunnel. No glimmer of hope for a better tomorrow. After making minimum payments month after month and seeing little or no headway, sometimes you feel like you’ll never make it to your goal. And if you can’t find a reason to keep fighting, sooner or later you’ll probably just throw in the towel.

Some people stay in debt because they’re too afraid to make a move at all. Being in debt can be comfortable, kind of like slowly cooking in a pot of boiling water. It’s warm and cozy at first, but before you know it—you’ve been boiled alive! Yikes! If you’ve always used a credit card and you’ve always had a car payment, sometimes it’s hard to make that change in your life.

Sure, trying to pay off a mountain of debt can be scary and overwhelming. There’s no sugarcoating that. But remember this: Millions of people in debt like you have been there and gotten out by following the 7 Baby Steps. If they can do it, then so can you!

5. They don’t make getting out of debt a priority.

These people have good intentions, but they keep putting off getting out of debt. They say, “I’ll start a budget next month.” But each month passes by, and guess what? Still no budget. Paying off debt isn’t exactly a fun hobby, you know? It takes a lot of work. Changing your lifestyle is pretty dang uncomfortable, but the end result is 100% worth it. Make it a priority, and you won’t be sorry.

6. They don’t know why they handle money the way they do.

Did you know we learn a lot about money before we ever get our first paycheck? Yep. It starts when we’re young. The way your parents handled money and talked about it (or didn’t talk about it) directly impacts how you view money today. Rachel Cruze dives into this in her latest book, Know Yourself, Know Your Money. Learning why you handle money the way you do will help you hit your money goals even faster. You’ll get to the root of all of your decisions—your mind, your behaviors and your beliefs—so you can change your money mindset for good. And who doesn’t want that?

7. They’ve bought into the lies.

Ever heard any of this before? It’s totally normal to have debt hanging around your neck. There’s no point in even trying to pay off debt, because you can’t. You’ll never be debt-free, so why even give it a shot? False. Those are straight-up lies that the toxic money culture is shoving down our throats. And it’s time to speak some truth and expose them for what they are—lies.

8. Their spouse isn’t on the same page.

Money and relationships can be tricky territory no matter what, but it’s even worse when a couple isn’t seeing eye to eye on the game plan. Maybe one of you is fully on board with becoming debt-free and the other isn’t quite convinced that debt is all that bad. But this isn’t a place to be divided. If you really want to get out of debt, you and your spouse have to be on the same page.

And remember, it’s not my money or their money—it’s our money. Once you get married, your vocabulary needs to change. You’re on the same team, and you have to start acting like it if you want to get anywhere.

The same goes for your debt. It’s not his credit card debt or her student loans. It’s your joint debt together. And if you want to get rid of it, you need to tackle it together like the united duo that you are. You’ve got this!

9. They think they don’t make enough money.

Believe it or not, most of the time it’s not someone’s income that’s the problem—it’s their behavior. Spending more money than you make will cause you to stay in debt, plain and simple. That’s why it’s so important to budget. Just making the choice to be intentional with your money will make you feel like you got a raise (more on that later).

Sometimes, it really is an income issue. If that’s the case for you, the great news is you can raise your income—no promotion needed. Start doing things to bring in extra cash! These days, the options are pretty endless. Get a part-time job on nights or weekends, and sell everything that’s been collecting dust in your garage. Drive around for Uber or Lyft, or deliver food to hungry folks through Grubhub or DoorDash. Or maybe it’s time to get bold enough to ask for a raise or spruce up your resumé and start looking for a higher paying job. Don’t let a few dollar signs come between you and being debt-free.

10. They aren’t budgeting.

Our Ramsey Solutions Survey of Consumer Debt shows that only 50% of Americans budget regularly. Well, shoot—no wonder so many people feel like they’re spinning their wheels getting out of debt. If you don’t have a monthly budget, you don’t really have a plan for your money. If you don’t tell your money where to go, you can bet it’s going to be heading for one place—out the window.

Being money smart means more than just tracking your expenses after they’ve already happened. You have to prepare ahead of time and budget for all upcoming expenses. It’s not hard. It just takes a little bit of effort. Our free budgeting app, EveryDollar, takes all the stress out of making a budget. And best of all—you can take your budget with you anywhere you go. Now there’s no excuse for not knowing how much money you have left to buy groceries. Just pull up your app and it’ll let you know.

11. They haven’t cut up their credit cards.

Getting out of debt is amazing. But if you keep those credit cards around for a rainy day or “emergency,” you’re going to land yourself back in debt again. Just don’t do it. Cut them up, close the accounts, and be done with them forever. If you follow our plan, your emergency fund is your safety net—not some overhyped piece of plastic.

12. They don’t have a plan.

These kinds of people have good intentions—they want to kick debt to the curb, but they don’t know how. They’ve been in debt so long that getting out from under $50,000 in credit card bills seems impossible. But it isn’t. People call The Dave Ramsey Show every day to share and celebrate their debt-free victories. The truth is, yeah, getting out of debt isn’t easy. It takes a lot of hard work and discipline. But it’s not impossible. All you need is a plan—and we’ve got one for you.

The debt snowball method is our simple plan for helping you get out of debt. Here’s how to follow it: Start by listing out all your debts from smallest amount to largest amount (don’t worry about the interest rate). Keep paying all the minimum payments on the debts like normal. But that lowest debt on your list is going to get the special treatment. That’s the one you’re going after first.

Attack the smallest debt with everything you’ve got! Any extra income you get, any time you come in under budget, any and all extra cash goes here. Pay it off as fast as you can! Once it’s gone and out of your life forever, take the amount you were paying on it and roll that over to your next debt. Keep this up until you’ve slashed out every single debt on your list.

It’s going to take some time, but you can do this! People make the decision to stop being in debt and change their lives every day. And now it’s your turn! Taking a class like Financial Peace University (FPU) can help you stay on the debt-free journey and learn plenty of other tips for getting rid of your debt. Right now, you can get FPU and more of our online money courses with a free trial of Ramsey+. Take control of your money and your life now and get rid of your debt for good. You’ve got this!

Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners.

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