Midlife is supposed to be when we start to enjoy it all. In theory, we’ve had a great job that’s provided for us over the years. By now, we’re supposed to have a beautiful home, fancy cars and an enviable lifestyle. That’s not always the case, though. In reality, many Midlifers are in serious trouble financially, and don’t know how to get out of debt. Their credit card debt alone is crushing, and they feel unprepared for retirement.
This is tragic. Our nation is filled with men and women who have been working hard for twenty-five years or more, but they feel trapped because of money. Their dreams are pushed away because they are living paycheck to paycheck, despite being middle aged.
Here’s a secret: money isn’t the real goal.
Many Midlifers grew up during the 1980’s. Those were the glory days in our US economy, remember? Business was booming, spending was rampant and everyone was taught they deserve the good life.
It was a time of excess, and unfortunately, it shaped the mindsets of many of us. Our inner templates tell many of us we should live a certain lifestyle, even though the world has radically changed. We were told growing up that we deserve a certain lifestyle, but for many of us, it may no longer be possible.
We don’t want to accept that new reality though, so we chase our dreams with plastic, running up bills for thousands of dollars in order to be surrounded by toys, symbols and things.
Listen closely, please: you don’t want the things. You want what the things represent.
Enter advertising, which makes you feel pain that isn’t really there.
Pick a product. Any product. Let’s start with toothpaste. Toothpaste is designed to clean your teeth and prevent oral disease. That’s all. That sounds boring though, doesn’t it? Instead, let’s think of toothpaste as something that will give you a winning smile, so you can impress the people around you, in order to somehow become rich and live the lifestyle you’ve been told you deserve.
See how it works?…
Advertisers and big media work together to create pain in your life you wouldn’t otherwise feel, and then provide you with a solution. The solution costs money, but that’s okay. That’s just part of the deal.
Toothpaste is a simple example, but this method applies to every single thing in your life.
Just in case you’re struggling, here are some ideas on how to get out of debt.
Step One: stop listening to media and the advertisers.
Tune out the input that you need more. Ignore the ads, turn away from the temptation and stop believing you are inadequate. Everything out there is telling you you’re not good enough, and the product they are hawking will fix you. It will make you thinner, richer, younger-looking, more beautiful, more manly–more something. The message they’re promoting is that something about you is not good enough.
Huh? Who needs to hear that?
Stop listening, Friend.
Step Two: figure out what matters most to you, so you have a goal for your money.
What matters most to you? Which hobbies do you value? What activities do you enjoy most? These are all questions to ask yourself, in order to start narrowing where you want to put your resources. If you love to travel, you might decide to have a very simple car. This will give you more money towards your travel expenses, because exotic trips make you happier than fancy cars.
Or you might enjoy playing the piano. Stop incurring debt on things that don’t matter as much to you, so you have cash available when you want to take more lessons.
Step Three: realize you already have enough stuff.
Take a good look around your home. What more do you need? I’m betting as a Midlifer who lives in America, you have plenty of clothes, home decor, kitchen accessories, furniture, things to entertain you–stuff. You don’t need anymore, Friend. I promise.
Instead, you need to acknowledge the things you already have, most of which (hopefully) you’ve already paid for. Use some of your existing stuff, instead of chasing down more.
Seriously. You do not need to bring one more thing into your house, do you?…
Step Four: challenge yourself to not buy anything for thirty days.
Food, medicine and things required for living are okay. Feel free to make any of those purchases over the next month, but skip everything else.
Most likely, you’re not aware how much money you spend on things you don’t need, because you’re so used to spending. It’s simply become a habit, and like many habits–sometimes going cold turkey is the best way to create a change.
So no spending for thirty days, Friend. Instead, use what you’ve already got.
Step Five: stop using your credit cards.
Here’s a trick to help you stop using plastic to pay for your life. Take your credit card, and place it inside of a plastic ziplock bag. Then fill the bag with water, and put it in the freezer.
Allow the bag to freeze solid.
Now you’ll have to thaw this bag every time you want to use your card. This will give you a ‘timeout’ period to really decide if swiping that card is the best idea. You still have the card for emergencies, which is what you’ve said you got it for in the first place. But you’ll need to let the frozen bag melt in order to use the credit card. I’m betting by the time it thaws out, your urge to spend will probably have passed.
Yes, I know.
Step Six: stop being a baby, and get another job if you need to.
This is where some extra-hard work comes in.
Yes–it’s disappointing you’re not making as much as you expected to be at this age, but this is where you are. So quit whining, and let’s figure it out.
Get a second, or even third job, and use that income exclusively for debt reduction. Even if it’s not a lot of income, it’s going towards debt, so you’re ahead.
Since our national economy has changed, many places are only willing to hire part-time workers. This can mean it’s fairly easy to pick up a side gig.
Restaurants and stores are frequently looking for part-time help, so start searching there. Get over your pride, and look instead at your dream.
If you can, find a gig somewhere that supports one of your hobbies or interests. Getting a weekend job at a bicycle store not only brings in some extra cash for bills, it also gives you a discount towards an activity that brings you joy. If you’re an empty-nester, a side job is a great idea. It will help fill the free time you suddenly have, and give you new people to interact with.
Or–create something you can sell. Start knitting or baking, for example. Craft shows are all over the place on the weekends, and every little bit adds up. Make something you enjoy creating, and then sell you wares. Or consider starting a side hustle where you help older people with home or yard maintenance, and put that money towards your credit card bills.
Figure out a good or service that you can present to the world, and then do it.
Yes, it’s tough.
But it can be done.
Step Seven: stop telling me you don’t have time for a part-time job.
Do you have time to watch television? Do you have time to surf the internet? Sure you do.
If you have time for those things, then you have time to pick up a side gig.
No, it’s neither fun nor glamorous. It’s also not where you expected yourself to be at this age.
You incurred the debt. Now you have to work to get rid of it, because that’s the only way it will disappear.
Step Eight: sell off all of those things you don’t need.
Remember all that stuff we talked about earlier? The extra clothes, home furnishings, books, kitchen gadgets–the stuff crowding your home?
Get rid of it.
When my husband and I downsized, we used this book as a guide: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.
It was extremely helpful, and gave us a logical method to get rid of possessions we no longer needed.
At the end of the process, we found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of things we no longer wanted, so we sold it all.
We used Craigslist, Ebay, Facebook and yard sales to get rid of our belongings.
Then we took the money we received, and used that towards knocking out debt.
Step Nine: use the Snowball Method to pay off your bills.
In a nutshell, here’s how it works. List out all of your debts, smallest to largest. Let’s say you have four major debts. Pay the smallest one off as quickly as you can. Now you have three remaining debts. Take the money you were using for your smallest debt before you paid it off, and now add it towards the third, which is now your smallest debt. Once the third debt is paid off, take the money you were using there and apply it towards the second. Continue this pattern, and you will knock out your debts one by one.
Step Ten: know when it’s time to ask for help if you’re in over your head.
There are plenty of certified financial planners out there who can help with your particular circumstances, whatever they are. Everyone’s life is different, and maybe it would make sense for you to get a debt consolidation loan. Or maybe you have an asset that’s starting to cost you money because of maintenance or taxes, and you’re wondering if it’s time to sell. Perhaps you’re upside down with your car or home, and don’t know what to do next.
There’s no shame in finding an expert, sharing your financial problems, and having him or her create a plan of attack for you.
These suggestions I’ve shared are not meant to be comprehensive, just basic and solid steps that will get you started.
Knowing how to get out of debt is not something any of us inherently know, necessarily.
So ask for help if you need it, and start being more strategic with your assets. With discipline and motivation, you can get rid of your debt.
I’d love to hear other ideas you may have about debt reduction during this stage of life.
Do you have other ways to manage debt as a Midlifer? Please feel free to comment below, and remember to subscribe, so we can stay in touch!
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**Chanler Jeffers has seen many extraordinary things over her lifetime. An adventurer, survivor, overachiever and advocate of kindness in all instances, she has been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE), and is a member of their Circle of Champions. She has had the good fortune to live and travel all over the world, grew up as a military dependent and was a single parent for many years. She has survived cancer, and gently shaped countless people over her years on this little planet we call home. Follow along as she shares her knowledge, her experience and her love. Oh, by the way–one more thing. She’s married to a Bass playing rock star, lucky girl.
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