When Megan (known online as M.C. Starbuck) finally paid off the last of her $25k student loan debt, she realised that she had learned a few things from the experience. She felt a huge sense of relief – the weight was gone. Along the way, she’d gotten rid of the clutter in her life.
But after making that final payment, she felt exhausted. She felt poor. She had to remember all over again that there were things to be grateful in life – the very things that had gotten her through the 3 years it took her to repay her debt.
What helped her to get rid of debt? Gratitude. When you’re content with what you have, you stop trying to get “more useless junk” to fill the void.
How to fill your life with gratitude when life feels sparse
When you’re budgeting and scrimping and saving, let’s face it, life can often feel a little sparse. You might wonder what there is to be grateful for when you’re eating leftovers and you haven’t bought yourself a cafe coffee in months.
Practising gratitude can be vital in times like these. According to Berkeley University’s renowned Greater Good Science Center, gratitude has been scientifically proven to:
- Increase positive emotions
- Reduce the risk of depression
- Heighten relationship satisfaction
- Increase resilience in the face of stressful life events
- And more!
Your friends and family will thank you for practising gratitude. Studies have shown that while materialism (which leads to debt) is a relationship killer, gratitude is a relationship builder.
How being grateful will help you get rid of your debt
Here are four ways Megan found that gratitude can help us to get rid of our debt:
- Get rid of everything you don’t need. Others will be grateful for something we don’t even use, and we will see that actually we do have everything that we need, and do not need more. When you have less stuff, you might even be able to live in a smaller, less expensive home. Donate the clothes you don’t wear to an opp shop, and give away that extra desk that just takes up space to a refugee centre near you.
- To overcome your reluctance to part with an item – or your debt – think of how grateful you will be when it is gone. “Instead of focusing on all the reasons we want to keep it, we should try thinking of all the reasons we’ll be glad it’s gone.”
- When we are using what we do have (and are grateful that we have even that much), we’ll be too busy to miss what we gave up. If we complain about what we don’t have or what we “need”, we’re wasting a beautiful moment. “Let’s be thankful when we get what we want rather than taking it for granted as a need.“
- Gratitude stops us from impulse spending. The less you go to the shops, the more you have a more positive state of mind because you’re not looking for more things to make you feel happy. This also prevents buyer’s remorse!
How you can practise being more grateful
Here are four ways to practise gratitude, suggested by the Greater Good Science Center:
- Count your blessings – and name them! Try listing Three Good Things that happened in your day over dinner.
- Mental subtraction – list some good things that have happened, then think what life would be like if they hadn’t happened. This is the Mental Subtraction of Positive Events practice; do it anytime you feel like paying off your debt is too much hard work. Remember that paying off your debt will allow more good things to happen.
- Try savouring a moment, not a purchase – go for a walk and really focus on enjoying it.
- Say thank you to someone for something they did.
And here’s my own personal “bonus tip”:
Find friends who focus on gratitude and people, not the things they have and the things they want.
Studies from the 1990s showed that when people are in debt, there are likely to be some psychological factors going on. People in debt have more permissive attitudes (they are more likely to say it’s okay to be in debt), and they usually have friends who are also in debt. You are who you hang out with – so hang out with people who practise gratitude instead of increasing their own debt.
If you’ve tried all of the above ideas and you still need more help being grateful for what you have, I challenge you to try doing the 365Grateful project. In 365Grateful, a young mum struggling with post-natal depression began taking one photograph per day of something good that happened that day – something she was grateful for. She soon found that she felt content with her life, and that she loved her child and her husband more than ever.
One way to de-clutter your debt
A 2011 study found that people will tend to pay off small debts first, in order to feel a sense of accomplishment. But in reality, the best strategy is actually to work towards repaying the debt that has the higher interest rate or is the largest.
In order to accomplish this, you may need to de-clutter your debt by putting it all in one place, with a lower interest rate. A balance transfer can be a good way to do this if you can manage to repay the debt by the time the nice, low introductory interest rate period finishes.