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What Would Americans Be Willing to Do to Get Out of Debt?

By Daniel B. Kline – Updated Apr 11, 2019 at 11:47AM

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Some would make major sacrifices.

If commercials have taught us anything, it's that Americans will go to great lengths to secure something as trivial as a Klondike Bar. Even though these ice-cream treats are readily available for sale, ads say people will cluck like chickens, wear silly outfits, and humiliate themselves just for the delicious snack.

When it comes to getting out of debt, though, at least some Americans are willing to go even further. That's likely because having debt can be a large burden, according to the results of a survey of 2,000 Americans conducted by Freedom Debt Relief, a debt negotiation company. Almost half (46%) of respondents said that debt left them feeling stressed, while 40% said it was causing them to delay life goals, and 12% said they're actually putting off having children due to how much they owe.

The word DEBT -- with a huge eraser next to it -- is written on a blackboard.

Erasing debt requires a plan. Image source: Getty Images.

What would you do?

Debt can be paralyzing in that it takes away the ability to do so many things with your money. It also makes life a lot scarier, because in many cases, people with heavy debt loads have very little in the way of a financial backstop should an emergency arise. In fact, 54% of those surveyed said it "would be difficult to very difficult to handle an unexpected $500 expense."

Because of the problems debt causes for most Americans, many were willing to make some extreme sacrifices if it meant no longer being in debt. Survey respondents could only select one answer, and the most popular action was giving up going out to eat (22%), which was followed by not taking any vacations for 10 years (21%), and giving up the right to vote (13%).

Almost a third of those surveyed were unwilling to give up any of the choices. Smaller numbers would give up their phone (6%), the internet (5%), and their driver's license (3%).

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It takes sacrifice

While there's no debt fairy that makes these sorts of deals, getting out debt does require sacrifice. Realistically, if you have debt and can't meet an unexpected $500 expense, should you be going out to eat or on vacation?

Paying off debt requires a plan that involves spending less money, making more money, or both. Any combination of those requires discipline, and exactly how much depends upon your level of debt.

If you owe a little, well, maybe some small cuts -- one fewer meal out or so a week and maybe bringing lunch more often -- will do it. When you owe more, you need both real discipline and a plan.

The first thing you need to do on your road to getting out of debt is figure out where you stand. How much money comes in each month, and how much goes out? Start with the things you can't immediately control (rent/mortgage, utilities, loan payments, etc.) and then look at discretionary spending.

Start with what you're actually spending each month and then make a budget that you can stick to. Once you do that, any extra cash can go into debt repayment. If there's not enough left over, then you have two choices -- spend less or earn more.

When it's time to start paying off your debt, start with the most expensive debt first -- generally, that means credit card bills (which have high interest rates). Make a plan and stick to it. If you falter, don't use that as an excuse to give up. Admit your mistake, apologize to yourself, forgive yourself, and then get back to it, because being debt free is the only way to free yourself from the stress caused by owing money.

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