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Help I'm Drowning in Debt

In 2007 Jeff and I were drowning in debt. We got a question from one of our listeners, who wrote, “Your story is so inspiring. I would love any resources to help me get out of debt. I'm currently unemployed and my husband and I are drowning in debt with no plan to pay it off.” 

You might be struggling with this right now (because COVID).  It's unfortunate, but it typically takes some sort of catastrophe before you really look at the problem that you're having.  That's what happened to us.

Our Story of Drowning in Debt

In 2006, I was diagnosed with cancer. We almost lost our house. It was devastating. It really made me think about what we were doing financially. We had over $200,000 in debt, and that didn't include our mortgage. Our debt included a home equity line, student loans, credit cards, and probably a car loan as well.

If something were to happen to me, I didn't know what Jeff was going to do. We had no idea what we're going to do, but I knew that we could not keep going the way that we were going. That was just not going to work. Declaring bankruptcy was not an option, because that would not get rid of all debt.  Tax debt will not go away. An student loan debt will not go away. That was a pretty significant chunk of the debt we had. We also had a home equity line, and the only way that was going to go away was if we sold our house. We really like our house. So we decided to buckle down and figure out how we were going to pay this off. 

It takes a lot of courage when you are drowning in debt to ask for help. That's the first step, acknowledging that you have a problem and need to fix it. 

If your drowning in debt there is a way to get out of it

The way that you start is a two-pronged approach. You have to do both. We follow Dave Ramsey and I know Dave Ramsey is not for everybody, but there are some basic things you should do when you are paying off debt.

In order to pay off your debt, you need to have a really good offense and a really good defense. If you're married, you have to do this together. If one of you was on board and the other one isn't, it's not going to work. You won't be able to dig yourself out faster than your spouse can put you back in.  

How to play defense when you're drowning in debt

What does that mean to play offense and defense? Let's start with defense.

Defense means keeping the money in the house. Keeping it in your household so that you can use it to pay off debt.  

Know how much it costs you to run  your house if you're drowning in debt

You have to know how much it costs to run your house. Most people don't know. Money just flows out of their hands. You have to know how much it costs you to run your home. And you've got to put some limits on some things. 

You have to sit down and look at your bills. When you do that, you're probably going to notice things that you really don't need. For example, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and cable. Think about if you really need all that stuff?

After you've looked at things you really don't need, look and see if you have any duplicate of things? For instance, if you have car and home insurance, it might be time to get another quote from a different company.  You could save money that way.

Then, go through all your bills. Write down how much your mortgage or rent is, and how much you are paying for utilities.

Take advantage of the months when utility bills are low to pay off debt

One thing I don't recommend is that you go on an even payment plan with your utility companies.  Especially if you live somewhere like New England, or anywhere with a cold winter and hot summer. There are going to be times in the spring, and in the fall where you're energy bill will be really lows. You're not using the heat.  And you haven't turned on the air conditioning yet.  These months are great to pay off debt. You'll have extra money to throw at your debt.

If you have an equal payment plan, you will never have that. Pay what you actually owe on your utilities.

Figure out how much you spend on food when you're drowning in debt

If you don't know how much you spend on food, write everything down.  Then set a budget for food. (This may not work during COVID though)

You can open up a second checking account and put the grocery money into that account. Spend all your grocery money from there. When that account is out of money, you're done with groceries. You’ve got to figure out what to do for the rest of the month. That's the electronic way of doing the envelope system.

This type of electronic way of doing the envelope system will work great for you if you do a lot of shopping online and don't typically go into the store.  Especially when you are not used to carrying cash around.

You've got to play the defense. Figure out what you can:

  • Cut out
  • Spend less on

So create a budget.  You have to know how much you are spending on everything.  Put your budget in Excel or just write it down on a piece of paper.  But you need to have a budget.

How to play offense when you're drowning in debt

You need to simplify. If you're drowning in credit card debt, stop using credit cards. At some point you've got to say, this is all we have to live on. We have to make this work with the cash that's coming in.

So how can you pay off debt faster? What we did was do every odd job we could find. I installed printers for people. I did a lot of bookkeeping work and extra tax work. Also, I did a lot of consulting work, and taught people how to run their businesses, and showed them a lot of tech stuff.

Jeff was doing tech stuff, building websites for people. He was also helping people do tech support. We did whatever we could find. Any skills we had, we used them to make money.

Be willing to work at anything to pay off debt 

You need to be willing to work at anything to pay off debt. Whether it be waitressing, mowing lawns, pizza delivery, anything.  Have a goal of how much money you have to bring in every single month.

The problem is that many times when you want to pay off debt you aren't willing to do X.  You're not willing to wait tables, work on weekends, not have cable or sell stuff you don't use.

You need to change things to quit drowning in debt

Something has to change if you're going to clean up this mess. Because what you're doing right now is not working. And if you just keep doing what you're doing, nothing is going to change. You have to change something. So you’ve got to change up your defense. You’ve got to change up your offense. 

That is how the Patriots came back from a 28 to three deficit in the Superbowl.  They changed everything up. They said, okay, this is not working. Clearly. And they won the super bowl. If you want to win this game, something has got to change.

That's how we did it. We're still relatively frugal. My car is eight years old. Jeff's car is seven years old. Could we buy new cars tomorrow? Yes, but I don't really see the point, especially right now. We're not driving anywhere. 

You can have a debt-free life after drowning in debt

I cannot tell you how amazing it feels to not have to worry about money. Even if all of our current sources of income dried up, Jeff and I could go work at Walmart or go to tech support somewhere, or I could do taxes for H&R Block, or whatever… and be able to pay our bills. 

It’s amazing. That's because we paid off all our debt. We have our mortgage, we have our living expenses. That is it. And we built up savings in a savings account. 

I can't tell you how much better that feels. If you are drowning in a lot of debt right now, I know how that feels. I've been there before. Think about how that feels. What if that was gone? I'll tell you. It is amazing.

If you're drowning in debt you have to be willing to change things

I know it seems like it's impossible, but it's not forever. Here's the thing. If you don't clean up your mess, you are going to feel like that forever. Or, you can feel pain because you can't buy everything that you want when you want it. Or you might have to work some extra hours for a job that you might not be thrilled about for maybe a couple of years, and then it's over. You could clean up your mess for a couple of years and then never feel that way again. That's pretty awesome. It really is. 

I hope that it's helped inspire you a little bit. If you want more specifics on how to get started, how to get going, go to Ask kristin.net to ask your questions, or leave a comment below. I'd love to help you with this.

I wrote a blog called Payment Free Life. It's still up online. You can go check that out as well. I would love to help you navigate this. If this was helpful for you, or if you know people that need to get out of debt and you can't really have that talk with people, you could share this on your social. Who knows, someone might pick it up and listen to it and you could help change somebody else's life.

Links Mentioned




Help! I"m drowning in debt

​Disclosure: We professionally create this podcast that receives compensation from companies that we talk about. So you must assume that any link you click is an affiliate link. Kristin and Ingram Digital Media only have affiliate relationships with companies that we believe in wholeheartedly. We are independently owned, and all of our opinions are​ our own.


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