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5 Steps to Lower Your Financial Stress When You’re Drowning in Debt

Posted by on April 13, 2019 in Conscious Evolution, Conscious Living, Thrive with 0 Comments

By Sam Theron |  Tiny Buddha

“You can’t calm the storm, so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.” ~Timber Hawkeye

I never anticipated the stress and pressure that come when you are no longer able to pay your bills on time.

Knowing that you owe money, and that your current income isn’t going to cover it, is a heavy reality to face.

I found myself starting to envy low-income, salaried employees. Even though they don’t earn a lot, which I’m sure brings its own challenges, they aren’t eligible to receive huge credit. This protects them from ever finding themselves owing millions.

My husband and I have recently gone through a time when we found ourselves way overextended. Due to a series of bad beats and various twists of fate, we found ourselves in over our heads. And this is not a good space to be in.

It’s a sickening feeling that has seemed to overshadow all the other areas of our lives. We’ve felt unable to breathe, knowing that debt is hanging over us. When the phone rings from an unknown number, we’re hesitant to answer it. It could be someone wanting to know when we will pay a bill.

Small Beginnings

It didn’t start out like this. Let me backtrack. I grew up on a farm in an average-income-earning household. Although we didn’t lack for anything, we weren’t wealthy.

My husband and I married early on in life and started out with very little. We set up a small business from home soon after we got married. I was halfway through studies at the time and managed to juggle both. Our expenses were minimal, and even though it felt like hard work, we seemed to prosper.

Friends would comment and say we had the Midas touch. As the business grew and branched out, money always seemed to be plentiful. We didn’t start out intending to reach a massive bank balance. Our aim had been to reach financial independence sooner than later. Words like “budget” or “frugalness” never seemed to enter our thinking though.

Over the years, we upgraded our living, our home, our cars. We took overseas holidays and bought properties. As our affordability increased, so did our expenses. In a short space of time, we up-leveled our lifestyle requirements.

The Storm

The stress and anxiety of knowing you are unable to catch up on financial commitments is scary. We had some business ventures fail, we bought out a partner, there was a notable economic downturn. We had new competitors enter the market that we could no longer match, as our running costs had become so high.

Then things came to a boiling point; a perfect storm was in the making. A few clients didn’t pay for larger projects. This meant we had to put out money to complete the work, but nothing was coming in. Our rental property didn’t have a tenant in it for a few months, and major maintenance needed doing. Staff went on strike, and several employees had to get retrenched and paid out.

The strain on our marriage was palpable. The weightiness of the situation was hard to bear. There wasn’t going to be a quick-fix solution. We had to rally, face this storm head on, and ride it out over the next two years.


We took massive action to downscale. It’s very easy to upscale and commit to new financial obligations. Downscaling is hard because it feels like you’re taking a step backward. And in a sense, you are, although you’re going back to go forward.

The new forward for me looks like being out of debt. The new goal is to have a business buffer of funds available to get through unexpected setbacks. We never want to experience the stranglehold of debt again. No fancy dining or luxury goods are worth the stress and worry of financial pressure.

And so, we downscaled throughout the business. Everything got cut back down to size. All the unnecessary extras we didn’t need got cut away. We opted to move home. We cut our rental amount by a third.

I swapped my shiny floors and designer fittings for a modest, old-school, rustic duplex. We no longer have to worry about hiring a gardener or keeping the pool clean. We cut up our credit cards and canceled every debit order we could.

We Have Everything We Need

To be honest, we still lived well and had everything we needed. But only just. When our new large screen TV stopped working, a month or so out of warranty, we started to use an old spare one we had in the garage. When winter came around, I took my allocated winter clothes budget and put it toward better use. That year I made do with what I had. Priorities dictated there were more pressing things to spend on.

My motto became “If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.” Look for cheaper alternatives. This may be obvious to people who earn a set income and aren’t in a position to over-spend. But it seemed I had to re-learn it.

For a year, my children didn’t get any new toys. In fact, I packed all the old ones away, only took out a few at a time, and tried to think of creative ways we could play with them.

By the time Christmas rolled around, there was a financial improvement, so we spoiled the children with presents. The funny thing is, the novelty of the new toys wore off quickly. They didn’t seem to play with the new ones any more than they did the old ones. It seemed the more they had, the less they appreciated it.

If you’re going through something similar—if you’re drowning in debt and need to claw your way out—perhaps my lessons may help.

5 Steps to Lowering Financial Stress

1. Know exactly where you stand.

Get all your financials listed on a spreadsheet. Open communication is key between the role-players involved. List all your debt, liabilities, and expenses, and your income, investments, and assets.

The starting point is to gain clarity on where you stand. You need to know how far you have fallen behind so you can plan to rectify your situation as soon as possible.

It’s easy to start blaming or regretting or going around in “if only I had done this” circles. We had made one bad judgment call, and that may have changed everything. In hindsight it seems so obvious, but at the time we did what we thought was best.

We had to stop hypothesizing and going back over bad decisions. We needed to work as a team, and now more than ever, we had to support each other, and not go back to “we should’ve.”

2. Make a plan.

After getting a realistic view on where exactly you stand, you can start working on a plan.

Although we felt like throwing in the towel, we had to get our mindset right.

There are usually more options than you think to get things back on track. Under stress we tend to go into survival mode, and this isn’t conducive to creative problem solving.

Try to take the emotion of the situation away when you start to problem solve. Imagine this scenario is happening to someone else, and you’re there to help figure it out with them. You will need to research various options.

Try to make a plan, even if your initial plan changes along the way. It’s important to gain back your sense of control.

Communicate with the role-players. If you owe the bank or your credit providers, call them and meet up to discuss options. Ask for extensions. Get advice from people who have gone through similar experiences.


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