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Should You Hate Debt… Should You Hate Anything?

in Pay Off Your Debt, Rants

Hate Debt

Recently, I had an engaging discussion centered around the question, “Do you hate your debt?”.  Originally, this article was a simple attempt to publicly answer that question, but as I wrote it quickly grew in scope.  In the interest of being authentic, I’ve decided to post what morphed into my reflections on hate in general.  I’m interested to hear what you think.

Hate is a compelling topic for me.  Those of you that have read Man Vs. Debt for a while know that I’m a fairly passionate guy.  I harbor an extremely obsessive personality, which often causes me to balance extreme fits of passion with the constant temptation to hate.

Let’s not get off on the wrong foot, though.  I don’t enjoy hating.  I generally attempt to evade it.  At the same time, we’d both be lying if we didn’t admit that it’s an emotion that has to be dealt with.  Some embrace it.  Others use it to mask insecurity.  A lucky few are able to dismiss it from their lives altogether.  Regardless, it’s real.  It exists.

And there are benefits to hate.  Let’s be honest.  It wouldn’t exist otherwise.  The question each of us have to answer is whether the long-term effects do more harm than good.  Even if so, is there a way to receive the benefits without the negative consequences?

The Case For Hate

It’s common knowledge that you need much more force to change direction than to simply maintain the current path.  It’s easier to go with the flow than struggle against it.

Hate, in combination with its brother disgust, is one of the most powerful ways to rapidly overcome this effect.  Unfortunately, this is human nature.  Think about most “turn around” stories you’ve heard.  Whether they may be about paying off debt, losing weight, or overcoming an addiction.

Very few of these stories talk about how they finally realized they would love being free from debt.  Or how much they would enjoy feeling healthy and fit.  Or how bubbly they would be if they could only stop drinking.  Frankly, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a genuine example of this.

While these might be the underlying motivation, they rarely are able to initiate the turn around themselves.  Instead, we get fed up with sacrificing freedom to monthly debt payments.  We start to hate the fact that we can’t walk up a flight of stairs without being winded.  We become disgusted at how alcohol has dominated our lives.

You see, the problems above feed off a lack of focus.  We aren’t able to mentally conjure together enough strength to stop the momentum of our current destructive habits.  Most of us need a shot of adrenaline.  We need to radically intensify our focus.  This, of course, is where hate is so effective.

But hate does more than just help shove us over our mental tipping points.  It shatters indecision by painting everything in either black or white.  Without all the shades of gray to bog us down, it’s exponentially easier to take immediate and massive action.  There are times in life when this is exactly what we need.

But, obviously, these benefits come at a price.  Tapping into them is a dangerous game.  It’s essential that we know the risks involved.

The Case Against Hate

First, hate is blinding. This is the natural drawback to the benefits of increased focus.  Hate concentrates our focus by narrowing it.  It’s like using a flashlight instead of a candle.  This can be powerful in moderation, but all to often this process is so effective that it becomes addictive.

If you went through life with only a flashlight in hand, you’d miss out on a lot of the beauty of the journey.  Sadly, most people who do this don’t even realize they are missing out.  They never see the light switch on the wall behind them.

Second, not all action is good action. Jolting ourselves into action is powerful, but dangerous if we aren’t able to step back and evaluate our results.  Hate naturally suppresses this sort of self-reflection. It doesn’t want to adapt.  It could care less about new information.  The last thing it wants is more gray.

A ready, fire, aim approach will inevitably result in some stray bullets.  The key is to minimize the risk of them hitting innocent bystanders.  Historically, hate hasn’t done this well.

Lastly, hate begets more hate. It’s cyclical.  It can quickly turn into a nasty downward spiral.  For example, the current war, terrorism, war, terrorism trap we’re in.  I’m not going to pretend to have a solution to an issue that’s been going on for thousands of years.  But I do think the cyclical nature of hate continues to (and has always) played a major role in this.

While I’m not worried about my “debt” hating me back, I am conscious that embracing hate in one are of my life could very well bleed into others.  Maybe my disgust with debt would trickle over onto people who uses it.  Or maybe instead of trying to help people out of their debt problems, I would start judging them and pushing them away.  These are very real possibilities of dabbling with hate.

How My Relationship With Hate Has Evolved

I can admit, that there was a point, not so long ago, when I hated debt.  I really did.  I would go as far to say I took pride in hating my debt.  That’s a pretty intense level.

But I had good reason.  Hating my debt played a crucial element to my financial turnaround. It was the primary source of my motivation when getting started.  Courtney and I took it as far as to literally declare war on our debt, creating a list of principles we’d committed to live by.

Our initial burst of momentum carried us fairly deep.  We both realize that we struggled with balance during that time, but the end result was that we absolutely obliterated our consumer debt.  Frankly, I’ve never really set and tackled a specific goal that well before.  Our hate gave us the leverage we needed to accomplish our goal.

More recently, though, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I no longer hate our remaining debt.  I know Courtney doesn’t, either.  I’m not sure exactly what changed.  While we still owe a small fortune in student loans, I believe we have different associations with this debt.  The level of emotional burden is certainly different, which is why we were able to prioritize saving for our overseas move before continuing with the student loans.

I didn’t notice it at first, but we were slowly beginning to switch from hating our current debt to loving the potential of debt-free living. More and more our focus has shifted towards excitement about the possibilities this freedom would bring.  We’ve began moving towards pleasure instead of away from pain.

While this sort of reframing is refreshing, I will admit that our newfound love has not reached the same intensity that our hate did.  In our financial life, moving away from pain has yielded much more specific and powerful results.  But in the end, I think that our new outlook will result in a much more balanced and fulfilling life.

Hating our debt has done it’s part…  I’m willing to give loving our potential a shot.

I’d love to hear your perspective on this issue. What emotions played a key part in your financial turn-around? Has your experience been similar?  Drastically different?  Join in on the discussion by adding your comments below.

photo by abhi

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Shawanda August 10, 2009 at 8:21 AM

I didn’t get very far into your post before I started trying to identify the feeling that got me to ramp up my savings and pay off my debt. Then you said it:

“Hate, in combination with its brother disgust, is one of the most powerful ways to rapidly overcome this effect.”

I was disgusted. I had a good income, practically no money, and too much debt. The minute I became disgusted with my financial situation, I developed a plan and implemented it. Haven’t looked back since.

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Baker August 10, 2009 at 8:29 AM

Exactly. A huge part of maintaining momentum is not looking back. Love it.

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Ray August 10, 2009 at 8:24 AM

AAhhh Emotions and Finances……a topic that can be discussed for hours…..I personally think hate is an emotion like any other, and you need to feel it in order feel love and understand it.

Hate can be a good motivator but one should never base any decision, especially a financial decision, based on emotions. Emotions (good or bad emotions) will cloud your judgment and although the decision you make may FEEL like a good one, but may not be the best solution. Having said that I understand it is easier said than done, keeping emotions away from decisions can be an almost impossible task for some but it is not impossible if you try and practice over time.

In your case it has worked out well for you (reducing debt because you hate it) but it doesn’t always workout that way.
.-= Ray´s last blog ..Financial Health Day: Is it Time to Take Financial Health Day? =-.

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Baker August 10, 2009 at 8:37 AM

While I understand the theory of your point, I have to disagree about never basing a financial decision on emotions! I actually try to focus on my emotions on MOST financial decision. I think always making the “logical” or the “mathematical” (and ignoring your emotional attachments, responses, etc…) is actually MORE dangerous!

While you shouldn’t allow emotions to DICTATE the decision, you should definitely CONSULT them (a.k.a. not keep them away). It’s a tough balance (as tough as removing them altogether) but it’s something we strive towards!

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Ray August 10, 2009 at 8:49 AM

Agreed. my point was not to ignore emotions altogether, this probably is an almost impossible task, but the point was to not just base the decision on feelings.
i.e. I would love to see Europe, therefore let’s take off 2 months and back pack Europe.

As human beings we can not separate ourselves from our emotions, but need to control the extend of our emotion’s influence on our decisions.
.-= Ray´s last blog ..Financial Health Day: Is it Time to Take Financial Health Day? =-.

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Baker August 10, 2009 at 9:04 AM

I agree completely. Very well summarized!

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Kosmo @ The Casual Observer August 10, 2009 at 8:39 AM

Personally, I’m not very emotional about my finances. To me, they’re just numbers. Sure, I want to make the good numbers higher and the bad numbers lower, but I tend to approach things analytically rather than emotionally.
.-= Kosmo @ The Casual Observer´s last blog ..Monday Miscellany =-.

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FFB August 10, 2009 at 9:11 AM

When I was neck deep in credit card debt I didn’t hate the debt so much as I hated the actions that got me there. Debt is just a figure. It was the fact that I didn’t control my spending that I racked up the debt. I can see how hate can be motivating but it can also be a health risk and put blinders on you as well. My wife and I still have some debt but we don’t hate it. We’d rather not have to pay it but it is what it is. We’re more focused on making sire our habits fit our financial goals than we are hating our debt.
.-= FFB´s last blog ..Saving On Prescription Drug Medication =-.

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Kosmo @ The Casual Observer August 10, 2009 at 9:12 AM

“When I was neck deep in credit card debt I didn’t hate the debt so much as I hated the actions that got me there.”

Good quote.
.-= Kosmo @ The Casual Observer´s last blog ..Monday Miscellany =-.

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Baker August 10, 2009 at 9:18 AM

Great point!

I felt the exact same way. I didn’t hate the literal number (as high as it was), but rather what my debt represented. All the negative behaviors and bad decisions that had combined to get us there.

It’s important that we not deflect the responsibility. While we were able to avoid doing this, it is yet another potential disadvantage of “hating” debt.

Excellent point.

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The Happy Rock August 10, 2009 at 9:20 AM

I can say that the desire for freedom was what changed my financial life around. I knew that there were bigger things to be done in my life and once I realized how much debt was holding me back I went into attack mode. I declared war on debt for a while too, but it was because debt was a roadblock not an enemy.

Our situation was a little different though, even though we had 70k in debt, we had good incomes and where never really ‘under water’. Debt was not really negatively effecting our lives enough for us to have enmity for it.

Finally, I am just not a hating person. I am the kind of person who has a tough time holding a grudge or being angry for more than a moment. The Rockette isn’t quite like that, but she never hated debt(although she didn’t like credit cards).
.-= The Happy Rock´s last blog ..New Jersey 2008 Homestead Rebate Due Date And Other Information =-.

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Baker August 10, 2009 at 9:27 AM

Thanks for the awesome perspective! I find it rare (but encouraging) to hear a story like your own (which I know is a success) which was motivated like this.

It’s an interesting point that you bring up having great incomes. Maybe that did have a little something to do with it. Although, we’ve never felt “under water”, we’ve always had irregular incomes. Some big spurts and a large portion of our recent life as a one income family. So it’s always changing.

While I don’t usually feel myself holding grudges (I’m quick to move on), I can’t say that I’m not motivated by anger. It really helps get me fired up! My goal is to do my very best to ensure that I’m using it to motivate positive changes.

Thanks for the great perspective.

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Kelly August 10, 2009 at 10:34 AM

The problem with hate/disgust/anger for me is that it is not a lasting emotion.
And that I’m EXTREMELY inpatient.

I can get motivated for a month or two with anger, but it eventually leads to a feeling of depression for me.

I’m much more motivated by focusing on the positive impact that paying off debt has on my life. Less stress about money, more financial freedom, higher quality of life.

This is a great discussion.

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Baker August 10, 2009 at 9:34 PM

I totally agree. The impatient feature is one that does help gets us into action, but a lot of the time can cause of to make hasty decisions!

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Craig August 10, 2009 at 3:01 PM

The hate can be positive if it leads to positive actions being taken because of either the hate, fear, of debt and the negative future it can hold. Hating debt is fine in my book, because it can lead to change.

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Baker August 10, 2009 at 9:35 PM

It doesn’t always work perfectly, but what you’ve pointed out is exactly what we strive to do!

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Debt Hater August 10, 2009 at 4:31 PM

This was a great post and particularly interesting to me considering my moniker is Debt HATER! I hated my debt. I hated being in debt. Like FFB, I hated what I did that got me so deep in debt. I hated that I could be so irresponsible. I hated that I had no idea where I stood financially. And it was that frustration that made me get it together — reading books, reading blogs, starting my own blog, creating a budget, paying off the debt, on and on. As time went on, like you, the hate was less motivating than the desire for financial freedom — that light at the end of the tunnel. It became less about hating my debt and more about soon-I-can-go-on-a-real-vacation-without-having-to-charge-it! And stuff like that. Now that I am debt free… hmm… I still hate debt, but not like before. Because now I UNDERSTAND it. I think that’s key. You tend to hate what you don’t understand. Now, if I ever got into that mess again, trust me, I’d HATE it!
.-= Debt Hater´s last blog ..Suddenly, I’m a Cosmetics Fiend =-.

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Baker August 10, 2009 at 9:37 PM

Haha, I should have DM’d you immediately upon posting this with your name!

I hadn’t thought of it, but I think your understanding point has extreme validity here. I think my general progress through the emotions is very relative to my amount of understanding.

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Dave August 10, 2009 at 5:09 PM

I tend to hate some of my regressive actions. I think that hate has propelled me to be a better and more focused person. Similar to your hatred for the debt you once had.

Another thing is that if we rationalize our decisions and actions, we will more than likely make ones that better influence our future. If I rashly buy a $20k car because it looks cool, then there is the possibility that I am going to hate my decision. But if I rationally make better decisions about my car buying , that decision making will help alleviate the frustration later.

There are very few things I hate today and, like you, I try to not hate as much as possible. I think it is just more frustration that either myself or the person/thing I am hating has so much more potential that I am frustrated that I or them are no taking full advantage of said potential.

Great article….

Have a great non-hating day!!!

Dave
LifeExcursion
.-= Dave´s last blog ..Power of ‘No’ =-.

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Travis August 10, 2009 at 8:57 PM

I guess it’s easy to say you “hate” your debt (or anything else for that matter) yet the reality is, for me and many others I’m sure, that half of these things that give us so much frustration allow us to persevere in the end.

Two of the most financially abundant people I know now once were knee deep in debt, and it’s only because of the lessons they learned then that they’re able to be where they’re at now. That’s not to say I encourage anyone to go into debt, but these individuals had such a rude awakening that it shocked them into changing their actions, as the repercussions for not doing so would’ve been dire.
.-= Travis´s last blog ..Keeping Busy =-.

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Baker August 10, 2009 at 9:39 PM

Ah yeah, Travis. You’re totally right. I’m actually that we were able to make this mistake (and catch the mistake) early in life. If we hadn’t got as “fed up” with our situation we could have really got into a bigger mess.

I’m super excited that we’ll have the large majority of our adult life to live debt-free!

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South Texas August 10, 2009 at 9:30 PM

I love to hate my debt? :)

For me, guilt was the predominant emotion I held towards my debt. Guilt about creating the debt in the first place. Though hate was a primary motivator to pay it all off, guilt was just an emotion that made me feel sad, and was therefore unproductive. So in that sense, I think hate is a good thing.

They are paid off now, but I will hate Bank of America forever.

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Baker August 10, 2009 at 9:48 PM

Haha, I almost spit out my drink when I read the last sentence. I can totally relate (my nemesis is Sallie Mae, though).

Guilt played a big part in our turnaround, as well. Especially with the birth of our daughter, I felt extremely guilty having jeopardized HER future with my stupid mistakes.

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South Texas August 12, 2009 at 8:09 PM

Agreed. When I think of all the interest I’ve paid instead of adding to the college fund it makes me feel a tad ill. Also, if my kids were old enough to understand, I would probably have had a different kind of guilt; guilt about setting a bad example. I think that would actually be much worse than not saving for college.

But guilt can be a motivating emotion, too. It can motivate you not to make the same mistakes again in the future. I’d like to think that my guilt can keep me from making less intelligent financial choices in the future (because I know better).

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Matt Jabs August 11, 2009 at 10:02 AM

I HATE articles like this!
.-= Matt Jabs´s last blog ..Monthly Debt Reduction & Savings Statement – July 2009 – Lending Club Edition =-.

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Matt Jabs August 11, 2009 at 10:10 AM

Gotcha! ;-)

Actually you raise great points. Love and hate are like hot an cold or good and bad… without one you can never actually realize the other exists.

Rather than hate I prefer to use the term “righteous anger.” This allows me – as you point out in your article – to more effectively channel and harness the emotion for the betterment of my situation.

Also — as you elude to in the end — balance in all things is paramount… that is why I choose to attack my debt while simultaneously keeping my savings in the forefront. I call it “The Balanced 75/25 Approach.”

Good stuff Baker!
.-= Matt Jabs´s last blog ..Monthly Debt Reduction & Savings Statement – July 2009 – Lending Club Edition =-.

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Baker August 11, 2009 at 9:25 PM

“Righteous Anger” is a great representation for this type of emotion. That’s how a feel!

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Millionaire Mommy Next Door (Jen) August 11, 2009 at 7:25 PM

Another outstanding post, Adam. I appreciate your expressive, honest nature. Now I understand your choice of the word “War” in your blog title. I just added your blog to my blogroll.

Hate was never my driving emotion, it was FEAR. Fear of lack, fear of dependence, fear of failure. Strong emotions — like hate and fear — are powerful motivators. Thankfully, I discovered over time that other, more positive, emotions can be equally powerful. Love, respect, joy.
.-= Millionaire Mommy Next Door (Jen)´s last blog ..How to Make a Million Dollars While Eating Lunch =-.

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Millionaire Mommy Next Door (Jen) August 11, 2009 at 7:29 PM

Now that I proof my comment, I realize your blog title:subtitle doesn’t include the word “war” at all. Did it before? If not, I wonder what gave me that idea? Hmmm. Hate. War.
.-= Millionaire Mommy Next Door (Jen)´s last blog ..How to Make a Million Dollars While Eating Lunch =-.

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Baker August 11, 2009 at 9:28 PM

First, thanks for the kind words. Above all I aim to be genuine and transparent, so I’m really glad to hear that you appreciate that the most!

Fear is yet another great part of this equation. Along with hate, disgust, and guilt. I think they all combined to help push me in one way or another.

Btw, up until last week I had “waging war on debt…” in the header! I also commonly refer to Courtney and my “war on debt” in posts, etc… You aren’t going crazy! :-)

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Kaizan August 13, 2009 at 7:01 AM

I enjoyed this post. (Didn’t hate it!).

I have always felt that if your motivation was focussed on something negative, you were setting yourself up for yoyo situations.

For instance, if your focus is “lose weight”, your motivation to act healthy only lasts until you get back to normal weight. Once the lose weight motivation is gone, you revert back to old habits and gain the weight back.

Similarly, if you hate debt, then your motivation to act in a financially sensible way only lasts as long as you are in debt. As you approach “no-debt”, you take your foot off the accelerator.

I totally agree with you that a “hate” motivator like “get out of debt” is a powerful spur to action, but then it should be quickly replaced with a positive focus or else you condemn yourself to cycles of action and inaction.
.-= Kaizan´s last blog ..If You’re Not Complaining, There’s Something Wrong With You =-.

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The Statement Blog September 2, 2009 at 6:15 PM

I think pride is an interesting emotion – well, maybe more of a feeling – when it comes to debt. I think pride can push many people into debt, particularly when they feel pressured to keep up with the Joneses and live beyond their means.

But at the same time, I’ve seen pride be a great motivator for people who are working on getting rid of their debt. What starts as a little joy over making that first small dent into a massive block of debt can grow and push someone to finish what they started.

Great points all around from lots of people. I think emotion is just a tool that can be used to push people towards or away from debt.

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Funny about Money August 18, 2009 at 3:38 PM

You can talk yourself into hating just about anything or anyone. But hatred is a powerful emotion, one that, like acid, can eat up the person who harbors it. Maybe, then, it would be wise to talk oneself into some other highly motivating emotion — I especially like Matt’s “righteous anger,” which directs the emotion where it belongs (to the one who racked up the debt , to those who charge usurious interest, and to those who made it possible to do so).

Recently my thoughts were running along the same lines as yours, Baker. As I was driving to my job, the words “I hate [my employer]” drifted into my mind, as they do every time I drive to my job. It occurred to me that hating an institution whose combined student body and labor force is larger than the populations of most small cities is about like hating a force of nature. The institution cares about my hatred almost as much as a tornado or an earthquake would care. Why, I wondered, am I wasting energy on this pointless and negative emotion?

There must be a more productive emotion we can use to marshall our efforts.

In my case, I decided to focus not on “hatred” but on feeling that I am done with that institution and on discovering how I’ll live once I am free of the unhappy job. Oddly, this change in focus has made a big difference in my mental outlook.
.-= Funny about Money´s last blog ..Quinoa: Pretty good! =-.

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Joe Morgan September 9, 2009 at 11:09 PM

I think debt is a tool, like money. It’s neither good or evil – it’s how you use it.

I suppose you could also say it’s like alcohol – ok in moderation. It’s when you get too much debt (and the wrong kind) that things get hateful, but I think that’s misplaced. It’s really a form of self loathing that hits people when they realize where they are and what actions got them there.

Regardless of the cause or the emotions involved, you’ve got to change your behavior before your situation will change.
.-= Joe Morgan´s last blog ..How to Avoid Debt After Death. =-.

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Trish September 24, 2010 at 6:28 PM

I don’t hate my debt because I don’t have any!

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