The Danger Of Normalizing Your Debt – Stop Living Like Everyone Else

Instead of living debt free, we’re currently in a debt crisis, and I’m not being political when I say that. I’m talking about a personal debt crisis in which the average person pays for many purchases, both small and large, with money they don’t actually have, therefore taking on more and more debt. And, the…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: October 18, 2020

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Instead of living debt free, we’re currently in a debt crisis, and I’m not being political when I say that. I’m talking about a personal debt crisis in which the average person pays for many purchases, both small and large, with money they don’t actually have, therefore taking on more and more debt.

The average person has a lot of debt and due to that, we are currently in a personal debt crisis. However, you should start living debt free ASAP!And, the scary thing is that many people consider debt to be normal, so they have no problem taking on debt to pay for things. But, just because everyone else is doing it, that doesn’t mean you need to as well.

The average person has a lot of debt – in fact, the average U.S. household has over $10,000 in credit card debt alone. Between high mortgages, disastrous credit card bills, student loans, car payments, all the way to loans for furniture and weddings, there is just too much debt.

There are loans for everything, and sadly, many only look at the monthly payment to determine whether or not they can make their purchase.

Some look to debt as a way of affording things for the rest of their lives. Instead of being more realistic with their finances, many people even “budget” debt well into their future. Think I’m joking?

Take new car loans, instead of paying off their car and keeping it for years, many people will upgrade once their car payment is done. Rather than being happy with what they have, including that eliminated debt, many think when the car payment is done, it’s time to get a new car and take on a new loan.

So, instead of debt only being temporary, the average person sees debt as a permanent situation.

Related: 30+ Ways To Save Money Each Month

Plus, in an attempt to feel normal, many people compare the amount of debt they have to that of others.

An example would be if you are 30 and the average 30-year-old has $10,000 worth of credit card debt (I completely made that number up), a mortgage, student loans, appliance loans, a wedding loan, and more. You then use this amount as a “guide” to feel more comfortable about your debt and spending levels. So, instead of focusing on living debt free, you may think it’s fine to have that much debt because it seems like everyone else your age has the same debt.

However, WHO CARES how much debt another person has? How exactly does knowing how much average debt a random 30-year-old has affect you?

Is that person you?


So, why would another person’s amount of debt even matter to you? That makes no sense!

Just because someone else has lots of debt does not mean that you should too. You never know, this amount may be breaking them on the inside even if they aren’t showing it.

Of course, not all debt is bad – it becomes bad when you are paying high interest charges that are impossible to dig yourself out of, when you can’t afford necessities, when you are experiencing financial stress, when you aren’t saving for retirement, and more.

Continually taking on debt will take a toll on you, and it can lead to digging yourself further and further into a hole that just gets more and more difficult to dig yourself out of.

For the average person, debt can lead to a lot of problems.

After all, can you really be happy when you’re up to your eyeballs in debt?

Here’s what you should do to stop normalizing your debt and start living debt free.


Stop thinking that debt is normal.

Debt should not be normal. Just think about what life would be like if everyone was living debt free? What it we only purchased things we could afford? And, if we did need to take on debt, what it we were more selective and careful when doing so?

You shouldn’t have the mindset that debt is a normal part of life, because this leads to thinking it’s okay to use debt to pay for everything instead of focusing on living debt free.

You should make sure that you can actually afford the purchases you are making, and not by just looking at the monthly payment. You should make sure to fully analyze your purchases, differentiate between wants and needs (this is discussed below), and budget more realistically for your purchases.

Taking on large amounts of debt is not something the average person will want to do; instead you should prioritize living debt free so that you can be in control of your financial situation well into the future.


Stop with the excuses.

Everyone is guilty of making excuses, and I know that people will continue to make them until they realize that excuses are just that- excuses.

Just think about the last time you said “That won’t work for me because (insert your excuse here).”

As a personal finance expert, I hear a lot of reasons for using debt to pay for all sorts of purchases.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons for why some people have debt, but there are just as many people making excuses for it.

The problem with making excuses is that this bad money habit can hold you back, which means that you may never reach your life goals or be living debt free.

To put it simply, excuses prevent you from living the life you want. You’re giving up before you’ve even begun.

Learn more at Are Your Excuses Making You Broke And Unsuccessful?


Have a budget.

If you don’t have a budget or if your budget is not a good one, then this may be why you are using debt to fund your lifestyle.

A good and realistic budget can help you manage your money better. Yes, a simple piece of paper where you jot down your budget will help you start living debt free.

A budget can help you realize where you might be going wrong with your finances and how to fix any financial issues that you have. A budget will also help you realize why you are in debt and what you need to do to free yourself from it.

Many people are afraid to create a budget because it means they will have to finally face their spending. If this is why you don’t have a budget, then please, just face your fears so you can start living debt free.


Realize that debt causes a lot of financial stress.

Just because you see that others have a car payment, mortgage, monthly home entertainment loan, and so on, doesn’t mean that you need to have all of that too.

Remember, debt adds a lot of financial stress to a person’s life. The amount of happiness you get from purchasing something can never match the amount of hardship having debt will add to your life.

Debt can cause a person to:

  • Not reach retirement
  • Not reach their dreams
  • Have fewer days off
  • Stress about keeping up with others
  • Stress over paying bills

And more!

Living debt free means you can be in control and live the life you want.

If you make the decision to stop normalizing your debt, you may be able to retire sooner, build an emergency fund, go on a dream vacation, and more.


Your credit card is not an income source.

Some people normalize their debt by thinking their credit cards are an income source.

Your credit card limit, especially a high one, does not mean you have money to spend on whatever you want.

Your credit card is not a new income source. If you treat your credit card this way, then you should cancel it now as you are going into unnecessary debt.

If you are using a credit card, you should be paying off that balance each month so that you are not racking up interest charges and late fees.


Stop thinking that you deserve everything you buy.

Yes, you may be awesome and think you deserve something, but should you really be buying it? Just because someone else bought a 100 inch 3D TV (or a mansion, nice car, gadgets, paid for a crazy-expensive wedding, etc.) that doesn’t mean you should as well.

You might think “oh, well they have a comparable job to mine, so, if they can afford it, then I can too.”

The reality is you have no idea how this person is paying for these things. Maybe they saved for years, or maybe they are just putting everything on credit cards.

If you think you deserve everything, you are falling into a vicious debt cycle that may never end. Instead, you should be realistic with your financial situation and only buy what you can truly afford.

Related: Stop Comparing Yourself To Others And Live Your Own Life.


Stop confusing wants with needs.

Some items are needs, but many of the things we buy are just wants. If you don’t realize the difference between your wants and needs, you may feel like you have to take on debt to fund your lifestyle.

Remember, the only things you actually need include a place to live, a certain amount of clothing, food, and water.

Some think cell phones, massive homes, gym memberships, cable, going to restaurants, and so on are all necessary, but they really aren’t. If you can only pay for these things with debt, then you need to start cutting them out of your budget and your life.

Living debt free will be much better than being tied to unnecessary things that you have funded by debt.


Quit buying things to impress others.

Many people normalize their debt because they think they need to impress others, or if someone else purchases something they should be able to do so as well.

Whether you are a young child and want that new toy everyone is playing with, or if you are a parent and are feeling the need to upgrade your house, car, etc., everyone has experienced wanting to keep up with someone else.

The problem is that you can go broke while trying to impress others.

You might spend money you do not have. You might put expenses on credit cards to, in a pretend world, “afford” things. You might even buy things you don’t really care about. The problems can go on and on.

This can lead to a lot of debt and potentially set your financial goals back years, if not decades.

You should stop caring about what other people are buying, and only do what makes you happy and what you can actually afford.


Finally get out of the revolving debt cycle.

Do you feel like you are stuck in a never-ending debt cycle and can’t manage to start living debt free?

Perhaps you keep getting out of debt but continue to fall back into it. That is what a debt crisis cycle is, and many people fall into this cycle and can’t seem to get out.

Falling into debt over and over again can lead to insane amounts of stress, unhappiness, sadness, and feelings of hopelessness. No one wants to experience those negative feelings.

But, I want to tell you that it is possible to get out of the debt cycle, finally start paying off debt once and for all, and start living debt free.

In addition to taking the rest of the advice listed in this article, to get out of a debt cycle, you need to:

  • Face your problem. To begin living debt free, you need to realize why you keep falling into debt. By understanding the problem, you can begin to prevent yourself from falling back into a debt cycle.
  • Add up your total debt. This is related to facing your problem, as adding up your total amount of debt will help you realize how to gain control of it. This will help you truly understand how much debt you are dealing with.
  • Start paying off debt. Paying off debt can lessen your stress levels, allow you to have more money to put towards something else (such as retirement), stop paying interest fees, and more.
  • Create a vision board. A visual reminder, like having your financial goal displayed in front of you, can motivate you towards living debt free.
  • Start an emergency fund. An emergency fund can help you get out of the revolving debt cycle. This is because if an emergency does arise, you won’t be forced to rely on debt in order to solve your situation. Instead, you’ll have your emergency fund to bail you out!

Why are you in debt? Do you want to start living debt free? What does a debt free life look like to you?

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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. Mustard Seed Money

    I paid off all my debt including my mortgage in 2012. I definitely don’t want to go back as not having debt is the best feeling in the world. Before I would worry at night about debt and it consumed my thoughts. Now it’s not something I don’t even think about 🙂

    1. Ricky

      This is awesome, congrats! Do you have any specific tips or tricks that you used to get yourself out of debt (and stay out)?

  2. We’re paying off some credit card debt we have currently. From there, we want to pay off my car and the house. When we were living farther above our means and had the more expensive home in the pricey area, we were stressed out a lot. That has greatly diminished, but we plan to have the cash in the bank before we use a credit card. This way we can get the rewards and just send in a payment for the item right away.

  3. Ryan @ Just Another Dollar

    We woke up in January 2017 with $107,000 in debt and realized the way we were living needed to change. About $80k of it was student loans, but the remaining $27k was credit cards and car loans from living above our means. We had rationalized it for the past two years since graduation that we’d buckle down when we had sufficient income to make progress.

    We spent a lot of time talking and thinking about what we wanted to achieve in our lives, and realized we needed to dump our debt in order to free ourselves from the rat race and make time to pursue our dreams. We’re about 10% into our journey now, and gaining momentum, we should be down to the student loans by the end of summer. Thanks for the great advice!


  4. You are so correct that carrying debt from month to month stresses the heck out of you! A few years ago I was one of those people that normalized debt. I carried a massive credit card bill that kept this fiery ball of stress in my gut month after month. Finally I came to my senses and was able to get that $10,000 bill down to $0. After doing a 180, I now have that same amount sitting in our account just for emergencies! When an emergency comes up, I don’t stress anymore! That cushion of money really relaxes you. We are now working on getting the last $7,000 paid on our car loan to free up another $405 a month! I plan to have that paid off by the end of August.

    As always! Great article!

    – Adam

  5. Paying off debt, even low interest debt, is one of the best things you can do for your finances. It will keep you focused on your money and will eventually lead to new cash flow once the debt is paid off.

  6. Travis

    Debt is definitely a huge source of stress! Personally, I believe when you pay off debt and get your finances in order (along with your health) it helps you to become a better person, spouse, and parent.

    Having that burden on your shoulders make life difficult.

  7. Kelsey Restemayer

    Amen! We have really tried to avoid normalizing financing unnecessary things. We see our friends finance rvs, atvs and other “toys” all the time. Because they can handle the monthly payment.

    Great tips. 🙂

  8. Sara

    We have been following Dave Ramsey and are currently paying off our debts. It is not easy by any means but every month we can feel the load getting lighter. It is freeing and I can’t wait until our only debt is the mortgage (which we intend to pay off early)

  9. Awesome article, Michelle. There’s a saying in the Bible that reads (paraphrasing) “Those who compare themselves among themselves are not wise.” 🙂 That’s what I thought of when I read the part of accepting your debt based on what others have. We used to do the “I deserve” thing too, but then we realized that we deserve financial freedom more than we deserve to buy “stuff”. Woohoo!

  10. Debt causes a lot of stress and stress leads to bad decisions (like buying more stuff because you “deserve” it). It’s a terrible feedback loop. Living with that kind of financial stress on a daily basis really sucks your will power. Without any will power you end up making bad choices.

    I’ve saw it myself when my children were little babies. The lack of sleep plus the stress of work led to quite a bit of impulse buying.

  11. Mike Collins

    I think debt really has become the norm and people use that as a way to justify spending whatever they want. A friend of mine recently justified a rather expensive purchase she was putting on her credit card by saying, “Well I’m going to be in debt until I die anyway so what’s a little more?”

    That’s a really destructive attitude but it just shows how frustrated she has become with her situation.

    1. UGH! That is a horrible way to reason with debt.

  12. Thanks Nick! I don’t think it ends with millennials though – parents are also normalizing college costs by thinking that they (the parents) HAVE to pay for it. I have talked to so many parents who are wrecking their retirement.

  13. Yes, definitely think long and hard about it.

  14. I have treated my credit card like an income source for most of my life. At the beginning of the year I transferred the balance to a 0% for 12 months and deliberately did not activate the card. Now I am paying it off. I bought a new wardrobe last weekend with money I actually have and it felt so ridiculously good. My prior spending was tainted with stress and worry so I never even enjoyed the things. Great article.

  15. Eliza

    Hi Michelle,
    I totally agree with you about the normalising of debt. But even though I know people use debt to ‘look rich’ instead of being rich it can be so difficult to watch your friends spend money on your personal pain points. For me it’s nice houses in good areas (I’m an architect by training). I admit, everytime I hear a friend or collegue say they just bought in a great suburb I start to think maybe we could afford it too. You know, with just a little mortgage….we’d pay it off in 5 years…everyone else does it….. 😉

  16. It’s really fascinating to me how the normalization of debt and the entitlement mentality seem to walk hand in hand. I think you perfectly captured the nature of the problem and offered straightforward solutions.

    I heard a song recently that I think relates well to this article and the idea of impressing others. To paraphrase, it said something along the lines of “growing up I never dreamed of keeping up with the Joneses, I was just happy that they lived next door.” Jealousy and greed are powerful forces.

  17. Lisa

    PREACH MICHELLE! I have a TON of debt and share about it, but I hope that no one looks at my level of debt and says to themselves – Oh, Lisa is $50k+ in debt and I have way less than her, so I’m doing fine! Debt is NOT normal and I wish more people understood this.

  18. I didn’t denounce all debt altogether in this article – not sure if you meant that hypothetically or if that’s what you took out of this blog post.

    I definitely think that debt can be used positively, but for the average person that’s not what they’re doing.

    1. I think it all depends on the person. Debt can definitely be used to a person’s advantage.

  19. Ricky

    These are amazing tips, Michelle. I do think we have a crisis when it comes to debt… too many people normalize it as a part of life. Many people think they can’t get by without debt, when in reality, it should be a last resort. Who wants to live their life in debt? Thanks for the informative post, and keep doing what you do!

  20. When my now-husband and I were first dating, we had very different opinions about debt. I was very strongly against it, and did everything I could to pay down the debt I had. My husband had no debt. Whenever I’d stress about it, he’d say something like “Everyone has debt, who cares?”. Me! I care! I care a lot!
    Unfortunately, he/we now has debt, too. At least he agrees with my way of thinking about it now. Lol

  21. Beth @ The Money Pixie

    You’re so right. It is really easy to fall into the trap that debt is a normal part of life, and there isn’t anything you can or should do about it. That’s especially true if you come from a family that always had a lot of debt as well.

    If you can break out of the rut, you’ll be happier in the long run.

  22. FIbythecommonguy

    Good article and nice reminder. I think that people think the “norm” is to have debt and it is OK. Get caught up in the continuous cycle of debt and justify living with debt. Glad to say, we have a mortgage and 1 car payment left to pay off.

  23. Hey Michelle, great post. I totally agree that we “normalize debt” and one of the main reasons as you know is due to lack of education. Our parent’s parents, lived with debt; our parents lived with debt and subsequently we (I) have live with debt. The cycle needs to end and it begins with educating ourselves and passing that knowledge to our children. My goal is to be debt free before the end of this year and I believe I will do it. So “Here’s to a dream life”, thanks again!

  24. Great post!

    It’s crazy how many of our friends and family don’t have budgets. It’s honestly pretty scary!

    Living is debt is definitely not the way to be.

  25. Great post! Just because everyone is in debt does not make it okay. I currently have debt for my mortgage and that’s it. That’s closer to how it should be, although I am not opposed to having a low interest loan for a car in the future.

  26. Christy

    Divorced, single mom of 3 here and working my butt off to pay off student loans and my car. It is beyond hard with no help from the ex so I’m having to provide for my boys all by myself and work on the debt. Luckily I have always been a minimalist so no credit card debt probs. We live in a very small condo with the least rent I could find and trying to find something even less. I have a small emergency fund of $1000 but it has saved my butt many times. I highly recommend having one. I cannot wait till it’s all done and I’m debt free and can start putting the debt money into savings. I’m in my 40’s and would one day like to actually retire!

  27. Hi Michelle, great post again. I love the idea of saving for emergencies. That’s I what used to do when younger and completed forgot about it! That’s a much better option then using the credit card and having a hard time to pay it off and accumulating debt. Also people tend to spend more when using the credit card because it is easy to think this is not their hard earned money when it is indeed!

  28. I do have some debt I need to take care of. Personal debt. As my business grows, I’m slowly thinking of ways to create multiple streams of income. I don’t like debt because it weighs my mind down and I’m tempted to head on over to South Street in Philly and buy a few good slices of Lorenzo’s pizza. Though their pizza is so good and fattening, it takes away my problems for the moment. Their pizza is just that good. Getting back to debt…I hope to have all my debt zero’d out and my mother’s debts in less than 5 years from now. Thank you for giving me hope about this side hustle stuff Michelle. 🙂

  29. Michelle

    absolute wrong, putting people down in debt. clearly never had to survive