What to Do When Your Debt Feels Hopeless

November 12, 2018

This is a guest post from fellow blogger Kelsey of On My Way to Happiness. As you know, I talk a lot about the power of hope and hopelessness on this blog. I love what Kelsey has to say about navigating her own hopelessness while paying off her debt. Enjoy!


What to Do When Your Debt Feels Hopeless

If you’re living with debt, it can be so easy to feel hopeless. Between not making much progress to not being able to spend freely, it’s easy to let the constraints of debt affect our mental health.

I’ve been there. I had more than one breakdown when I was paying off $30,000 in student loan debt.

When I began my debt free journey, I was determined. I was ready to save every penny and eat rice and ramen every meal until the debt was crushed. I felt the motivation surge through my body.

Then, reality hit. Or should I say, Murphy’s Law hit: Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. That first month, my new health insurance didn’t cover as much as I thought it would and I got slammed with two large surprise bills. We also had an oil tank fill up, six months worth of car payments, and a broken toilet scare.

I felt hopeless. I would think, “Why even bother trying to change my life around? Everything’s just going to go wrong anyway. We’ll never be able to get ahead. I’ll be in debt forever.”

Because I understand and have been through those feelings, I want to try to help as many people as possible avoid hopelessness. It’s a deep, dark, useless hole. We are not productive when we lose hope. Here’s how to keep going even when your debt can feel hopeless.

1. Remember your “why”

Why is it that you decided to take control of your life? Why did you decide to pay off debt? Why did you decide to secure a financial future for your family?

This “why” is your anchor. Without it, the journey can feel fruitless and ridiculously hard. It’s important to develop a strong reason for being on this journey. Continue to go back to it when times get tough.

Related Video: Staying Motivated While Dumping Your Debt

2. Stop comparing yourself

Whenever I see someone I perceive to be doing “better than me”, I feel bad about myself a little bit. I don’t want to and I don’t mean to, but I can’t help it. This applies to saving money, paying off debt, and spending money!

If I see someone on a luxurious vacation, I wish I was there. If I see someone is able to save 60% of their income, I wish I was doing that. If someone is paying off $3,000 debt where I can only pay off $2,000, it makes me want to give up because I feel not as good as them.

This is ludicrous, of course. I don’t want to feel this way, and I 100% know it’s stupid. But I can’t help that twinge of inferiority I feel every time I see these things.

In the past, I would allow the small twinge to expand into full-blown anxiety. Now, I tell myself it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. I immediately remind myself instead of comparing myself, learn from others. If someone is saving 60% of their income, learn how.

Related Reading: 10 Money Habits That Will Make You Broke

3. Focus on the positives

If you are reading this blog post right now, you are fortunate. If you have access to this blog, I am going to make the assumption that you also have:

  • wifi
  • a strong will to improve yourself
  • electricity
  • clean water
  • a roof over your head
  • shoes on your feet
  • soooo much more…

I keep a gratitude journal and I write things in it every night before I go to sleep. Sometimes, it’s an entire page because I keep thinking of more and more things I’m grateful for. On harder days, sometimes it’s just one sentence.

Building the gratitude muscle is important to me. Instead of scanning our lives for everything we don’t like, we should reflect on our days for everything that is going right.

Related Reading: Why Gratitude is Good For Your Finances

4. Make daily payments

Many times, actual wins can lead to psychological wins, which can lead to defeating hopelessness.

What I believe truly saved me from my emotional breakdowns during the months everything was going wrong was the fact that I was making daily payments to my student loan debt account. Right when I got to work, instead of checking my emails or getting coffee, I made a daily payment towards my debt.

Even when I felt hopeless, and was so beyond unmotivated, I still made progress towards my debt. It had become a HABIT to log into my student loan account and make a debt payment. I didn’t put any thought into it, and it didn’t matter how I “felt” that day. I had my daily payment system in place, and I just did that every day no matter what.

Soon enough, the tables turned. Great things began to happen in our lives, and our debt-free journey skyrocketed. I was so glad I created habits and trusted the process. Making daily payments helped so much.

Related Video: Staying Motivated While Dumping Your Debt

5. Start a side hustle

If every month you look at your budget and debt and you feel depressed that you aren’t making more money, maybe it’s time to pick up a side hustle.

Side hustles can skyrocket debt payments because of the extra cash flow, of course. But in my opinion, side hustles have even more benefits!

First of all, if you’re spending time on a side hustle making money, it means you’re NOT spending time SPENDING money. It’s a win-win.

Second, side hustles often bring in positive feelings about money. You feel good about yourself, you feel like you’re worthy of being rich and earning money, and you feel like it’s easy for you to make more.

These positive feelings are, in my opinion, more important than the actual dollar amount coming in. These feelings decrease the level of hopelessness you feel about your debt because money doesn’t seem so challenging anymore.

Related Reading: 50+ Ways to Make More Money When You Work Full-Time

Happiness comes from within

It’s not uncommon if your debt gives you surges of hopelessness. However, we can not let hopelessness, defeat, and depression be our dominant emotions. Use your debt-free journey as a tool to help you grow stronger.

As every day passes, I’m continuously more and more thankful for my student loans. If I never had them, I never would have learned frugal habits. I never would have learned how to reassess what is TRULY important to me — and what I could cut out from my life. I never would have researched personal finance or started my blog, On My Way to Happiness.

Being forced to pay off debt helped me realize the value of money — as well as the value of family, friends, physical health, mental health, my time, and myself.

Cultivate as much gratitude as you can during this journey, and when you can’t, keep making those debt payments anyway. It will pay off soon enough.

Related Video: Hope Your Way Out of Debt


Kelsey is the founder of On My Way to Happiness, a place for millennials looking for “more” through money talk made simple! She’s slashed her grocery budget by over 50%, paid off $30,000 of debt in 1.5 years, and is navigating through this whole ~adulting~ thing with you.

Have you overcome feelings of hopelessness about your finances? What helped you?