Becoming Debt Free: Identifying the Why

Chains by sciain @ FlickrI write a lot about our goal of becoming debt free because at the present time it is my family’s number one financial priority.  A number of my recent posts have been centered around the mechanics of getting out of debt, such as sharing strategies for repaying debt faster, earning extra income, to snowball or not snowball, etc.  One aspect I haven’t covered much is the “why.”  Why do I want to be debt free?  Before embarking on any personal improvement project, financial or otherwise, it is important to identify the “why.”  When motivation starts to fade along the way revisiting the “why” can often fire you back up to the level of inspiration you felt day one.

Identifying the “Why”

A couple of my favorite blogs recently shared their motivation for getting out of debt, and the motivations of their readers.  I agree with many of their points, but wanted to identify my own and record them here.

Financial Security for My Family.  Long-time readers know that nearly 100% of my motivation is derived from my wife and kids.  I’ve worked bad jobs, worked side jobs and worked several jobs at once to support my family.  I’m not a martyr – just a Dad who cares far more about the security of his wife and kids than his own well-being.  I recognize that carrying around debt has somewhat reduced my ability to provide additional security for my kids’ futures.  Before they were born I wondered if it was even wise to have a baby while in debt.  I’ve had to scale back college savings, and a few other financial goals for my kids while paying down debt.  It’s hard not to play the “what if” game.  What if we were debt free?  How much more would we have in college savings?  How many more memories could we have created on family vacations?  Playing “what if” isn’t very healthy.  The past cannot be changed, but the path of our financial futures is certainly within our control.

I want to save more so I can give it away.  That sounds like a strange statement, doesn’t it?  What I mean is that over the last couple years there have been several opportunities for us to help a neighbor, family member, and even a stranger or two, but we have had to pass because the majority of our earnings is going to debt reduction.  I long for the day when I can help others, financially.  I want my children to be givers, and I want to set the example.  However, I also believe charity starts at home.  Until my own financial house is in order it makes little sense to try to help others in a significant way.

Reduce stress.   Debt has a way of eating away at you.  When I was deeper in debt than I am now, and before I had a real plan to get out, my debt balance was the last thing I thought about before falling asleep.  And falling asleep was harder to do back then.  I can’t help but wonder if the increased cases of depression, suicide and anxiety disorders aren’t directly attributable to the increased amount of debt we carry as a society.  I’ve heard stories of people taking their lives to escape the bondage of debt, and it is always such a sad reminder of the chains debt can have on our lives.

Simplifying our financial life.  Having payments means more to keep up with each month, and I’m trying to eliminate the number of things to worry about for a more simple existence.  If you have a balance on five credit cards, a mortgage, a car payment, and a department store account you have eight debt payments to keep up with each month.  Sure, they can be automated, but they still have to be recorded, balanced and tracked each month.

One of my favorite lines from the movie Forrest Gump is when Forrest tells the story of Lieutenant Dan investing their shrimp boat money in “some kind of fruit company” (which we know to be Apple Computers), and then told him “we don’t  have to worry about money no more.” Gump replied, “That’s good.  One less thing.”  Gump lived out the remainder of his life in a beautiful debt-free family home caring for his wife and son and not worrying a bit about money.  What an enviable lifestyle!

Having options.   I mentioned working in dead end jobs and toxic work environments because I simply didn’t have a choice.  I had payments to make and mouths to feed.  But what if I had not had those payments?  It is a lot easier to walk away from a bad job when you don’t owe anyone money. How many people do you know (yourself included) who are just going through the motions at their job because they can’t afford to quit?  Just think of all that unrealized potential bottled up thanks to credit card payments.  I want to be free to live out the rest of my life energy applying it to a cause I truly believe in, and doing something that I truly enjoy.

If you are working towards debt freedom, have you identified your “why?”


  1. My why is similar to yours, my husband and my kids. I stay at home and go to school, my husband works. Right now, were not in any financial situation to put our kids in day care ($300 a week just for our Toddler) and actually be able to afford to live. My paycheck would be eaten right up, I only have a highschool degree, I’m working on my college degree now.

    I know without debt, I will feel more relaxed as well as my husband. We’ll be able to provide better for our children and hopefully give them the opportunity to go to any college they wish.

    Great entry, this definetely got me thinking more about my finances and my whys.

  2. I was just thinking about this the other day. M just finished paying off her car and now we are (together) completely debt free. I was lucky of course, I had my parents paying for my education and grad school. So I’ve never really been in any debt, but just hearing the stories out there I’m glad I never was. I’m way too paranoid to deal with it very well. And now we’re looking for a place to buy….oh boy.

  3. The unrealized potential is a big one! Also simpler and less stressful financial life are why we want to get out, and stay out of debt.

  4. This is a great question. My why is because I remember how it felt when we did not have enough to make ends meet and I don’t want to feel like that again. With my husband losing his job for a year (and a substantial amount in savings), we still ended up in debt. I want to have that security and peace that comes from knowing that we could face the unknown. My real question has been what it would it would take to make me feel secure? That is what I am working on now!

    Great post!

  5. I agree with most of your reasons for being debt free. But I have to ask, why is it important that you have significant college savings for your kids?

    Is it so they can go to the school or their choice? So they can graduate debt free? Or are you hoping that college savings will save them from having to think about money during school? I’d be interested to hear about the why.

  6. Thought provoking. I have to commend you for your family-oriented values, I am much the same way. Family’s security comes before my own (although they are of course inter-related). And of course, “one less thing” to worry about is nice too. I still have lists with lots of tasks on them, and I am trying to cut that down as best as I can.

  7. I just want to be debt free so I can sleep at night without worry. At times I think back to what it was like when we first married and went from check to check, unable to buy anything for fun. As the years went on I began to think what would happen if we don’t have money when we retire????? We paid for college for two of the children, paid for a wedding, but we still were not saving enough for retirement. I don’t like dept – it feels great to be debt free and to sleep at night.

  8. I think the desire to be debt free is a notable one.

    Sometimes my mind wonders back to the earlier pioneer days when going “to town” was a probably weekly or monthly event. I mean you had to actually plan for the next time you were going to venture into town to stock up on food, clothing, or whatever else you needed. But, if you can picture this, the ride to the “merchantile store” was filled with barren and scenic land. You did not have to pass 50-75 different places of business, places to spend money, before you got to where you were going.

    Sometimes I just count the number of opportunities I have to spend money just to go from point a to point b. There are shopping malls, restaraunts, electronic stores, beauty parlors, amusement parks, fast food places, recreation places, movie theaters, car dealerships, car washes, oil change pit stops, Wal-marts, Stop N Shop’s, and I could go on and on and on.

    No wonder America is in so much debt.

    It’s crazy!

    So, in our quest to become debt free, let us not forget to be aware of all the temptations that we face throughout the day and muster up the will power to say NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

    Be well.

  9. Being debt free means I am able to sleep at night – that’s mine 🙂
    And to be able to take a less hour/lower paying job so I have time to enjoy my family!!!

  10. We share many of your reasons too. But, our main reason is that we only want to be in debt to one person, Jesus. No home equity line can repay what he gave to us 🙂

  11. Never thought about the why! I mean, your reasons make sense to me… but MY why!??! I’m not sure. But thanks to your post I’ll be thinking about it! thanks!!

  12. Great post! Our motivation is choice. Our biggest debt now is the mortgage, and it eats up half of our income. (Bad choice, but it was cheaper than rent.)

    If we didn’t have the mortgage, oh the things we could do! We plan to pay the mortgage off in 20 years vs. 30, and then cut back on our work hours.

  13. Absolutely true on all accounts. My wife and I are also on a quest to be debt free and along the way have been able to enjoy life as well. In a little over a year our net worth has increased dramatically and we were able to reduce debt by $15,000 and take the family on a 3 week trip to Africa. The WHY is what helps you create the HOW, that makes the WHEN happen.-great article.

  14. I really like this post!

    I agree, the less debt the better. We have enough so that our only debt is our mortgage, and we can help my step children with college, and getting their lives going.

    Beyond that, I work hard not to work too hard. It isn’t always easy, as the demands of my job can snowball if I let them. And it would be nice to have more money. But it’s not worth the price. I mean, it’s equally bad going to the other extreme in terms of stress and quality of life.

    Thanks for a thoughtful article.

  15. Being debt free is the first step to truly enjoying the freedom that we tout so proudly during this celebration we call Independence Day.
    No debt means that I won’t have to keep a job I’m not happy with, I can follow my dreams more easily, I can have ample time for my family, volunteer, you name it.
    I’ve dedicated my life to serving others in career and other choices I’ve made and continue to make, in many different ways. I’m looking forward being able to do that in ways I currently can’t even fathom because of my debt load.

  16. Our reason for getting out of debt is because of the lessons learned through the Bible. God commands us to be debt free. It is a type of slavery and leads to poverty. If you would like to read more…. visit Dave Ramsey’s web or Crown Financial Ministries ( There are over 2300 Bible verses on money, debt, possessions, poverty etc…. That is the “why” for us.

    Alyson LID 01/27/06 (IA China)

  17. I wish I was reading blogs like this a few years ago. I wouldnt be in the shit I am now, owing more than $1,200,000 to friends, family and banks. I would know all the right steps, I would get motivated and inspired… Now all I have left is a site called, which is more an example of what to avoid in life, rather than a cry for help…

  18. Great post! Our motivation is choice. Our biggest debt now is the mortgage, and it eats up half of our income. At the time it was a bad choice,being cheaper than rent then.Savings back then was much easier too.
    If we didn’t have the mortgage, oh the things we could do! We plan to pay the mortgage off in 20 years vs. 30, and then cut back on our work hours.