I am so misguided on the subject of paying off debt as opposed to saving money. And because I am still this way after years sober in DA, I think others may be too, so I want to talk about it.
Currently, I have $14,000 in savings. My debt is a bit over $15,000. My son’s college loans will total approximately $15,000 when all is said and done.
What a HUGE relief it would be to just pay off either of those in full! Or so it seems. When I told a DA friend that I want to wipe out my savings by paying the debt because my Higher Power has saved me every time I was at the financial cliff in recovery before, she said, “So why would you make it harder for Him to help you?”
DA’s Tool #5 states:
The spending plan puts our needs first and gives us clarity and balance in our spending. It includes categories for income, spending, debt payment, and savings (to help us build cash reserves, however humble). The income plan helps us focus on increasing our income. The debt payment category guides us in making realistic payment arrangements without depriving ourselves. Savings can include prudent reserve, retirement, and special purchases.
Our program is about balance. DA doesn’t say, yes, hurry up and pay your debts and in the meantime, eat cat food and don’t get that big lump on your leg checked out by the doctor, and oh, no, how can you even THINK about going to the movies much less having cable TV?!
It’s true that debt is the albatross around all recovering debtors’s necks … unless you have been in recovery long enough to see debts paid off the DA way. The fact is that under my current circumstances, my debt WILL be paid off in another four years based on my current spending plan that allows me to take care of my body, mind, and spirit regarding both needs and even some discretionary wants.
My son’s college debt, well, for today, it is not due. He doesn’t even graduate until April and the debt doesn’t need to begin being paid back for six months after that.
Who knows what will happen by then?
My program is about staying in today. For today, I was able to make a monthly payment on my debt that meets the requirements of the company and also fits into my spending plan. I did have to negotiate a hardship payment that is $200 a month less than I was paying when I was working. This, in itself, is a miracle, that I was able and willing to negotiate. And if I repay my debt in this way, I will also continue to accumulate savings PLUS have discretionary spending available for wants.
There are some in program who cannot afford to make even a minimal payment toward their debts. I may be in that situation at some point. And still, DA tells us that we take care of our basic needs before we pay our creditors. In fact, there is a pamphlet called Communicating with Creditors and Debt Repayment that you can order.
What DA does tell us to do is communicate with our creditors, not live in vagueness and fear. That is not the same as being intimidated into paying more than you can afford. And if you have a solid spending plan, developed with the help of a PRG, you will be very confident in the amount you can pay, if you can pay at all.
The pamphlet states, “We are committed to paying all of our debts. It does not matter how long we take to do so; what matters is an honest intent to meet our obligations…”
But the most important statement in this pamphlet is the one explaining why we don’t promise to pay more than we can afford:
A common temptation is to pay — or promise to pay — more than we can afford. Both may damage our relationships with our creditors. Worse, paying too much might lead us to incur new, unsecured debt. To avoid that, we do not pay so much that we neglect our own needs.
I have spent much time feeling I didn’t deserve to have entertainment or clothing money with these debts hanging over me. But I know my pattern. If I live in deprivation for too long, I will debt for sure. That is why budgets don’t work for me and why I need to listen to the guidance of my PRG team.
I THINK I won’t rebel and will do just fine living on a tightrope. But that is not the case, as borne out by my own experience.
So, if you are serious about long-term recovery from compulsive debting, I urge you to have a PRG and talk to other DA members if you feel compelled to follow through on depleting your savings as the way to eliminate the pain of owing your debts.