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There are telltale signs in your behavior that will give it away in spite of your best efforts to ignore the problem.

When it comes to debt, many people dare not add up the amount they owe, or the total amount of their debt-related monthly payments. To do so would make it all too obvious that they have too much debt. Instead they focus on their ability to afford the monthly payments and skip on their merry way playing the business-as-usual game. And if they’ve been in debt long enough, that game may actually be easy to play.

But even if you do your best to avoid looking at your actual debt numbers, there are telltale signs in your behavior that will give it away in spite of your best efforts to ignore the problem.

You’re having trouble sleeping at night

Everyone has trouble sleeping from time to time. But if it is becoming a habit, it’s likely that your subconscious is trying to tell you something.

You won’t be able to sleep if you’re worried. It can even come in the form of “something is bothering me, but I don’t know what”. That something may be excess debt. On the surface, you try to block it out. After all, it isn’t an immediate problem. You may do this by immersing yourself in various projects, trying to keep yourself busy during your waking hours. But while you are laying in bed – with no activities to distract you – you subconscious may be keeping you awake.

The truly bad aspect about not being able to sleep is that it will actually magnify your problems, what ever they are. You’ll be adding fatigue to more tangible problems, like debt. And that will lower the chance that you’ll be able to deal with it in an intelligent manner.

You think about your debts – a lot

This is probably a better situation to be in than losing sleep – at least you’re consciously aware that you have a problem. Still, many people are aware enough to worry, but not enough to take constructive action against the problem.

You may even put on a happy face for others, but inside you are aware you have a problem.

If you are disturbed by debt, either consciously or through a loss of sleep, the alarm bells are ringing telling you it’s time to do something about it.

You have no money left over after paying your bills

Ironically, insufficient ability to pay your bills is a major reason for going into debt in the first place. But if you are already in debt and still can’t pay your bills completely, you may already be at the crisis phase of debt.

Your savings account is empty

There is often an exaggerated connection between prosperity and income. The thinking is something like: as long as I have a high and growing income, I’m on the right track, and all is well.”

Maybe not. Income is only half the prosperity equation – the other is savings. As the saying goes, it’s not what you make, it’s what you keep. And if you aren’t keeping much (or any) after paying your bills, the future isn’t bright.

There’s a close correlation between debt and a lack of savings. If your bank account is empty, or nearly so, you could have major problems on the debt front. Savings are the ultimate solution to a debt problem. The more savings you have, the less you will need credit.

You frequently play the “robbing Peter to pay Paul game”

Most everyone finds themselves in this position from time to time. But if you find yourself playing the game more often then not it could be a distress signal that you shouldn’t ignore. It’s time to begin an immediate plan to increase income and lower expenses.

The robbing Peter to pay Paul game is usually in it’s terminal phase when you find yourself borrowing on one credit line to pay another. At that point, you’re about to hit a wall – and hard!

You worry about your credit card charge being denied

Even if you never bother to look at your credit card balances, the fact that you are worried about exceeding them is an indication that you know that you’re getting close. The denial of your card is viewed with cold fear – you know the jig will be up when that happens!

You have a mortal fear that it will happen when someone is with you, causing them to ask questions that you are not comfortable answering.

You’re dreams of achieving financial independence are mostly just…dreams

Many people give up on the idea of ever achieving financial independence when it becomes apparent that they are doing nothing more than muddling through. In a way, it’s a defensive mechanism that allows them to lower their expectations, settle into the unfortunate reality, and even to stop trying.

But optimism is a natural human state of mind that should never be willingly abandoned. It could be time to face your fears and be ready to do what you need to.

Never give up hope!

None of the above are meant to scare you – OK, maybe a little, just to call your attention to a festering problem. After all, denial is another part of the human condition!

But once you become aware of a debt problem, the worst thing you can do is to try to live with it. For one thing, it will only get worse until you run out of options. And for another, it also has a way of eating away at your self-esteem. That will cause other problems that will make everything worse.

If your mind (conscious or otherwise) or your money habits are sending you signals, like any of the above, it’s a time to be proactive and hatch a a workable plan to begin paying off your debt.

Once you get your plan going, the warning signs will gradually go away, one at a time. And as they do, you’ll go back to the natural human state of hoping and working toward that better life you used to dream of.

Article comments


While I do sleep well at night I do think about my debt many, many times during the day. I talk about it too much and I need to stop because everyone is bored and tired of listening.

I am working hard at eliminating the debt but it is difficult to stay positive when all you do is think about the debt. I think I will be a more positive person in 12 or 14 months when the debt is gone from my life.

Teacher Man says:

It’s amazing the mental effect that debt can have on person eh Jane?

I think my coworkers must know exactly how much debt I have even though I haven’t told them. I think I mutter the numbers multiple times during each shift. I keep running the numbers in my head to come up with different solutions and it always comes out the same. This debt is taking forever to pay off.

Teacher Man says:

Ouch… that sounds like it’s really taking a toll. Not that I’m one to play Dr. Phil, but do you have some hobbies and stuff to take your mind off of the all important debt number? I admire your persistence though!