10 Mental Barriers to Paying Off Debt: The Need to Maintain Appearances

rfz_mental_barriersAt the start of The Debt Movement, we introduced the topic of mental barriers that prevent us from paying off debt. Why? Because even the best-laid plans can fail and, when that happens, we’re left to wonder what to do about it. The fact is, good intentions and solid planning are important but they won’t move us forward without self-awareness. So for the rest of The Debt Movement, we’re going to talk about each mental barrier that prevents us from paying off debt so they can be conquered once and for all. Remember, there’s a lot more to securing a solid financial future than simply crunching numbers in an Excel spreadsheet!

Mental Barrier Number Nine: The Need to Maintain Appearances

We’ve talked about budgeting frequently during this series but one thing we haven’t mentioned is extra expenses that don’t fit into your bills, goals, or emergency fund. Sometimes in life there are expenses that simply can’t be avoided, even though on the surface they may seem frivolous. One example of this is the need to maintain appearances within your community. This post talks about whether or not this need should be indulged in and, if so, how to do so while still keeping your eye on the debt payoff prize.

Evaluate Your Reasons

If you feel the need to maintain appearances in your community, the first thing you should do is ask yourself why. Some reasons may be justified, others should be battled against, and many fall into a gray area. They key is to identify when it’s okay to spend money for appearances sake and when it is unnecessary.

One cut and dried reason is a blatant desire to “keep up with the Joneses”. This is something that should not be indulged in if you’re struggling to pay off debt. Why? Because the way you live your financial life should have nothing to do with those around you.

Your focus should be on your goals (or your family’s goals if you are supporting a family) and what you need to do to build a strong financial future. Nowhere in that plan is there room to show the same purchasing power as your neighbors.

But what about reasons that can be justified? Certain non-emergency, but still important, expenses include a proper wardrobe for work. Most office jobs in the US require a dress code called, “business casual”. This usually consists of nice pants, shined shoes, and a professional button-down or sweater.

If you show up to work in clothes that are business casual but old and shabby, this will look as unprofessional as if you showed up in a t-shirt and jeans. And, no matter how strong your skills are, your wardrobe at work could affect your reputation and thus job security, which will eventually affect your bottom line. This is a case when the expense to purchase a better wardrobe could actually be justifiable.

So when you evaluate your reasons, think about whether the need to maintain appearances is something that will directly affect your ability to earn money and grow your career or if it’s simply a desire to look like you’re of a certain status. If there is a true need that will affect your professional reputation, then read on to find out ways to achieve that – without using a credit card.

Use Your Community Resources

Ironically enough, maintaining appearances within your community can be done by reaching out to your community. Let’s continue on with the career clothing example to show you how.

One way to obtain a professional wardrobe without spending money is a clothing swap. You could organize one of your own, host at your home, and create a Facebook event to invite people you know and trust. Then, invite people to come by your house during a swap party and bring their unwanted professional clothing items. This is a great way to obtain new professional clothing while also having a lot of fun.

For those even more in need, look into organizations which may be available where you live. Dress for Success is one that provides interview and other professional clothing to underprivileged women. You can even take a look at your local chamber of commerce to find other similar organizations and nonprofits or websites like Yelp!

These are just two ideas, but the list isn’t exhaustive. The point is to get creative and find new ways to meet your needs without spending money. If you absolutely have to spend money, plan for it and focus on staples that will last – for example a good pair of black pants, some basic wardrobe neutrals, and a pair of good black shoes or pumps. You don’t need to replace your wardrobe overnight, as a few key pieces can help you look well put together.

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Take Your Time

So what if you feel other needs to maintain appearances within your community? Perhaps your house could use some more curb appeal, your car is the eyesore of the neighborhood, or you feel pressure to socialize at parties and restaurants that require you to spend more money than you’re comfortable with. What do you do then?

First of all, I would challenge you to evaluate your reasons again. Is your reputation in your community truly suffering due to this, or do you just wish that you were on the same level as everyone else? And is having debt (or taking longer to pay it off) worth it to you to be on the same level as everyone else? If you find that you truly are suffering because of this, then take your time and plan your purchases out wisely.

For example, you could put the money aside (after making all of your other payments) for these purchases in a jar or envelope and hide it within your home so that you don’t dip into it on a rainy day. Another idea would be to open a separate checking account set to this purchase as a goal and have a certain amount of money automatically deposit into that account each month. No, it may not be the fastest way to achieve your goal, but it is a way in which you can achieve what you want while still keeping your focus on paying off debt.

And then use creative examples like the one mentioned above. For the home, are you handy enough to purchases supplies and save money with DIY labor? Maybe you can even enlist friends to help out and offer to return the favor for them. If not, even the smallest difference to a car or home can dramatically improve the appearance. You don’t need a new BMW, but taking your car to get detailed and waxed will certainly help!

At the end of the day, it’s easy to say that you should let all of your other desires slide until you are debt-free. But that’s not always realistic and it can even be harder to maintain debt payoff goals if you’ve been feeling deprived for years. The main thing is to stay focused and find ways like those mentioned here to achieve your desires in the most frugal and responsible way possible.

Stay tuned next week as we move on to mental barrier number ten. And don’t forget to join The Debt Movement and help us reach the movement’s goal of paying off $10 million of debt in 90 days!  

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