“Cocaine is like really evil coffee.”
The steps of getting out of debt are pretty simple. Budget. Spend less than you earn. Put the difference towards debt. Rationally, it’s not particularly difficult to envision the path to getting out of debt. However, like losing weight (take in fewer calories than you expend) or stopping smoking (don’t light up), just knowing what to do often isn’t good enough to get you to engage in the proper behaviors to be successful. If it were as simple as taking what we know we should do and doing it, then nobody would be overweight, nobody would smoke (by the way, if you smoke, you are killing yourself and you stink), and nobody would be in debt.
But…it’s not that easy. If all we ever did was act rationally, then we’d be set. We don’t. There’s another player in the game sitting inside our heads – Monkey Brain. Monkey Brain doesn’t like planning for the future and he hates sacrificing pleasure now. Monkey Brain was the one who caused you to get into debt in the first place! After all, you knew that you were spending more than you earned, but Monkey Brain was there, the devil on your shoulder, telling you all sorts of little white (or black) lies. Come to think of it, is there such a thing as a black lie?
- You’ll make more in the future, so you can pay off this debt. Monkey Brain loves to assume anything which will make the present decision look palatable, so he tells you that you’ll get raises and promotions and a massive income in the future, so you’ll have plenty of money to pay off the debt. However, as workers since 1970 can attest, real wages – how much you can buy with the money you make, e.g., inflation-adjusted – have remained stagnant, so the money that was supposed to be created by raises and promotions has been eaten up by inflation. That’s for the people who kept their jobs!
- It’s only $X per month. This is also the same argument that used car salesmen like to use on you. They’re appealing directly to Monkey Brain. Instead of a large number (“That 183” flat screen TV costs how much?!?”), by reframing the price into monthly payments, Monkey Brain softens the perceived blow of the cost. He also doesn’t calculate that the overall total cost of whatever it is that you purchased skyrocketed. He’s just thinking about how to squeeze more room for toys into the budget.
- You have to have it now; you need it! This one causes you to go down all sorts of paths that you really don’t want to go down. First, Monkey Brain often confuses wants and needs. You need food, shelter, clothing, and reasonable transportation. Monkey Brain will tell you that you need the man cave. The other negative effect is that by telling you that you need something, Monkey Brain creates a sense of immediacy. Instead of saving up and budgeting for purchasing the item when you can pay cash, Monkey Brain tells you that you have no other choice but to whip out the credit card. You can pay it off later anyway, right?
If you’re in debt, then some or all of these probably resonate with you. Great, we’ve identified how we got into this situation, but we’re no closer to identifying how to get out of it. We didn’t get into debt in one day (usually), and we’re not going to get out of debt, either.
Applying brute force (“NO, MONKEY BRAIN! BAD MONKEY BRAIN!”) to the problem usually doesn’t work. It’s the equivalent of trying a starvation diet to lose weight. You might lose a few pounds, but then you’ll get frustrated and go on a binge, and suddenly, you’re twenty pounds heavier than you were when you started in the first place. One step forward yields two steps backwards.
Instead, you have to coopt Monkey Brain into working with you.
This is where the cocaine comes into play, a topic I initially explored in “Credit Card Debt and Drug Addiction: Are They Related?”
No, I’m not telling you to cut out a line on the mirror and start snorting.
What I’m going to share with you is how you can engage the same part of the brain that gets pleasure from cocaine to encourage yourself to pay off debt.
How to Kill Debt Like a Cocaine User
That headline makes you feel a little uncomfortable, doesn’t it?
Keep reading. It’ll make sense in a minute.