Hope for your financial life and beyond

The Best Solution For Those Buried in a Snowdrift of Debt

In the winter of 2004, we had the fortune/misfortune of visiting my parent’s house in Ohio just before a severe winter storm hit. We had arrived just as the snowfall began and it…just…never…stopped…falling. Snow, snow, snow for two straight days.

van buried in a snow driftBy the time the skies cleared their tiny little town had received over two feet of snow – a kid’s dream but an adult’s nightmare. It had blanketed and buried everything in sight, including our van as you can see by the picture to the right.

Walking through that knee-deep snow I kept thinking to myself, “How will we ever get out of this mess?” It’s not like it’s going to magically melt away. No one in town is going to come rescue us – they have their own snow problems.

In fact, some exacerbated our problem. Thank you snow-plow man for clearing the road and pushing another two feet of snow to our curb.

Even worse, as I started to look at the mountain of snow from different angles the situation seemed even more desperate. At least in the first picture I can still see the van. From this viewpoint hardly anything is visible…

snow covering van

In those moments after the storm faded there was a tremendous sense of awe of being in that circumstance. We felt stuck. Overwhelmed. Piled upon. Buried.

More to the point though I felt a tremendous sense of dread as to what was about to come. Having seen many snows before in Ohio, I knew there was only one way for us to extricate ourselves from the predicament that had engulfed our life.

That action was not going to be easy. It would take hours – maybe multiple days. It would be painful. I’d get sweaty and wet. It would be exhausting.

But if I ever wanted to reach my destination – home again in Georgia in a few days – I’d have to undertake the challenge. I wouldn’t be going anywhere if I succumbed to my emotions or refused to endure the upcoming hardship. We’d continue to be stuck for some time.

 shovelling snowYou already know what’s coming, don’t you?

We dug – one shovel full at a time.

Those of you overwhelmed with debt will have to do the same thing…dig one shovel full at a time.

But it’s going to be emotionally tough.

It’s going to generate pain.

And it’s going to take much longer than a day of shoveling.

Here’s how you can do it.

The Emotions of Getting Out of Debt

In any area of life where we mess up the first step to moving forward is to forgive ourselves.

Let’s face it, our screw ups produce powerful negative emotions that are difficult to overcome.

We feel like a failure.

We feel discouraged.

We feel ashamed.

If we can’t deal with those emotions we can’t move forward.

Why did you get into massive debt in the first place? Truthfully, it doesn’t really matter. Whether you couldn’t fund an emergency with cash, thought that school loan would lead to a great career or just simply wanted to live up life for awhile, you are here now. The debt is real.

The past can’t be changed, it can only be learned from. Forgive yourself from the missteps in the rear view mirror and vow to never make them again.

Next, after you forgive yourself, get angry…REAL ANGRY!

What? Come again? I thought you just said to forgive myself?

I did, but don’t misunderstand. This anger you are spouting isn’t at yourself. We’ve dealt with that in the forgiveness stage.

The anger is directed at the debt. The debt needs to become your #1 enemy.

Like the magma that builds inside a volcano, you have to grow a hatred in your soul towards this debt.

It’s holding you back.

It’s keeping you from pursuing your dreams.

It’s mocking you for placing a stranglehold on your life.

All I’m talking about here is developing a white-hot intensity to get rid of the debt. If you enter the debt-payoff journey with a namby-pamby, ho-hum, half-hearted attitude you’ll never make it. There has to be a fire burning in your soul to meet this challenge.

That fire will have to be stoked through the whole journey because the next step will be really difficult. Without the intensity of feeling, you will be more likely to give up.

Developing a Debt Plan to Deal With the Pain

Many, many people in debt get stuck here because they see the immensity of the problem and want to fix it, but the overwhelming pile of debt causes different, more aggressive types of emotions to surface.

Frustration…at being in the mess.

Dejection…at how long it will take.

Confusion…at where to start.

Apprehension…at whether it can even be done.

It’s only natural that those emotions should come. However, developing a plan can squelch them.

Plans create clarity.

They bring everything into focus.

They provide direction…surety…comfort…peace of mind.

If you don’t have a plan to get out of debt you never will.

So what’s the best debt payoff plan to follow?

Methods and the opinions about those methods vary. The two most common plans are:

The Interest Rate Method – where you first pay off the debts with the higher interest rates

or the

Debt Snowball Method – where you pay off the smallest debts first, regardless of the interest rate.

I’ve written about and compared the pros and cons of these two methods here and here. My preference is for the debt snowball method but my REAL preference is that you pick/develop some kind, any kind of plan. Whatever fits your needs and perspective the best.

The plan will be the driving force the moves you forward. You can’t payoff debt without it.

The Payoff Debt Journey Begins With the First Step

You can’t payoff debt without starting. The best laid plans will fail if for some reason you choose not to begin.

Funny thing happened on that cold, wintry day in Ohio. As my father and I began to plunge our shovels into the snow, we started making progress. One shovel at a time.

We cleared the front steps…

Then the sidewalk to the street…

Then the sidewalk in front of the house…

Then a section of the curb with its extra snow dumped by the snowplow.

Eventually – I think maybe the next day – we freed the van. Boy wasn’t that fun shoveling snow out from under the vehicle.

With each shovel full we cleared a little bit at a time. Yes, it was tough. And yes it was slow. But we steadily moved along knocking out one area at a time.

It was interesting how that process created something else…Hope.

Each movement of the shovel cleared away a little more snow. We could look back after ten minutes of shoveling and see our progress. We could look ahead and see there was less to go to complete the task than there was before. With every passing hour there was more hope built that we’d get it all done.

The emotions of anger (intensity) and hope will play nicely together in the debt payoff journey. You’ll need both to face the years – maybe a decade or more – it might take to become entirely debt free.

What Awaits When the Debt Is Gone

That moment when the final debt is paid will be worth it. Because then you’ll have the freedom to do what we did once we were done shoveling…


Oh, did we play. We threw snowballs. We built a snowman. Our kids climbed snowplow piles of snow 20 feet high. We pulled the sled around. It was a blast!

Playtime awaits you at the end of the debt journey.

I’m really talking about the freedom to do what you want with your money. Not in a frivolous way of course. There is no way you’ll go back to your old habits after completing such a challenge. The sacrifices and lessons learned in the journey will not allow it.

You’ll simply be free to live life.

Free from debt. Payments to no one.

Won’t that be a great place to be?

Questions: Do you feel buried in a mountain of debt? What are you doing to get out of it? What’s been the most difficult part of getting out of debt? What emotions are you experiencing in the debt payoff journey? Do you have trouble forgiving yourself for getting into debt in the first place? How has your life changed since you’ve been debt free?

Images by Luke1428.com

Next Post: A Beginner’s Guide to Health Insurance and the Affordable Care Act

Prior Post: This One Thing You Lack to Have Treasure In Heaven

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  1. Great analogy, Brian. I’ve seen many a snowstorm like that one, and the parallel between the two is perfect. And you’re right about each step creating hope – hope that gives you the encouragement and drive to keep on going until it’s time to play. 🙂

  2. I’m so in debt student loans killing me every payday 1200 a month I’m a registered Nurse and I live in Ohio I’m just trying to figure out how and where to start this analogy makes me really get it…. Still struggling just getting started in getting debt free!!!

    • Phatima,
      My wife and I were in the same snow storm, newly graduated from college with 150k $ in student loan debt. We took financial peace by Dave Ramsey about 2 years ago and it changed our lives and our marriage forever! We have done the debt snowball, we have made the sacrifices, I have worked the 100 hour weeks, and I can happily say that after 2 years of overwhelming debt ($2000 a month in payments) that at the end of march we will be free of our student loans. It all starts with an emergency fund and a strict budget. I hope you find your way through the blizzard because there are for sure going to be hard times in paying them off but seeing the interest we have saved over the next 28 years of what would’ve been minimum payments is AMAZING! Good luck and I have put my email here if you’re ever feeling discouraged or even want to see an excel spreadsheet of our monthly budget. I can’t thank Dave Ramsey enough for giving us the debt snowball plan.

      [email protected]
      P.S when you’re debt free pay it forward!

    • I can understand how it’s overwhelming Phatima. My suggestion would be to take it one step at a time. Don’t look at the big picture yet. Focus on the small victories you can have paying off small debts. I’d agree completely with what Jonathan said. Get on a plan like the debt snowball method. Here’s a link to another post I wrote that may be helpful…https://luke1428.com/how-to-get-out-of-debt/. Let me know if you have any questions.

  3. I know it’s an analogy but it’s funny I’ve been in that situation before and all I kept thinking was it was the Universe’s way of saying, “slow down, enjoy life, and take a breather.” 🙂 But back to the analogy. I think breathing is still important in this situation because the feeling could almost certainly become overwhelming. I imagine debt payoff as more of a marathon. Even if you run at a turtle’s pace, you are at least still moving in the right direction. Some may be running faster, and some slower, but all you need to do is focus on yourself.

    • “…marathon…” Yes, I see it that way too Tonya. Short of a financial windfall of some kind, taking the long haul is how most will end up paying off debt.

  4. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank says

    Another inspirational post, Brian. I believe the first move to get out of debt is having a will, brighter one. Then, everything follows. And during shoveling debt, never forget the reason why you started it in the first place.

  5. This is a great post Brian and totally appropriate for me and my lovely neighbors up here in NY that are preparing for 30 inches of snow! So many great and appropriate analogies to debt and snow removal. It is an absolute struggle, but you really can only tackle it one shovel at a time.

    • Haha…I know Shannon. I was thinking about all the PF bloggers I know up that direction. Stay safe and warm the next couple of days. There are days living in the South when I miss the snow but not 24+ inches worth. 🙂

  6. We typically try to going skiing a couple times a year but we have never had to deal with that kind of snow. It would definitely overwhelm me! Great analogy, Brian. I think so many people get stuck in guilt/shame and overwhelmed/scared phase. It’s certainly understandable but you as you said, you have to dig in and start shoveling. It won’t happen overnight and there will be setbacks, but the payoff will be worth it. Because being able to play guilt-free feels so powerful and rewarding.

    • “…so many people get stuck in guilt/shame and overwhelmed/scared phase.” Yes…absolutely agree Shannon! That’s a big step to work through…so emotional. Dealing with those emotions is half the battle.

  7. Oh, I HATE it when the plow drivers pile extra snow right in front of your driveway/curb! Anyway, we’re not in debt now though when I was I did feel buried at times. I think the most difficult for me was just seeing what I was having to do because of stupid decisions I had made and seeing that nothing good came out of it. Suffice it to say, the best thing I took out of it were lessons that still serve me and our family today.

    • Amen John! Overcoming the “stupid factor” can be tough on our emotions. But like you did, there’s no sense in beating ourselves up over those decisions. Learn from them and move on.

  8. I used to feel buried in a mountain of debt, but because I learned how detrimental that mindset is to getting out of debt, I changed my thinking. Now, I just get excited seeing my $206k of student loans go down – I’m at $154k now and should be close to $125k by the end of the year. It’s much more productive for me to think about getting out of debt versus being trapped in it!

    • I really admire you Natalie. What you are doing by knocking out that level of debt so quickly is amazing! Most would be trapped by $206k in student loan debt for a lifetime.

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