Yo-yo Debting: Breaking the Pattern

 DH = Dear Husband      
             DH and I are having painfully slow progress in reducing Debt #3. Our business debt, which sat at $80,000 at the beginning of December, decreased dramatically when we first started to attack it. By the end of January it was down to $65,500. But half a year has passed since that time. The slowdown in DH’s business in the spring; a $900 van repair in June; an $800 vet bill in July; my soon-to-come $800 chiropractor bill – all have combined to put us on hold. We’ve been able to manage two payments of $2,500 each – one in February and one in May – leaving Debt #3 hovering around $60,000.
We had our first quote for a new roof this week. $10,000. Ugh! So we’ll be holding steady at least until the end of August as we put my summer school pay and DH’s summer business earnings aside to pay for the big roof bill. I would much rather put $10,000 against our debt and bring it down to $50,000 in one fell swoop. We could use a little shot of encouragement at this point in our debt-reduction efforts.
But if we look at it in a different light, there’s actually something very good happening here: We will pay for our roof with money that we have. We won’t extend our line of credit. Never before have we paid for something so expensive without increasing our debt to do so.

Yo-yo Debting

“Yo-yo dieting” is a term that is now part of the vernacular. A person loses twenty pounds, but gains back twenty-five. And then goes on a diet again. The cycle repeats itself, usually resulting in an overall weight gain. When I google “yo-yo dieting”, lots of links come up. But when I google “yo-yo debting”, nothing appears. I’m surprised because the yo-yo effect has got to be as common for debt as it is for diet.
DH and I were certainly well entrenched in a pattern of yo-yo debting before we began our journey out of debt just over a year ago. We would buy a car, for instance, and go into debt. Diligently, we would pay it down, but then another big expense – like a purchase of furniture or a vacation splurge – would put us further in the red. Again, we would conscientiously work away at it, but then we would need to buy a new car again (and it would be new), so up went the debt. And although we put impressive extra payments against the mortgage of our first home, we bought our second larger home before the first was paid off. You get the idea. Yoyo debting.

Parellels Between Yo-yo Dieting and Yo-yo Debting

                In January of this year, The Journal of International Women’s Studies published an article by Huda Iqbal, Ahmed Qazi, and Harshad Keval entitled, “At war with their bodies or at war with their minds? A glimpse into the lives and minds of female yo-yo dieters–the curtain has lifted in U.K.?” As I read the article, I was struck by many parallels between yo-yo dieting and yo-yo debting.

Media: Producing Dissatisfaction

“Previous literature has highlighted the negative impact of being exposed to the thin ideal (in U.S.A.) as portrayed by the media . . . [It is] associated with dissatisfaction of body image, concerns with weight, and disordered eating behavior” (Iqbal et al. 2013).
In terms of consumerism, the media disseminates the message, “Buy this, and you’ll be happy! Get it on credit now and pay later because you deserve it! Why wait? Everyone else has it. You don’t want to be the only one who doesn’t.” The whole purpose of advertising is to create dissatisfaction in consumers so that they’ll buy. So just as media images of the thin body ideal create a dissatisfaction which contributes to “disordered eating behaviour” – like yo-yo dieting, the media’s propagation of consumerism creates a dissatisfaction which contributes to “disordered spending behaviour” – like yo-yo debting.
Stress: Binging
“ . . . Sally confided: ‘Stress is one of . . . the impacts . . . when you’ve got so many problems going on and a lot of things getting to you, that puts yo-yo dieting on . . . for me, it’s just stress . . .”(Iqbal et al. 2013).
I know that stress correlates directly with my money management. It’s a mathematical certainty that when I feel overwhelmed by a combination of work, family, household, and social obligations, I spend more money. In my case, I spend it on restaurant meals and treats, but I know other people who spend their stress money on more expensive things like shopping sprees and trips. Stresscan trigger the binge eating involved in yo-yo dieting, and it can trigger the binge spendinginvolved in yo-yo debting too.
Influence of Uncertainty: Confusion
“’When I was a kid, I was really skinny . . . And then after my puberty . . . when I started gaining a little bit of weight . . . I was still below the average but . . . I had . . . pressure because my sisters were . . . really thin. I was not fat (before) but I was bigger than they were and I had a really … thin mom and so I was easily compared . . .’” (Iqbal et al. 2013).
The question, “What is the right body size and shape?” is as impossible as the question, “How much is enough materially?” Many people feel torn between a grateful recognition that their needs are met and a pressure to keep up with the Joneses. Just as there is no point at which “You have achieved the ideal body,” there is no point at which “You have made it” in our materialistic world. There is always a bigger house to buy; more exotic travel to experience; the latest fashions to purchase. Sociocultural influences fosterconfusion about what is a healthy body size, and they foster confusion about what constitutes material sufficiency. In both cases, this confusion can bring on the yo-yo effect.
Personal Powerlessness: Vicious Cycles
“This phenomenon portrays a vicious cycle . . . ‘I think you are depressed as you’re doing the yo-yo dieting as you’re desperate to do anything just to lose that weight quickly and . . . you falsely raised hope to yourself and there was no quick result there so you tend to. . . start blaming yourself’” (Iqbal et. al 2013).
A person who helps lead Debtors Anonymous in my community generously shared his insight with me when I contacted him by e-mail to ask some questions. He confirmed that people who join DA have hit a wall of despair. “I myself tried for several years to stop debting and begin paying off my debt,” he shared, “but was unable to do that.” A depressing sense ofpersonal powerlessness, both in terms of weight management and money management defeats people’s efforts to overcome, fueling the yo-yo effect.
As I consider the last year, I recognize the ups and downs of our journey out of debt so far. And while I really don’t like the holding pattern in which we’ve been stuck for the last six months, I have to acknowledge a real triumph in the midst of it. We’ve broken free of yo-yo debting.

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  1. Great thoughts on the psychological aspects of struggles with debt and weight! It reminds me of practicing meditation. Energy and effort are required to remain focused on one’s breath, an object, or motion. The mind will invariably wander to solving yesterday’s problems or worrying about upcoming events. The meditator is simply to gently bring her mind back to the task at hand. There is no gain in getting overly frustrated or feeling a sense of failure. With practice the mastery of thoughts and emotions becomes easier.

  2. It might seem that debt reduction simply involves logical changes in spending habits – just as it might seem that weight loss simply involves logical changes in diet and exercise. Both involve way more than logic though. There are psychological, emotional, and spiritual challenges in both types of effort, and focus upon the goal is very difficult to maintain in each.

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