How to Deal with the Overwhelm of Large Debt.

Actionable tasks to help you tackle overwhelm, and create a debt payoff plan that works.

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Photo by Alexander Mils on Unsplash

This time last year, my husband and I were drowning in half a million dollars of debt, and headed straight for bankruptcy.

We were completely overwhelmed by our six figure debt, and it was starting to effect everything from our marriage to our mental health.

We are both doctors, and on top of our crippling student loan debt, we also took out several loans to start our own medical practice.

Knowing absolutely nothing about how to run a business, we struggled with budgets, taxes, and practice management.

We were making decent incomes, but still living paycheck to paycheck, and barely able to pay our rent most months!

After suffering from depression, anxiety, and career dissatisfaction, I knew we had to do something, and fast!

We started making small changes, and became less overwhelmed with each step we made in the right direction.

The most difficult part of creating a debt payoff plan, is getting started.

Once we finally had a plan in place, we became hopeful, and motivated for change.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by debt, here are three things you should do to create a debt payoff plan that works.

Take an honest assessment of your finances.

I used to think that hiding from our debt, was the best way to deal with it.

This backfired, and actually caused more fear and hopelessness, than when we took the time to add up all of our debt and face it head on.

If you don’t know the truth about your financial state, you won’t be able to create a plan to do something about it!

Write down all of your debt, so you can start creating a plan to attack it.

Learn to budget.

Once we learned how to do a budget, it felt like we got an instant raise.

We weren’t totally out of control with our spending, but we also weren’t being intentional.

In 7 years of marriage, we never sat down to talk about our finances, and certainly never worked together to make a budget.

It’s important to be on the same page with your spouse about your finances.

I realized I was carrying the entire burden of our debt on my shoulders, and trying to manage our money completely by myself!

As soon as my husband and I started to work together to create a debt pay off plan, I felt the overwhelm start to melt away.

Do a spending freeze.

A weekly or monthly spending freeze can help you catch up if you’re behind on your bills, or help to identify where you have been overspending.

Pay all of your necessary bills, (meaning housing, utilities, and transportation), but delay all of your miscellaneous spending until you can get caught up or budget for these items appropriately.

We stopped all unnecessary spending for several weeks as we tried to make our new budget work.

We realized that we were spending much more than we actually needed to get by on each month.

This became extra money that we could use to pay down debt.

Celebrate small wins.

When you are working on creating your debt pay off plan, it’s okay that it feels overwhelming in the beginning.

You should also expect to struggle, and possibly fail in the beginning stages of your budget and debt pay off journey.

As long as you don’t allow yourself to quit, you will start to see more and more progress each month.

It took us almost 7 months to figure out how to stick to our budget, and cut our expenses enough to be able to start making progress on our debt.

It was all worth it because we finished the year by paying off just over $50,000 of debt!

We have a long way to go before we can say we are debt free, but we are no longer hopelessly overwhelmed by our six figure debt, and looking forward to continued progress this year.

Written by

Shannon Cairns is a family finance and frugal living expert, helping women learn to budget and pay off debt at

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