Debt is complicated. It happens to the best of us, for a variety of reasons. Some people are dealing with addictions, or lifestyles, others are dealing with medical or student loan debt, or simply a mortgage. All of the reasons for going into debt have an emotional root and various psychological branches. In personal finance, everything is personal so everyone has a different rhyme or reason for their situation.

The one aspect of personal finance I don’t agree with is the conversation around “good” debt and “bad” debt.

I don’t buy it. Debt sucks any way you look at it. This sort of thinking helps shield one’s decisions and shame others. Some people are lauded for making good decisions, while others are demonized for buying too much crap. I feel like this discussion detracts us from actually dealing with debt.

I used to buy into the “good” debt trap. I have student loans, my intentions were in the right place, and I gave it my best.  Yes, I probably shouldn’t have gotten a master’s degree in the arts, but I thought I wanted to be a professor. I had viable career experience as well, so it didn’t seem like I was making a terrible decision at the time. Like most people with debt, I am currently wrapping my head around my decisions that got me into this situation to begin with.

I take full responsibility for being in debt. I chose to go to school. I chose to go to school, again. I chose a damn near useless major. I signed the papers myself.

I am in debt and it is all my fault.

I am all for people taking responsibility for their actions and decisions that got them into debt. It’s a key part of the reflective process, and getting out of debt — knowing your mistakes and moving forward.

But I’d argue that it’s not that easy. There is a lot of shame and blame that goes with being in debt. Speaking from experience, it’s as if people want to rub it in your face what an idiot you were for going to school in the arts. I am sure people who have consumer debt, mortgage debt, and the like have experienced the same thing.

People talk to you as if they have had the answers the whole time and you were the idiot that didn’t see the right choice in front of you. There is so much more to it though.

We live in a culture where it’s pumped into us from an early age that education is the pathway to success, regardless of your major. That you too, can be anything you want! That having a house is part of the American Dream. There is an insidious notion that we must keep up with the latest trends, latest technologies, and if we don’t we’re at risk of being outdated and pushed to the side. As we grow older, it’s no longer acceptable to wear the clothes you did in college. People will judge you for driving a dirty beater. In some cities, public transportation is actually a class issue.

So, wait a minute? Maybe it isn’t just me? Although I made this decision that got me into debt, I made it for a lot of reasons; some selfish, some stupid, and some because I wanted to buy more privilege. I was buying a name.

In short, what I am saying is that you should take responsibility for being in debt. However, I don’t think people should be chastised so harshly considering the culture we live in. To overcome debt, we have to change our relationship to money AND to the culture we live in. We don’t live in a bubble and there are reasons why you are in debt that you probably can’t articulate in words.

So accept your reality, keep working hard at overcoming debt, and don’t feel so alone.

Melanie

Melanie is a freelance writer currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy, and empowering people to take control of their finances. She writes about breaking up with debt, freelancing, and side hustle adventures at DearDebt.com.

Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. In addition to her love of personal finance, art and music, she is also a karaoke master. Follow the adventure @DearDebtBlog.

31 Responses to “I Am in Debt and It Is All My Fault”

  1. Michelle says:

    GREAT POST! I sometimes get caught in the trap of blaming others for my debt, but I am the one at fault. I am the one who owns decisions. Time to admit to it!
    Michelle recently posted…Reader Reaction to “My Cheap $30,000 Wedding Budget”My Profile

    • deardebt says:

      Yes and no. My post is about accepting that, but also realizing that there are factors outside of your control that contribute to it. I’m being a little tongue in cheek :)

  2. That’s my biggest annoyance, mostly from people who haven’t been in debt – the “how could you be so dumb!?” questions, and the chastising of us. I’ve got plenty of negative emotions about my debt without more outside comments being piled on.
    Alicia @ Financial Diffraction recently posted…I’m Planning A Trip.My Profile

    • deardebt says:

      Seriously! It’s not helpful at all. I think we really need a cultural shift, so that debt is not so commonplace and people who have debt don’t feel ashamed so they have to hide it, or feel worse about it.

  3. I take full responsibility for my debt. I also take full responsibility for waiting so long to repay it back because I was on interest relief for 5 years and didn’t have to make ANY minimum payment. Being a part of this online PF community definitely helps in not feeling so alone with debt. :)
    Girl Meets Debt recently posted…My Debt “A-ha” MomentMy Profile

  4. AMEN! Ignorance and idiocy vary greatly. Ignorance landed me with student loan debt, which could have been prevented had I known how student loans work. Knowing full well about student loans now, it’d be idiotic to make the same mistake. Why aren’t people questioning how absurdly easy it is to get in debt, in massive debt?
    Kasey @ Debt Perception recently posted…Tax ConfessionsMy Profile

  5. I definitely take full responsibility for my debt. Each and every purchase.
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted…Progress, Not PerfectionMy Profile

  6. Peter says:

    I have accepted this fact long time ago. How stupid was I to get in debt for some BS degree… I meant bullsh*t degree. Asians are so brainwashed and naive when it comes to education, so I just did it for my parents. Wished I would of known better.
    Peter recently posted…Best way to make money online for me: Affiliate MarketingMy Profile

  7. Absolutely I take full responsibility for my debt. I chose to go to drama school to train as a professional actress and whilst studying for this degree I racked up loads of debt. I’m no longer in the profession all I have left to show for it is head shots and debt!
    Debt Busting Chick recently posted…My Frugal Hair DoMy Profile

    • deardebt says:

      I also went to school for theater, then went into a more academic program related to drama, but still! Tons of debt and now I’m not even in the field :(

  8. Great post Melanie. I did one on basically the same topic recently as well. I agree that there’s not really good or bad debt, its all debt and it all has to be paid off. If I could do everything over again though, I would still have taken out a student loan to finish my BS degree. I wouldn’t have gotten myself in consumer debt though and I think I wouldn’t looked at more houses before settling on one that cost as much as mine did. I know my debt is my fault, all of it including the student loans and mortgage, which is sometimes considered “good debt”, and I know that.
    Shoeaholicnomore recently posted…Budget Check 4/18/2014My Profile

  9. anna says:

    I LOVE this post, Melanie – so eloquently written and so true. I agree that you shouldn’t put a label on a debt, or rather shouldn’t have to. It just is. I admit to beating myself up over it a lot before, and still at times do, but I think once you own it and understand that it’s fixable in most circumstances, then it can be motivating to just do something about it.
    anna recently posted…My Biggest Money A-ha MomentMy Profile

  10. Kirstie says:

    Preach! I completely agree, and it’s refreshing to see that debt is debt, no matter how you look at it. I have a degree in Art History, and while it definitely opened doors for me (including my current job), I still have to make those monthly payments. I don’t regret my choice to go to school, but having to arrange my life around my student debt is definitely a drag.
    Kirstie recently posted…Weekly Spending Summary (April 7-13)My Profile

  11. Mackenzie says:

    Debt sucks, no matter who is to blame for it. We all have a personal responsibility, but I 100% agree with you about the whole aspect of “culture” and what it means to one, where higher education and home ownership are on this high pedestal, with no means for teaching us exactly, what is at “the top”.

    Awesome post, Melanie!
    Mackenzie recently posted…Nobody Puts Baby In A CornerMy Profile

  12. Very well put! Yes, our debt is our fault and responsibility, but it’s not a sin or crime to take it on no matter how good or bad an idea it was. It’s a reflection of the past, not the present or future. Debt is a tool and as with any tool you can use it to build a house or cut off your hand.
    k@Masters Of Our Own Dollars recently posted…Excuses I Made Not To Save For Retirement (and why they were lame)My Profile

  13. AWESOME post, Melanie. I think part of the reason so many people are in such a financial mess is that they don’t recognize those two points: that their debt is their fault (unless it’s medical, of course) and they refuse to understand how the media and advertising world works so hard to get us to spend money and live a certain way. Facing up to and taking responsibility for our debt was indeed difficult, but SO worth it, because now we are finally on our way out. :-)
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted…Our “A-ha” Money MomentMy Profile

  14. My debt was 100% my fault. While I don’t regret my degrees, I certainly could have gotten them without so much debt. That being said I don’t think there’s value in blaming people for their debt. When you have debt you know it and it’s not like you need others to shame you into paying it off (unless that’s what works for you-I suspect it doesn’t for most people). When I had debt I was my own biggest critic (and supporter).
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted…My $85 chicken dinner: a delicious recipeMy Profile

  15. To avoid debt altogether, you have to go against culture. Culture definitely says debt is the way to go. I don’t buy it. You can live a debt free life but it takes guts because people in general will think you are nuts.
    Brian @ Luke1428 recently posted…10 Clues That Reveal It’s Time to Change Your JobMy Profile

  16. I was in debt too and it was completely my fault. As I look back on my actions I would do everything differently now. But those are the lessons we learned.
    Tahnya Kristina recently posted…Should adults ask their parents for money?My Profile

  17. The Cultural shift over the last 100 years is staggering. The boomer generation was raised by parents who lived through the great depression. They learned to fear debt and to think twice about borrowing. Over time though, those lessons were replaced by social pressure and a powerful marketing machine. It’s now the norm to have debt. We have to “unlearn” what is normal, but that doesn’t always happen before having become a “good little widget” and taken on some debt.

    The true delight here is to see so many people who are awake, aware and taking charge. Thumbs up to you and to those commenting above.

  18. Tre says:

    Great post! I agree, my debt is completely my fault. No one forced me to take out such large student loans. I love my career and know that it wouldn’t be possible without my degrees, so that takes the edge off a little bit. I regret not focusing on paying off my student loans sooner.
    Tre recently posted…Our Retirement Plan – Time To ReevaluateMy Profile

  19. John Carter says:

    I used to blame others for my Debt but only after analyzing my situation I realized that I am the only one who is responsible for all the mess. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post.
    John Carter recently posted…Bracing for bad debt and how best to collectMy Profile

    • deardebt says:

      You’re welcome. Glad you are here. It’s common to blame others — and some cases it really is not our fault, especially in medical circumstances, but most of the time we need to own up to it.

  20. Danielle says:

    I totally agree that you should accept your debt reality but if I genuinely calculated and considered all of the financial sacrifices I had to make and went in knowing that it was worth it in some way, I would find it harsh to tell myself it was ‘all my fault’. I would probably say something more along the lines of “I’m in debt and it was fully my choice and my responsibility”

    I graduated with a “useless” art degree and was often scoffed at for not being able to apply it to any job in the “real world”. But when graduation rolled around I already had a job lined up for me. The experience of working multiple part-time jobs while doing it and always getting involved in extra-curricular activities was almost more valuable than the degree itself!

    I’m about to reconsider going back again to further my studies but probably will not give up working full-time. It will be tough to do both, but I don’t think it’s worth it to give up the income and jump back in full-time at this point!
    Danielle recently posted…Not Your Typical Feature about “Gen Y” and Financial IndependenceMy Profile

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