Episode 5. “I paid off $50,000 of debt, but I still feel guilty buying toothpaste”

Sheena and Peter

Date: Aug 17, 2021

Sheena’s paid off a huge chunk of her student debt. She has memories of her family’s bad credit card spending habits and works extremely hard to not commit the same crimes. She can drop the debt payoff dates in a second (FYI: most people do not know this figure), and she updates a spending spreadsheet every Friday (she calls them “Finance Fridays”). Peter, her partner, has also made stealthy progress in paying off his debt and has a more optimistic approach to money. He wants to plan a trip to Japan for their 10th anniversary and decorate their apartment, but he’s met with resistance. Sheena feels guilty putting toothpaste on her credit card. There’s a voice in the back of her head tallying up a bill they can’t afford when they “treat themselves” to a rare staycay in New York City. After paying off her credit card, she’s left with a measly $150 to cover living expenses. It’s not enough. 

As you listen, note how Sheena is clearly terrified of money. She can’t even feel proud that last year mid-pandemic, she paid off $15,000 of her credit card debt! Her get-out-of-debt date is in clear sight, but she hasn’t even dreamt about how she and Peter could enjoy their life together after they’re debt-free. Living by the numbers is hurting their relationship, but the prospect of interest and a bad credit score keeps her locked in. 

Sheena is an example of good money habits gone bad. Obsessive tracking has spiraled from “controlling finances” to controlling her life, and by extension, Peter’s. Sheena needs to think beyond the math; otherwise, she’ll be terrified of adding toothpaste to the shopping cart forever. 

Sheena and Peter’s story is an example of how we can punish ourselves unnecessarily when we grapple with finances with an all-or-nothing approach. But Sheena has the keys to get out of this money jail she’s sentenced herself to. Tune in to understand how just a few shifts to her money psychology and slight leeway to her payment plan will add more color to their lives as a couple without leaving them in the red forever. 

If you and your partner have a money issue and you want my help, I occasionally select a few couples to work with, free of charge. Sign up for my newsletter to be notified whenever I’m taking applications.

Episode Transcript

Download PDF of the transcript here.

Sheena: [00:00:04] He gets really upset, because he wants me to be more positive and he wants to be able to do things with his money. And, sorry, it makes me feel bad. 

Peter: [00:00:18] It’s okay. 

Sheena: [00:00:19] Makes me feel bad that I can’t like give him those things.

Peter: [00:00:23] I can see it in her face. I can see her calculating. Before we even look at like hotel prices or like no prices at all, I can see her already coming to the conclusion that we can’t afford it, and it’s really frustrating.

Sheena: [00:00:36] I want to be free. Like I feel like I have this chain around me and I can’t live my life, because if I buy something nice or I do something for our apartment, I just have this voice in the back of my head like, why are you buying this? Why aren’t you paying off your debt? We talked a little bit on surface level about money, but I don’t think we’ve ever really talked like this, so it’s kind of the first time I’m hearing it.

Ramit Sethi: [00:01:02] Welcome to I Will Teach You To Be Rich. I’m Ramit Sethi, and my guests today are Sheena and Peter, who are both climbing their way out of substantial debt. For today’s episode, I’m going to focus on Sheena’s debt, because it’s causing both of them a lot of stress. Now, Sheena has already paid off tens of thousands of dollars, and she also knows exactly when the rest will be paid off, but she just can’t seem to stop feeling bad about money.

Ramit Sethi: [00:01:28] She thinks about it all the time, when she’s at the grocery store, when she’s eating out, and also when she and Peter are talking about their future together. Now, within minutes, I knew there was something a lot deeper than the debt itself. Remember, this is almost never a math problem. Let’s start with her family. And as we go along, listen for the clues.

Sheena: [00:01:55] We never really talked about money. Looking back now, as an adult, I see that there was a lot of bad credit card usage. My mom, she actually just told me that she cut up her credit cards yesterday. I know like when I would help my grandmother pay her bills, I know she had a large amount of debts on her credit cards and she would only pay the minimum. But I remember thinking like, ah, this is never going to get paid off.

Sheena: [00:02:22] And when she died, that fell on the family. So, selling stuff to pay off the debt. And so, I don’t think my family really handled money very well. It’s kind of frustrating, but also, I don’t really blame them. I understand why they were in that situation or in that situation. When I was going to college, my mom was like, take out like as much loans as you can, like the full amount. So, that’s what I did.

Sheena: [00:02:53] And so, I graduated with like $70,000 of student loans. And I don’t think my mom realized what kind of burden that would put on me in the future. That constant debt, like I have to pay it every month, and it’s not cheap. It’s like $400-and-some a month, and I’ve gotten it down a lot. I’m around $15,000 now left. So, it feels better, because I’m like, okay, it’s getting there. Like I’ve paid it down from 70,000, but yeah, it definitely like always felt like a burden or like this dark cloud over me.

Sheena: [00:03:29] Like I’m constantly thinking about my debt. Any time I have to or want to buy something, any time like I’m going to the grocery store, I’m thinking, okay, how much money do I have? Oh, I don’t have as much as I need. So, there are like health things that come up, like I just had to get an MRI, and it was $500, and I’m thinking, well, now, I have to pay that off. So, it wouldn’t be that bad if I didn’t have the student loan debt, and then the credit card debt on top of that. So, I feel like I can’t really pay for these necessities that come up.

Ramit Sethi: [00:04:05] To people in debt, one of the most common feelings they have is one step forward, two steps back. There’s even a concept called the poor tax, where poor people actually end up paying more for things like shoes, because they can only afford to buy poor quality shoes. Those are the same shoes that break more frequently than higher quality shoes. So, here in Sheena’s case, she’s making progress, and then something comes up that sets her back again. 

Ramit Sethi: [00:04:33] After one time, two times, three times, it’s not just frustrating, it starts to feel hopeless. You have to remember, we’re not robots. If you and I try something and fail repeatedly, the vast majority of us just give up. So, when you look at Sheena’s behavior through this lens, one step forward, two steps back, I did everything right, and I can’t seem to get ahead, her feelings start to make a lot more sense.

Sheena: [00:05:03] Like a year ago, we were talking about going to Japan. And it’s something that we really wanted to do for our 10th anniversary, which is this year, and my first thought was, how are we going to make that happen? I have so much debt, I need to pay that off first. How am I going to do this? Like I don’t have money saved. And then, I was looking into where we would want to stay and how much that’s going to cost, because we don’t want to go to Japan and stay in like a really cheap hotel if we want to have the full experience, and it just kept adding up, and I’m like, how would I do this?

Peter: [00:05:38] It’s like a pretty common pattern, where I can see it in her face, I can see her calculating, like tallying things up. Before we even look at like hotel prices or like no prices at all, I can see her already coming to the conclusion that we can’t afford it. It’s frustrating and it’s also a bummer, because it’s supposed to be a nice thing. It’s supposed to be the 10th anniversary.

Peter: [00:06:00] It’s not even about like staying at nice hotels, like if it’s not in the cards for us to have this kind of extravagant trip, my thinking is always, oh, we can always find something that we would enjoy. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, but I can see it in her face already that she’s already decided it’s not possible. And I think it’s really frustrating. I’ve always had this mindset, okay, we’ll figure it out, and even if it’s not the most ideal, we can find something that is enjoyable for us.

Sheena: [00:06:30] I get really frustrated, I think, and I kind of shut down, and I just give up, oh, it’s going to cost this much. I just kind of go into the same thing where I’m explaining, I don’t have this money set aside, I have too much debt, it’s not possible for us to do this. I think it’s just ingrained in me. I’ve been in so much debt for so long, like paying off student loans or I was kind of stupid in my 20s. And so, I’m like still paying for that as like a 35-year-old woman. And so, my plan right now is like, I need to put all my money I can to my debt and I need to get that off. And I don’t have this plan or like way of thinking where I do that and live my life, and I think that is a very hard thing for me to figure out.

Ramit Sethi: [00:07:22] Did you catch all those clues? Sheena feels frustrated by her debt. Okay. Fine. But then, Peter points out that she instinctively says no to anything for the two of them, meaning her debt is now affecting their relationship. And did you hear what he said? He said, I could see it in her face, even for something like their 10-year anniversary. You know what I found most interesting, though? In one sentence, Sheena says, she basically wants to give up, but then just a few seconds later, she says she has a plan and that plan is to put all her money towards her debt.

Ramit Sethi: [00:07:59] This is a really big clue. This is all or nothing thinking. The idea that you either have to go 100% all in or you’re a total failure. And this is really the key to what’s going on here. You feel bad for long enough, you either completely give up, or if you stay in the game, you’re very likely to develop tunnel vision. Listen to Sheena as she grapples with this.

Sheena: [00:08:27] He gets really upset, because he wants me to be more positive and he wants to be able to do things with his money. And, sorry, it makes me feel bad. 

Peter: [00:08:41] It’s okay. 

Sheena: [00:08:41] Makes you feel bad that I can’t like those things,

Ramit Sethi: [00:08:45] And if you could, what would it mean to you if you were able to think positively?

Sheena: [00:08:52] I think it would be better for him and me, but I do think it would be more supportive of him. I think I have like an all or nothing mentality a lot of the times, which he’s like, oh, no, we’ll figure something out. So, I think that’s exactly what happened, that I’m sitting there thinking about it, and I’m like, well, we can’t do it.

Peter: [00:09:12] Like for example, we’re redoing our apartment, and when we were initially talking about it, she had this kind of reaction where it’s like overwhelmed already before even sort of broke it down. And I even mentioned like, okay, maybe we’ll just paint the walls or get rid of stuff. Just the idea of redoing our apartment overwhelmed her. It made me feel like I’m always taking the lead, whereas I want her to feel like she’s a part of the process, too.

Ramit Sethi: [00:09:40] Sheena, what do you think about what Peter just said?

Sheena: [00:09:44] I’m sorry.

Ramit Sethi: [00:09:44] You could take your time.

Sheena: [00:09:46] It makes me a little sad that maybe he thinks I’m putting a lot of this on him to figure things out. And I do, I do kind of shut down. By the way, it is, because I get overwhelmed. And I don’t know if that’s just because I’m constantly stressed about debt and me, but it makes me feel upset. And it’s hard, because we never—I mean, we talk a little bit on the surface level about money, but I don’t think we’ve ever really talked like this. And so, it’s kind of the first time I’m hearing it. It’s kind of like a nagging voice, just always there like, you shouldn’t be buying this, you shouldn’t be buying socks right now, you have socks, like stupid little things like that.

Peter: [00:10:30] I get a sense of a lot of guilt following us around with how we spend money. And like for example, like we just had a staycation in New York, and it’s special that we split in all the stuff the entire time. Even though we were in this nice room, and we were ordering room service, you just feel it, it was like another person there, where it’s like, do not enjoy this, you can’t enjoy this, right?

Sheena: [00:10:54] Yeah.

Peter: [00:10:54] Even though we set money aside, we just couldn’t enjoy it as much as we wanted to.

Ramit Sethi: [00:10:59] Who’s that third person there hovering over? Is it the same person that you said Sheena nags you in your head?

Sheena: [00:11:08] Yeah.

Peter: [00:11:10] I feel it.

Ramit Sethi: [00:11:11] Did you know this? Sheena, did you know that Peter knows about this voice?

Sheena: [00:11:15] I don’t know if I really knew.

Peter: [00:11:17] I think you get a sense of it. Yeah, you get a sense of it. If I’m preempting your response to like decorating the apartment or coffee, then I know it’s there.

Ramit Sethi: [00:11:26] Of course, you both do. You’re a couple, you know each other, you don’t even have to say anything.

Sheena: [00:11:31] If I can stick to my schedule and nothing else comes up, it’ll be March 2022.

Ramit Sethi: [00:11:39] And when is your debt payoff date?

Peter: [00:11:41] It is October 2022.

Ramit Sethi: [00:11:44] I have to tell you that of the people I speak to who have debt, 95% of them do not know when their debt will be paid off, so you are in a very elite group of people.

Sheena: [00:11:55] I probably look at my finances too much from what I-

Peter: [00:12:00] Yeah, we should talk about that.

Ramit Sethi: [00:12:01] Yeah, lots of hints here, lots of clues. First, I’m really impressed that Sheena knows her debt payoff date. Almost nobody knows this. And that demonstrates, she’s not acting like an ostrich, she’s not trying to put her head in the sand and avoid her debt. She’s really done some serious work to take control of her debt. And in fact, she’s paid off over $50,000. If you want to know how to pay off your debt and create a debt payoff plan, you could learn how using my book. 

Ramit Sethi: [00:12:29] But also, notice that she constantly beats herself up. Money is not a source of accomplishment to her. It’s not opportunity or growth. It’s guilt, shame, negativity. When you hate money, you will make very, very bad decisions around it. Listen as I probe about her feelings around money. When your debt is paid off, do you think your attitude toward money will change?

Sheena: [00:13:02] I don’t know. That’s what I’m a little worried about. I’m worried that, I don’t know, like that I’m going to get to this place and that I’m going to feel the same way. Am I actually going to feel better when I get to that point? I really hope so, but I don’t know if I’m going to—I don’t know if I’m going to stop worrying about money. Like I would love to not have to worry, oh, do I have enough in my checking account to pay for these groceries or do I just use my credit card, because I don’t have enough?

Peter: [00:13:29] I think about it in terms of also like fitness and finances are very similar. And I think about, we got in shape for our wedding, and then we kind of slacked off a little bit afterwards. And I feel like that’s a possibility, too, if like even though her debt would be paid and she doesn’t have this cloud above her, I still feel like she might have that guilt still around spending money.

Sheena: [00:13:54] I mean, it’s a possibility, because then I would be terrified like, oh, my God, I can’t have anything on my credit cards, would be maybe a little scared to spend that. But I would be hoping that based on my spreadsheet that I do have, that I wouldn’t have to look at that intensely, because I wouldn’t have all these little other bills to pay. I would be hoping that it would be okay, because I would have my budget with how much I could spend, and then I would pay it off every month, which I’ve never been able to do that before.

Ramit Sethi: [00:14:30] I think that your attitude towards money is not going to change at all if you keep doing what you’re doing. I think that you are going to pay off your debt. I have total confidence in that. And I think that you are going to continue worrying, because it’s comfortable and it’s what you’ve known. You already have a plan, so if you were going to stop worrying, you would have already been doing it.

Ramit Sethi: [00:14:51] That little third party, Franny, or whatever we want to call her, Franny is going nowhere unless you force Franny out. And that takes a lot of work. That takes the work that you’re doing right now. I know many, many people who pay off their debt, or even worse, they make a lot of money and they still feel the exact same way. And they thought that the money in the spreadsheet would solve it, but it’s two totally separate problems. Totally.

Sheena: [00:15:19] It scares me a little bit, because like I don’t want to feel like that. I don’t want to keep feeling like this. So, tell me what I need to do to change, so I don’t feel like this in the future. I don’t want to be living in a spreadsheet, but I do. I track every little thing that I buy. Yeah, I used to do every night, I don’t anymore, I do it every Friday, my Friday finances.

Ramit Sethi: [00:15:43] And how does it make you feel when you do it? 

Sheena: [00:15:46] It makes me feel in control.

Ramit Sethi: [00:15:47] Oh, wow. Tell me more about that.

Sheena: [00:15:49] It makes me feel like I have a handle on my money and like I’m doing what I need to do.

Ramit Sethi: [00:15:54] Okay. Then, if that’s true, then why do you feel guilty when you buy toothpaste? Okay. Listen closely. Sheena is about to have a major breakthrough.

Sheena: [00:16:03] Because I’m probably doing it wrong. I’m trying to pay off my credit cards maybe too soon, so what happens is that I put this huge chunk of money onto my credit cards and I give myself $150 to spend for the week, which doesn’t even cover my food anymore. So, every little thing I buy takes out of that $150 a week and that runs out pretty fast, especially if, all of a sudden, I have to get toothpaste.

Ramit Sethi: [00:16:34] You didn’t budget for that, I’m sure. Nobody does.

Sheena: [00:16:37] I did not. So, yeah, those little things like come into play, and then I have to end up using my credit card again.

Ramit Sethi: [00:16:44] And is there a realization you’re hearing as you talk about this out loud?

Sheena: [00:16:48] That I’m not budgeting properly.

Ramit Sethi: [00:16:51] What does that mean, specifically?

Sheena: [00:16:52] Like I am putting too much money onto paying off my debt, but I just feel like I need to be paying it off fast.

Ramit Sethi: [00:17:00] Almost like it’s all or nothing. 

Sheena: [00:17:04] Yeah, I didn’t even think of that. That all or nothing really sneaks up on me.

Ramit Sethi: [00:17:08] All or nothing thinking shows up again. This is the idea that if you’re watching what you eat and you suddenly have a few chips, your entire day is ruined, so screw it, I’m going to have a pizza, and chips, and ice cream. Either I’m perfect or I won’t even participate at all. Now, of course, hearing this sounds absurd, we know that when kids start to learn how to ride a bike, they suck.

Ramit Sethi: [00:17:35] Every kid listening to this, you suck at riding a bike, you don’t know anything, can’t even stay up on those two pedals. But guess what, we don’t expect them to be some racing champion. These kids are just happy. They’re having fun. Yeah, they’re just happy if they can ride up right for 10 seconds. But as adults, we are so unfamiliar with what it feels like to start from ground zero that we create these all or nothing scenarios.

Ramit Sethi: [00:18:03] Either we are 100% great or we’re not going to play at all. Remember my 85% solution from my book? Getting 85% of the way there is better than dreaming about 100% and actually getting 0% of the way there at all. Yeah, of course, it hits us in every part of life. So, for just a moment, I want you to inhabit my world, what I would be saying if I heard somebody in your situation, and I’m going to repeat a few facts that they’ve shared with me, and then you play the role of me and you give me some advice.

Ramit Sethi: [00:18:41] So, here are the facts. I’ve had debt for a long time. I’ve paid off a considerable amount and I’m within striking distance of paying it off. I know the exact month and year. I check my finances every Friday, so I know it makes me feel in control. Throughout the week, things tend to come up, and then I overspend. I put it on my credit card. It makes me feel bad. I hear a third voice in the back of my head telling me, that’s bad, you shouldn’t do that. What advice would you give me?

Sheena: [00:19:11] I think that maybe you shouldn’t be putting as much onto paying off your debt so that you have that amount set aside for things that come up during the week, but that feels very wrong for me to say.

Ramit Sethi: [00:19:26] Why?

Sheena: [00:19:27] Because having this high-interest debt is just adding—every month, there’s just more and more interest added on to it, so It’s just bad to have that much debt.

Ramit Sethi: [00:19:40] What I want to point out to you is that money is multidimensional. You’re looking at it from the mathematical perspective, which is great. We always want to understand the math. You know your debt payoff date, you know your interest rate. Awesome. But I want you to really reflect on the moments where you have gotten overwhelmed or visibly upset on this call. Let me give you a hint. It wasn’t around the math. What was it around?

Sheena: [00:20:10] Our relationship and how it’s affecting that.

Ramit Sethi: [00:20:13] Yeah. And so, you are following the rules, but they are the rules that you set up for yourself. And to tell you the truth, they’re making you really upset. So, what I see when I hear you is someone who has accomplished something extremely impressive, 70K to less than 15K is amazing, knows their debt, pay off debt, is willing to come here, and talk to me, and engage with your partner, but I just see that this rule you’ve created for yourself is so tightly wound. It’s like a rubber band that’s ready to snap. And if I could simply suggest one thing would be, what if we just loosen that just a little? What does it feel like when you hear that?

Sheena: [00:20:58] I think it’s a little scary, because then that means I live with my debt for a little bit longer, but I think it might be the right thing to do. I think it would make me feel a little bit more at ease [indiscernible] Peter.

Ramit Sethi: [00:21:14] Alright. This sounds good. Let’s figure out a plan of attack, starting with how much Sheena is spending. $1,860 per month of credit card debt off, is that correct?

Sheena: [00:21:27] At least.

Ramit Sethi: [00:21:29] So, I want to say it’s really counterintuitive to slow your payments on debt, but because you were both really disciplined about your fitness journey, I’m going to use the fitness analogy. You know that if you cut your calories too much, it’s possible that you just stop the program altogether. And I think we’ve all experienced this. We go a little too aggressive, and then we just zoom back the other way, or perhaps you stretch it to 15 months or 16, whatever the number may be, but you’re actually going to sustain it and not feel bad the entire time.

Ramit Sethi: [00:22:09] Most importantly of all, you are starting to work on your money psychology before the debt is paid off. You go down this route, you pay off your debt, you’re still going to be feeling bad and you’re going to have Franny sitting there in the corner for the rest of your life. To me, that’s a failure, because on paper, you’re going to be debt-free, but I know so many other IWT readers, they have made so much money and they are still living guilty lives, the guilt that they started feeling at the age of 15 or 20. 

Ramit Sethi: [00:22:41] That’s a failed rich life to me. Yes, you are going to pay a little bit more in interest. That’s okay. It’s rare for me to say this, but it is okay, because the rules for yourself are so strict and stringent, they’re causing you to not live a good life. And it’s starting to have serious costs. It’s starting to be a barrier between the two of you.

Sheena: [00:23:03] Yeah, I see that, because last year alone, I’ve paid off 15,000 just on my credit cards, and that was with partially not having a job, too, part of the year. So, I was really, really, really strict and it was not fun. I don’t really even feel that much better right now paying all that off. So, I see what you’re saying.

Ramit Sethi: [00:23:29] Now that Sheena and Peter have a plan that’s realistic, we need to do a little bit of what I call failure expectation. When we’re creating a plan, I always like to talk about the risks, especially when people are about to change the way that they interact with money. I want to inoculate them against what can go wrong, because it’s going to help them understand what pitfalls to look out for, and that’s going to make them much more likely to succeed.

Sheena: [00:23:58] I mean, obviously, there’s going to be more interest, but I really can’t see risks with it, because I actually feel it will be less risky, because right now, if I run out of money in my checking, I’m going to my credit card. So, it actually seems safer to me in a way, a safer option in terms of the money.

Peter: [00:24:20] Yeah. I don’t see other than extending the timeframe for her payoff. I think the longer payment plan might scare her in the beginning, but if it will give her more time to enjoy her money and relax a little bit about it, she’ll work through that and get over it after a little bit.

Sheena: [00:24:40] I guess the worst fear would be just running my credit cards up so much that I can’t afford to pay the minimum, and pay for rent, and pay my student loans. Like that’s the worst thing that could happen.

Ramit Sethi: [00:24:53] And what happens then?

Sheena: [00:24:54] My credit score goes down and I get charges on top of that, because I’m not paying the minimum.

Ramit Sethi: [00:25:00] And then, what?

Sheena: [00:25:00] So, I’m just kind of like digging myself into a bigger hole.

Ramit Sethi: [00:25:03] Yeah. And then, what happens?

Sheena: [00:25:05] I don’t know.

Ramit Sethi: [00:25:06] I always like to ask, because we have these low-grade fears often. And with money, I would say yours has been more than a low-grade fear. You’re talking about groceries and you’re thinking about money. But when I ask what’s the worst that could happen, it’s, well, I might get more debt. Okay. What does that mean? Well, my credit score might go down. But who really cares about your credit score? What does it matter? So, what is the worst fear? You think about your relationship.

Sheena: [00:25:33] Very scary. It’s just scary, like it’s making me emotional, thinking about it. I just think it puts so much stress in my life. And I don’t think I realized for a long time how much stress it gets me. I don’t want to have to think about it. I just feel like there’s no end in sight. It’s just the stress, and I don’t want that. I want to be free, like I feel like I have this chain around me and I can’t live my life, because if I buy something nice or I do something for our apartment, I just have this voice in the back of my head like, why are you buying this? Why aren’t you paying off your debt?

Ramit Sethi: [00:26:21] People who have financial problems love to talk about their problems. My job is to get them out of that cycle and to gently focus them on solutions. Here, I have a situation where Sheena’s money psychology runs deep and it’s affecting her relationship with Peter. So, what I did was I asked them to put themselves in each other’s shoes and verbalize how their partner probably feels. And this is a really, really difficult exercise. And I’m using it, because it forces them to get out of their heads and out of their automatic responses.

Sheena: [00:26:57] Okay. I’m going to try to think like how you think like about the Japan trip, and if you came to me, how I did, I would feel very sad. I feel like you shut down like the whole idea.

Ramit Sethi: [00:27:13] Money is emotional. I would be surprised if you weren’t. You’re talking about something you’ve probably never talked about at this level.

Sheena: [00:27:20] I think you might feel kind of nervous to bring up anything else in the future maybe, but you couldn’t contribute to the relationship, because I would just shut it down, shut down an idea. So, maybe that would make you feel scared to communicate to me.

Peter: [00:27:41] I would feel frustrated, because I want to do things with you. I want to enjoy life with you, but it doesn’t seem like I can, and it frustrates me, and it can make me feel like I am not part of—or I’m not fun, I can’t be a part of this relationship, because there’s something wrong with me. Like can I get out of this hole? And it frustrates me. And I know it frustrates you and I don’t know what to do about it. That’s why I feel like when I think about what you must be going through.

Ramit Sethi: [00:28:17] Sheena, what do you think about what Peter said?

Sheena: [00:28:19] I think it’s pretty accurate. Yeah, I think I feel like I can’t get out of the hole, because I’ve been in it so long. I guess what I would add is that I just feel like I can’t really enjoy life without feeling bad about it. I feel guilt. Yeah, I don’t think we’ve ever really talked about that.

Peter: [00:28:42] Yeah. We never really talked about-

Sheena: [00:28:44] Life after debt.

Ramit Sethi: [00:28:45] Yeah, you never have. Even though you had a debt payoff plan, you never once talked about what happens the day after. Well, let’s start at the ground level. What if you could go to the grocery store, and never, ever think about how much toothpaste costs for you?

Sheena: [00:29:02] That would be amazing.

Ramit Sethi: [00:29:03] Just simple things in life, we start there. You do not have to price shop on this toothpaste, you just get it. You want to get two, be my guest. Okay. What would the next level be?

Sheena: [00:29:15] We could try, when things open up, if we could try like a new cocktail bar that we love to do. 

Ramit Sethi: [00:29:25] Great. How many times per month?

Sheena: [00:29:26] Love to get one.

Ramit Sethi: [00:29:27] And how many drinks?

Sheena: [00:29:29] Three each, because they’re really nice.

Peter: [00:29:32] Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: [00:29:32] Yeah. So, part of changing your psychology, both of you, is to really start to be able to dream bigger. We have earned the right to think bigger. What are you going to do the first month after you paid off the debt?

Sheena: [00:29:47] We should go for a nice dinner.

Peter: [00:29:49] We’ve gone to nice dinners. We always go to nice dinners. I feel like we should go like upstate or something. Like we always talk about going to a road trip, going somewhere outside of the city, spending some time together, and hopefully, Franny is not there.

Sheena: [00:30:02] Franny is not going to be invited along.

Peter: [00:30:04] I feel like we will be able to talk about things more, and be, I think, more optimistic about things we want to do, or like redecorating the apartment, or trips, or even thinking about going to a nice bar when things open up again. Like I think she’ll be more optimistic and excited about it, and I would feel less stressed in terms of approaching her or having to figure things out all the time. She’s always worried about money, and I feel like we can feel more like a team with how we decide to spend our time, and money, and lives together.

Sheena: [00:30:42] That’s what I was thinking, too.

Ramit Sethi: [00:30:47] I love this episode, because we had so many dynamics at play, Sheena’s debt, her impressive payoff, but her focus on money as a source of stress, and shame, and of course, how that was affecting her relationship with Peter. Here’s my suggestion to you. Listen to this episode with your partner and talk about the conversation. Use this as a sounding board. Ask your partner what they noticed. Ask them if they’ve ever felt overwhelmed with money.

Ramit Sethi: [00:31:15] Tell them a time where you have. If you find that either of you are judging throughout this episode, pause for a second, try to understand the ways that you are irrational with your money, or that you are emotional, or just plain weird about money, you might be surprised. And remember, in personal finance, we overvalue math and undervalue psychology. This podcast is meant to help you change that. Here’s what you’ll find next week on the I Will Teach You To Be Rich podcast.

Jessica: [00:31:52] I do wish my parents helped more 100%, but they’re very old school, they believe the husband should be making money, the husband should be providing and everything.

Nathaniel: [00:32:02] It becomes a big fight and we try to make up at the end of the night, but it adds up. We were living month to month, and I didn’t think it was going to be like that before we got married. If you want me to provide, we’ve got to downgrade. I can’t keep providing a lifestyle that we can’t afford.

Back to top

Ramit’s best advice, straight to your inbox — Sign up for the newsletter today!

100% privacy. No games, no B.S., no spam. When you sign up, we’ll keep you posted