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  • Writer's pictureJosh Wymore

1+1: Digging out of (time) debt + total money makeover

Hey there! Here’s one leadership idea and one resource I’ve found beneficial this week:

A grapefruit sliced in half

This is Part 2 of a three-part series on time debt. See Part 1 here.

1 idea: Digging out of (time) debt

When my parents unexpectedly found themselves with $40,000 in credit card debt, they knew they had to do something. They were both raised with strong values of personal responsibility, so filing for bankruptcy and cancelling their debts was not even an option. A credit counseling service told them that at their current payment rate it would take 45 years for them to be debt-free. How in the world were they going to dig themselves out of that hole?

Many of the leaders I coach feel the same way with their time. They know their lifestyle of incessant work and high stress is unsustainable. But when you’re so deep into a hole, how do you climb out?

After their wakeup call, my parents attacked their own debt aggressively. They convened a family meeting with me (age 10) and my two younger brothers (9 and 5) where we talked honestly about what we were up against. Together, we cut up all their credit cards and committed to living even more frugally in the coming years so we could get this weight off our backs. 

With the help of a consumer credit agency, they renegotiated the interest rates on most of their loans and began making bigger payments. Once a debt was paid off, that loan payment got combined with the others to create a larger debt snowball. Slowly but surely, debt started to melt away. After seven years of sacrifice and saving—just in time for me to go off to college—my parents could proudly say they were debt-free. Their discipline and sacrifice not only taught me a lot about the need for margin and the dangers of debt; it also helped me pay cash for college and graduate debt-free.


How could their example apply to your own time debt? Follow these four steps:

  1. Assess how deep your time debt is. Identify all your major commitments and how much time they're costing you. How do those commitments align with what is most important to you? What would need to change for your time spending to better align with your deepest values? 

  2. Cut up your “credit cards.” As the old adage goes, “if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging." Stop saying yes to new commitments until you are further out of the hole. (This may be the hardest part.)

  3. Speak candidly with your lenders. Talk to the people you have committed to: your boss, family, friends, etc. Own up to the reality that your accounts are overdrawn and that you need to negotiate a new path forward. Do you need to step off of some projects? Draw firmer boundaries in a relationship? Make new commitments to prioritize more important things? Create a go-forward plan that works for both parties.  

  4. Use the debt snowball to fully pay off one debt before moving on to another. If you have some one-off commitments that could be wrapped up once and for all (like a project or delegation), consider concentrating your energy on them to eliminate them altogether. 

Let’s be real: this process is straightforward, but it’s very hard. After all, if it was easy, you would have done it already.

And there’s one more elephant in the room: this works for getting out of debt once, but how do you stay debt-free long-term? That’s the challenge I’ll tackle in my third and final installment in this series on time debt.

1 resource: Total Money Makeover

Dave Ramsey's bestseller The Total Money Makeover captures many of the principles that helped my parents get out of debt. It's a straightforward, practical read that can help you wherever you are on your financial journey. And you might even find that some of the ideas help you avoid time debt as well.  

You can find the book on Amazon or wherever books are sold.

Cover of James Clear's book Atomic Habits


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