Reluctantly, I swiped my credit card.

I had run out of money and although my latest credit card bill statement said that I had a balance of almost RM10,000, I needed money for petrol.


This was back in 2008. Back then, money seemed to disappear from my bank account the moment my salary came in. Inevitably, I would have to use credit cards to pay for necessities like food and petrol by the end of each month.

It was a bad time to live from paycheck to paycheck. (Is there ever a good time?) My industry wasn’t doing well and I was constantly afraid of being laid off. With credit card debts, a house and car loan to service, that thought filled me with panic.


Financial stress can cause sleepless nights, illnesses and burnout. I’ve been there. During times of economic uncertainty, the stress can be overwhelming.Perhaps you’re working hard to nix your debt now. However, pushing too hard may cause you to burn out too.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

During my long journey to eliminate my debts, I learned that the key to decreasing financial stress is to regain your sense of control and have the right perspective. Here’s how:

1. Get your mindset right and get support

One of the most important mental shifts you can make is to stop being a victim. Don’t blame the economy or your boss. Channel that energy into planning your next step instead. It’s also important to trim away negativity; don’t listen to people who will discourage you. Instead, hang out with folks who will cheer you on. Read stories of people who’ve overcome their financial problems and connect with a like-minded community (there are plenty online). They’ll be a great source of support.


2. Get a clear picture of your current financial situation

When you don’t have a clear idea of where you stand financially, you’ll always have that nagging feeling that something is wrong. So, take a few hours to list down all your assets and liabilities. This step may be anxiety-provoking, but it’s essential. When you have the whole picture, you’ll be able to come up with a concrete plan.

3. Put together an emergency budget

What’s the barest minimum you can live on in case of a financial emergency (such as a job loss)? Knowing the exact figure is reassuring as it gives you an idea of how much to save when the unexpected happens.

4. Start saving for an emergency fund


Now that you have your emergency budget, aim to save at least 3 to 6 months of it. Factor in taxes, insurance, car repairs and other irregular bills on top of this amount. When you start this, it’ll put you into a more positive space. Finally, you’re making a change! Having an emergency fund will also give you the peace of mind that if anything happens, you don’t have to go into debt just to get by.

5. Be patient and kind to yourself

You may have the most solid debt repayment plan on the planet, but life happens. Your child needs dentures. A viral pandemic could wreck economies globally, causing your business profits to fall. The journey to reorganise your finances will have dips and valleys. Cut yourself some slack and be patient – it’ll take time.

6. Look for opportunities

It’s very easy to believe that your life is full of disadvantages when debt weighs so heavily on your life. But all of us have unique advantages that we can use to manage our finances. For example, when I was aggressively clearing  my debts, I took advantage of a company scheme which allowed me to earn extra money by taking on projects outside office hours.

Ask yourself: What can you do to earn extra income? Can you downsize your bills so that you can save more? The Internet is also full of free resources. Look up courses, books or listen to podcasts to gain ideas on improving your finances.

When you look for opportunities instead of downsides, the journey will be less bleak.

7. Finally, track your progress


Jot down your debt and savings totals each month. Not only will the clarity alleviate nagging worries, seeing your progress is a great way to give yourself the motivational boost to press on towards the end.

It’s challenging to pay down your debt, but the journey doesn’t have to be fraught with anxiety or despair. With the right mindset, you can achieve your goals without burning out in the process.

As for me, it’s 2020 and I now live debt free with a healthy emergency fund.

Let me assure you, when you don’t have debt hanging over your head, you can breathe easier. While this may not banish uncertainty from your life it’ll help you be better prepared for it and manage the stress of disruptive times.

Good luck on your journey!