Getting Out of Debt is Like Using a Public Restroom


My name is Andrea, and I have a confession: I have a phobia of public restrooms. The photo above was taken outside a mall bathroom a few years ago. I’m sad to say I didn’t heed the warning - I won’t describe the horrors I witnessed beyond that door, but I will tell you that it only took about 3 seconds to realize my mistake. I’ve barely set foot in a public restroom since.

Two weeks ago, I encountered a dilemma. I had just dropped off my cousin in Nashville, where he left for basic training for the National Guard. I guzzled a large sweet tea from McDonald’s on the drive down, and by the time I got back on the interstate, I was ready to pee in my pants. Did I risk stopping at a restaurant? Or did I drive nearly 100 miles home and pray I didn’t hit any potholes? As I wrestled with the options, I realized that using a public restroom (like many other random concepts) is a lot like getting out of debt.

It’s Undesirable

Who would choose a public restroom over their own bathroom at home? No one! Similarly, some people would rather be stabbed in the arm than balance a checkbook or create a budget. Much easier to stay in the familiar realm of ignoring where your money goes, right?

Sometimes, though, paying attention to your finances can be a major source of relief. If you’re desperate enough, you’ll ignore the ick factor and just get it over with as quickly as possible. That’s the best way to do it - put your feelings aside, do what has to be done, and feel better about life once it’s over.

You Have to Give Up Some Privacy

Ever used a public bathroom where the crack between stalls was wide enough to stick your hand through? Or wash your hands to the tune of someone else’s explosive diarrhea? I can’t even think about men who have to use urinals! When you use the restroom in public, you’re….well, in public. And no matter how much you don’t want to, you could end up sharing more than a hand dryer with other people. It’s embarrassing.

If you’re trying to get out of debt, you probably don’t want the whole world to know your financial situation. Yet people find out, whether you tell them or not. When you turn down a dinner invitation because “we’re on a budget,” you’re admitting you have debt. When you pay an overdraft fee to your bank, the employees know you’re not doing a great job managing your money. And if you’re like me at the height of my spending addiction, your family and friends might see your name in the newspaper under Bankruptcies.

It’s Easier When You Don’t Go Alone

Guys always joke about women going to the restroom in groups. They debate what we’re doing in there, picturing us having in-depth conversations about hair, makeup, and our relationships. Allow me to take away some of the mystery: We take our friends to the restroom so we don’t have to go in there by ourselves. That way, if it’s a terrible experience, we can laugh about it instead of freaking out and drowning ourselves in hand sanitizer.

Getting out of debt is the same way. If you have friends who can validate what you’re going through, it’s much easier to deal with the unpleasant aspects. That’s why I started blogging - it’s easier to avoid overspending when I know other people are working toward the same goals. Also, I know my friends and readers will help me stay motivated if I start thinking I can’t do it.

It Takes Forever

One of the downsides of women going to the restroom in groups is having to wait in line. I always crack up watching a bunch of women pretend they aren’t doing the pee pee dance in a mall or restaurant. Some of them get tired of waiting and stomp away, presumably to pee in the bushes outside. Others tap their feet or roll their eyes. But none of it gets them into a stall any faster.

It’s SO much easier to get into debt than to get out of it. When you owe money to a bunch of people and places, you may feel like they’re all standing expectantly in line, tapping their feet. And it may seem like you’re doing nothing but waiting - waiting to get paid, waiting for your next credit card statement, waiting for wealthy Aunt Joan to pass away and leave you enough money to get out of this mess. Just like using a public restroom, though, no amount of sighing or wiggling will get you to the front of the line - time to learn the virtue of patience.

You Have to Make Conscious Choices

Everyone has limits. There is a certain level of disgusting that most of us can tolerate in a public restroom before we run out screaming. The minute you walk in, you’re evaluating - how bad is the stench? Have the floors even been cleaned recently? Do I really need to go to the bathroom badly enough to tolerate this? Is there soap in the dispenser? Everything may look fine, then you walk into the stall and see an unflushed toilet. Your reaction depends on your level of need (and your gag reflex).

Getting out of debt also involves choices. You have to decide how much money you can dedicate to debt payoff each month. How much you’re willing to sacrifice to reach your goals. What system works best for your situation. And you will constantly reevaluate those decisions to make sure they still make sense. Something unexpected may happen that causes your priorities to change, and you have to be prepared for that. Every single purchase you make is a choice; not just a choice for the item you buy, but a choice against other things you could have bought. The amount of change you’re willing to make depends on you.

So, How YOU Doin’?

Are you freaked out by the thought of doing something about your debt? Or have you decided it’s time to take control of your finances once and for all? When it comes to debt, it’s time to “pee or get off the pot,” as my son’s grandmother is fond of saying.

Like using a public restroom, getting your finances in order is usually something you do when you don’t have another alternative. Sometimes, though, even the worst experiences can help us appreciate the good ones - whether that’s the comfort of your bathroom at home, or an escape from a disgusting, smelly mound. Of debt, that is.

(For the record, I fought the urge as long as I could on that trip home from Nashville, but I finally stopped about halfway home. Which goes to show that you can avoid unpleasant situations for awhile, but there comes a point where you have to get over it and take action. I would like to thank the convenience store off I-24 for providing a restroom experience that didn’t give me nightmares.)

  • 20sFinances

    You’ve hit another one out of the park! great post and I love the analogy.

  • Bogofdebt

    I too hate the public restrooms! I should not have read this at work though-I was laughing a bit too much.

  • Well Heeled Blog

    Hahha great post! But you have NOT seen the public bathrooms in other countries, have you? Let me tell you… I’d take a dirty bathroom in the States over a dirty bathroom in rural Latin America or Asia anyday. Imagine a concrete trough on the floor with no partitions and no flush mechanism or even running water. Enough said.

  • Rachel

    If you’re ever driving through KS, MO, NE, OK or parts of TX look for QuickTrip. They actually clean the bathrooms once an hour and will clean them for you immediately if they’re dirty. Best gas station ever.

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      Whoa, that’s amazing! I have never heard of such wonders. Clearly I’m living in the wrong part of the country.

      • Rachel

        I’ve never been in one that’s dirty. The company is OCD on customer service. I didn’t think it was possible for a gas station bathroom to be clean before I moved out here.

  • Tanner E

    That’s an excellent post. Very true! I’m not much of a hermaphobe, but I still avoid public restrooms out of habit.

  • Alice at Dont Debt

    You did an amazing job with this post! You’re so right. It’s inconvenient and not pretty, this thing we’re trying to do: get out of debt.

    “So, How YOU Doin’?”

    I’m doing pretty good about getting out of debt. I know how much debt I have and have a plan (a huge spreadsheet with income and expenses forecast through 2020). If I’m frugal and careful enough, I’ll have it all paid off by June 2016. *crossing my fingers and toes and sending up a prayer*

  • Newlyweds on a Budget

    gosh you’re crazy funny. i would have never made that analogy. however, i’m not afraid of public restrooms, i don’t have a problem with germs, apparently. and i also don’t have a problem with managing our debt. at the beginning, it was ROUGH. but now that i’ve seen our progress, it just makes me want to keep on plugging.

  • American Debt Project

    The waiting description was great! I definitely feel like I am waiting for every other Friday, waiting for my balances to update (to their new lower amount), waiting to see my credit score improve. I’m currently in limbo on one big financial decision and need to figure out what I’m going to do. I know I’m stalling, but I also know I don’t want to be impatient like I used to be. Thanks for keeping me motivated!

  • See Debt Run

    Awesome, Andrea.. You are on a roll.

    In general, getting out of debt stinks..
    But you certainly will feel a few pounds lighter once you are done..


  • Michelle

    Love this post.

    And like you, I’m terrified also. I usually will not go and just wait until I go home.

  • BrokeElizabeth

    Baha, what a great comparison. I am (hopefully) going to graduate with only student loan debt, so I have a pretty set timeline for when I am going to have to start paying it off (six months after I graduate, if I choose to defer payments for a little while and set up an emergency fund.) I think the fact that I am already starting to think about paying off my student loans (when I still have 2.5 more years until I graduate) shows that I am dedicated to the goal of being debt free ASAP, but we’ll see if that attitude continues. I’m started a new PF blog to help me keep accountability for my financial decisions, so that will help.

  • Jessica

    I loved the bathrooms at Mohegan Sun casino in CT. We didn’t even go in the casino to experience their greatness. The gas station on the property had these great ones. There’s a plastic sleeve surrounding the toilet seat. When you flush, it slides around and you always get a clean spot. So refreshing to know that I wasn’t going to accidentally bump into someone’s dribbles.

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      Fancy stuff! I think I’m going to make a coffee table book about awesome bathrooms - just travel all over the place and take pictures of the less disgusting ones.

  • SmallIvy

    Public restrooms are why I don’t like communism. When people don’t feel they own it they don’t take care of it. Some even take delight in breaking it even if that means it will be locked the next time they really need to go. Also, like in communism, some people take care of themselves and clean up their own messes, a very small number of people are willing to even help clean up after some other people for the good of all, and some rest just pee all over the seats. The leaders have their own restrooms.

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      Very interesting perspective! I’d like to hear more on this - you should write a post!

      • SmallIvy

        I’ve got one already, except about the office microwave instead of a public restroom:

        I have been amazed that people will vandalize a public restroom, considering that they will probably want to use it in the future. I can’t understand the thinking - maybe there is none.

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  • Aloysa @My Broken Coin

    Lovely! I hate public bathrooms as well. But believe me we have it great here in the US. In China I had to squat over a marble hole in the ground. I loved the analogy and could not agree more.

  • Rafiki

    Lol. Awesome post once again and so very true. I have to admit though, this is one time I am happy to be a man. Of all the horror stories I’ve heard about public bathrooms, I can’t recall ever hearing any about male bathrooms and the worst I’ve ever seen in person is wet paper stuck on a wall. Given my tolerance level is pretty low that is enough to turn me off but my general experience has never been sour. I do try to avoid them as much as possible either ways though.

  • Melissa@LittleHouseintheValley

    I hadn’t thought of the similarities, but thanks for the comparison. Now, every time I sue a public bathroom I will be thinking about debt.

  • Jess @JessCantCook

    Love this! I was just going over my husband and I’s combined debt this morning (we’re newlyweds) and it’s not pretty. This definitely made me feel better about our situation

  • Carrie Starr

    Having just completed a New York to Florida back to New York road trip, the pungency of public restrooms is fresh in my mind. This is a fabulous analogy to the inevitable discomfort of facing the reality of debt. Thanks so much for sharing in such a humorous and engaging way!! =)

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