Eliminating debt is more than just a numbers game. It's an act of breaking free from difficult past experiences. Debt associated with rough events -- such as divorce or a reckless phase in life -- is painful to carry around. So when you finally cut that debt from your life, you'll likely "experience tremendous emotional liberation," says Dallas-based financial adviser Derrick Kinney, who has seen this reaction especially in divorced clients.
"Paying that debt off ... separates them from the other person," says Kinney. That enthusiasm can lead to better financial and personal decisions in the future. "They don't want to go back to what they experienced because the pain was so great," he says.
For Hildebrandt, she associates those years of paying off debt with a very difficult time in life. She cared for their three children while her husband worked two jobs, his day job as a chemist and a night job mopping the floors of a grocery store. He barely slept. And when gas prices rose, he slept in his car overnight, even through the brutal Wisconsin winters.
Once they were free from debt, he quit his part-time job. Now, when he walks into a grocery store, Hildebrandt says her husband always stops and looks at the floor. "He's relieved he doesn't have to do that anymore."