This is a question that 51% of consumers said “yes” to in a 2019 study conducted by Credit Sesame, a free financial health platform founded in 2010.

Among the survey’s roughly 1,000 consumers, more than half reported they would be willing to forgo sex for an 800 credit score. A near-perfect credit rating has become the holy grail of consumerism, replacing the once-revered and eagerly sought-after orgasm, but proving even harder to attain.

Even though FICO ratings are steadily on the rise and millennials’ average score has increased 25 points since 2012, the survey’s results highlight just how powerful our negative feelings about debt can be. 

Credit scores are important for your life.

It’s understandable why people are afraid of bad credit scores. A good credit score is required for nearly all of life’s milestones – signing a new lease for an apartment, taking out a mortgage, buying a car, and more.

But having a high credit score also puts money directly back into your pocket. Someone with a 650 credit score would pay $65,000 more on their mortgage over 30 years than someone buying the same house with a FICO score over 760, since interest rates are calculated based on your creditworthiness.

Money fear affects our mental health.

Credit Sesame’s data shows that poor credit health leads to negative mental health consequences such as stress (82%) and shame (40%).

Is it possible that these negative emotions are driving consumers to use self-sacrificial measures in service to the Almighty Credit Score?

Data is proving that, yes – Younger adults have picked up some strange, even “risky” habits to try and save money. 

What are some of these habits? They probably sound familiar.

Millennials in particular are notorious for putting off medical help and simply “hoping” their condition will subside, or avoiding emergency care because of high deductibles. According to a 2019 survey conducted by Nationwide Retirement Institute, roughly three out of four adults between ages 25 and 45 have been guilty of jeopardizing their health in the name of financial prudence.

Many respondents also claimed they even skip medical appointments from time to time, especially appointments with a specialist, such as a physical therapist, that often come with with higher copays. 

Some even admitted to rationing their medication, or taking less than the recommended dosage to extend the length of the prescription.

But here’s a risky behavior that only millennials could invent: 58% of Credit Sesame’s survey respondents said that, in the event of a medical emergency, they would use a rideshare service like Uber instead of paying for an ambulance fee, which range depending on your insurance coverage but sometimes cost well over $1000, and even more for air ambulance transport. 

Ironically, according to Credit Sesame, a large chunk of credit card debt can be attributed to self-care – at 21%. 

In some ways, this makes sense – If so many consumers are skipping medical appointments, then self-care is likely a necessity. 

But even a relaxing daily sound bath won’t erase your debt, so the question becomes this:

How do we interrupt the cycle?

There are better (and even fun!) strategies for getting out of debt and sticking to a budget

Luckily, there are plenty of creative strategies to get out of debt without rationing medication, embracing celibacy, or forgoing medical transport. Here are just a few to get you started:

  1. Spend 30 minutes a week writing down your goals. Tess Brigham, a therapist to millennials, says her clients’ number one complaint is having too many choices. FOMO can be FATAL when your goal is to pay down debt. What to do? Buy an old-school note pad and get focused.
  2. Make an emergency fund. Replace the faux security blanket of credit cards with actual cash in the bank. Though experts say you should aim for 6 months, start by putting $1,000 aside for a rainy day.
  3. Attack your high interest credit card debt. Do this exercise: After minimum bills are paid, how much is left? Whether it’s $500, $250, or even $100 remaining – throw all of your extra cash at your debt. (Remember, you have an emergency fund now – don’t panic.) To kill your debt the fastest, pick one of these two strategies: Number One – Pour your extra money towards the card with the highest interest rate, or Number Two – Start with the smallest balance first.  Choose the path makes you feel most awesome and motivated, and for crying out loud, stick to the plan.
  4. Call the people you owe money and say, “Hi, I’d like to pay you less.” It actually works, so do it! Learn to negotiate like a ninja and remind them how much your loyalty is worth to them. Another alternative is signing up for a credit card with 0% APR for balance transfers, but a lot of people skip this if they don’t think they will qualify for a new card, or if having a new card is too much temptation to spend. 
  5. Consolidate your debt. Have multiple credit card balances? There are a zillion lending companies out there designed to give you interest rates as low as 4% on debt consolidation loans, so why not use one? Prosper, Payoff, and Lending Tree are just a few. Sure, you’ll still have a large balance. But making one easy, low-interest payment is often way less overwhelming and can save you literally thousands of dollars.
  6. Keep your expenses low and make crushing your debt #1. Remember – wealth comes from within. There’s no shame in wearing the same clothes repeatedly or living in a modest house like the world’s third wealthiest person, Warren Buffet, does. You could even become a goddess of thrifty fashion like Tiffany Haddish. Soon, you’ll be such a pro at spending money only on the things you care about that consumer FOMO will be a thing of the past.
  7. Look ahead to possible occasions where you’ll receive a lump-sum. Holiday bonuses? Tax refund? Birthday gifts? Inheritances? If you have high-interest debt to pay off, plan ahead and put it in the budget for big cash payouts on your horizon. If there’s no inheritance coming for you, don’t worry – Millennials and Gen Xers are soon to become the recipients of $30 trillion in wealth from the baby boomers. 
  8. Train your brain and prepare for wealth. You’ll never pay off debt until you believe in a better future. Be brave – Use a service like Mint to calculate your net worth, even if you know it’s in the red. Then, write what number you want as your ideal net worth (the total amount of cash and assets you have minus your debts and liabilities). Write down this ideal number – even if it seems over-the top! – and place it in sticky notes around your home in places you know you’ll look. Me personally? I post it on my nightstand, by my toothbrush, by the coffee maker, and on my desk. 
  9. Befriend the library. Millennials love books, and we’re living in a time with amazing access to incredible, diverse authors. The good thing about reading? It is free, and it makes you smarter. The bad news? It’s never been easier to have a book show up on your doorstep thanks to Amazon’s “Buy Now” button. Midway through last year, I made it a rule to check my local library before checking Amazon, and I was amazed at how many books it has in audio, digital, paperback, and hardback forms (and how much I saved!)

How do I maintain my credit score once my debt is paid off?

Once your debt is paid off, it is more important than ever to practice good habits to maintain a good credit score between 670-850. Here are some basic guidelines to follow if you’ve made it this far:

  1. Be discerning about what cards to keep, use, close, or destroy. Keep most of your accounts open, especially your oldest credit line. Feel free to destroy the plastic cards you don’t want to use. Close the accounts of any cards with annual fees that aren’t giving you an ROI. 
  2. Choose which cards to keep in your everyday rotation and learn how to manage multiple cards responsibly.  Choose 1-3 “everyday cards” to keep in your wallet and put the rest in a drawer while you wait for their intended use, such as when paying for hotels, airfare, or  international travel.
  3. Pay 100% of your balances on-time with autopay. Make sure your bill pay history is on point and you enjoy earning points every month. 
  4. Find creative ways to rack up the points, like designating your best cash back rewards cards to pay recurring household expenses. Once, I almost lived in an apartment complex that allowed tenants to pay rent via credit card through an online portal. I ultimately found a better apartment, but if I had moved into that one I would have charged (and paid off) $1400 automatically every month. Ka-ching!
  5. Don’t max out your cards. Keep about 75% of your total credit limit across all of your cards untouched by paying off your balances and charging only what you know you can afford.
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Megan Dematteo

Megan DeMatteo is a creative writer who unites the whole brain. She writes about money and education for Business Insider and WeAreTeachers, among others. Her poetry can be found in The New Limestone Review, Palette Poetry, and sPARKLE & bLINK. In 2019, she was nominated for her first Pushcart Prize. She occasionally tweets at @megdematteo.

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