From the BlogSubscribe Now

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.)


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

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

  3. 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.

    • That's disgusting. I don't think I could handle it. I could just see me traveling to a place with bathrooms like that – I'd have to hold my bladder the whole time, or pee in the woods or something!

  4. 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.

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

  6. 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*

    • Oh wow, June 2016 is so close! I'm kind of jealous of your super planning abilities. If I'm lucky (and I'm usually not), I might pay off my student loans by 2023. That would put me out of debt by age 40. 

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

    • I spend a lot of time waiting as well. In my case, it's waiting for an assignment or waiting to get paid – sometimes it takes weeks and it drives me mad. That's the only thing I miss about having a "real" job; knowing that I'll get paid a set amount on a set date.

      • I definitely still need the security of a regular paycheck for the foreseeable future. I want to run my own business in a few years and need to be ready for those weeks where I won't be paying myself. It's gonna be hard!

  9. 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..


  10. Love this post.

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

    • Jayden is really bad about it – he will NOT poop anywhere but home. (And I know how badly you wanted to know that.) The last time we went on vacation, he didn't go for a week – I had to take him to a gastroenterologist when we got back. Makes traveling seem like a bad idea!

  11. 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. 

    • I am loving your blog so far, and I'm glad you have such a good financial head on your shoulders. You are light years beyond where I was as a college student, and it will benefit you SO MUCH in the long run. Congratulations! 🙂

  12. 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. 

  13. 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.

  14. 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.  

  15. 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.

    • Don't let women fool you – we are apparently disgusting creatures. I have seen horrible, horrible things in public restrooms. And I've actually gone into the men's bathroom before as a last resort. You're right; they're usually cleaner!

  16. 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.  🙂

  17. 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 🙂

  18. Carrie Starr says

    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!! =)

  19. Andrea, buy one of those female urination devices then you can pee standing up in the woods or wherever it's a bit private. They seem all the rage nowadays.

Join the Discussion!