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How Far Would You Go To Get Out of Debt? [2023 Survey]

Alex Miller's image
Alex Miller
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Alex Miller

Founder & CEO

295 Published Articles

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Founder and CEO of Upgraded Points, Alex is a leader in the industry and has earned and redeemed millions of points and miles. He frequently discusses the award travel industry with CNBC, Fox Business...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

Editor-in-Chief

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Countries Visited: 47U.S. States Visited: 28

With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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In 2023, the average American’s personal debt, excluding mortgage debt, is $21,800, according to Northwestern Mutual.¹ Debt is an all-too-common challenge that plagues countless individuals nationwide, whether it’s from student loans or credit card bills. For some, the desire to break free from these financial shackles is so strong that they’re willing to take extraordinary measures.

In our quest to understand the depths to which Americans are willing to go for a debt-free existence (excluding mortgage payments), we conducted a survey of 1,000 individuals across the U.S. We asked them questions such as, “Would you give up your pet for a year to get out of debt?” and “Would you give up social media forever to get out of debt?” Keep reading to uncover the sacrifices that Americans are prepared to make in pursuit of a debt-free lifestyle!

70% of Americans Would Sacrifice Travel for the Next 2 Years To Be Debt-Free

Chart detailing what sacrifices Americans would make to get out of debt
Image Credit: Upgraded Points

We discovered that many Americans are willing to make substantial sacrifices, forgoing some of life’s greatest pleasures — from their smartphones and intimate relationships to their beloved Amazon addiction — all in the pursuit of financial freedom.

  • 68% of respondents with significant debt ($40K or more) would give up sex for a year to become debt-free — surpassing the national average of 56%.
  • 35% of respondents with significant debt ($40K or more) would give up their phone for a year to enjoy being debt-free — exceeding the national average of 22%.
  • Only 19% of respondents with significant debt ($40K or more) would give up their pet for a year to get out of debt. Comparatively, only 12% of overall Americans would do the same. 

We aimed to raise the stakes and explore what Americans would be willing to sacrifice for 2 years instead of just 1. Of those surveyed, we found that people are most inclined to forgo alcohol and least inclined to give up working out.

  • 73% of Americans would give up alcohol for 2 years if it meant they could get out of debt.
  • 70% of Americans would give up traveling for the next 2 years if it meant they could be debt-free.
  • 59% of Americans would be willing to part ways with Netflix for 2 years to be debt-free.
  • 48% of Americans would give up working out for 2 years if it meant their debt was erased.

Some Americans are willing to make even bigger sacrifices and go to greater lengths to become debt-free. 

  • 42% of Americans would give up Amazon forever to be debt-free, and 38% would give up social media forever to get out of debt. Why worry about TikTok and Instagram when you can savor the joys of a debt-free life?

Over a Third of Americans Would Work Every Day for the Next Year To Be Debt-Free

Infographic showcasing how often Americans would work or if they’d downsize to get out of debt
Image Credit: Upgraded Points

While earning extra income can aid in paying down debt, we wanted to see how far Americans would go to achieve a debt-free status. Would they work extra days or give up PTO?

  • 36% of respondents would forfeit their PTO for the next 2 years to become debt-free, while 64% would not. Notably, Gen Zers are the least inclined, with only 27% willing to give up their PTO for 2 years to achieve a debt-free status.
  • 35% of respondents would commit to working consecutively for an entire year (365 days) to have their debt completely forgiven, while 65% would not. Among those with significant debt, 52% would undertake this continuous work schedule to clear their debt.

Curious if a side hustle could make a difference? Side gigs like freelancing work or driving for Uber might help you chip away at your debt. We also explored whether Americans would consider tapping into their retirement savings to alleviate their debt.

  • 65% of respondents would work a second job to pay off their debt.
  • 24% of respondents would take money out of their retirement accounts (401(k), IRA, etc.) to pay off their debt –– an approach many avoid due to the taxes and penalties of withdrawing from retirement accounts early. 
  • 50% of respondents would downsize their living space to pay off their debt. If living debt-free meant the difference between living in an apartment compared to a luxury home, many Americans would jump at the chance. 
  • 46% of respondents who want to purchase a home cannot because of their debt. Notably, 52% of millennials who want to purchase a home are unable to because of their debt. Millennials face challenges on their path to homeownership, including soaring rent, burdensome student loan debt, and the rising cost of homes.

1 in 5 Americans Only Pay the Minimum Amount on Their Credit Cards Each Month

With credit card debt in America hitting a record $1 trillion, we wanted to understand the specific debts that weigh most heavily on Americans’ minds, as well as their strategies for tackling them.

  • 44.5% of respondents strongly desire to eliminate their credit card debt, making it the most pressing financial concern. Following closely, 22.8% are particularly troubled by their student loan debt.
  • Over 1 in 5 respondents (21%) only pay the minimum amount required on their credit cards each month. Paying more than the minimum payment on your credit card can help you pay off your balance sooner. 
  • If given a check with the amount of their credit card debt, a whopping 87% would pay it off, while 6% would save the money, 5% would invest, and 2% would spend it on other things. According to most Americans, getting a check to wipe out your credit card debt would be a dream come true. 
  • 59% of respondents wouldn’t seek financial assistance from anyone to pay off their debt. Meanwhile, 31% would turn to their parents for help, and 12% would consider asking their siblings for assistance.

Methodology

We surveyed 1,000 Americans to explore various aspects of debt, including credit card debt in America. During the survey, we presented participants with scenarios such as “Would you give up X to get out of debt?” It’s important to note that in this context, “debt” was specifically defined for survey respondents as total debt, excluding mortgage debt. This included credit card debt, auto loan debt, student loan debt, personal loan debt, and medical debt, but it did not encompass mortgage debt. Our survey was conducted over a period from August 23 to 24, 2023.

Final Thoughts

For many Americans, the prospect of living debt-free is worth giving up indulgences like alcohol, vacations, and Netflix. Most Americans would take on a second job to pay down their debts sooner. We hope this survey sheds light on the intricate relationship between individuals and their debt. 

References

1. Northwestern Mutual. (2023). 2023 Planning & Progress Study. https://news.northwesternmutual.com/planning-and-progress-study-2023. Retrieved September 28, 2023.

Alex Miller's image

About Alex Miller

Founder and CEO of Upgraded Points, Alex is a leader in the industry and has earned and redeemed millions of points and miles. He frequently discusses the award travel industry with CNBC, Fox Business, The New York Times, and more.

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