How to Stay Motivated While Paying Off Debt

May 6, 2016

Congrats, you’re paying off your debt. What an amazing decision! I may not know you personally, but I am proud of you. It takes a lot of courage to step outside of what is “normal” and average and decide you want more – you want something different. Good job.

Depending on where you are in your debt-free journey and the amount you are paying off, you may experience a variety of feelings along the way. If you’re at the very beginning, you are likely feeling excited. And I am excited for you. You have hope that you can change your situation – and you can.

If you’re in the middle of your journey – or had a slow start – or this is not your first attempt at paying off your debt – the initial excitement may have yielded to other feelings. You might feel frustration that things aren’t moving along as quickly as you envisioned – or loneliness because your friends/family/co-workers are doing the things your debt-free journey will not allow – or temptation to give up and go back to your old habits.

It is no doubt a daunting task to tackle your debt, but you are on the right path. Here are some ways to stay motivated while paying off debt.

How to Stay Motivated While Paying Off Debt

Be Intense, Not Impatient

Impatience. I struggled with this the most when we were paying off our $74,000 of debt. I wanted it gone – immediately. If you struggle with this, remember, unless your debt is due to a big night in Vegas, it took you years to accumulate it, so naturally it will take you a little time to get rid of it.

Being impatient while you’re paying off your debt does have some merit. It can fuel your desire to tackle your debt quickly, but it can also overshadow your progress since it focuses on what you haven’t done. If you’re impatient because you do not see instantaneous results, you may be tempted to declare that paying off your debt isn’t going to work and revert to a life of payments. Don’t! Remind yourself that you are undoing years’ worth of mess. Trade in your impatience for intensity, and let that guide your journey.

Set Mini-Milestones and Celebrate Them

Because paying off your debt is a marathon and not a sprint, set mile markers or mini-milestones for yourself, and celebrate your progress when you meet them. When we were on our journey, we celebrated when we paid off each type of debt – car, credit card, etc. We gathered the kids and did our “debt-free scream” in our living room…“We’re credit card debt-freeee…..” and had a small $10 celebration each time.

You could decide that for every $5000 you pay off, you’re going to celebrate, or perhaps each time you knock off a specific number of debts. Figure out what milestones will motivate you and which rewards (budget-friendly ones of course) you will look forward to. When you break things down, they suddenly seem more attainable, because now you’re just making it to that smaller goal.

Track Your Progress Where You (and Everyone Else) Can See It

You are likely tracking your debt digitally somehow, but I encourage you to get it off of your computer and track it where you can see it. List your debts on paper (that’s right, paper), and cross them off with a thick RED marker each time you pay one off.

Personally, I am a list maker and get tremendous satisfaction when I get to cross something off my to-do list. Paying off your debt is the ultimate to-do list. Allow yourself to be motivated by seeing the progress you’re making. Put the list on your fridge or in some other central location in your house. This is extremely beneficial if you have children, so they too can see the progress. It’s also a great conversation starter when you have guests, and you’ve run out of topics to talk about.

Remember you’re tackling your debt, not swabbing it with a cotton ball.

Follow Someone Else’s Debt-Free Journey

When you’re undertaking a massive goal like paying off your debt, it can certainly be a challenge if it feels like you’re the only one doing what you’re doing.

Besides reading this blog (avidly, of course) and connecting with me on Facebook and Twitter for helpful tips and motivation, I encourage you to get inspired by following others who are also paying off their debt. Many blogs chronicle their author’s debt-free journey. You’ll gain motivation and inspiration by hearing what works for them and what mistakes they’ve made. It’s like going to the gym with a friend.

Here are a couple of blogs to check out.

Friday Night Shenanigans

A fun and upbeat blog from a twenty-something law-school grad who has paid off her credit card debt and is working towards tackling the rest of her debt including $200,000+ in student loans.

Our Debt Free Family

An inspiring blog about a family of four that has paid off $126,000 in debt in the last couple of years and is committed to paying off their mortgage in the next five.

Do Debt-Free in a Way That Works for You

We were pretty intense when we were paying off our debt. I could count on one hand how many times we ate out in the twenty-five months we were on our journey (including ordering pizza!). That level of intensity may not work for everyone – but it did for us. Do debt-free in a way that works for you, so that you will be more likely to succeed. If you need to go to the occasional movie and have the money to do it, then put it in the budget.

This is not a license to go at a snail’s pace. Remember you’re tackling your debt, not swabbing it with a cotton ball. If you were trying to lose 100 lbs you could choose to go to the gym once a week, or you could choose to go three or more days a week. Each path comes with its own results. It’s your choice. Strike the balance between operating in a way that will keep you engaged and following your plan, but still being intentional about paying everything off as quickly as YOU can.

You will get there, and probably more quickly than expected.

I hope these tips have helped you. One thing I have noticed in many debt-free journeys is that the pace at which people pay off the debt ends up being faster than expected. The key is to stay fully engaged and purposeful along your journey.

When we first crunched the numbers of how long it would take to pay off our debt, the result was six years. We were pretty happy with that considering our student loan payments were scheduled for another 20+ years. So we started our journey thinking it would take the six years. It took two. Two years to turn around 15 years of living beyond our means!

You will get there, and probably more quickly than expected. Motivation and progress are partners. Your motivation will produce progress, and your progress will fuel your motivation. YOU WILL GET THERE. Stay the course, my friend.

 

If you’ve found any of these tips helpful, please consider sharing this post, or drop me a line in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

8 Comments

  1. Monica Louie

    Thanks for the mention, Alaya! You offer fantastic advice in this post. Tracking our progress has been instrumental in keeping our motivation high. We still have a long road ahead, but we know that in the end, the hard work and determination will all be completely worth it!

    Reply
    • Alaya

      Thanks Monica. I love that your goal is to have a paid-for home before 40. Very inspiring!

      Reply
  2. Katasha

    New reader here!

    Tracking my progress – and reminding myself of how far I’ve come already – has definitely helped me stay motivated, especially when I realize I’ll still be in debt for a few more years. And, it helps to know that there are other people in the world who are in the same boat or have been on your shoes before.

    Great advice!

    Reply
    • Alaya

      Hi Katasha! Welcome! So glad to hear you are making progress in dumping your debt. Keep your eye on the prize…you WILL get there!

      Reply
  3. Jennifer Anderson

    I think impatience gets the best of all of us at times. I started out with almost $90,000 in student loan debt when I finished PA school, we outlined a 5 year plan to pay off the debt and paid off in 4. I agree with you on having a payoff schedule written down and visible. Once we got the first loan paid off the ball really started rolling and we were ahead of schedule within the first year. We wrote out a loan payment plan month by month so when we were able to pay extra I was able to draw a line through the last month on our schedule making it much more inspiring. My husband and I started to play a game called “the free weekend” and see who could come up with the most fun weekend without spending any money-we went to city festivals, hiking, played cards at home and made sure to be home to eat or packed a picnic. Now that we have our debt paid off we are saving for a down payment for a large commercial building and we are using the same method but for savings this time-still struggling with impatience but “keep your eye on the prize” and we will all be where we strive to be in no time!

    Reply
    • Alaya

      Congrats Jennifer. What an amazing accomplishment! And good luck with saving for the building!

      Reply
  4. Amanda @ centsiblyrich

    Solid advice on staying the path when paying off debt, Alaya! Setting the mini-milestones and tracking progress, plus creating accountability, have helped me the most. And you’re right, doing what works for you, individually, is so important!

    Reply
    • Alaya

      Thanks, Amanda. Seeing our progress was the biggest motivator for me

      Reply

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